I went into the public library here on the Outer Banks, which is where I’m spending a few weeks before returning to the neo-Dust Bowl. I didn’t pack any books for the trip, thinking I might try not reading for a change. But nothing shields your face from the apocalyptic sun like a good book, so I borrowed my mother-in-law’s library card (she lives here year round, at least until all of this is under water—see link below). My first thought was that I might take out Karen Thompson Walker’s Age of Miracles, because I’m in an end-timey state of mind ever since reading this: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719
But it wasn’t in, so I selected a few other books from the new fiction stacks—including Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander, which I had wanted to read back when it came out and then completely forgot about until I saw it sitting there. I asked the librarian if I could use my mother’s card—I don’t know why I said mother and not mother-in-law. I guess it was partly that it seemed over-complicated to get into the whole “in-law” thing, but also I think I’m more comfortable when there’s a tiny bit of dishonesty involved in my transactions.
The librarian informed me cheerfully that the card had expired, but if I could just give her my mom’s birthday, she’d renew it. “Um,” I said.
The librarian was a nice older woman with the most sensible haircut I’d ever seen. Anyone could have this haircut—man, woman or child, in times of peace or war. She blinked at me pleasantly, expectantly. “I’m blanking.” I said.
The truth is, I have no idea when my mother-in-law’s birthday is. Which makes me a bad son-in-law, I guess, but certainly a horrible son, which is what I was pretending to be. “It’ll come,” she said. “I know what that’s like. I call it a senior moment.” There was nothing condescending in her tone. I would have preferred there had been, I think.
I spent a few more moments staring up at the fluorescent lights. Finally I said I didn’t know it. Didn’t know my own mother’s birthday. The librarian looked at me and clucked her tongue. She knew I was lying, that I had essentially come to the library to take books under false pretenses—to steal. Perhaps I had even murdered someone. She seemed to be reaching for something under the counter, a panic button that would summon local law-enforcement. I was literally sweating, which means sweating during a criminal act involving literature.
“Not a very good son, are you?” she said. “No,” I said, with a rush of relief. She didn’t think I was a book thief, just a bad boy. “We’ll forgive you this time. Do you at least have her address?” I had to look in my phone, but I had it. It granted me some legitimacy, having the address in my phone. I even held it up to show her. As I left with my books she said, “You should do something nice for your mother today.”
I did do something. I did it for my fake mother, my real mother, and mothers everywhere. I read a book. Isn’t that the kind of thing mothers want from their sons, to be a good boy and be quiet and go read a book?
Someone had placed a post-it on the title page of the Auslander book. “It’s really weird! –MGT” Is that something people do—leave reviews in library books? I liked getting it, as subjective and misleading and obvious as it may have been. But it was comforting to get this communication from another borrower, kind of like finding a floating message in a bottle. Before I return Hope: A Tragedy, I’m going to annotate this review, just to keep the conversation going.