It's hot in the old library and the humidity makes the dust turn to slime on the creaky shelves. I sit at a wooden table in front of a tiny white fan that is set spinning in the window sill. I've been here for hours...
The library in our town keeps a collection of old documents in glass cases around the building. The displays are locked with tiny skeleton keys and stuck haphazardly in the shelves between alphabetically stored novels, biographies and other old books. I've been a reporter for the town newspaper for three years now and have been asked to write a historical essay for the paper's 75th anniversary. Stupidly, I left the project until the last minute and now, in the heat of a drought and the anxiety of a newly-wed dispute, I'm rushing around town trying to find inspiration.
I came to the library to flip through the pages of forgotten transcripts, documents and old photos of the town's beginnings. The air is hazy with heat and sweat runs down the back of my neck, my shirt absorbing the wetness like a heavy towel. The library is dark and only a few people wander in it. No one wants to read in an uncomfortable heat wave, no one wants to do anything. The weight of my sponge-shirt presses down on me as I unlock the next case and pull out old town meeting minutes and black and white photos of the village baseball team. I mindlessly thumb through the minutes before grabbing the rest of the photos and heading back to my table.
The heat is overwhelming and my feet are heavy. I can hear the old fan above me whirring slowly, but I can't feel the air it creates. I look up at it, but it makes me dizzy to watch it spin. I look back to the photos. I had assumed that I could check-out most of the archival items the library stores, but to my dismay the stodgy librarian had insisted each and every picture and document stay in the building. However, as much as I longed for the comfort of the air conditioned spaces at home, the tension that awaited me kept my return from the library more delayed than I would have liked. My wife had been trying to get pregnant for weeks and last night the stress had gotten to both of us and we had broken down. I was distracted by the assignment and she was ranting about hormones and doctor's visits and pacifiers. I had stopped listening and she had caught me.
"Are you even listening?" She said with her hands dug into her hips and her hair messy from repeatedly running her fingers through it.
"What? Yeah, of course. I agree." I mumbled. She paused.
"With what? You agree with what?" she questioned. She raised her eyebrows and took a step closer to the bed. "What did I say that you agree with, Jason?" She tilted the laptop screen that I was staring at forward enough to hide the display from my view. I thought about guessing at what the conversation was about, but figured it was best to just work around the fight that was looming.
"Babe, maybe we just need to relax, we can do this. I bet all this stress is what's keeping it from happening anyway. " I said, taking her fist off her hip and uncurling her fingers for her. She glared at me for a moment, muttering "You avoided the question," before collapsing onto the bed. She gave me her other hand and slid forward so our knees were touching. "I'm just worried…" She said, looking into my eyes. I leaned forward and kissed her forehead softly. She smiled faintly and turned, laying her head in my lap and looking up at me under my chin. "Love you" she said.
"Love you too." I answered, pulling my laptop onto her stomach. She closed her eyes, trying to relax. The fight was avoided, we were at peace. But then, stupidly, stupid, stupid, stupid, I spoke again, mumbling into her auburn hair:
"And hey, I don't even know if I want kids anymore, let's just get a cat."
I've slept on the couch for two nights now and my back is starting to seize up. Even after multiple attempts to retract the statement, the fight that followed was the worst we'd ever had.
I flip through photo after photo, barely looking at them. I rub my neck slowly and close my eyes for a moment, leaning into the chair and tipping my head back. The blood in my brain feels thick and dehydrated and my head spins. I do want children, I really do. The words I had said the other night had meant nothing. I had been trying to comfort her, or something. I don't remember now. The heat was erasing my memories. I open my eyes and I nearly fall out of my chair with surprise. There is a little girl standing at the table across from me. She was not there three seconds ago. Because of the shock and combined heat exhaustion, I accidentally let out a strangled yelp. She grins at my reaction. One of her front teeth is missing. I regain some composure and take a deep breath of stale air; on the exhale I breathe a "Hello." She smiles back and slips into a chair next to me.
"Uh, can I help you?" I ask, clearing my throat as I pull the scattered pictures into a pile in front of me. She doesn't respond, but tilts her head to the side and stares at me. "Are you here with your parents?" She nods her head, but doesn't say anything. I notice a book in her hands from the children's section.
"Can I see your book?" I ask, reaching a hopeful hand towards her slowly. She looks down at the book for a moment and then hands it to me cautiously. It's a small children's book with tattered edges and crumbling spine. The title reads: "Mommy and Me." in thick, faded letters. "That's interesting" I say, smiling at her weakly. My head is spinning and my vision is blurring a bit. I realize that I haven't had anything to drink but coffee today. Stupid.
The little girl looks at me, her auburn hair is shiny and perfectly placed on her head, even in this heat. I wonder briefly why she isn't passing out from the weight of the fuzzy, pink jacket she's wearing. But then she smiles at me, I'm hunched over the tiny table and I've been staring at her. I realize how ridiculous I must look and I straighten up. My head is throbbing. The little girl tilts her head the other way and looks at the pictures in front of me.
"Uh, would you like to uh, look at them?" I fumble with the words. Where are this girl's parents? I push some of the pictures towards her slowly, and she tilts her head even farther to the side as she looks at them. Finally, she reaches out and touches them. She begins to flip through them. I close my eyes again. The dust and humidity in the air is forming paste in my lungs and I can feel the sweat puddling in my chair. At this point there is more water outside of me than in me and my brain is constricting like a dry sponge making my head throb. I need to get a drink. I need to finish my piece for the paper. My phone buzzes in my pocket and at first I don't react. I look down at my pocket and see the screen light up through my shorts. I pull it out slowly. I'm so exhausted. It's my wife. I look up at the little girl browsing through the old photos, she looks up at me.
"Um, excuse me for a second." I mumble and I push myself from the table. I step away and answer the call. "Hey, is everything okay?" I ask into the phone. She doesn't say anything at first and I'm about to ask again when she blurts:
"I'm pregnant." There is a pause.
"Really?" I question.
"Yes. I've taken like eight of those pregnancy tests. And the doctor just confirmed it." She laughs hesitantly. We're supposed to be in a fight. But this changes everything, doesn't it? The blood in my brain is turning solid and it takes a moment for me to fully comprehend anything.
"We're going to have a baby." I say and half laugh, half choke into the phone.
"Yes, finally. Yes." She says in a high pitched giggle. I can tell she's ecstatic, she's trying to hold it back, but I can tell. "You're happy right? This is good, right?" She asks me quickly.
"Yes. Yes!" I shout. I throw a hand up into the air, but quickly pull it down hoping no one saw me. I'm yelling in a library and I must look like a crazy person. Sweat is puddling in my shoes and now my head is really spinning. "I'm coming home, okay? I'll be right home, okay? Oh, Lord. Okay?" I say frantically. Where are my keys? I pat my pockets and spin frantically.
"Okay! Okay. I love you, bye." My wife says back. She's laughing and crying now and I can hear the phone jiggle against her cheek as she shakes with emotion.
"Okay!" I say again. "I love you too. Okay!" I whip around again to face the little girl at the table as I hang up the phone. But she's gone. I must have scarred her away. I look around for her but she isn't anywhere in sight. I turn to a man looking through books near the next table.
"Did you see where she went?" I ask him. He looks at me cautiously.
"Who?" He questions.
"That little girl with the book." I say back. He gives me a strange look, and shakes his head slowly.
"I don't know who you're talking about, I didn't see a little girl…" He trails off and walks away, looking back at me before turning the corner.
I must look insane. I look back at the table and see the photos spread along the surface where I left them. I glance at them quickly before a clap of thunder breaks overhead and I jump. Then, on the chair where the mysterious little girl sat, I see a photo. It's a black and white picture with a man and his pregnant wife in the frame. The inscription on the back tells me it's the first editor of the town newspaper and his wife in front of the old town hall. This was perfect, exactly what I needed for the piece. How had this picture, out of all of them, been the one to fall on the chair? Or had the little girl picked it out for me? How had she known? I look out the window and watch the rain drops fall onto the parched earth. The end of the drought. I watch it for a few moments before I pack up my things and lock the photos back in the case. I slip the one from the chair into my bag and walk out of the library, the rain washing away my sweat and the dust from the library and the tension from the fight and the delusions of the heat and the worry of the assignment. The rain continues to fall as I walk in the house and into the arms of my wife.