Since my last blog post, I have run into a few setbacks and will not be able to go to Africa this summer as I planned. However, there is always next summer and I am currently applying to as many jobs and internships as I can find to begin to save for the trip, even at the local diner here in Haledon, NJ. A year has now gone by since I graduated from Eastern University, and besides the hundred other jobs I must have sent applications by now, I have sent an application for a summer internship at Penguin Group and plan to apply for two jobs at W.W. Norton tomorrow. Meanwhile, I have taken up a short story that I began last year and plan to write another one after I finish it. Then I will send them both to Electric Literature, Crumpets & Tea, and any other literary journals I come across that I think may accept my submissions. If they all reject my stories, or if they accept them for publication, I will eventually try to self-publish them in a small book and sell copies to create at least a small source of income. I have not finished the first story, but do have an excerpt of it up on Facebook and hope to finish it tomorrow so I can start work on the second one soon. I'm posting the excerpt here:
Finally, the road ended at the edge of a shallow, man-made brook that flowed noiselessly in a straight line from their left to their right, and marked the edge of the town, beyond which was a small wood. Some weeping willows overhung the brook until their branches hung right down into the water to form natural curtains. With the first leaf buds of spring just in bloom, the willows looked to Iris like the curtains a relative of hers once made with long strings of beads that hung down to the floor. The willows obscured the further depths of the wood, and gave it a dark and mysterious appearance.
Joanne looked up at the wood, at the row of houses on their left, beyond which the brook flowed from an unknown source, and finally at the row of houses on their right, which hid the further progress of the brook. "I have never been to this part of town," she said. "I never even knew all these trees and this little river were here."
Iris reached into her pocket and pulled out the directions. "We're looking for number three hundred." They looked at the last house on the left, which had a red mailbox in the shape of an old-fashioned carriage with a gilt number 299 on it. Then they looked at the last house on the right. Its mailbox, which looked like a miniature luxury liner whose prow opened to receive the mail, had a navy blue 298 on it.
"There are no more addresses on this street," said John. "Did we take a wrong turn somewhere and end up on the wrong street?"
"Not likely," replied Iris with a frown. "We stopped at every turn to check the instructions. I put a check next to every street name Rosa wrote when we turned onto it. We'd have caught a wrong turn."
"Well, then she just sent us to a dead end with an address that doesn't exist," Joanne said cynically.
"Let's pull over to that shed over there and check the paper again," Iris suggested.
So they rode to the small building Iris had pointed out just outside the fence of house number 298, and dismounted their bikes as Iris read the directions out loud one by one. After each one, her friends affirmed that they had followed that direction. Finally Iris reached the last direction that led to the street where they stood, which strangely did not contain the address they sought.
"This doesn't make any sense," Joanne sighed.
"Why can't Ally borrow books from the public library like normal people?" asked John.
"Probably the same reason why she lives in a house that's way too big for her to afford," said Joanne. "Doesn't want to be caught mixing with the common folk."
"Oh come on," Iris said at once. "Her and Rosa have been nothing but nice to us since we met them."
"Okay, so they're not as creepy as I thought they were." Joanne admitted. "All I know is we've been biking uphill for ten minutes and it looks like it's going to rain before we've picked up those stupid books and we probably could have been done by now if that Rosa lady knew how to write directions." Joanne finished fuming, leaned her bicycle against the brick wall of the little building, and leaned against the door to sulk.
"We agreed to come with Iris, remember?" John reminded her.
Joanne impatiently kicked the door behind her with her heel and looked from John to Iris, and back to John. "Well, what do you guys suggest we do now?"
John was about to answer when they heard the noise of a door-knob turning behind Joanne, at which Joanne started and quickly moved to stand next to Iris as the door swung open. An old woman stood in the doorway, who looked at least as old as Ally with twice as many wrinkles, but her eyes looked as sharply at the three of them as though they did not know what age the rest of her body was, but scrutinized everything they came across with the same piercing gaze they directed at the three friends now. "Che cosa facciate?" she asked in a language none of them could understand. "Perche state vuoi qui?"
"Um, sorry we disturbed you," Iris said awkwardly. "We're lost, and we're trying to find a library, but not the public library." She faltered as the woman's gaze never wavered off her face and her stern look make Iris feel like she had done something wrong, even though she knew she had not.
"Maybe you can help us," said John. He took the directions from Iris and showed them to the woman, though neither Iris nor Joanne was sure she could read English. However, the old lady took the paper and they saw her raise her eyebrows as she read Rosa's neat cursive.
"Venite vuoi dal Casa Di Aquila?" she asked them.
Iris had at least understood "Di Aquila." "Yes, she said in relief."I work for Ally and Rosa Di Aquila, and we were just running one last errand for them when we got lost."
The lady nodded at Iris and turned around to go back inside. The friends looked at each other in confusion, not sure whether she had wanted Iris to follow her or all of them to go in. Iris glanced at the door and realized there were three patches in the upper center that were of a lighter shade of brown than the rest of the door, and they were in the shape of a number 3 and two 0s. "Guys, I think we found number 300," she said as she pointed to the door.
Joanne frowned as she widened her gaze to take in the whole building. "Doesn't look like any library I've ever seen," she said uncertainly.
"I'm not sure Rosa sent us to a good place," John agreed.
"Oh come on, you scaredy-cats," said Iris as she strode to the door. "After the little, old lady attacks us with her axe, you can say 'I told you so.'" She opened the door and stepped inside the building they had thought was a shed.
There was a single room, and it was so dark they could barely distinguish the bookshelves that rose almost to the ceiling from the random stacks of books that stood throughout the room and towered precariously, in such a way that they might have toppled over at the slightest nudge. They could see no sign of the strange librarian, which they now assumed she was, until they heard the door close behind them and turned to see her looking at them with the same stare as she had given them outside. She turned to Iris. "Porto i libri," she said.
"Huh? Sorry, I don't understand," Iris apologized.
"I libri," repeated the lady, a little louder. Then she said, "Books," and walked away through the forest of books until they could no longer see her or hear her footsteps. They realized the old woman meant to fetch the books that Aunt Ally had requested, so they waited in the gloom until she returned. Five minutes passed, and Iris and her friends began to feel uncomfortable in the small space, which was colder than the spring air outside. Apparently whoever ran the library did not bother to pay for heat, and Iris pulled her sleeves over her hands because she had stopped wearing gloves when the weather began to grow warmer. The only light came from four windows set in the wall behind them and the daylight did not extend very far into the library, so Iris wondered how the old lady could see which books were which in the dimness.
Five more minutes passed until Joanne could not stand the silence anymore and impatiently began to pace the floor. "Has she gone senile or something?" she asked in a whisper, for even though the librarian had gone ten minutes ago, they all had the same unpleasant thought; that those sharp eyes could still see them in the near-darkness, and the woman might hear anything they said.
No sooner had Joanne spoken than the old woman walked out from behind a tower of books behind her with barely a sound except her light footsteps. Joanne jumped just as she had outside when the librarian had opened the door, and sheepishly went to stand next to Iris again with a sheepish look on her face. Iris stepped forward to take the two books and checked to make sure she had all the titles on the list. She could not fathom how the small woman navigated the labyrinthine stacks that looked so haphazard and barely distinguishable from each other, nor how she could retrieve a single book without the upset of a hundred others, and she wanted to make sure the librarian had not just grabbed some random books to give her. The paper she had given the librarian lay on the topmost book and Iris referred to it as she inspected the books: Journey to the West by Darwin Teilhet and Thieves by Frederick Bausman. "Hai tu finito?" asked the old woman.
"Um, everything looks good," replied Iris uncertainly, although she had no clue what the woman had asked her.
"Bene." The librarian took the paper and walked away into the forest of books until they could no longer see her.
"We're done here," Iris said to her friends in a low voice, and they turned and left the little building. Iris placed the two books in the basket of her bicycle, and they finally mounted their bikes and rode back to the Di Aquila house.