Library books. The sound. The smell. Crinkling plastic, shiny pages, inky and metallic.
A fading film picture of three sun-baked, knobby-kneed boat kids. Two bright blond, one red-head, 1980’s home-sliced haircuts, generous in the bangs, efficient to keep salty hair out of eyes. Wearing undies and oversized shirts, leaning in transfixed around a weary mom and a picture book. Turning each page so slowly, reading each sentence so precisely. Wild children for a moment at rest.
Five books was the limit at our little Caribbean island library, but we’d stay for hours, reading and reading, then choose the ones we’d take home to the boat and read again. Each week a new batch of books.
Visits to Long Island meant staying at Greema’s house, which seemed huge to us. A mansion practically. A backyard, a big porch with peeling paint. A closet-sized staircase up to our very own sloped-roof attic room. There were a few kids toys, but we preferred to try and spy through the vent in the floor that connected the TV room underneath. Musty smells came from the dark closet, and fresh cut grass drifted through the open window.
We escaped to the library, Mom and two kids in tow, a mile through the quiet neighborhood. Where we sat for hours, then stumbled up to the desk with our five books, lifting them up and sliding them across the counter, staring giddy at the librarian. “Is this all?” she asked, unimpressed, looking down over the top of her glasses. My brother and I glanced at Mom, confused.
“All?” asked Mom. We looked back to the librarian.
“Yes, all you want to check out?”
“You mean, we can take more?”
“Of course, you can check out as many as you want.”
Silence, Mom looked down at us, grinned a little mischievous grin. We looked back, then at each other, then up at the librarian, gaping with the realization. As many as we want?
Reading unleashed. Reading unlimited. Pure reading chaos!
We shuffled home that day with our armful of books. The next day, we walked back to the library, pulling a little red wagon.
I stand above my mom, now a grandma, reading her slow, deliberate phrases to my two little nieces, curled in the bottom of their bunkbed. Neither of them have slept up top since they got the bunkbed a few months ago. They still prefer to cuddle. The still beg for books before bed, another and another. Picking through the new stack they pulled from the library.
Better than an iPad, better than TV. They’re enraptured, there is nothing besides the story, the warmth of each other, the sound of my mom’s voice. The last page breaks the spell, and Grandma must break the news that it’s time for bed. They whine weakly and then relent. They know the rules. The rest of the books will wait for another night.