The Children’s Section
You Just Get Older
story by eric m. martin
images: public domain
His name was Joe, which was short for something else but there’s no need to get into that here. His name was Joe and people sometimes told him that he “thinks too much”.
Often Joe would be told this after he blurted out a fully formed argument where he debated both sides of an issue and came to his own conclusion.
There was nothing to say in response to something like that so people said, “dude, you know, sometimes you think too much.”
If he had taken up only one side of the argument maybe people would have said yes or no or I see what you mean, but he took up both sides and got the predictable response.
On his face there was a hint of accomplishment, as if this was what he was going for.
Because it happens sometimes, Joe fell for a librarian at his local library. The place was divided into two sections, like so many neighborhood libraries. There was the spacious children’s section on one side and the smaller “general population” section on the other, crammed with novels, reference books, cd’s and movies.
Joe always looked to the left as he came into the library, at the children’s section with its bright colors, its ridiculously diminutive chairs painted red and yellow, and its pro-reading propaganda posters.
His own childhood felt far away. There was no bringing it back either by sitting on a tiny red chair and waiting for the past to come flooding back, trying to remember what had gone on back in those Twinkie eating days, or by standing and staring minute after minute into that red and yellow LARGE PRINT section of the library.
Joe hoped that Lisa, the librarian, wouldn’t notice how he always spent a moment considering the children’s section when he came in.
She was bony, thin, blonde and loud. Her teeth made a small bulb under the skin of her mouth when it was closed, which it sometimes was.
On Joe’s part, he was short and dark and had a belly left over from the Twinkie eating days of his childhood. Though Joe exercised and tried to be fit, it seemed he’d traded Twinkies for beer and they had the same effect on his belly, his weight, and (happily) his frame of mind.
The unlikelihood of a match between tallish, rail-thin Lisa and short, belly-first Joe was (oddly) overcome by a physical attraction. Lisa liked the looks of Joe and even liked the way he blurted out two sides of a fully formed argument, laying it out like a little dead bird under her kitchen table. She thought it was cute. She thought the habit indicated a potential in Joe (potential for what? It’s hard to say…)
Joe liked the looks of Lisa. When she laughed, which she did quite often, she put a hand down to her stomach without actually touching her body. The hand hovered there while her shoulders shook and her other hand reached a few inches in Joe’s direction.
This made Joe giggle, uncharacteristically, every time.
He liked how loud and happy she was, flying in the face of everything he’d ever thought of librarians.
After months of talking and flirting, Joe asked Lisa out and she said yes. In a dress she had designed and made herself, Lisa looked bony but beautiful sitting across from Joe at the Mexican place they had chosen for the date.
Even sitting down Lisa put a hand to her stomach when she laughed and reached the other hand out toward Joe. This time she reached the hand all the way across to touch Joe, who took the hand and smiled.
“You are so funny,” she told him. “You really make me laugh.”
Joe didn’t finish telling her that she was beautiful. It was obvious he was going to say it and obvious that it was too soon. With his Twinkie-beer belly and his habit of blurting out over-thought scenarios in a single utterance, Joe thought it was best to restrain himself tonight. It was too soon to start gushing.
At least, he thought it was too soon. Lisa would have loved to hear it.
The date went well and they kissed in a short, mimic of a kiss that brought their two faces together for a split second then left them parted, smiling.
Lisa said, “Call me,” before getting into her car to drive herself home.
“I will,” Joe said.
He didn’t call her. Not right away.
What happened was that when Joe worked up the courage to call Lisa for the first time, he realized his phone wasn’t working. Something must have happened when he dropped the phone on his way outside with it earlier that day. (Holding a cup of coffee, a book, a notebook, a pen and his cell phone, Joe had dropped everything but the coffee on the way out to his patio. Not a good fall, apparently, for the phone.)
Before he had time to fix his phone or get a new one, Joe had to meet some friends for a two night camping trip that had been planned for months. He thought of Lisa during the camping trip, with happy and worried thoughts.
Joe went straight to the library from the camp site, hoping to see Lisa. He walked in and went straight to the general population section of the library. There she was, in the Classics stacks, looking like she was just wasting time.
There was some urgency in his voice, some apology.
She was uncharacteristically quiet.
“Hey, Joe, what’s up?” She said. “What’s that smell?”
“I was camping. I just got back.”
She smiled at him. The relief that flooded his body almost made him pee. (He’d been holding it for half a day.)
“I wanted to tell you. I wanted to call you. I thought you’d think that I wasn’t calling on purpose, but I meant to call. My phone is busted and I haven’t had a chance to get a new one. This camping trip was planned months ago, really, and I couldn’t not go, so I went, but I worried that you would think I was, you know, being a dick.”
“I didn’t think you were being a dick.”
“Good. I’m glad,” he said, “now I need to go pee. I’ll call you later…once I get my phone fixed.”
“Alright,” she said and she went back to fussing with the Classics.
When Joe called the next day Lisa didn’t answer her phone. The day after that there was no answer. He left ridiculously long, impromptu messages talking about how Panda bears were the two-faced monsters of the wild, more vicious than cuddly, deadly eaters of bamboo and about his reasons for claiming that pizza and cake were his favorite foods even though they really weren’t.
The last message Joe left Lisa was about the way listening to Miles Davis could make him feel like he had a destiny; that he, Joe, just might be a person of destiny, even if it wasn’t going to be a terribly important one. It was one of his better messages, he thought.
Then he stopped leaving messages. After a week, he stopped calling.
The library, where he had spent so much time in the last few months flirting, browsing, buying used books, peering into the vast and empty kid’s section…this library was now off limits. Joe was afraid of going to the library and seeing Lisa and finding the look in her eyes that explained everything. He didn’t want the explanation.
He already knew.
He knew that when he walked in through the glass doors and passed through the metal detector, he would turn to his left and head straight for the little tables of the children’s section. A bright red chair would call out to him. He’d step over to it and consider sitting down, looking around at the cartoon posters on the walls: books with goggle eyes; characters leaping out of opened books; the ABC’s writ colorfully large on the low-hanging posters.
Now it would be Joe, trying to summon laughter like a memory, who would put a hand to his belly and touch his paunch and think about how it was left-over from his childhood. He’d think he was left-over from his childhood too.
Strange, to be so connected to something so far out of reach, so far gone, and never coming back.