You may recognize this story from a post back on October 10th.
Here's a revision, based on your feedback and that of my writers' group.
If you feel like commenting, I'd love to hear any and all feedback. Most importantly, do you get what the stories about? I learned that last time I was one of the few who did. :) The connection didn't feel as strong as it could've, I guess. Also, does it feel whole?
Death sentence (Thanks for the title suggestion, TI!)
“I’m not sure I understand, Seymour,” Dr. K said when I told him. I was sitting on the doctor’s table, naked save for the see-through cotton gown tied across my front. The white legs of an old man dangled down in front of me, black hair and blue veins snaking across them. “What are your symptoms?”
“I woke up today feeling weird.”
“Weird, how?” he asked.
I thought for a moment. I looked at the doctor standing before me—his white coat, his dark hair and mustache—and knew he wouldn’t understand. I tried anyway, considering that I was there and naked already. “My mind was foggy than usual. I lay in bed a long time, which is unusual for me. My hands ached, and my head hurt a little bit. When I concentrated on the faint pain, I knew, without a doubt, that I would die soon. That feeling hasn’t gone away since.”
“Well, yes, but more than that the feeling…”
“That you’re going to die.”
“Yes!” Maybe I was wrong about this Dr. K.
“Have you been under much stress lately?” he asked.
I waved the question away. This problem wasn’t in my head, or maybe it was in my physical head, but not my psychological head.
“We can run some tests, but I think you just need some rest.”
“I’ll get plenty of rest when I’m dead,” I said.
Dr. K sighed and gave me a referral for blood work.
After he left the room, I lied back on the paper-covered couch. I wondered what was happening at work. At this time, I’d likely be having my second cup of earl grey tea. I had never missed a day before, not in the 18 years I’ve worked at the university library.
I wondered if my boss Howard came looking for me yet. I skipped a mandatory all staff meeting the day before. I knew what he was going to say, and I didn’t want to have to argue with him in front of everyone. I’m much better at articulating my points one on one than I am in front of a crowd, where I feel their eyes on my reddening skin, my moist palms. Maybe he thinks I’ve quit. How pleased that would make him! Then he could hire someone half my age who likes those wretched computer machines.
I don’t care what the numbers show, people like to hold books in their hands. They, like me, get pleasure from the smoothness of the pages, the smell of the dust from hundreds of borrowers’ houses that gets imbedded in the pages, the sight of the black marks on the yellowing pages that, extraordinarily, create meaning. Just the other day an hour passed as I stared at the markings of a middle Eastern language I couldn't read, in a book from generations before I was born. How do societies come up with these letters? These words? How do they decide on them? My tea got cold while I thought about it.
I mend the books that fall into a careless reader’s hands, or fall from them, or get into the mouths of a dog or child. People don’t know I exist in the bowels of the library, working in the basement to tape and glue and restring those most precious possessions. It’s true that I have had fewer books to process than in the past. But that doesn’t mean we should hoard them in the depository and make people wait days to get to them. And that certainly doesn’t mean I should take a class on the new computer system where students can access old journal articles and book chapters without holding the pieces of history in their hands. Mending books is not just something I do. It is who I am.
I can feel my heart beating fast at the thought of that stupid man making decisions about me, about my books. “They’re arcane,” he had said before. I don’t know if it’s the books or people like me he was talking about.
Like I said, I am dying.