Now Thisby Nancy Star, Jack Gourlay
When savvy single mom and talk-show producer May Morrison books one of her neighbors on a show about spa visits and herbal supplements that maintain youth, she's sure it'll be a great edition of Paula Live. But when the guest comes down with a mysterious flu and ends up dead, the emerging pattern could have fatal consequences for May.
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It was too noisy. Intolerable. She looked up from her desk to search out the culprits.
There they were. Children -- two of them. Her eyes drilled into theirs with a well-practiced look of reproach. They stared back but didn't stop.
It was the little one who was worse, making noises with his nose. He'd probably say he was just breathing, but those weren't breathing noises -- at least not any she'd ever heard before. The big one, well it was hard to tell for sure, but it seemed to her as if that awful slurping sound came because he was sucking his own tongue. Unbearable.
The thought flew in: Why aren't any of the other people who are browsing the shelves bothered? How is it possible to hear the noise of a child sucking his tongue from all the way across the room? Just as quickly the thought was gone and all she knew was this: she was the one in charge of the children's room of the library and it wasn't going to run amok on her shift.
Who are these ill-behaved monsters? she wanted to know. Who left them here?
She banged her blue pen down on the desk. The noise of it resounded in her ears like a cannonball. She burst out laughing.
Eyes looked up out of books with a mixture of surprise and fear. There was absolutely nothing funny going on, especially not to her. But on she laughed, an unstoppable girlish laugh. She stood, thinking, Maybe fresh air would help, but before she could get her feet to move, she was back in the wooden chair, looking to the world as if she'd meant to sit down.
When a child's nervous giggle joined her own, her laughter stopped, like that. The room became silent, too silent, even for a librarThis was better. She would shelve books. That was always relaxing. And it needed doing. They were starting to pile up again. It was so easy to get behind.
She was considering why it took so long for her to walk over to the cart today, why her legs were so uncooperative, as if they were on strike, when Mr. James, the manager, came downstairs to see her. He looked sad, as if someone had died.
Later, walking home, she reviewed what he had said. She was scaring people, especially the children. She didn't look well. She should see a doctor, right away. He offered to make the call.
That's when the warning light clicked on. Call whom?
As she walked, half stumbling, the short distance home, her head began to clear. Was it because of the heat? Was she having a relapse of the flu? The thought made her laugh again, but this time she managed to stop before the trilling sound got under her skin.
Already the afternoon's events were becoming hazy, like a dream. Had it been a dream? Was she that unwell? Had Mr. James actually told her she'd scared away a room full of people? But how could he know when he wasn't even there?
It must have been the woman with the boy who told him. Something was wrong with that woman, coming every day to watch her. Something was terribly wrong. Again, she laughed.
When the laugh passed, she considered what to do next. Should she go back and warn Mr. James? But then he hadn't seemed all that concerned about her to begin with. He'd made no move to stop her when she hurried out. Could he have wanted her to go all along? Had he been trying to get rid of her for some time? Had he sent that woman to spy on her?
Yet he'd always seemed so kind. Was she wrong about that, too? Wha t else was she wrong about?
She pondered the dilemma, oblivious to everything else around her.
The account in the newspaper said the engineer saw her crossing the tracks even as the gates were lowering. As soon as he saw her lie down, he blew his whistle and engaged his brakes. She lifted her head, looked right at him and smiled. But she didn't move. By the time the train had stopped, he knew she'd been split into pieces. The only reason he was able to sleep that night was because it seemed so clear to him: she wanted to die.
There were reports that earlier in the day she'd been behaving oddly. She lived alone and had never before exhibited any signs of depression, though witnesses interviewed at the library said that lately she'd appeared unusually agitated.
A relative flew in from out of town to handle the arrangements.
Mr. James told the new librarian that if anyone asked what had happened, she should simply say, "I'm afraid I don't know," and then offer help in locating a book. And that was exactly what she did.
Copyright © 1999 by Nancy Star
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