A Public Library

“A public library is a quaint place to be in terror of one’s life.” — Unknown



War and Peace was overdue again so I carried it back to the library with both hands.

It was October, but it was snowing.

Everyone was drunk that day or an old lady. Three drunks asked me for money, though I only had a quarter on me. The first drunk needed antibiotics for his dog. The second was distraught over his dog needing hip surgery. The third said she had twelve pups and they’d all had puppies. I gave her the quarter.

“Riff-raff,” said an old lady into her scarf as she passed me. I wasn’t sure if she meant them or me.


Three drunks were sitting and standing and smoking around the front door of the library.

I went in through the side door.

I slid War and Peace down the book chute. There was a thud and a scream.

I turned. Everyone was staring at a ginger with a backpack. Pacing between the rows and rows of computers.

For some reason, I unzipped my jacket.

“I feel like breaking things and people,” said a dishevelled man to the Reference woman.

“Try non-fiction,” she said.

The ginger punched the wall and screamed.

The ancient security guard whistled.


The previous spring, when the library reopened (it had been a crime scene), I went to look at the new titles.

I always read the back covers.

“A blinding work of luminous brilliance,” said one cover.

“A deafening work of thunderous genius,” said another.

“If talent had an odour, this book would obliterate one’s sense of smell.”

On the bottom shelf, a big book with a coming-off spine caught my eye.

War and Peace.

I picked it up with both hands.


The ginger punched the wall and screamed. That brought me out of it.

I scanned the bookshelves. I’d pretty much read everything.

The librarian heaved War and Peace back onto the shelf.

I thought, What the hell. I was curious how Book One ended.

“I wish I was dead,” said a wobbly man to the Reference woman.

“You might like Poe,” she said.

I lifted War and Peace onto the checkout counter.

“This is a good one,” said the librarian.

“You’ve read it?” I said.

“No,” she said.

The ginger punched the wall and screamed.

The security guard tipped his hat.

“Have a nice day,” he said.


Three drunks were lying and smoking and laughing by the side door. I went out the front door instead.

Right beside the library, an old man slipped on ice.

“My God,” I said. “Are you all right?”

“Spare change?” he said.

I smelled liquor on his breath.

I gave him a quarter.

“Pathetic,” said an old lady passing by.

I was pretty sure she meant me.


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