Friday, September 21, 2012

Summer Library Series: Library Days by Stona Fitch

Every Friday this summer authors have been sharing their childhood experiences at the library, and we've now arrived at the final Friday of the Summer Library Series here at What She Might Think--not to mention the final Friday of summer. 

This week's author is novelist Stona Fitch who went to the Cincinnati Public Library until one day in fifth grade. In fiction, it's sometimes said that a way to start a story is to bring a a stranger into town, as that's a way to introduce conflict, tension, and suspense in a piece.  And it is.  But when the stranger appears in real life . . .  that's the day that ends more than a library. 


by Stona Fitch
Working my way down the aisles, 
I picked out novels like a crow, 
attracted by shiny covers and big type. 

Cincinnati Public Library, photograph by OZinOH ,
used under CC license
The self-study math program my fifth-grade teacher gave me fit in a carton that I hauled around like ant with an enormous crumb. The laminated lessons included a test every ten cards. But tucked in the back were the answer cards, so honest students could grade their own tests. I soon discovered that skipping ahead to the answer cards and pretending to take the tests saved a lot of time. In short order, I moved on to 10th-grade level, so far ahead that I could spend class time daydreaming.

Hauling around the math carton gave me the illusion of intellect—the middle-school equivalent of carrying around the two-volume set of Musil’s Man Without Qualities. That carton said I was smart, not just a scrawny dreamer in white corduroys, a web belt, and a blue button-down shirt.

On winter weekends, the carton earned me rides downtown to the main library, clearly the only edifice in southern Ohio large and scholarly enough to let me pursue my interest in mathematics. Every Saturday, my father would drop me off at the library while he went to work at the paper plant down by the river, an arrangement designed to keep me out of trouble.

The Cincinnati Public Library squatted on a full block of Vine Street, a brick heap of the International Style that looked like a joint project of I.M. Pei and the Aztecs. The airy, cement-walled reading room allowed it to stay extra cold during the energy crisis, now in full bloom. Students and eccentrics clustered on long expanses of tables and desks—everyone bundled in sweaters and down jackets, giving the library a gulag-ish vibe. We should have been carrying picks and shovels instead of books.

At the library, I ditched my math box and prowled through the fiction stacks, sampling books the same way my sister abused a box of chocolates, jamming her little finger into each soft middle to see what was inside then putting them back in the box, hole side down.

Working my way down the aisles, I picked out novels like a crow, attracted by shiny covers and big type. Hours flew by. A hunt for Nazis (The Odessa File) segued to depressed guy in Pennsylvania (Rabbit Redux) then on to an interplanetary catastrophe (Cataclysm!). These choices weren’t intentional—these titles just happened to be at eye-level.

One Saturday in early December, I had to leave the fiction section to go to the men’s room downstairs, a smoky haven for creeps. I peed and washed my hands and found myself alone in the dingy bathroom except for someone grunting and rustling around in one of the stalls. The stall door flew open and a tall man rushed across the bathroom. He wore a blue pin-stripped suit and a white shirt and looked exactly like a bank manager, except his fly was open and he was stroking himself with intense devotion. His watery face was a rictus of ecstatic pain or its reverse.

I turned to run but he grabbed my gray sweater and pulled me down toward him. My clunky black orthopedic shoes slipped on the tiled floor as I tried to get away. He had a firm hold of me but I managed to wriggle away, freeing my spindly arms from the sweater, which slipped past my face in a blur of gray wool. I slid into the wall next to the hand-dryer, stunned, my concave chest heaving.

Our brief fight left the banker with nothing but my wooly husk, which would suffice, apparently. He balled it up and mashed it into his cock over and over.

Photograph by Joe Thorn, used under a CC license
I struggled to put the scene before me in words to convince myself it was actually happening. A banker was fucking my sweater in the men’s room of the Cincinnati Public Library!

After a moment he gave a gruff yelp. Then he held my used sweater toward me like a gift.

No thanks. I shook my head and ran, slowing only to grab my math box on the way out.

My library days were over.


Stona Fitch lives and writes in Concord, Massachusetts and is the author of five novels, including Give + Take (2010), Printer's Devil (2009), and Senseless (2001).  "Library Days" is an excerpt from his memoir-in-progress, Funny As Hell. He is also the founder of generosity-based publisher Concord Free Press, which gives away its books, asking only that readers donate money to a charity or someone in need. Readers are encourgaed to pass the book on to another reader after they're finished.