I saw it again. There it was. I went to the margins with my mechanical pencil, set to scribble as was my wont. And in the margins already scrawled-the note I was going to leave.
I would’ve taken it as a happy coincidence, a signpost from a fellow traveler, and the first 16 times it happened I did. I had those silly teenage daydreams some beautiful mousy woman who sat somewhere else in the library was leaving coded messages and watching me, the desire in all of us to be loved, to be lusted after in a manner of reserve and sophistication…to have our personal paranoia vindicated, the full package, was somewhere if I could just crack the code (was it even a code?)-had I been able to annotate my daydreams it would’ve read “cliche…banal…”
But dreams are only tangible the way water snakes are, and my attempts to grasp, to encapsulate, to fashion the right scab so I could pick it, only made it more irritated.
The library was so quiet you could’ve heard crickets had there been any left.
Who else would be studying these esoteric topics? The library no longer had a card catalogue, so it was a slim chance that I could ask them and find the phantom commentator.
I looked around the library and saw only one other person, an elderly man looking over baby board books to check if they had dirty stuff before taking them home to his child. His children? He wasn’t the woman in the dream. I didn’t bother engaging.
If she could’ve followed my tracks, she must be my equal-no one else could’ve gone this far down the rabbit hole without some genuine interest. Maybe they could. Maybe they just did so out of a masochistic professionalism I couldn’t fathom. I barred this speculation. It flirted with the unknowable.
The little circles that dotted her “i”s…
But there could only be one. I’d worked too long and too hard on this. She…whatever it was couldn’t beat me to the finish line on this research. I needed to find her before she knew I was looking and end it all.
It’d be bittersweet with overtones. Like when spies kill each other in the movies.
I took the first step and, checking my peripheral vision, asked the desk clerk if I could get the name of whoever had checked out all these books. He pulled up the records. For most titles, I’d been the only person ever to take them out.
Was it the truth or a cover-up? A false flag?
Had I, this entire time, simultaneously wanted to fuck and kill my forgotten self?
Of course I had. I always had.
How had I forgotten?
Wow! I was not expecting that! I think you could expand this to a nice short story!
It’s part of a big pile of flash fictions I have laying around. I’ve tried writing longer short fiction but it usually doesn’t have the same punch.
Love this! Quite the punch.
Thank you. I wrote it in 20 minutes on the inside of a pack of cigarettes. Didn’t need many edits.