The Adventures of Marian, the slightly aggressive Librarian, #5 :
Love and Peril Behind the Check-out Counter
Being the fifth and longest of the adventures of our heroine and her trusty subordinate (which is the reason we decided to comply with the current trend for excessively long colon’d titles……of course we know everyone will call it Marian 5.)Chapter 1
Six boys about half as tall as Marian raced past the checkout desk, giggling and tagging one another. One little towhead tripped and fell against the desk and screamed in laughter, before scrambling up and following the others through the door into the children’s section.
“I hate Saturdays,” Marian said. “I don’t know why they can’t keep the little…..dickenses…..in school on Saturdays, too.”
“Mmm.” Henrietta tapped furiously on the second computer.
Marian was glad to see she’d lost her silly skittishness about that computer—for a while, she’d tried to make Marian believe there was someone inside it. Surprising, when she’d always been so tediously down-to-earth before. Privately, Marian thought maybe she’d been electrocuted, just a little, and her brain was scrambled, just a little……or maybe it was just the change of life, her hormones scrambling her brain instead of electricity.
The muttering to herself that she did while she typed was still slightly worrisome. The other day, Marian had come out of her office and heard, “Stop talking to me!” in a furious whisper…..directed toward the computer screen. And a couple days later, Marian realized Henny was actually typing the things she muttered.
Another board meeting was coming up in a week or so; maybe if she asked for something for Henny……Who was she kidding? She might be able to squeeze a nickel raise out of the old skinflints, but anything else, vacation with pay for instance, which was what she probably needed, might be a little more difficult. A lot more difficult. Next to impossible.
In any case, since Henny wasn’t scared of the computer now, Marian didn’t have to do the cataloging anymore. Thank God. Henny was so much better at those little fiddly things. As the director, Marian was required to watch the big picture; it was difficult to dredge up much enthusiasm for all the tiny details. So she got the author’s name wrong once in a while. Big deal. So, OK, that one time she catalogued Hilary’s new book as Fiction. That was an easy mistake. And, OK, that book about the CIA shouldn’t have been put in ancient history. So sue me, she thought. At least I’m not tiptoeing around a piece of equipment like it’s going to bite me.
“I suppose I should go in there and make them be quiet,” Marian said.
Henny looked up from the computer screen for a moment. “Well, if they’re making noise, at least you know where they are and what they’re doing. It’s when they’re quiet that you have to worry.”
“What do you know about children? You don’t have any, any more than I do.”
“I have younger brothers and sisters. I used to baby sit when I was a teenager. I have nieces and nephews.”
Marian sighed. “Well, they give me a headache. I wish the board would have approved my request to put in a dance floor here.” She didn’t tell Henny one of the board members had laughed when she’d proposed it. The memory still smarted. Too bad Marian was a dignified adult; if she was still an adolescent she might have been able to egg Rita’s car and get away with it; but not now. “Then we could have moved on to a liquor license, and then the children would have to stay out.”
“You’re such a dreamer, Marian.”
Yes, Henny was right; she was a dreamer. A visionary. Ready to try things that could turn the stodgy library world on its ear. A prophet is never appreciated in her own country. Nor a visionary either.
“This is a library. Not a night club,” Henny went on.
Marian took a deep breath and narrowed her eyes. “Well, it’s boring.”
Henny stopped typing, put her hands down in her lap and looked directly at Marian. “How in the world did you get to be director, anyway?”
“Henny dear, there’s only one way to get to the top.”
Henny lifted her eyebrow. “Education and hard work?”
“Has that worked for you?”
“Good point. So, enlighten me.”
Marian straightened and adjusted her clothing. “Networking,” she announced. “And cleavage. Actually, maybe the cleavage should come first.” She considered for a second. “And blackmail. I think maybe you could do it without the blackmail, but I didn’t have to. Actually…….” She thought some more. “…….I think I might have been able to do it with just the cleavage, if I’d had to.”
“I’m assuming you could have gone anywhere in the business world with those skills…..”
“And you chose the library?”
Marian sighed. “When I chose my major, I thought it would be easy. I didn’t know about grant proposals and Lester Limehouse. And I didn’t know it would be so boring.”
“Wasn’t it boring in college?”
“Well, yes, but I thought that was just because it was school. They make everything boring there. And anyway, I’d made my choice. I’m not a woman to back down from a challenge. I thought, after I graduated, that I could make a difference. That I could make things interesting.”
“Oh, you do that.”
Marian smiled. “Thank you, dear. Did I tell you? The next thing I’m going to work on is getting rid of these quantities of books and bringing in—“
“Do you hear anything?” Henny interrupted.
“No. It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Silence.”
“No!” Henny started up from her chair and just at that moment the fire alarm began to clang.
Both the women screamed. The children in the children’s room raced out, looking guilty; the other patrons ran for the door.
“Call the fire department! Tell them not to come!” Henny shouted over the alarm.
“Henny, it’s a fire, we have to get out!!” Marian shouted back.
“I’m sure it was just the boys playing! I’ll put it out!! Call the fire department!” She picked up the metal wastebasket, dumped the papers out of it, and ran toward the children’s section.
“What the hell is that number?” Marian muttered to herself. “Where’s the damn phone book?? How do I shut off that awful noise???”
She had just picked up the receiver when the fire truck pulled up outside. The tanker. The men in their hats and slickers jumped out. They grabbed the end of the big hose and ran.
Marian met them at the door. “We really don’t need—“ she began, but the fellow in front (she thought it was Sam Samuelson, but with that stupid hat on, she couldn’t be sure) said, “I see the smoke! This way, guys!” and pushed past her.
He must have had good eyes. It was a very thin wisp of smoke.
The hose got fat with water. Marian heard Henny shriek when the intrepid firemen passed through the doorway into the children’s section.
“No, no, no---“ Anything else she might have been going to say was drowned out by the gush of water from the hose.
Marian managed to push the volunteer firemen out of her way and stuck her head inside the room in time to see Sam turn the nozzle off. You’ve heard the expression, “Mad as a wet hen”? They might have to change it to, “Mad as a wet Henny”. Marian was afraid for a second her assistant might explode.
Henny picked up the wastebasket off the floor, dumped the water out of it, and swung it as hard as she could at Sam’s head. He was probably lucky he was wearing that stupid hat. Wham!!
“You idiot!!” Henny screamed. She wound up again. Wham! “What’s the matter with you?? Are you insane??” Wham! “Get out!! Get out!!” Wham! Wham!
Sam was trying to ward off the blows with his arm. “Now, Miss Henrietta—“
“Don’t you ‘Miss Henrietta’ me, you fool!!” Wham!
The firemen in the front would have liked to retreat; it wasn’t often they were confronted with a librarian wielding a weapon, wet or dry. But the firemen in the back of the line were crowding forward, trying to see what was going on. Finally, Sam, who was catching the brunt of the attack, yelled, “Everybody outside!” About half the men obeyed, which left enough room for the others to back up, dragging their still turgid hose with them.
Somebody grabbed Marian’s arm and tried to pull her along with the firemen out the door, but she aimed for the somebody’s kneecap with her heel, and he let go. She didn’t want to miss a minute. This was better than television.
“I put the fucking fire out!!” Henny yelled. “Five books—that was all that was ruined before you showed up!” Wham! “How many do you suppose are ruined now? Huh?” Wham!
Marian didn’t even know Henny knew the F word.
“I don’t know, Miss Henrietta, but could you just—“
Wham!! “A hundred!!” Marian began to worry again about that exploding thing. She’d never seen the normally docile library assistant quite so red in the face. “Two hundred!!” Wham!! “And what are you going to do about it???”
“I don’t see what---ow!!”
“OK,” said the fellow behind Sam, “She’s hysterical. Do we have that medical kit in the truck?”
Henny aimed for him. Wham!!
“I’ll get ahold of her, boys, and you get the sedative—“
Suddenly Henny was perfectly still. “What did you say?”
“Now, Miss Henny, you’re just overwrought,” the second fireman said (Marian thought it was Donny Donaldson, he was short enough). “Fire will do that to a person.” He extended his hand toward the dripping woman.
Henny’s eyes narrowed. “You better think about what you’re doing before you bite off more than you can chew.” She sounded serious.
“It’s gonna be ok, Miss Henrietta, I’ll just help you over here.” He meant to take her arm; whether he’d actually have helped her, or whether he just wanted to incapacitate her, Marian never got to find out.
“Don’t you touch me, you a$$hole.” Henny almost didn’t look wet any more. You didn’t notice anything except the fire in her eyes. “Or they’ll have to sweep up what’s left of you with a broom.”
Donny stopped; even though Marian couldn’t see his face, she thought he seemed confused. Probably because he said, “What?”
Henny gathered herself up as far as her five feet six inches would let her, and said with a sneer that even kind of scared Marian, “Get out of my library before I separate your head from your body.”
The firemen looked at each other, and then, as a group, backed away, toward the library exit. Even heroes have their limits. And separation anxiety can strike anyone. Especially volunteer heroes who wouldn’t get paid even if their anxiety turned into reality.
The stupid hose leaked all the way out the door.
Henny was still enraged. “AAAAaaarrrgggHHHHH!!!!!” she said, and threw the wastebasket toward the picture of the carousel horse above the preschool section. Luckily, it hit the frame and not the glass. Still, it was a pretty good shot.
“Wow,” Marian said. “I’ve never seen you this way. Next time some tourist decides to rip pages out of our atlas, I’ll let you throw him out.”
“You don’t understand, do you? You don’t have a clue.”
“Well…..I realize lots of books got wet……..”
Henny walked out to the check-out counter, around behind it, and slumped into a chair. She began to tremble.
“I’m sure,” Marian said, following her, “that the insurance will cover the books. We’ll just throw the wet ones out and get new ones.” She patted Henny on the shoulder. “Don’t worry.”
“I catalogued every one of those books,” Henny said. “Every one.” She sniffed. “I processed them, I covered them with plastic……I stuck the date-due post-its inside each and every one.”
Marian didn’t quite see where she was going with that. “I don’t think we need to start feeling maternal about inanimate objects, dear.”
Henny looked at Marian and gritted her teeth. “And now I’ll have to do it all again!! All three hundred of them all over again!! Don’t you see?”
“Oh. Well, I can help you—“
“Don’t help me!! That stack I’m working on over there are the ones you helped me with the last time! Don’t help me ever again!!”
Marian considered flouncing away in a huff. Flouncing was fun, and ever since she’d met Arthur, she hadn’t gotten to do much of it. Hard to flounce when you’re horizontal. But Henny was her friend as well as her co-worker, as odd as she was, and so she didn’t. She allowed herself a tiny snit, however.
“Fine. Do them all by yourself. See if I care.”
Henny sagged suddenly, and began to cry. Not her usual timid, please-don’t-be-mad-at-me-because-I’m-crying sniffles. No, this was loud gusty sobbing.
“Oh, dear. Henny…..I could shelve while you’re doing that. Then if I got it wrong it wouldn’t matter; no one would notice. Or…..I could……um, I could put the stickers inside the books. Couldn’t I?”
Henny nodded. She ran her hand across her eyes.
“And we don’t have to do it right away. In fact, we don’t have to get any more new books at all for a while. Everybody can just read the old ratty ones.”
Henny snorted; and nodded again.
“And you know what? I think you should take tomorrow off. We’ll close the children’s section until we get it cleaned up again; and I can handle the adults myself. You just stay at home. Or go shopping. Or get your hair done. Or something.”
“Blue,” Henny said.
“I’m going to die my hair blue.”
“Hmmmm. You’re not really very gray yet, you know.”
“Or pink.” Henny was still sniffling, but there was a determined glint in her eyes.
“I had a piano teacher once with pink hair. Her sister had lavender hair.”
“Or fire-engine red.”
“Oh, dear. Well…..maybe you should think about that for a while. Sleep on it, and see how you feel in the morning.”
Henny had definitely gone off the deep end. Who would do the cataloging now?
Cue the organ music.
Who is Henny talking to in her computer? Is she nuts?
More organ music.
Does Henny have dark secrets Marian cannot conceive of? And why isn’t the recently horizontal Marian horizontal today? And…….Who will do the cataloging now?
Tune in tomorrow, dear readers, for the answers to these questions, and other more thrilling ones.
Big organ music: dah dah dah DAHHHHHHH!
“Oh, stop it,” Marian said.