The books dominate the air in this library. The dust from the ancient tomes slides into the breeze of the ventilation system. The words slip off the page. The crackling, compressed pages sit patiently, waiting to stretch, waiting to open, waiting to inhale and exhale. Those who step softly among the stacks breathe in the books. They breathe in the dust and the words and the pages, the history of different worlds, different places, different times. They creep through row upon row of books, careful to be quiet, lest their cries disrupt the air.
I am one who steps softly. I have no watch, but I am aware that it is past midnight. The library closes at two this morning. There is no way for them to find me here. At one-thirty, Jim will set off the alarm, and continue to do so every ten minutes. From the lobby, the alarm is high and loud and, though I know when it is about to sound, though I may cover my ears, my muscles tighten at the abrupt siren. Jim laughs when people jump at the sound; alone at the guard desk on most nights, it is one of his only amusements. If I am in the lobby when the alarm goes off, I also take a secret pleasure in watching the wide-eyed students stumble up the stairs, down the stairs, out of the elevator. They straggle through the lobby in a stupor, having snuffed up their share of dust and words, of the palpable quiet and the touch of history.
But now I am alone on the fourth floor, where no sound can reach me. If the alarm has gone off, perhaps the books on the second or third floor swallowed up the bells and whistles, the beeping and the buzzing. At two-fifteen, Jim locks up the doors from both the inside and the out, and places a phone on the circulation desk. Next to the phone is a note that reads, “If you find yourself alone after the library is closed, call extension 4111.” So calm, so easy. And yet, 4111 is the number of Police and Security. If I were locked in the library, though I may need a little security, I would not find it with the police.
And so I walk slowly through the stacks, running my finger over a row of books, wondering if I am indeed alone in this library, wondering if I might accidentally fall into one of the books and be lost forever. Or found. Or lost. Or found.