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View From the Fiction Shelf

by

Harry Buschman

Sherman Temple dropped in to the library after work again today. He was drawn to it like a fly to flypaper by the little blond at the check out desk. She was always at the check-out desk and if he stood at the fiction shelf he could watch her without her knowing, and with no one else suspecting. It was dark where he stood and as long as he held an open book in front of him he could watch her until it was time to go home for supper.

She was a small girl, quick and prone to smile with little provocation. She was a two-tone blond, her hair parted loosely in the middle, with darker streaks falling heavily to both sides. When she bent over a book her face was nearly covered and she would toss her head impatiently to settle her hair back over her shoulders. He knew her name was Sharon, all the workers at the library wore little name tags. He wondered about that and decided the reason was so that each of them knew who the other was.

He didn't know her schedule ... it was six p.m. now, the light growing dim outside, and she was still checking out books. His plan was to drop in every day about this time in the hope of striking up a conversation with her as she left for the day. So far he was unsuccessful and he was getting impatient.

He decided to make a move instead of waiting for her. He would wait only until she was free, then go over and ask her a question -- a book he couldn't find, or how to use the computer catalog. He would just have to remember to keep calm, stick to the subject and above all try not to get tongue-tied as he so often did when talking to women. Even if he did make a fool of himself, he had to take the chance. There was something about Sharon that obsessed him. She seemed to possess the combination of shyness with people and familiarity with books -- and to Sherman the combination was irresistible.

This evening he saw her alone and idle at the book check-out desk and he began walking nonchalantly in her direction, but made an about face quickly when she suddenly walked away and an elderly woman wearing thick glasses took her place. He turned back and saw her again in a small hallway getting into her coat. Maybe if he hurried to the front door she would pass him on her way out. He quickly put the book he was holding back on the shelf and hurried to the front door.

He stopped in the lobby just outside the inner door. What could he say to her when she passed him? He had excuses made up for his initial move inside but not out here. He shifted from one foot to the other trying to think of something clever to say. He could say "Hello Sharon" of course, but it should be something more suave and meaningful than that. He knitted his brow in concentration while he waited.

She appeared suddenly, walking quickly, her heels tattooing across the tile lobby. She rummaged through her tote bag as she passed him. Sherman stood there transfixed. He even forgot the simple, "Hello Sharon." He must have made some sort of sound because she looked at him quickly, the electric blue of her eyes and her faint scent took the wind out of him. He simply smiled absently as a child might smile at something in a toy store he wanted but couldn't have.

She lowered her eyes quickly and pulled her car keys out of her tote bag, then shouldered her way through the lobby doors. "Damn," he thought, "I never even got to open the door for her." He stood at the lobby door and watched her walk to her car. It's lights flickered in welcome as she opened the doors with her remote. She took off her coat before getting in.

Sherman shook his head philosophically, It would have to be another day. Maybe tomorrow -- and if it was tomorrow he only had a day to plan for it.

Sherman lived with his mother in an old section of town. He lived in the house he was born in. His mother, Ingrid, was carried over the threshold to this house thirty seven years ago on her wedding night, the strain on her husband was apparently too much for him and he never fully recovered. From then on Ingrid turned her attention to Sherman, their only child who had been fatherless since his tenth year.

He had a good job, a better one by far than his father ever had, he brought his pay check home every week and gave his mother half. She should have been content, but she worried nonetheless. What would happen to her if he got married or transferred to another city, or if he was run over by a bus downtown. But most of all she worried about what would happen to her if he got married. Would a strange young woman take over? Throw out all her lovely things, move her to the spare bedroom, or somehow convince Sherman to sell the house and move somewhere else -- maybe even pack her off to a home for the aged? She read horror stories like that every day. She wanted him to marry, of course; she felt it was only natural, but she hoped it be the right kind of girl. Some nice young girl from the church - oh, she wasn't bigoted or anything like that, but there were so many girls on the make these days ... foreign girls, Catholics and poor girls looking to marry up and coming young men.

Speaking of up and coming ... where was he?

She waited at the living room window for Sherman every day. He was never late, unless the train was late - at least not until last week, and that caused her to worry even more. He must be stopping off somewhere and the thought of him doing something without telling her was upsetting.

She saw him finally, and glanced quickly at her watch. Nearly an hour late! What had he been up to? He was walking slowly, as if he had something on his mind. She wondered if his company was in trouble -- so many of them were. She pulled away from the window and hurried to the kitchen to turn up the heat under the vegetables.

"You're late, Sherman ... trouble with the train?"

"I stopped off at the library, Mom."

"Would you put the plates out, dear. Dinner's almost ready." She waited until Sherman made himself a drink ... "the library? Why on earth did you stop at the library?"

Sherman didn't offer an explanation. He stood looking out the dining room
window with a drink in his hand.

"You should get out more, Sherman. Home -- work -- now the library." Ingrid was now set to bring up her favorite subject. "There's so much to do at the church, Sherman - so many young people, nice people. People like us. You should
..."

"Don't start, Mom."

"It's only that I want you to be happy, Sherman."

Dinner was Sunday's roast warmed over. A little past it's prime but the vegetables were fresh. Ingrid and Sherman ate in silence, neither of them wanting to 'start', as Sherman called it. They cleared the table and Ingrid picked up TV Guide.

"I have some work to do, Mom. I'll be in my room." Ingrid looked at him with troubled eyes, he recognized the look as the same sick baby look she used when he was little. As he climbed the stairs to his room he felt a vast relief at being alone, he had to think tonight.

"Sharon! There must be a way ... how do other men do it ... or is it something that just happens . A chance encounter ... no, it's more than that. It's a technique to increase the chances." Sherman realized what a disadvantage it was to be an only child and have to do these things alone. "Perhaps," he thought, "I should have a fall-back position. If all else fails, I should have a letter ready ... something I can plant somewhere. Maybe in her car, maybe in a book I return to her ..."

He sat himself down to compose a letter. He did it on the computer but he planned to hand write it when he had it letter perfect. It was difficult. It didn't come easily. It wasn't like writing a memo in the office. He tried to picture Sharon in front of him ... "Dear Sharon," he started. "No!" that was presumptuous. "Ms. Sharon -- No!" That sounded stupid - like something out of "Gone With the Wind." Here he was trying to write a letter introducing himself to a girl and he couldn't get her name down right! No, this would never do. It would have to be done in person - face to face. He turned off the computer, took a cold shower and went to bed.

"Are you in bed already, Sherman? I thought you had work to do."

"Goodnight, Mom."

It was a restless night for Sherman, he dreamed of a shipwreck and before his unchained mind reached a logical conclusion to that, he dreamed of being lost in the city - trying to get to the train and finding himself in strange and troubling places - marvels of convoluted architecture leading to cul-de-sacs from which there was no possible exit.

At the breakfast table Ingrid looked at him with anxious eyes. She asked him if he liked the new cereal - if the coffee was strong enough, and if he needed help opening the jam jar. To all these questions, Sherman answered absently, staring out the kitchen window into the gray morning.

"You sure you're okay, Sherman? You don't look well -- you should take better care of yourself, really Sherman -- when was the last time you had a check-up?"

"I'm okay, Mom."

"It's the office isn't it? They ask too much of you -- you should really get out more."

"Mom. For God's sake!" It was almost more than he could bear, and when he got to the office It was not much better there. The production manager decided Sherman was the most qualified to handle the inventory, and he spent the day testing circuit boards newly arrived by FedEx from Indonesia.

But his mind was elsewhere, he was determined to see Sharon that evening after work. He had never been in love before, was love supposed to be this way? It was destroying him! He couldn't live this way! He would just march up to the check-out desk and confront her. He would say ... what would he say? One or two circuit boards slipped by without being checked while Sherman tried to figure out what he would say to Sharon.

He continued after lunch, one circuit board after another slowly passed his careless review. About three in the afternoon he turned off the apparatus, stood up and rolled his sleeves down.

"I'm going home," he stated to no one in particular. He shrugged himself stiffly into his jacket and settled his hat firmly on his head. He walked with measured tread to the employees entrance and passed the time clock without stopping. The watchman looked at him guardedly, and catching the look in his eye, decided against standing in his way.

He caught the 3:15 local and stared out the unwashed window as the familiar stations came and went. The conductor finally announced his stop and he stood up abruptly as if his name had been called in a doctor's waiting room.

The first words he would speak to her had suddenly come to him as the stations flashed by. He was going to march in there and say, "Sharon, I must speak to you alone. Now!" That was it. The words rang true to him as walked the few blocks to the library. "Sharon, I must speak to you ... " Yes that was it, no beating around the bush.

He burst through the library doors and stared at the check out desk, the elderly woman in thick glasses was standing there. She looked up quickly at the disturbance and saw the frantic Sherman. She thought something terrible might have happened out in the street and he had come in to call 911. Although she was checking out gardening books for an elderly gentleman, she gave Sherman her full attention.

"What's wrong young man? What can I do for you?"

"Where is she? The girl. The girl who usually works here.?"

"Who? I mean .... what girl? We all work here."

"The young one. The blond girl ... her name is Sharon." He was quickly losing patience and he had the wild urge to reach across the desk, grab the elderly lady's shoulders and shake her. In the meantime the elderly gentleman had backed away from the check-out desk with his library card in one hand and his books in the other.

"Sharon," she said with knitted brows? Oh, you must mean Mrs. Burden. Her husband is ill, she's not here today. Is there anything wrong?"

"Blond hair. Blue eyes. Rather short -- not too short. But short. Someone's sick at home?" Sherman seemed to melt. His tenseness evaporated and his face went slack. "I'm sorry Ma'am. I had to see her - now I can't, can I? He made an effort to pull himself together. "Well, tomorrow maybe." He turned and walked unsteadily to the door.

He stood in the lobby a moment looking down at his shoes. "Imagine," he mumbled to himself. "She said husband. She didn't mean husband. Father is what she meant to say. Yes, that's it, her father is ill. Those things happen -- he'll be better tomorrow, then I'll come in and she'll be there at the desk like she usually is, and I'll talk to her then." He walked to the front doors and held them open for a woman coming in with a armload of books, then he let himself out and stood in late afternoon sun.

"The woman at the desk, she didn't mean husband ... Father. Yes, that's what she meant. Sharon has a father just like I have a mother and she's taking care of her father because he's ill, just like a good daughter should ... it's a coincidence, isn't it?" There was a chill in the air and he was suddenly hungry. He wondered what his mother was having for supper.

Harry Buschman 2004
(2440)

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