What Happened in the Library

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(Published by Connotation Press, Dec 15, 2012. Read original here.)

What Happened in the Library by Nancy Stohlman

Discouraged by the shelves of unread classics in my extensive personal library, I made a phone call. The clone I ordered showed up at my doorstep carrying an old red Samsonite hardshell suitcase. Did you bring reading glasses as specified in my instructions? I asked. She nodded and cracked an eyeglass case as proof. I showed her to my library. This will be your room, I said. I put a cot out for you, but I don’t expect you’ll be sleeping much. I also put the armchair and my favorite lamp next to the fireplace.

But it’s 100 degrees out my clone objected.

I knew you would say that, I said, so I also strung up a hammock in the backyard. And eventually summer will be over and you’ll want to read by the fireplace. Drink all the coffee and water you want and I’ll bring you three meals a day. No need to ring me—just keep your focus on the books and I’ll slip you food quietly so as not to interrupt you.

I walked my clone over to the bookshelves. My collection is far from complete, I said, but this will get you started. You can go in any order you want; perhaps you work your way chronologically with Homer, Ovid, then Chaucer, Shakespeare, all the way up to Fitzgerald, Hemingway, etc., or else you could go alphabetically by either title or author, beginning at Aesop or All Quiet on the Western Front. You could also go by themes, such as Dickens in the winter. You’ll get every other Sunday off.

What if it’s raining?

Well, if it’s raining on a Sunday then obviously I’m going to need you to stay here and read all day, so if the rainy day happens to fall on a Sunday, you’ll get Monday off instead.

I let my clone settle in and told her she didn’t have to start reading until tomorrow, and I commended myself on my own brilliance.

The first few weeks I was so happy to look in at mealtime and find her curled in the armchair, fuzzy socked feet tucked under her, glass of iced tea on the end table, sometimes the jazz station playing, sometimes just the crinkly sound of pages turning. Her profile was like my own but less weathered by daily stresses and worry lines, and I began to obsess about her and what she was doing as I lugged my lecture notes to and from the university each day, graded piles of essays from fledgling writers, and tried to muster up enough excess energy to sit in front of my own manuscript. My clone, on the other hand, spent whole days wearing the same silky nightgown, or reading in the nude on the hammock wearing just a cowboy hat. When I saw Moby Dick propped on her brown belly as I left to catch the Lightrail, I felt a true pang of jealousy.

I decided to spy on her. With all this time to read, she really should have finished more books. I pretended to leave one day but secretly cancelled all my classes and drove the car to the nearby Office Max and then took a cab home and hid in the bushes below my front window. My clone was just waking up, Moby Dick opened beside her on the bed. I noted that she had been reading that same book for quite some time now—months, even. She sat up and stretched, turned on the reading light, fluffed her pillows, reached for the coffee and chocolate croissant I had left her, pulled her red Samsonite suitcase from under the bed, popped open the lid and retrieved a book I hadn’t seen before. She settled into the pillows holding a chocolate croissant in one hand and the book, opened to the middle, in the other, and I could finally read the title: 50 Shades of Grey.

A quick informational search in my office later told me that this was not a classic nor did it have literary merit.

On the next non-rainy Sunday when my clone had the day off I broke into her red Samsonite suitcase and found piles of books with titles like: Twilight: New Moon, The Notebook, The Babysitters Club, The Nanny Diaries, Chicken Soup for the Girlfriend’s Soul, Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, and A Girl’s Guide to Getting a Husband. I opened the beautiful hardbound edition of Moby Dick she had been reading endlessly for months and instead found it gutted, a copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban neatly tucked inside.

What is going on here? I asked her when she returned Monday morning.

What are you talking about?

How’s Moby Dick?

It’s good.

What’s happened so far?

Well, they’re chasing around this whale and stuff.

What else?

Um, they’re talking a lot about whales and stuff.

And?

I don’t know! Moby Dick sucks, okay! I hate it!

Her face blanched, but it was too late.

I contacted the cloning agency and had her returned immediately. I turned down their offer of a replacement—it was still too soon. But the library seemed big and empty, I thought, cleaning up her crumbs, putting her cowboy hat on the shelf.

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