And as they sang, Fentriss sneaked his hand to find a pad and pen to hide under the covers so that its scratching might not disturb the choir that soared and dipped to soar again, firing the bright air that flowed from the tree to tune his soul with delight and move his hand to remember.
The phone rang. He picked it up swiftly to hear Black ask if the waiting was over. Without speaking, he held the receiver in the window.
“I’ll be damned,” said Black’s voice.
“No, anointed,” whispered the composer, scribbling Cantata No.2. Laughing, he called softly to the sky.
“Please. More slowly. Legato, not agitato.”
And the tree and the creatures within the tree obeyed.
There were too many cards in the file, too many books on the shelves, too many children laughing in the children’s room, too many newspapers to fold and stash on the racks …
All in all, too much. Miss Adams pushed her gray hair back over her lined brow, adjusted her gold-rimmed pince-nez, and rang the small silver bell on the library desk, at the same time switching off and on all the lights. The exodus of adults and children was exhausting. Miss Ingraham, the assistant librarian, had gone home early because her father was sick, so it left the burden of stamping, filing, and checking books squarely on Miss Adams’ shoulders.
Finally the last book was stamped, the last child fed through the great brass doors, the doors locked, and with immense weariness, Miss Adams moved back up through a silence of forty years of books and being keeper of the books, stood for a long moment by the main desk.
She laid her glasses down on the green blotter, and pressed the bridge of her small-boned nose between thumb and forefinger and held it, eyes shut. What a racket! Children who finger-painted or cartooned frontispieces or rattled their roller skates. High school students arriving with laughters, departing with mindless songs!
Taking up her rubber stamp, she probed the files, weeding out errors, her fingers whispering between Dante and Darwin.
A moment later she heard the rapping on the front-door glass and saw a man’s shadow outside, wanting in. She shook her head. The figure pleaded silently, making gestures.
Sighing, Miss Adams opened the door, saw a young man in uniform, and said, “It’s late. We’re closed.” She glanced at his insignia and added, “Captain.”
“Hold on!” said the captain. “Remember me?”
And repeated it, as she hesitated.
She studied his face, trying to bring light out of shadow. “Yes, I think I do,” she said at last. “You once borrowed books here.”
“Many years ago,” she added. “Now I almost have you placed.”
As he stood waiting she tried to see him in those other years, but his younger face did not come clear, or a name with it, and his hand reached out now to take hers.
“May I come in?”
“Well.” She hesitated. “Yes.”
She led the way up the steps into the immense twilight of books. The young officer looked around and let his breath out slowly, then reached to take a book and hold it to his nose, inhaling, then almost laughing.
“Don’t mind me, Miss Adams. You ever smell new books? Binding, pages, print. Like fresh bread when you’re hungry.” He glanced around. “I’m hungry now, but don’t even know what for.”
There was a moment of silence, so she asked him how long he might stay.
“Just a few hours. I’m on the train from New York to L.A., so I came up from Chicago to see old places, old friends.” His eyes were troubled and he fretted his cap, turning it in his long, slender fingers.
She said gently, “Is anything wrong? Anything I can help you with?”
He glanced out the window at the dark town, with just a few lights in the windows of the small houses across the way.
“I was surprised,” he said.
“I don’t know what I expected. Pretty damn dumb,” he said, looking from her to the windows, “to expect that when I went away, everyone froze in place waiting for me to come home. That when I stepped off the train, all my old pals would unfreeze, run down, meet me at the station. Silly.”