by Alyson Mann
You have lost your friggin’ mind.”
She could almost hear Len’s voice, see the shake of the few hairs left on his head. He would have been proud of avoiding a swear, but completely unaware of the irony, using the word, “frig.” Here she was, 64-years-old, standing in line with her grandson, blushing at the thought of just speaking with a children’s librarian. The Librarian. Len would have loved that. Isn’t that rich, he might have said. Well, Len, you dropped dead at 63 so you can say whatever you want, and it’s only so much smoke.
Jane knew the history of the word frig, though it seemed as antiquated as she felt. To perform lesbian sex, when the genitals are rubbed together. She had been researching. Yes, porn the obvious first step for the curious. Watching it felt ridiculous. It seemed as artificial as a couple blow up dolls pressed together by unseen hands. Plus, she couldn’t help thinking of how young everyone in the pornos seemed. Were they coerced? These thoughts really took all the fun out of exploration. Not that it hadn’t turned her on. The body slides easily into things even as the mind chafes. After her dabble in porn, she turned to where she had always turned: science and history.
She looked at the explosion of science around sexuality in the early 1900’s, starting with discussions of sexual deviance. Laughable descriptions masqueraded as data. Ogling doctors intent on measuring the length of the clitoris recorded every salacious detail of sexual interaction between women. They filled pages of “scientific” literature. Men trying to prove what they already believed to be true rather than discovering what they didn’t know and couldn’t possibly understand. The white male scientist of the day thought the Black female and the female homosexual were overly masculinized versions of the correct female prototype. The men in charge took out their rulers, pens, and notebooks and illustrated their fantasies of the “deviant” female. Jane imagined the flesh-and-blood women staring back at the scientists, jarring them from their academic sterility with salacious, hyperbolic details. “Why yes sir, my clitoris can become nine inches. Makes the ladies howl. Now about that fifty dollars...”
Lost in thought, foot by foot, Jane and Declan moved closer to the desk. Now only one mother stood in front of them. “Ouch grandma.” Declan twisted his hand out of hers. “Too tight.”
“Oh, I’m sorry sweetie.” She ducked to his level, smoothed his hair from his eyes, then stood again.
The Librarian had grey and black curls swirled together, long coils that bounced during story time with her exaggerated movements. On more than one occasion, while sitting in the circle with the other caregivers and children, Jane dreamily envisioned taking a coil and gently, lovingly tugging it, just to watch it bounce back into its natural state. She could feel the soft tickle of it as it trailed her bare chest while they—damn these intrusive thoughts!
How old was the Librarian, with her smooth skin and heavy black glasses? Grey hairs didn’t tell Jane very much. Over thirty, under sixty. She felt lecherous, wanting this woman while sitting in a children’s story hour every Tuesday at 3 p.m. Jane blushed and grabbed her grandson’s hand again. He protested mildly, then gave in.
Finally, their turn.
“Can I help you?” said the Librarian. Such a brilliant smile, full lips, a slight gap between her two front teeth. Brown butter skin. Jane said nothing. Her grandson tugged.
“He loves dragons,” Jane ejaculated.
The Librarian, “Well, who doesn’t?”
“We read Fablehaven.”
“And... you’re looking for something like it?” The Librarian nudged Jane’s sentences in the right direction while offering encouraging looks at Declan.
"I like fantasy and magic,” he said helpfully while Jane stood staring.
One to three words seemed to be all she was capable of.
“I believe we have a few books you might like. Let’s go take a look.” The Librarian gestured for them to follow.
The pair shadowed closely as the Librarian wound her way through the bookshelves, glancing back with a kindly smile to make sure they were keeping up. Declan managed to slip his hand away from his grandmother.
“Sticky,” he grumbled.
Sweaty palms, heart palpitations—Jane hadn’t had butterflies in thirty years. A one-minute walk to find a book might be the death of her. She would never have to figure out how to pick up a woman. She hadn’t even picked up her husband. During a college English class, Len had approached her with enough confidence to make them both believe he was the biggest catch this side of the Mississippi. Jane loved Len until his last breath, but he never exactly took her breath away. Then he died and she grieved. A year later, sitting on her daughter’s couch, drinking coffee while watching Declan smash Lego pieces together, her eldest daughter asked, “What now, Mom?”
Jane inhaled sharply at the question. The first thing that popped into her mind was: the Librarian. She finally let herself admit that her excitement on the mornings she was scheduled to take Declan to the library had nothing to do with a building full of books or having special time with her grandson. She took care of him every other Friday for his parent’s date night anyway. It was about the woman behind the children’s desk. Why else would she and Declan ditch the library as soon as she saw the Librarian--her Librarian—wasn’t there?
That was three months ago. Since then, Jane insisted on continuing to take Declan once a week to kindergarten story hour, even though Declan was starting to protest, now having become a very mature six. Her guise of “grandma time” was wearing a little thin. He had told her recently in his most adult voice, a startlingly accurate version of his own mother's, “Grandma, there are other things we can do.”
Now, watching the Librarian’s hips gently sway as she deftly navigated through bookshelves to find the collection she wanted, Jane desperately thought of ways to engage. So far, in her heightened state of blunder, she only came up with, Are you a vegetarian? which was both an odd non-sequitur and huge stereotype that would provide no actual information she cared about.
“Ah, here it is.” The Librarian reached down and pulled a book from the shelf. She faced Jane with what seemed like sensuously direct eye contact and showed the cover of the book to Declan. The illustration was of a young boy holding a sword while standing on top of water and staring toward a lightning-lit city in the distance.
“This is a wonderful series that contains all sorts of mythological references. There are lots of mythological beasts, adventures, and engaging situations. It would be too old for him to read on his own, but if you're reading it to him, it should be enjoyable for the both of you. Especially if you liked the Fablehaven series.
Was the Librarian smiling more than necessary?
Jane remembered her grandson, “What do you think?”
“Yes,” he said in a can-we-just-go? sort of whine.
Looking back at the Librarian, Jane said, “Does your husband enjoy it?” The most awkward question for this type of situation ever uttered.
The Librarian cocked her head and looked quizzically at Jane. “Uh... I don’t have a... well his father would enjoy reading it to him as well I think.” Jane thought the Librarian was trying to do her best to understand where Jane might be coming from. But was Jane imagining the look of “you usually seem so unremarkable during story time, are you having a stroke?” It didn’t matter. She had found out something relevant. No husband.
Jane grabbed the book, “Thank you, Thank you, so much. We’ll read it right away.” She abruptly turned on her heel, swinging Declan in the air by his arm as she headed toward the checkout desk, all burning cheeks and rapid heart.
Waiting in line, still clutching Declan's hand too tightly, she said, “Declan we are coming back for one more story time next week.” Next week she would ask the Librarian something, something more practiced, more to the point—what that point was she didn’t quite know yet. Declan gave a grumbling sigh and stubbed his toe at the ground.
“Whatever” he said with the practiced apathy and eye roll of his future pre-teen self. Jane didn’t have much time with him left as her beard. She was determined to make good use of it.