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He loved to visit the library on sunny days. There wasn’t a single living soul there besides him and the cliché grandmother of a librarian. Everyone else on the small campus would be out enjoying the beautiful day of clear skies that rarely visited these Northern mountains. But not Pete.
He’d join the lads for a game of pick-up soccer when it was gray, and he was always happy to buy a round of drinks at the bar on a snow day. But between his rambunctious group of friends, the 23 hours of credits he carried that semester, and his mother calling every hour to see if he’d found her a daughter-in-law yet, there were very few quiet moments in Pete’s life. So he took them when he could get them.
The librarian, Mrs. Greensworth, smiled genuinely at him. She was used to his visits.
“A day in the shade, dear?” She called.
“Yes ma’am, just a bit of light reading per usual.”
“Alright love, just be safe in the horror section!” She laughed at her own joke and it did cause Pete a small chuckle.
His phone buzzed in his pocket. Without looking at the caller he turned the switch to silent, and headed towards the second floor. This floor held the more “boring” books. Rather than the fantasy, non-fiction, and new biographies that covered the first floor, the shelves up here were filled with history books and the out-of-date science books the library refused to trash. It was rare for anyone to pass up the first floor for the second. He always headed towards the back of the large room as well, just in case there was someone who came in to talk to Mrs. Greensworth, or a student with a paper due that evening who needed the computers. The packed shelves allowed him to avoid even those small sounds of conversation and panicked printing from floating towards him.
The history books were the easiest to get lost in anyway. They themselves came from different ages. There were cloth-covered books that he imagined the grandfathers of his gray-haired professors had once studied. Right next to these were brand new books in slick plastic sleeves, written when something new was discovered, or if someone felt differently about Napoleon than anyone else ever had before… again. There were middle-aged books wearing covers crinkled from years of being thrown into bookbags and slammed onto desks. Pete loved to run his fingers down a row to feel how the bindings changed as he went back and forth through time.
He plucked one at random, decided he didn’t like the angry warrior on the front, and replaced it again. He found one with no picture on the front at all. Alexander and the Ages, the title read. Conquerors were always good reads. They were half legend in their own minds already, so the features written on them were rarely disappointing. It was interesting to Pete that the mythical births and battles of these men could capture even the most realistic historians. True, it was their job to also mention the folk lore surrounding their subject, but when discussing Alexander the Great or Gengis Kahn, Sargon or Caesar, the writers always seemed to get caught up in what could not possibly be true of these mortal men. Right next to exact dates of archeological finds or references to proven archival texts, they would describe inhuman strength or divine premonitions. Pete figured there were just some people too powerful to explain.
Libraries never really had those big comfy chairs like they did in movies about attractive, tastefully-artistic people. So Pete choose to sit right on the floor with his back against shelf Aa-Br instead of any of the creaking wooden seats scattered around. He opened the large book at random, found himself partway through a chapter on the battle of Granicus. Settling into his spot between the shelves, he turned a page, and closed his eyes.
This was the most perfect sound in the world: This not-silence of crisp pages turning in an empty room. The soft scrape of finger across fine edge led to the delicate breath of the page resting upon the next. He found it enraptured him like a Monk at prayer, and he always felt Enlightenment was not so far off in those moments.
He turned another page. As the quiet deepened, it was as if all around him blurred out of time and reality. He felt the book begin to hum, a swollen rustling, through the muted space of it all.
…it was the first of three great battles, and each was deemed the world’s worst and last of its kind.
He bowed low, as was the custom in this new realm…
Soon, as they always did, the surrounding books joined in the muffled hymn. The words came deep out of time and across the vast world to whisper to him.
There is legend that the great Pirate Queen was never defeated, but that she escaped to…
…and then they discovered the pressure on a keystone would serve to hold the weight.
…with the king’s death, the kingdom was left with no heir. This was met with…
It would take the next 120 years for the road to be completed.
She had low social status by birth, yet being chosen by the emperor made her…
Both a warrior and artist, he wanted his army to continue at his side even after death.
…and so they built a city between the two mountains.
This style was to protect them from the sun, but it also served as a symbol of…
…sadly its location is lost to history…
A loud THUMP and short gasp shocked Pete into the present.
“OW! Damn damn shit damn!”
He peeked around the shelf to see the exclaimer was a young woman on the floor holding her foot.
Mrs. Greensworth was shuffling quickly up the stairs,”Oh, love, are you alright?” She leaned down to the crumpled girl, “I saw you headed up with an armful and was worried they’d be too much! Come now, lets see it. Oh you got it good there.”
Pete watched the ladies gather the scattered books for a moment. He shook the last of his serene enchantment in the shelves from his mind and stood to go help them.
“Hey, you alright? These are some heavy tomes to drop on a toe.”
“Yeah,” she looked up at him with eyes bright and sweet as cinnamon sugar, “I didn’t know anyone was up here, sorry for the noise.”
“Not, not a problem,” he stuttered. He’d come back, he always came back to the whispered worlds. “Studying for an exam?”
“No, she’s my new assistant!” Mrs. Greensworth beamed. She patted Pete’s arm and gave him a quick wink, “Help Liza get these ones where they belong, will you?”
She turned to Liza, “Pete knows this floor better than me, dear. You’ll be alright up here with him.”
Pete continued to rearrange the stack of books to hide the blush rising up his cheeks as Mrs. Greensworth sauntered away.
“Oof, I think I’ve given myself a good little bruise there.”
“Yeah,” he glanced down at her floral sandals. A blueberry bruise was forming at the base of one pink-painted pinky toe. “These guys up here don’t always like to behave, gotta watch out for them.”
Liza laughed, and he liked the sound.
Susurrus (adjective): Full of whispering sounds. (noun): a whisper or rustling sound.
To get this out of the way: Yes, this is indeed Pete from our first story. I loved writing his romantic personality so much that I wanted to give a little background to how he became that way, and today’s word/story seemed appropriate for that. And then I just couldn’t help but have Liza show up! Note: How do we feel about “bright and sweet as cinnamon sugar” to say that her eyes are a pretty brown? I always wondered why authors never gave girls brown eyes, but now I get it! I’m determined though, so expect several brown-eyed-beauties to show up this year.
I think we all have those little sounds that impress a deep, almost unexplainable feeling upon us. For me, it’s the melody of a gold-edged Bible I had when I was younger. Almost every Sunday, a few moments after the pastor would start his sermon, there was a lovely shade of quiet. Everyone would be settled in- the choir had sat back down, Mr. Ashworth had finished retrieving a peppermint from his pocket, and no one’s leg had fallen asleep yet to make them jiggle against the pew. With just the pastor’s voice echoing in the large room, I would turn one of those thin gold pages. I thought it was the most beautiful, fascinating sound in the world.
Susurrus. I love this word. How is something FULL of whispers? A whisper can’t fill anything, can it? Its whole purpose is to not be a full voice, just a quiet imitation of one. And if a whisper is quiet enough, and we cannot make out the words, is it then just rustled breath? Or does it still count as a whisper?
We have been through a very LOUD season in an extremely LOUD world. Don’t get me wrong, I love the noise of family in the holidays (the best naps are in the middle of a warm room of laughing people, aren’t they?) but there is certainly something to be said for quiet. Though I don’t think it’s really silence we’re looking for when we want time to ourselves. Silence is lonely and cold. I think we’re looking for time to listen to those whispers, whether it’s of the world around us trying to say something or the words inside us we can’t often hear. Our hearts and souls and heads are constantly susurrus. The trees outside on a sunny day are susurrus, the little bonsai and aloes hiding in my apartment through winter, are all susurrus too. And I’ve yet to meet someone who has stood on a mountain who would claim it had nothing to say.
So today I was quiet (shocker, for anyone who has even briefly met me) and tried to listen to the whispers outside and within. It was nice. The small sounds seemed to echo to me and I liked it. They are indeed filling. It was a small reprieve from the noise always outside, sometimes inside. I hope you too find somewhere quiet, but never silent, to listen.