BOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING
“Oh, I just love that Maxim de Winter,” Violet La Rue said, her knitting needles clicking together as if to emphasize her words. “He gives me the shivers.”
“Him?” Nancy Peyton asked. “He’s not nearly as scary as Mrs. Danvers.”
Lindsey Norris glanced up from her knitting at the two ladies sitting across the circle from her. It was crafternoon Thursday, where members of the crafternoon club gathered at the Briar Creek Library to do a craft, currently they were knitting, and discuss the assigned book of the week.
Lindsey was the director of the library and this group had been one of her ideas to make the Briar Creek Library the place to be in the small town. Unfortunately, she had discovered that her ability to knit and talk at the same time was about as good as her ability to pat her head and rub her tummy at the same time. Which meant it took great effort and the results were not pretty.
“Oh, that Mrs. Danvers,” Violet clucked. “Someone should push her out of a window.”
Violet was a tall, thin black woman with warm brown eyes and gray hair that she wore pulled back from her face in a tight bun at the back of her head. She dressed in colorful, flowing clothes that whispered around her when she walked. She was a retired actress, having starred on the Broadway stage most of her life, who now volunteered her time at the Briar Creek Community Theater.
She was an expert knitter and it irked Lindsey to note that she wasn’t even looking at her needles while she spoke.
“I read that Mrs. Danvers is one of the most infamous female characters in literature,” Nancy said, also not looking at her needles. She was Lindsey’s landlord and Violet’s best friend.
Lindsey dumped her knitting into her lap and said, “REBECCA is Daphne Du Maurier’s greatest work and frequently draws comparisons to JANE EYRE.”
“Oh, she’s getting irritated with her knitting again,” Violet whispered to Nancy.
“I am not,” Lindsey protested.
“It’s all right, dear,” Nancy said. “You always put on that scholarly voice when you’re frustrated with your knitting.”
“I do not,” Lindsey protested.
A widow in her mid-sixties, Nancy was a delightful landlady. With her short gray hair and sparkling blue eyes, she didn’t miss much that went on around her. She liked to bake cookies, she was teaching Lindsey to knit, and she never nagged about the rent, but sometimes she mothered Lindsey and at thirty-five, Lindsey wasn’t really sure how to tell her to knock it off, especially when it was kind of nice to have that maternal softness in her life.
“Do not what?” a voice asked from behind her.
Lindsey glanced over her shoulder to see a giant teapot standing behind her. A few months ago, she would have found this odd but not now.
“How was story time?” she asked.
“Full house,” Beth said. “The kids loved my Mrs. Potts outfit and of course I taught them all to sing I’m a little teapot.”
“Naturally,” Lindsey said.
If Beth weren’t a librarian, Lindsey was pretty sure she would have been a circus performer. She could just see her balanced on a pony, riding around the ring in a tutu with a feather on her head. Beth brought that over the top energy to her role as a children’s librarian and in fact to her whole life.
Lindsey had met Beth Stanley ten years before when the both were attending Southern Connecticut State University to get their master’s degree in library science. They had ended up rooming together in a small second floor apartment on the Boulevard in New Haven.
It had never been dull living with Beth. Lindsey still remembered the day she had come home from class and found Beth painting a life sized mural of a rabbit warren on the living room wall. She had just read Watership Down and was inspired to get a pet bunny, which she named Blackberry after her favorite character in the book, and was decorating the living room to look like a rabbit’s habitat so that Blackberry would feel more at home.
Upon graduation, Beth had come right here to Briar Creek to be the children’s librarian, while Lindsey had pursued a more academic career path, becoming an archivist at Yale’s Beinecke Library. Her undergraduate work had been in literature and she had originally thought that she’d go on to pursue a degree and position to become a museum curator, but she’d found the library world to be a better fit. It wasn’t hard for her to guess why. She’d been a nerd to the tenth power as a kid. A bookworm, who played the flute in the band, who wore thick glasses and kept her blonde hair cut short in a frizzy bob, she was a bit of a loner, preferring the company of the characters in her books to actual people, the only exception being her brother Jack.
Things had been going just as she’d planned right up until six months ago. Suddenly her personal life had imploded and the economy tanked. Budgets had been slashed at the University and positions eliminated, one of which had been Lindsey’s.
When Beth heard that she had been let go, she encouraged her to apply for the open position of Library Director here in Briar Creek, a quaint town perched on the shore of Connecticut. Lindsey had been charmed by the library and the town and when they’d offered her the job, she had agreed and had been the director of the small public library for the past several months.
“So, what is it that you don’t do?” Beth asked.
“I do not put on my scholarly voice when I get frustrated with my knitting,” Lindsey said.
“Yeah, you do,” Beth said as she shimmied out of the enormous teapot. She was short and curvy. Her cropped black hair was arranged in wispy spikes, a disarray on purpose sort of hairdo. The spray of freckles across her upturned nose made her seem younger than she was, but it was her childlike exuberance that really rolled the years back from her true age of thirty-two. Lindsey knew whenever she heard laughter in the library, it was usually because Beth was in the building.
“Where’s Mary?” Beth asked.
“She said she was shorthanded at the café and would be running a little late. I hope she brings some chowder with her,” Violet said.
“That would be perfect on a cold, rainy day like today,” Beth agreed as she plopped into the cushy seat beside Lindsey and pulled her knitting out of her Friends of the Library tote bag. She was working on a sapphire blue cardigan that just begged to be snuggled in.
“Honey, what exactly is that?” Violet asked Lindsey as she leaned forward to get a better look at the pile of heather blue yarn on her lap.
Lindsey held up her knitting. “Socks, well, a sock.”
Violet and Nancy exchanged a look and Beth glanced at her out of the corner of her eye.
“What?” she asked. “Come on, spill it.”
“Nothing,” Violet said. “But…um…who are you knitting it for?”
“Oh, so he is real,” Nancy said. There was a twinkle in her blue eyes that should have warned Lindsey, but she missed it.
“Of course my father’s real,” she said.
“Wow, so how does it feel to be a descendent of Big Foot?” Beth asked. She muffled her laugh with her knitting.
“What?” Lindsey asked and then looked at the sock on her two circular needles and frowned. “Oh, you. It’s not that big.”
All three of them stared at her.
“Did you check your gauge?” Nancy asked. To her credit, she didn’t add “duh” to the question.
“I…um…no,” Lindsey admitted.
All three of the other ladies shook their heads.
“You have to check your gauge,” Nancy said.
“Swatching; it’s a rule,” Violet said.
“Like not wearing white shoes before Memorial Day,” Beth added.
“Amen,” Violet and Nancy said together.
Lindsey heaved a sigh. She’d been planning to have these socks done for the holidays and given that it was October the holidays were rapidly approaching, but the way it was going she wouldn’t get them finished until spring. She reminded herself that she was as new to knitting as she was to Briar Creek, but still.
She considered the sock from all angles and an idea struck. She continued knitting.
“You’re really going to keep going with that?” Beth asked.
“Yes, because now it’s a hat,” she said. She chuckled and the others joined her.
Their laughter was interrupted when the door to the crafternoon room opened. They all glanced up expecting to see Mary. Instead, it was Ms. Cole. She sniffed in disapproval at the copies of Rebecca on the table, the knitting needles and the small fire roaring in the fireplace.
Ms. Cole was in charge of circulation at the library. She was what Lindsey considered an old school librarian who had been miffed ever since the card catalog went the way of the dinosaur.
“Can I help you, Ms. Cole?” she asked.
“If you can tear yourself away from your knitting,” Ms. Cole said. Her voice was sharp with disapproval even though Lindsey made sure to participate only during her lunch hour.
“Talk about perfect casting for Mrs. Danvers,” Violet whispered to Nancy who turned her laugh into a cough.
Just then a dripping wet Mary pushed through the door around Ms. Cole.
“Sorry, I’m late,” she said. “But I come with chowder.”
Mary put a large paper sack down and shrugged off her raincoat, hanging it on the coat stand by the fireplace.
“I was hoping you would have extra chowder after the lunch crush,” Violet said. “The Blue Anchor has the best clam chowder on the east coast.”
“That’s a fact,” Beth said.
“I don’t suppose there were any extra clam fritters?” Nancy asked.
“Just for you, Nance,” Mary said. “They’re in the bag.”
She shook out her shoulder length dark brown curls and hefted the bag over to the table and started unloading it. Then she took her knitting out of her backpack, a fisherman’s sweater for her husband Ian, and sank into one of the cushy upholstered chairs. “So, Rebecca, was she awful or what?”
“But she’s dead,” Nancy said. “Is she awful or is it just the memory of her that is awful?”
“I think she was,” Beth said. “She was pregnant by another man.”
“And she taunted poor Maxim,” Violet said. “I’m glad he found a new wife, although the poor thing has to contend with the ghost of her memory.”
“The new wife is the narrator,” Lindsey observed. “She’s an interesting character, yes?”
“Very,” Nancy agreed. “She is quite a sympathetic figure.”
“Remind me, what’s her first name?” Lindsey asked.
The others exchanged glances. Mary opened her mouth and then closed her mouth. She and Beth dove for copies of REBECCA at the same time.
Lindsey smiled as they flipped through, trying to find the name of Du Maurier’s narrator.
“Honestly, food in the library, knitting, a fire in the fireplace,” Ms. Cole said. “Our former director Mr. Tupper never would have allowed such goings on. I really have to protest, Ms. Norris.”
“You can call me Lindsey.”
Ms. Cole said nothing. She merely looked at the food and the books and the happy women clustered around the roaring fire and looked pained.
“Ms. Cole, I know you find this difficult,” Lindsey said. “But this room was never used before and it’s such a lovely space. It’s perfect for little groups like the crafternoon club to gather. There are no books in here to be damaged by food and the fireplace is more than a decoration. It actually gives heat.”
Ms. Cole gave her a flat stare and Lindsey sighed. “All right, what is it that needs my attention?”
“Follow me, please,” Ms. Cole said and led the way out of the room. Her sensible shoes didn’t make as much as a squeak on the highly glossed wooden floors. In a brown skirt, thick beige stockings and a white blouse under a tan cardigan, Ms. Cole was the picture of nondescript. Her gray hair was worn in fat sausage curls on her head and a pair of reading glasses hung from a chain around her neck.
She looked as if she’d been frozen in time since 1955.
Lindsey followed her stout figure as she strode back to the main library. She could only imagine how Ms. Cole was going to take it when she invited the gardening club to use the room or even worse had Mary host a cooking class in there.
They approached the circulation desk, which was currently being manned by their part time clerk Ann Marie Martin. The mother of two rambunctious boys, Ann Marie only worked a few days a week. It was what she called her “grown up time”.
“You need to talk to her,” Ms. Cole said. “Mr. Tupper always said, ‘A fine is a fine and we don’t make any exceptions’.”
Ann Marie glanced up at them. She was a little older than Lindsey and wore her brown hair in the standard mom pony tail and dressed in corduroy jumpers with pretty blouses underneath. She always smelled like apples and was quick with a grin and quicker with a laugh. Lindsey thought her boys were pretty lucky to have her.
Right now, Ann Marie was not grinning, however, in fact, it looked as though it was taking all of her self-restraint not to roll her eyes.
“He didn’t have any money,” Ann Marie said. “I made a note on his record that he would pay his fine the next time he comes in, but yes, I let him check out the books he needed for his school project. I take full responsibility for the two dollars and twenty cents that he owes.”
Ann Marie spun the flat computer screen on the desk so that Lindsey could see it. She looked at the circulation record and saw Matthew Carter’s name and information as well as the note Ann Marie had said she’d put on his account.
“Seems okay to me,” Lindsey said. “Our policy is that we don’t revoke borrowing privileges until the patron owes more than ten dollars. Matthew’s a good kid. I think we need to give him the opportunity to prove himself.”
“If he would return his items on time, he wouldn’t need that opportunity,” Ms. Cole said with a sniff.
“That’s why we value you so much,” Lindsey said. “You help us to be better than we are, Ms. Cole, by keeping your expectations high.”
Ms. Cole blinked at her as if uncertain whether she was being mocked or not.
“If you’ll excuse me,” Lindsey said. “I’m just going to finish up our book talk, and I’ll be right back.”
“Have fun,” Ann Marie said. “Oh, and Milton wanted to talk to you.”
“Is he in his usual spot?” Lindsey asked.
“Yep,” Ann Marie said. “Same corner as always.”
“Thanks,” Lindsey said.
She turned away from the desk and scanned her library. It wasn’t huge, but it was a wonderful space all the same. The old stone building was two hundred years old. Before it had been the town library, it was the private residence of a ship builder. It had been renovated numerous times over the years, but it still retained a nautical charm with its wooden floors and beamed ceilings and long tall windows that overlooked the bay.
The children’s section was Beth’s domain and she had designed it to look like a small enchanted island. There was a couch that looked like a big sand dune, the floor was soft blue carpet, fake palm trees were stationed around the room and a large pirate’s treasure chest was filled with puppets and dress up clothes and building blocks.
And, of course, there was Fernando, Beth’s colorful toy parrot, who lived in a large birdcage in the corner. The kids especially loved that he had a sound activated recorder programmed to repeat everything they said. He was of particular delight to Ann Marie’s boys who liked to teach Fernando naughty words.
Lindsey cut through the children’s area to the adult section, which was much less fanciful. Cushy arm chairs were scattered around this space with small tables to accommodate laptop computers, study carols with soft green banker’s lamps lined one wall and a bank of computers with word processing and Internet capability lined another. Shelves and shelves of books, fiction in one section and non-fiction in another, filled out the remaining space in the room.
Lindsey passed by the computers and books and arrived at the small lounge area for the adults. Magazines and newspapers filled freestanding racks circled by a big sofa and several arm chairs. And there in the corner, standing on his head was Milton Duffy.