Wow, time really got away from me over the holidays. What with the office parties (of course I had to attend my wife’s as well), relatives in for Christmas, and hosting one heck of a New Year’s Eve party for our friends, I just never got around to finishing that stupid book. Then somehow it managed to get buried on the side table by my recliner. When my wife found it the book was already thirteen days overdue at the Coradazo Public Library. Dammit, first time I’ve ever been late on a library book.
I hated this book, and the thought of having to pay a fine on it really frosted me. Still, I only had twenty-three more pages to go. Instead of taking it back I put it by my bedside intent on finishing it off that night. Then my brother called from out of town, so I forgot to log on to renew it.
That night I managed to read seven pages before it put me to sleep. Some books are just like that. How do these folks get published, anyway?
After getting home from work the next day I was bound and determined to finish the stupid book and be done with it. I had invested too much time to abandon it this close to the end. Heck, there were only sixteen more pages to go. So after the nightly news I withdrew to the living room and commenced reading. I fell asleep in my chair after reading just three.
Fortunately it was a short nap, but when I woke up I made myself a very strong pot of coffee.
It worked! I finally read the last tedious line a 12:15am. I was exhausted, but I’d slain the beast.
I was so anxious to be rid of the thing that I took it back to the library the very next morning. The clerk behind the counter was a big guy with an attitude, and when he scanned the book his eyebrows rose.
“Fifteen days late!” He looked like he wanted to punch me.
“Yeah, sorry. I’ve never been late before…”
He shot a glance at the office door behind me. I turned, and saw an elderly woman sitting behind a leather-topped desk. Two green-hooded banker’s lamps framed her as she toiled at an old ledger book, pen and ink, no less. The plaque on the door read Muriel Coradazo, Head Librarian. She looked more like a wizened accountant than a librarian. I smiled at her as she looked up. She smiled back and gave a little wiggly fingered wave. Quaint.
“Gonna be a hell of a fine.” the clerk informed me.
“Yeah, OK.” Turning back to the desk I reached for my wallet. “How much do I owe you?”
He peered at his little monitor. “That will be 1,638 dollars and 30 cents,” he said looking back up to me. “We take credit cards.”
I laughed at the joke. But he wasn’t laughing.
“No, really. How much?”
“Sixteen-thirty-eight and thirty.” He interlaced his fingers and cracked all his knuckles. Big knuckles.
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s ten cents a day–”
“Ten cents the first day,” he said. There was no humor in his eyes. “It doubles every day. You should have read the terms on the back of you library card more closely.”
“There is no way I am going to pay sixteen-hundred dollars for this crappy book! You are out of your frigging mind.” I turned to leave.
“Hey, Muriel, how late was Jimmy Hoffa on that book back in ’75?” he called into the dimly lit office.
“Twenty-two days,” came her sweet old-lady voice.
“Ha-ha,” the guy sort of laughed. “And back then the fine only started out at three cents.”
Two burly library clerks moved to stand just behind me.
I turned back to the desk as I reached for my credit card.
© 2013 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.
Public domain photo from the collection of the State Library of New South Wales, c. 1892 via The Commons.