When I found the book I wasn’t sure what it was exactly but it looked fun, like something I would open and read for a long time maybe even by myself. Mrs. Crowley the librarian was busy with some other kids especially Kevin who was talking about why he didn’t draw in his book even though he really did. I know because I saw him do it before snack time. Kevin lies a lot but its not my business so I don’t tell unless a grown up asks me. I don’t tattle.
The book sat in my lap, long and heavy and solid in a way that other books in our school library are not. It felt like a grown up book but it was shelved right next to the Pigeon stories so I guessed it was okay to read. Sometimes I take down grown up books at home and I can even read most of the words but they don’t make much sense to me. Mom and Dad say I’m already great reader but all it is to me is, I like to read. The words make awesome pictures in my brain and sometimes I can’t stop and don’t even hear Mr. Donovan calling me to the carpet after snack time.
I noticed that the book was slightly warm to the touch, like it had been left in the sun all afternoon. I ran my hands over the cover and fit my fingers under the lip of the front cover. The spine was decorated with a slashing pattern that looked almost accidental, like someone had hacked at the book with a knife. I started to raise the front cover.
“Davila, what’s that?” It was Oliviana. I didn’t like her: her name and her hair were both too long, and she whispered behind her hand about me sometimes, maybe because I’m big, bigger than some of the boys. I didn’t want to say anything to her but I couldn’t help sharing. It was too exciting.
“I think it’s a grown-up book,” I whispered, hoping she would whisper back. But Oliviana doesn’t notice things like that.
“A grown-up book!” She said, loudly. Mrs. Crowley looked over at us but I had my body turned so she couldn’t see the book in my lap and Kevin was starting to argue with another boy and that distracted her.
“Hush!” I snapped at Oliviana and she gave me a look but before she could say anything bossy I opened the book.
The book was was full of writing, but not writing like ours, no letters I mean. There were curving and slashing lines, dots and squares, almost like Chinese writing I saw at Han Noodles but different, less graceful, more…angry, somehow. Like when I colored fast and hard when Mom and Dad argued.
“Boring,” Oliviana sighed. She shied away when I snapped my eyes up at her. It was like all the rage in the book was in me all of a sudden, and I snapped, “Shut up!”
Oliviana jerked back and then went straight for Mrs. Crowley, sing-songing about how mean I was. I shoved the book back on the shelf and went after her to apologize. It took a while and then we had to leave to go back to the classroom. When I went back to the carpet the book was already back on the shelf.
The next morning I asked Mr. Donovan if I could go to the library and he said “Yes” in his smiling voice, even though Kevin and Oliviana were arguing in front of him. I hurried down to the library and Mrs. Crowley said I could look through the books until her first class came in ten minutes.
The old book was still there, right next to the Pigeon stories. I took it down and opened it. Now it was written in English.
I read about a man and a woman who were in love. They got married but time went by and they fell out of love. I didn’t know that could happen to grown-ups. It made me wonder if it could happen to my mom and daddy, and the idea made me feel a little like throwing up. I clenched my mouth a bit tighter.
The daddy in the story got into trouble at his job and needed a lot of money. So, and this made me feel like being sick again, he decided to hurt his wife because that would get him the money he needed. I thought, that just isn’t okay.
I noticed there was a bit of blank space at the bottom of the page. I slid the book under the shelf and walked carefully to Mrs. Crowley’s desk. I pulled a pencil from her pencil holder and went back to the book. I pulled it out and thought for a moment. Then I wrote, “Then the Daddy went home and found that his wife had a made him a sandwich after her hard day. And he decided not to do the bad thing.”
The book snapped shut all by itself. I pulled my hands back just in time. I looked at the book sideways and then picked it up and slid it back onto the shelf.
That afternoon Oliviana called me “fat” on the playground and a few of the other kids started saying it too. I know I’m big but I’m really not fat, I run fast and I like to play tag. But I am big and so when Oliviana wants to hurt my feelings, she calls me that. I sometimes think about hitting her for it. That idea makes me cry even more though, ‘cause I know I’ll get in trouble.
Mr. Donovan made Oliviana and the other kids sit out the rest of recess. And I thought about the man in the old book in the library.
Just before we went to the buses I asked Mr. Donovan if I could go to the library. When he asked me why, I told him I had forgotten something there. It made me feel strange to lie to Mr. Donovan, not like myself. When I got to the library Mrs. Crowley wasn’t there. I thought, that’s better, and ran to the old book. As I passed her desk I grabbed the pencil I had used earlier.
I opened the book to the next clean page and wrote:
“When Oliviana came to school the next day she tripped in front of all her friends and cried like a baby and everyone laughed.”
It was the best I could think of quickly.
At that moment Mrs. Crowley came in. I ran out before she could say anything and got on the bus to go home.
In the morning I was sitting at my desk finishing my morning work when suddenly there was an announcement that all teachers and students should stay in the classrooms. Mr. Donovan hurried to the door and locked it, and I noticed that Oliviana wasn’t in the room. She probably go stuck somewhere else in the school, I thought.
But at the end of the day Mr. Donovan sat down with us and told us that Oliviana had fallen in the hallway and hit the edge of a table, and she had to go to the hospital. I thought of the book and was a little sick inside.
At the end of the day I went back to the library and found the book. I sat on the floor with the book in my lap and thought carefully. Then I opened it up and looked at the story about the man and his wife. My ending was still there, and as I re-read it I felt the book begin to tighten up again. I quickly turned the page and looked at my sentence again. The handwriting was the same, but now the words told a different story. They said that Oliviana would stay in the hospital for a few days and then…my stomach hurt again, harder.
I wanted to cry. But I thought carefully, like Mr. Donovan said we should think about math. If this, then that. So, what do we know, kids? I got a pencil from Mrs. Crowley’s desk and carefully erased my ending to the story about the man and his wife. Then I closed the book, slid it back on the shelf and walked out of the library.
In the morning Oliviana was back in school, looking tired but okay. She didn’t talk much but I was so happy to see her. She didn’t say much to me but I thought she looked happy to be back too.
I stayed out of the library for a few days but my curiosity tickled at me like cat whiskers. Finally library day rolled around and as quick as I could I went to the spot by the Pigeon books but the book was gone. Somehow I wasn’t surprised. Mr. Donovan always says stories have lives of their own, and I think that story was really old. And a little mean.
About a month later I heard mom and dad talking about something in the newspaper. “I can’t believe he would do such a thing. Poisoning his wife!”, Mom said loudly.
“Who did that?” I suddenly asked, and Mom said, “Oh, nothing. Don’t worry honey…” And she threw the paper in the recycling.
I dug it out later and looked at the story. A man, a local professor at the college, had tried to poison his wife. There was a picture of the police arresting him, and it looked like they were taking him out of his front door. Just over his shoulder I could see a tall bookshelf. On the bookshelf there was a familiar book with a slashing pattern on the spine.