Rare Books Library After Hours
By Anne Chudobiak
We ambush a cabbie outside the Ultramar. He is standing in the rain with a squeegee.
“It smells toxic,” I say as I buckle myself in. “Gas.”
“And upholstery,” says Colleen.
We both sniff.
When we get to Rare Books, all the lights are off. The librarians are at their desks, their hands folded. Everyone is whispering, so we do, too.
“We’re waiting for the cameraman,” someone tells me. “Well, cameraman! Hugh.”
Cameraman? Hugh? I thought this was a reading.
A four-year-old in a party dress quietly reproaches me: “Where are Esme and Seymour?”
“Geez, Una,” I say. “I got a babysitter. It’s almost bedtime.”
We are divided into groups and told to creep through the stacks--“Slowly!” I position myself behind a young boy, but he wimps out, running to the back of the line at the sight of Alisha. She is wearing a dress, all white, and a mask, with ears.
I remember her at book club last spring--turquoise pants and rabbit-fur gloves--fresh from class--“We moved like bugs in the throes of death!”--butoh, the dance of darkness.
We follow her to a table, eerily lit, where she opens a leather-bound book of her own creation, red as a rose or is that a cabbage?
Leonora Carrington, “The Debutante:” A reluctant society girl sends a hyena to the ball in her stead.
Alisha reads in character--a hyena-girl hybrid--glaring at the boy beside me when he dares to cough. I'd smile at him, if I had the courage. No drinks in Rare Books. Not for the faint of heart, the book-binding vernissage.
After the applause, Una rewards her mom with a sober hug and demands to be taken home--by cab. Someone hands her a cabbage leaf--the real thing--to tide her over and she digs in, staining her face purplish black.
Picture: Permission and acknowledgement forthcoming. An Alisha Piercy original (Mr. Rabinovitch, please take note) from Antechamber (bindings, book objects and the stories of Leonora Carrington).