This is Ms. Baxter’s final Fiction Addiction column. You may browse a catalogue of her previous columns here.
The box was ominously large.
It was TECHNICALLY possible that the kitsch catalogue I had ordered from employed overzealous packing elves; it was more likely that the box did not contain the item I had ordered.
If the box didn’t have what I had ordered, I was in for a frustrating phone call and the kind of mild anxiety that makes it hard for me to sleep. If the box did have what I’d ordered inside I would have proof that packing elves existed.
As long as I didn’t open the box, packing elves both might and might not exist.
I stared at the box of uncertainty.
I was in possession of Schrödinger’s Gift.
A few minutes later I’d pried back the cardboard to reveal that my suspicions were correct. Packing elves did not exist and this was not the gift I was looking for.
What was in the box: a white wooden sign covered with pictures of citrus fruit.
What was not in the box: A beautifully painted print of the Jorge Luis Borges quotation, “I have always imagined Paradise will be a kind of library” with a detailed and colorful book tree growing out of the words.
The panic that had been forced down with thoughts of packing elves came roaring back. I needed that print; not having it to wrap and put under the tree was not acceptable. It was the perfect gift for the woman who loves libraries as much as I do.
I wrestled panic into submission and braced for the necessity of adult behavior. I called the catalogue I ordered from, did my time in Holding Purgatory, pressing buttons at random trying to get on the line with a human being. Given proof positive that packing elves were a myth I turned to customer service, hoping that one of them could help the perfect gift arrive quickly. I wasn’t picky; superhuman control of space, time and the postal service or a TARDIS would suffice.
For as long as I can remember, the library has been my happy place. My grandmother is all about libraries; she started teaching me about them when I was three. A library is the cure for everything. Tired? Go to the library. Upset? Go to the library. Chased by a zombie horde and need a place to hide and plan your next move? Go to Costco for supplies, then go to the library.
There’s a calm to libraries, a quiet that is so peaceful because we’ve all agreed not to break it. As someone who once pulled a book off a high shelf and was greeted by the spider version of Godzilla I know that breaking the hush does not cause Library Ninja Enforcement to descend from the ceiling and hustle spider attack survivors outside, but we’re all peaceful anyway, sharing a tranquility that is born of cooperation. The smell is soothing, the organizational system reassuring. Libraries are helpful and caring and invested in both the accessibility of both knowledge and the facility itself. A library gives me a sense belonging and calm that nothing else can match.
A sense of calm that I was lacking as my call was finally answered in the order in which it was received.
My entire universe had boiled down to this one phone call, this one gift, this one single thing as Cindy assured me that my print would arrive on time.
As Customer Service Agent Cindy assured me in her lovely Southern accent that my print was still in stock, I wondered why I was so worried about this. Cindy personally apologized for the inconvenience while I considered that my Gram knows that I love her; the love she feels for me is not contingent upon my having the perfect gift to give her.
The quiet, the peace, the wisdom, a sure and certain presence in my life no matter what adventures I have or where I end up – these are not just qualities libraries share with my grandmother. Those things ARE my grandmother. The library is more than something we both love. It’s a symbol that runs deep and constant through our relationship.
I grabbed my purse and hung up, mostly reassured as I moved toward the front door. The print was on its way. The print would be here. I did not need to enter the Anxiety Spiral over this relatively minor issue. I just needed to breathe. The library was only two miles away; ten minutes there and I would be blissed out.
Just like Mr. Borges, I imagine Paradise to be a library.
I imagine paradise as a library with my grandmother in it.
Jacqueline Baxter is an adventure seeking, passport stamp collecting, tempura loving bibliophile who aims to misbehave. A Tumblr addict and urban fantasy writer, she lives and works in Portland, Oregon.