Word Count 458
By Anne Nassar
Ella got a work-study job in the college library. It was open until 2 AM. She opted to work nights, because at night the library was visited by the weird and the wonderful. Ella expected to meet her soul mate there. He would visit the circulation desk to check out an obscure book about an esoteric topic, and he would recognize her instantly, his dream made flesh.
It was a slow night, due to the sub-zero temperatures and the snowfall outside. A woman came in and stood just inside the door, looking around. She was tiny and she was wearing mittens, galoshes, and a hat that had cat ears on it. She looked like a child, except for her bright red lipstick.
Ella tried never to judge by appearances. “Can I help you?” She called out. The woman approached the desk timidly.
“Are you Ella?”
“ Yes,” Ella said, and thought, Do I know this woman?
“I’m hoping you can help me find a book.”
“Sure, I can. What’s the title?”
“It’s called Doctor Zhivago.”
“Oh my gosh, that’s my mom’s favorite book!”
“Yeah, she wanted to name me Lara, but my father put the kibosh on it. He didn’t want to name his daughter after a character that dies in the gulag.”
The woman looked puzzled. “A corrective labor camp”, Ella explained, “a Russian prison. Oh, I hope that doesn’t ruin the book for you!”
“It won’t. I’m only reading it because I want to get to know someone. “
It was Ella’s turn to be confused.
“A person’s favorite book tells you a lot about them,” the woman said.
“I don’t know,” Ella said, “my favorite book is The House of Mirth. I’m not an aging socialite.”
“Do you feel constrained by society’s expectations? “
“Usually, a book becomes your favorite because you identify with the main character’s fatal flaw. I need to know the woman that my lover married. But she’s dead now, and so I have to try and piece her together out of remnants.”
A chill shook Ella, numbed her.
The woman saw that she had hit her mark, and she smiled.
Ella, horrified, turned away. She did not allow herself to run. She walked, briskly, to the staff lounge.
When the tears subsided, she called her father.
“Ella, are you okay”? he asked, slurring his words.
“You need to tell that f-ing crazy bitch to stay away from me, or I’ll call the cops.”
He didn’t ask who she was referring to. Instead he asked, “Where are you?”
“I’m at work. She hunted me down. She got in my face.”
“Let me talk to her.”
“You told her what mom’s favorite book was?”
“No,” he said, “she found it under the mattress.”