Tuesday, June 3, 2014

In a Catalogue

Recently a friend of mine, Mandy Solomon, wonderful poet and faculty member at Pikes Peak Community College, shared a flash fiction prompt ("In a Catalogue") she gave to some of her students.  That was enough for me!  Below is what I wrote based on my experience (I'm not really a librarian, but was a circulation tech for a while) of converting from old card catalogs to the digital world way back when.


The green letters flashed on the screen like a visual metronome.    A bead of sweat rolled out onto Audrey’s left temple.  She clenched her fists and refused to touch the keyboard.  Her eyes scanned every inch of the dark gray screen.  It was flat, mute and devoid of life.  Here there was no texture, no rich vanilla color, no warmth of the life of the tree.  There on the keyboard her fingers would strike, not file.  Audrey wrested one fist from its grip to wipe the sweat from her forehead.  She hated this corner of Formica and steel where the green letters lived.  Soon they would be taking away the long and natural rows of card catalogues.  There were the luxurious little drawers filled with concise records of bound pieces of paper with real words on them—not words lost in digital nothingness.  How would she know where the words actually resided?  There would be no narrow shelves to slide out and onto which to rest the long drawers with the single, efficient, pin needling the cards together.  Only once in her career as a librarian had she needed that needle.  Only once had the sturdy drawer crashed from its thin pedestal, releasing just a few cards from the back. The solution was easy—bend over, pick up the long and awkward drawer and the few loose cards, set the drawer on the slender shelf, sort the cards and put them back into their appropriate space, push the brass head of the pin back into the lovely ochre-colored face of the drawer with a dull snap.  That was all.  Order out of chaos.

But now she was being required to have faith in an order she could neither see nor touch.  All the words summarizing and cataloguing her books had been converted to an untrustworthy digital database.  She scoffed aloud, “Converted!”  As if this new digital world were a religion! 

“Is there a problem, Ms. Audrey?”  The young tech stood behind her, a looming and lanky representative of the new age of computers.  “It’s alright.  Just put in the title and you should be able to get started.”

Audrey took a deep breath and counted to ten.  This young man knew nothing of the comfort of a card catalogue.  How could he know?  He trusted a machine to do the work of a librarian!

The youthful tech sensed the woman’s animosity and carefully backed away.  He had been warned about this librarian.

A new sensation touched Audrey’s face.  A tear wetted her check as she finally faced her deepest fear.  What if she hit the wrong key and all the unreal, green words, representing all of her wonderful books, disappeared?  She could hardly imagine the years of work that would vanish—especially when they finally loaded the card catalogues onto the trucks.

“This is ridiculous!” she finally announced to herself and the vacant, untextured screen.  Her fingers struck the keys with the ferocity required of a Smith-Cornoa Galaxie Twelve typewriter or a Tchaikovsky piano concerto.  Within milliseconds the screen was filled with green words, wonderful words.

Gibbon, Edward
The History of the Decline and the Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 6

Audrey leaned close to the screen, her eyes filled with the beauty and wonder of an entire catalogue entry available with such speed at the tap of her fingers and in such lovely, leafy-green letters.

Copyright M.R. Hyde May 14, 2014

Homage to the cards of the card catalogue .  Created by Beryl K. Pagan, an actual and cheerfully forward-thinking librarian at Point Loma Nazarene University, who also is a friend of mine.  Remember Dewey!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Owen's Journey

Life happens. We write novels and get weary.  And so I have been.  But now the need to write has be welling up within me again.  I've been browsing around my notes, tepid starts to stories and incomplete ideas.  Quite a while ago I began writing a story about an indentured slave.  I think this might be a good place to restart . . . and yet A Misspent god is calling my name, or maybe I hear the sound of Hortensia's footsteps, or was that the tinny noise of someone building a castle out of file cabinets.  I think really all of them are clamoring for me now.  More rightly it's that I finally hear them clamoring again.

A portion of Owen's Journey

The dog howled long and loud. It woke everyone in the house. A mass of restless turning and returning to sleep prevailed through the darkness until everything became stillness again. Owen's eyes would not close and he was angry. He knew he would not sleep again this night. He could hear the air whistling in and out of his nose. And that also made him angry.

Everything had made him angry for a very long time now and it felt as if it would always be this way—there was no way to undo this kind of rage. Susanna being taken was not even the worst part of it. His self loathing was the fuel for all other rages. A loathing without resolution was the worst kind of all. He felt soulless, empty and angry.

His feet lightly touched the floor. He wavered there for a moment. Then pushing himself carefully off of the bed he gathered his clothing and all his possessions holding them closely to his chest. His shoes bumped against the door frame. He froze for a moment to let the crisis pass. 

He could see the outline of the dog across the yard.  It was thrashing in its sleep like Owen often did. But Owen did not jump up suddenly to chase illusory rabbits in his sleep. The cool air of the pre-dawn was a ruse. In just a few short hours the sun would punish everything with its branding-iron heat and water would become the commodity of highest value.

Owen moved cautiously toward the wooded area at the east corner of the Proctor property. He would dress there then leave and leave and leave. As he passed the silo his stomach reminded him that he needed food for his journey. No one would miss the few things he would take. The door squeaked softly as he entered the building. With his hand still pressing against the frame he paused to listen if the hound had wakened and was now pursuing him. But no sound or movement was uncharacteristic of this early morning hour. 

As Owen closed the door he decided this was the better placed to dress.  As he pulled on his clothing he squinted into the darkness trying to discern the items he would need. He smelled Peter’s leather travel bag hanging near the door frame. In one knowing moment he seized it and began filling it for himself this time—not for Peter as hundreds of times he had done before. Peter would miss it but, cursing under his breath, he knew Peter could casually lay down some quick coin to replace it. 

Owen’s rage flared again. He had lost everything and had been indentured to the gluttonous, rich and comfortable Peter. No one deserved as much as this one man and his family had—no one. Owen's hand hit the rifle in the corner and for an infinitesimal moment he considered conscripting that as well. But the reality of an armed runaway was too much risk even for him. He would have to be leagues away by daylight and too much weight would slow him down. His faithful blade, having served him well for so many years, would not betray him.

The door rasped again as he closed it. His heart began to beat wildly. Nothing outside was moving. This was the moment. He could undo everything in this moment.  Once past the property line it would be undone. He was determined to undo this so-called life. Owen ran as quietly as possible toward the invisible line of freedom.  Everything indeed had come undone.

Copyright M.R. Hyde 2014