Crisp golden light seeped into the rumpled couch, staining the purple fabric an odd maroon.
From across the room, a door slammed open, followed by sharp cackles and dull thuds of books tossed onto the coffee table. The commotion was only slightly dulled by a delayed “shush.”
Margaret’s Wine and Dine Book Club had commenced. Though, dine was an overstatement; the club had only once arranged a cheese and cracker platter, which had been subsequently removed after grumblings about crumbs wedged between pages. That wine spills could wreak as much havoc as the crackers had never been an issue.
So, Margaret’s Wine and Book Club it was.
And although the wine often seemed to outweigh the books, literature was always at the heart of each meeting. Every month Margaret assigned the ladies a book, and they had until the next session to read the novel. But it had been of discussion, over the past few years, of exactly how Margaret picked out her new admirer.
The dozen women had asked, that fateful cheese evening, but Margaret had only given her fellow members a tight lipped smile and had continued to nurse her wine.
Today, her eyes were clouded over with an added air of secrecy. The ladies, keen as ever with their reading glasses, picked up on Margaret’s demeanor immediately. And as they did each time, they begged her to reveal her secret.
But unlike the dozen of past meetings, Margaret set her mug down, a smile etched on her cracked lips. “I shall tell you,” she said to the surrounding women, “but you mustn’t tell a soul.” The ladies giggled at that, wine sloshing at the bottom of their cups.
What would it be this time, they wondered. A handsome librarian? Her mother’s key lime pie recipe?
With Margaret‘s last sip of wine, the story began.
Branches loomed over her like a net of vines, threatening to drop at any moment. Margaret scurried beneath them, a house tabby caught in the midnight rain. With a bang, the library doors swung open, and the cries of howling wind dampened as she crossed the threshold.
Margaret heaved off her raincoat, the soggy plastic sticking to the crooks of her elbows.
It’d be easy to get lost in the library, she mused, shoes clicking against the hardwood floor. Endless rows of books jutted into the hallway like shards of glass, threatening to pull you into its timeless corners. But Margaret continued walking. After decades of nighttime visits, she didn’t need a map.
A soft jingle reverberated with each step she took, a muted clack ringing from between her fingers. Taking a hazardous right into a lane of books, she splayed her hand and let a hidden die drop through her fingers.
The die fluttered on the worn wood, dancing on the countertop like images on a zoetrope. When the swirling came to its peak and the edges of the die seemed to drill into the wood, it shuttered to a stop. Four equidistant dots decked the top.
Without missing a beat, Margaret dashed off to the aisle four rows to the right. Dropping the die again, she repeated the process until she was taken to the fifth bookcase across, sixth row down, and she reached for the first book on the shelf.
Just as her fingers brushed the cover, a wraspy voice rung out from behind her.
“What is a lady doing at a library at midnight?” The voice asked, and she was met with a young man slouched against a bookcase. His hair was swept into a shaggy cut Margaret hadn’t seen since the 70s, and he was wrapped in a shirt that hugged his shoulders. Oh well, Margaret thought, it’s a shame I’m not younger.
“I’m looking for a book,” Margaret replied to the handsome face.
The man hummed before tapping his fingers against the table. “Has anything caught your eye yet? I’ve been in a bit of a daze – everything is different since I’ve last been here.”
“I could certainly help you look,” Margaret replied, before sinking down to her knees and grabbing the book she had reached for before. It crinkled and popped as she turned it in her fingers, covered in a thick sheet of plastic. A cookbook, it seemed, falling apart from much use.
She sighed. This wouldn’t cut it for the book club.
“Ah!” The boy exclaimed from behind her, patting at his pockets. “Take this one,” he said, handing her a crimson hardcover. “I’ve read it quite a lot.”
Margaret hummed, flipping the book over. Her eyes blossomed with recognition. “Why, I haven’t read The Great Gatsby in such a long time.” With a creak, Margaret flipped the book open with her thumb. Her fingers hovered over the dull words, parched and faded from time. “Thank you, Mr. …?“
“Call me Robbie,” the young man said. But when she looked up, he was gone.
“He just left?” One of the ladies exclaimed, cheeks flushed with wine and exasperation. Margaret continued to sit on the couch, skimming over her memories like they were flashcards. But with each card she flipped, the more puzzled she became. Because the man hadn’t left; he’d disappeared.
Margaret flicked through the pages again, lost in thought.
But now, she noticed a library card stuck onto the last page. This wasn’t unusual. Neither were the dates stamped onto the slip or the grid brimming with names. Gaze tumbling down the page, Margaret gasped as she read the last entry, spilling the last bit of her wine onto the couch.
“Return Date: July 19th 1975”
There was no check mark in the return box, and to Margaret’s horror, the name below stood:
Robbie B. Brown
Just as well, Margaret thought after the initial shock had washed over her. He was a man astray in wrong era, caught between the shelves of time.
At least she’ll have another story to tell the ladies next time.
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