The words leapt off the screen, straight into the heart of Lourdes’ mind. Even the odor from the scabby scalp didn’t distract her from her fleeting glimpse. The man stopped typing and slowly turned, but Lourdes had already resumed her tack from the returns cart to the children’s section of Middlebrook Public Library. The man stared after her for some time, and then returned to his typing. Lourdes knew that this man had been coming to the library for years before she had arrived, but it was only the last few months that she had taken a notice to him. During her college years, Lourdes realized that public libraries were a secular bastion for the local homeless. But even this realization didn’t deter her from her degree in library sciences; she even went on to earn a master’s degree in the subject. After all the years working coop in the many libraries that had been involved in her studies, Lourdes had become accustomed to the presence of the indigenous homeless. The ‘Writer’, as she had started calling him, was one of the first to pique Lourdes’ interest. From the first time she noticed him, his actions had seemed odd; almost every day he came into the library and found a free computer. He would bring up notepad, and start typing. The Writer would type for hours sometimes, never pausing, never backspacing. As quickly as he’d start, he would stop; then the oddest part would happen, he would close out notepad, not saving the document. His thousands of words, merely cobbled bits of ones and zeroes would be gone; vanished into the nothingness.
At first Lourdes would just glance at the Writer, wondering what his story was, then laugh at her own little pun. Quickly though, Lourdes realized that the Writer was very protective of his prose. He would bodily cover the screen so no one could see what he had written, and if someone came too close Lourdes had even seen him hiss at the offending interloper. All of these eccentric actions merely heightened Lourdes’ curiosity, and with this a subconscious plan of action had taken root. When the Writer was at the computer, Lourdes would make it a point to be moving around close to him. Of course at first, he would react the same way he did with everyone else. But since Lourdes was on staff at this library, the Writer seemed to be a little more lenient with him. But she still couldn’t get behind him, when she did he would rise and hunch over the monitor so she couldn’t see. When he would get the most incensed, she would smile a little smile and ask if she could get him some coffee, or some water. The Writer, not one given to the spoken word, would usually grunt and just stare at her under his heavily lidded eyes. Lourdes made it a point to not loiter when he had been alerted, instead opting to wait until the next opportunity. During the weeks that followed after starting her reconnaissance, Lourdes had noticed that when she wore more severe, and bland earth toned clothing, the Writer was less squeamish around her. It smacks of authority, and I suppose he’s had dealings with authority at one time or another, Lourdes thought with a smile. It wasn’t long before Lourdes could walk to the side of the Writer, and he would barely even register her presence. Though to his rear, the Writer would still become protective. One day while observing the Writer Lourdes was distracted by the sound of the public shredder, a loathsome device that she had detested since the first day it had been installed. Staring hard at the shredder, Lourdes realized this may be just the tool she needed to complete her plan. After arguing her position, the head librarian allowed Lourdes to move the shredder to a support column that was directly behind three of the computer stations, leaving only two other computer stations not adjacent to the shredder. Amazingly it took several weeks of awkward scenes with the Writer once becoming ominously close to being evicted from the library after trying to bite one young man who was shredding some credit card applications. Lourdes was almost thinking she would have to escort the Writer to one of the two stations she was forcing him to when she watched him come into the library, and head to one of the offending stations. She saw him pause, and then skirt around the column and choose one of her target stations. Lourdes’ cool smile was the only reaction she would allow herself to have. This game of chess was becoming quite the obsession for Lourdes, she had already changed her attire in order to placate, or rather not arouse the interest of the Writer, but now her entire workday (when the Writer was in attendance) was centered on surreptitiously getting behind him while someone was shredding several documents. Lourdes would watch for the game board to reach her desired setup: the Writer sitting the most favored of the two target computer stations, the one located by the walkway into the lending library, and the shredder starting his or her tedious job of feeding things into the beast. Finally Lourdes’ mid-game strategy became reality, and she was ready. Before the setup was even complete, Lourdes had strategically moved the returns cart past the Writer and was moving around the magazine rack replacing errant magazines that had wandered to other parts of the library, all without so much as causing a bustle from the absorbed Writer. Timing her move, Lourdes paused for a few moments after the shredder started her activities, the Writer kept feverishly pecking out his prose. The time was now; Lourdes arced slowly until she was directly behind the Writer. Moving slowly, each step more excruciating than the last, Lourdes inched up to within feet of her prey. Keenly aware of the pace of the typing, Lourdes’ heart had seemed to race to keep time with its rhythm. Slowly Lourdes leaned over and arched her neck so that she was looking over the gnarled hair of the Writer. Quickly picking the start of a paragraph, Lourdes read as quickly as she could. The staccato beat of the typing was like a hammer driving the words Lourdes was reading deep into her consciousness. The writing was more lucid than anything Lourdes had ever read, and even without the preamble of what came before the paragraph she was reading, the heart and emotion of the author were wending their way into Lourdes’ cognitive thought. Never before had Lourdes seen anything to compare. Only her ingrained syncopation with the Writer’s rhythm saved Lourdes from discovery. She snapped back spun and commenced picking up the magazines she had strewn on the floor. Upon rising Lourdes smiled at the Writer as he glowered at her. Without missing a beat Lourdes took the children’s magazines over to what she called the ‘Petri dish’, an allusion to what she perceived as the germ laden children’s area of the library. Even as she walked, Lourdes had already made a decision. She was going to get one of the Writer’s stories.
Lourdes knew this was going to take preparation and lots of work. But efforts at simply viewing a snippet of the Writer’s work had honed her dedication to a keen edge. Her mind racing, Lourdes created her basic setup, which was actually rather simple, somehow force the Writer away from his computer when she had determined that he may be nearing the end of his writing session. Her months of preparation for viewing the Writer’s work had taken Lourdes away from most of her hobbies and friends, but one passion she had not given up was the coffee shop. On her days off Lourdes would often spend several hours at the Cup and Saucer, her local coffee house hangout. Her favorite pastime had always been people watching, but lately Lourdes had taken to writing, trying to capture a bit of the essence of lush prose the Writer seemed to innately tap away on the keyboard. She knew how the writing made her feel, and it should have been easy to capture that with her own words, but somehow the heart of the craft was elusively just beyond her grasp; though perseverance was a personal attribute that her missions with the Writer had brought to an ardent fruition. One Saturday morning, Lourdes was trying to calm her mind so her heart could emote, when her rumination was interrupted by a fire truck racing by. The piercing siren shattered her calm, and quickly brought this writing session to an end. Lourdes angrily gathered her papers together to stuff into her messenger bag when she stopped cold. Lourdes’ eyes brightened with the realization of the solution for how to get the Writer away from his computer station. Pulling a fire alarm and then ensuring that the Writer was quickly ushered away from his computer would be the key. This had to happen quickly so that he would not have time to close out his work. But first things first, Lourdes thought, a wry smile coming across her face, first I must volunteer as the fire warden at work. We actually don’t have one, and I’m sure as a public facility we are required to have one. Later that afternoon Lourdes found several books on fire emergencies, and began her studies. Her talk with the head librarian went well too.
“Oh my, I had not thought about a fire warden after Michael left, he took care of everything.” Priscilla said after Lourdes mentioned that she had seen something in the paper about one of the city buildings being cited for not having the proper emergency preparedness.
“Well, let me take Michael’s place then, and I’ll take care of everything. “
Lourdes was a changed employee in Priscilla’s eyes. The last year had seen her transform from a typical nerdy college girl to a professional dressing, and conscientious worker. Definitely the makings for going places Priscilla thought.
The internet had so many resources for establishing emergency preparedness programs that setting up the one here was very simple. Michael had been little more than just a title of fire warden. Lourdes downloaded the city ordinances and established the requirements for safety programs in public buildings. Three months later, Lourdes held her first safety meeting for the employees, emphasizing that during a drill, or a real emergency, the safety of the public in the library was of utmost concern. She designated certain employees certain areas of the library so that no matter what the schedule, every area was covered. Of course the area with the computer station was Lourdes’ designation. All was proceeding very smoothly, and Lourdes’ felt the time was coming soon. Timing the Writer’s writing sessions was the next step so she could see what an average writing time would be. It was during this time that she had a great breakthrough in her own writing.
Lourdes had been watching a couple who had moved in next door to her. They were young and in love, everything new and fresh. She would watch as they laughed and danced over most anything that happened in their lives. She laughed to herself when she saw their response to a bill they had received with both their names on it; the new phone book’s here, the new phone book’s here! Lourdes thought to herself. Lourdes was watching from her front porch the day it happened. Little miss perfect complexion was backing out of the driveway, smiling and waving to prince white teeth and not watching where she was going. Her car had just entered the road when a large moving truck, horn blaring smacked the driver’s side. The severed arm arced through the air, still seeming to wave at its intended. This little movie played in Lourdes’ mind’s eye for days. The vision of the arm haunted Lourdes, still playing in her mind while she stared at the blank notebook page lying next to her steaming cup of latte. The tears came to her out of the blue, and she broke down. Normally a very private person, the thought of crying in public was foreign to Lourdes, but today the tears fell as a storm passed over her soul. The confluence of love and death, pain and pleasure, the infinite power of love with the mortal condition started pouring out of her pen. Even the smeared ink on the teardrop soaked page didn’t deter Lourdes. Here was an outpouring of emotion, of grief that wasn’t hers, but she was sharing empathically. Here was a writer.
Over the course of the weeks that followed, Lourdes immersed herself in her surveillance of the Writer, an act that almost consumed her. An innate sense of self-preservation urged Lourdes to find diversions that would keep her from actually stalking a homeless man. One such diversion was a writer’s focus group, focus being a thing that Lourdes had become good at. It was during one of these focus meetings that Lourdes shared her story inspired by the wreck; a term Lourdes had started using to blunt some of the emotional impact. The dropped jaws and near stammering responses actually shocked Lourdes.
“This is good enough to publish!” Cynthia exclaimed excitedly to Lourdes.
“I agree, you could probably even expand this into a novel if you wanted to Lourdes.” Mark echoed.
“Oh my, thank you all very much.” Lourdes said, with a perceptible shadow creeping over her soul. Just one paragraph at a glance caused this. Lourdes thought, in her mind the only way she could have ever written such prose was with the inspiration of the words of the Writer. No fear or consternation filled Lourdes, only a resolve to continue on with her plan. The writer’s focus group ran its course, and as they dispersed all congratulated Lourdes on her story, and reiterated the urge to seek a publisher. Lourdes thanked them all, and smiled at her own success, but not the same success her peers were congratulating her on. To Lourdes, there was only one fount of inspiration for her writing, and that was the Writer.
It was on a Thursday that Lourdes suddenly realized the time was right. There just enough people in the Library to keep the other workers busy, but not too busy to cause a problem that would distract Lourdes from her focus. Lourdes’ messenger bag was sitting by the printer, ready to receive its treasure. The Writer was typing away at his computer, and according to the statistics that Lourdes had compiled, he should be a little over halfway through this current writing session. Yeah, empty that wine soaked brain my little muse, Lourdes thought. The route she would take had been carefully considered, and walked through dozens of times. The fire alarm station she had chosen to use was on a support column situated so that when she pulled the alarm, no one would be able to see her. And conveniently, one of the ‘decorators’ of the staff had put this charming little basket holding a ceramic birds nest replete with little hungry birds mouths opened morbidly big and begging to be filled. Oddly, there was no mama bird, probably broken and instead of throwing it away, she just brought it in here. Lourdes didn’t really think that the weight of the decoration would really cause the fire alarm handle to activate, but then she didn’t really think anyone would check. A sudden commotion shook Lourdes out of her reverie; the Writer was having a fit with another library patron. Heading over to defuse the situation Lourdes saw that a young man with earbuds in his ears was arguing saying he wanted to use that computer. The Writer was becoming more feral by the moment. Lourdes intervened and convinced the young man to move elsewhere, hoping that her saving the day would soften the Writer a bit, but his snarl told her that had not occurred. Feeling that this should have been the day, Lourdes was visibly shaken by this and instead of scurrying away with a big smile on her face she just stood there staring directly at the Writer. Seconds felt like minutes to Lourdes, a trickle of sweat ran down the small of her back. The intense blue eyes of the Writer seemed to bore into her, but Lourdes’ indomitable spirit willed her to return the intensity. With almost audible crackling snap, the Writer turned and walked out of the library. Astonished, Lourdes looked after him, and then turned and looked at the computer, text editor open cursor blinking awaiting more creative input. Lourdes stepped toward the computer, her legs feeling like great leaden things requiring tremendous energy to urge forward. Glancing over her shoulder, expecting the Writer to appear at any moment, Lourdes fumbled with the mouse, and finally rested the cursor on the print icon. With a simple click Lourdes had now gained all that she had worked and strived for. Printing now complete, Lourdes played at respecting the Writer by closing out the text editor, ‘Save changes to Documen1’, her lips mouthed the word no, and clicking so put an emotional exclamation to this entire episode. Back on track now girl, Lourdes thought to herself. Straightening up to head to the printer, Lourdes was indeed back on track. A small alarm bell went off in her mind, What if the printer is out of paper, or broken! Her steps quickened just as her heart did, but turning the corner, her fears abated at the sight of the filled white pages issued from the laser printer. “And now I have you, you for whom I have feverishly longed these many months.” Lourdes uttered, not caring that several work mates had curiously turned their heads to her. Taking the pages and stuffing them into her messenger bag, Lourdes did something that she had not done in over a year, she asked for the rest of the day off.
Sitting on her front porch swing, Lourdes pored slowly over the printed pages; pages pulled one at a time from her messenger bag. Digesting each word, each sentence, and each paragraph Lourdes took in what she felt was the entire essence of the Writer. Though there was no discernable plot, therefore no real story, the soulful writing moved her like the soulful strains of a magnificently played orchestral piece would move a conductor. Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder, and some would say that this would apply to Lourdes the reader. After completing the last page Lourdes was scarce able to move. Lourdes didn’t even register the men with the moving truck packing up the effects of the young man next door. The words seeped into Lourdes mind, heart and soul; inundating each with its power. A power more meted out by Lourdes own creativity than any external source. Allowing her mind to wander, Lourdes walked to the sea wall near the library. Finding a place where she could be alone and watch the sun set, Lourdes slowly became aware of the figures around her. The library wasn’t in the best part of town, and she knew that there was a large homeless population here; she had always figured the Writer was counted among them. While thinking over what she had read, Lourdes found herself searching the faces of those wandering past her. I wonder if he’s watching me now, as I’ve watched him so often, Lourdes thought. Glancing around, no familiar faces were seen, although as if there were a required uniform for this army of flotsam and jetsam, each and everyone looked almost identical. Situated paradoxically between the setting sun, a sun shared by the rich and poor alike, and the mass of homeless shuffling beings behind her, the poorest of the poor Lourdes became aware of the oddly structured haplessness of society. Never before had Lourdes paid any attention to those on this lowest of scales. The Writer had been the first that piqued her interest, perhaps how an entity from another universe causes a ripple in the pool of awareness of someone in this universe. But ripple it had, and the echoing wave had deeply affected Lourdes’ life, and continued to affect her life. Turning her back to the sun, and the water’s edge, Lourdes watched the scene on the street. An undercurrent of the society she had been brought up in, always present but ignored by the ‘respectable’ people. Oh it was one thing to volunteer at the soup kitchen, and one had to keep at least on ragged outfit so one would not stand out too much, but to actually levy credence to its existence was something just not allowed. Pondering this, Lourdes looked into the eyes, eyes reflecting a grand luminescence and set in a face lit by the warming rays of the setting sun. Most averted their eyes as soon as they met hers, but a few maintained contact. It was in these eyes that Lourdes saw the depth and humanness that she had felt in the Writer’s words. Why are they here, why aren’t they working, raising children, going to the gym; all the things that make us people? The eyes gave no answer to these questions, merely raised more. The sun sank below the horizon, and Lourdes got up to and went home, and wrote.
It was a week later that Lourdes started to get worried about the Writer. He had not been back to the library since the day of the stare-down. Lourdes asked the rest of the staff, but they did not even recognize who she was talking about. Asking the other homeless that came was worse than useless, either they would not respond to her, or they would simply ask for money. Sadly Lourdes could not positively remember what the Writer looked like. Mostly she could picture his hunched back as he would pound out his emotion, but one thing that still hovered in her mind was his intense blue eyes. Lourdes felt sure that she would recognize his eyes if she saw them again. And with this, the incredibly honed will of Lourdes was set to find the Writer. Every day after work and on her days off, Lourdes would scour the streets, but mostly backstreets of the city; following a grid she had laid out on a bus route map. She would question everyone she saw, even going into abandoned buildings, where the stink of human offal would cause her to retch, but no one knew who she was talking about. After every venture into the streets Lourdes would come home and record her thoughts, her sorrow of not being able to find the Writer, and her growing despair of the situation this large part of society was in. Nothing from her background had prepared Lourdes for the scenes she was seeing; human beings living in a squalor she had never known could exist. All because they could not, or would not, fit into the mold of ‘correct’ society. History is a cruel master, mocking the present with yet repeated mistakes, and no one seems to notice. Many of the homeless were mentally ill, which just punctuated the plight of those the ‘normal’ people don’t want to have to deal with. And all this, every jot and tittle, Lourdes would record in her journal. The weather was turning to winter, which in the southern latitudes Lourdes lived in wasn’t normally very bad, but to live amongst the elements each day made for even more unpleasant conditions. The abandoned buildings would fill with smoke when the residents would build unsafe fires. This in turn would prompt the locals living nearby to call the police; the police having no other recourse would come and evict the nameless faces into the chilled streets. Some of the officers would offer bits of food, or ride to local shelters, but this was all they could really do. Often Lourdes would talk to the officers while she was searching for the Writer, and the officers would repeat a standard warning, “This is not a safe thing you are doing. I understand but you should reconsider.” Lourdes would not be deterred though. A good thing, as two weeks after Thanksgiving, Lourdes came upon a group of men standing around a drum with a fire built in it. One of the men, Phillip he told her. “A right princely name too” he told her. The story he told Lourdes was simple and direct. The Writer was pushing his cart down the street loaded with clothes, a few bites of food, and some books he had found when a car load of youngsters blasting music came down the street. For no apparent reason, they sped up, swerved over hitting the Writer, his head whipped down onto the curb. And then he was no more. An appalling situation in every possible way; the Writer didn’t starve to death, nor freeze to death, things that would make his death poignant. He simply died because of the stupidity of human kind. And this too Lourdes wrote.
A bright sun was shining as Lourdes climbed the steps of the Middlebrook Public Library, a bittersweet emotion washed over her, as she thought about the party being thrown for her inside. The newspaper even wrote a lavish story on her: ‘Local woman wins prestigious Bellwether Prize’. Indeed her novel ‘The Writer’ had won the Barbara Kingsolver literary prize, and inside were food trays, drink bowls and all that. She smiled inwardly and wondered what her hosts would think when they realized she was bringing a few friends with her.