He comes in every Thursday, slowly limping. You can hear him before you can see him; a rasping cough or the thump of a cane. Today he is wearing a gray wool cardigan that looks like it has been in someone’s closet for thirty years. The sweater is paired with brown trousers that hang on his thin legs. What is left of his white hair is thin and wispy on his spotted scalp. I can see him at the check out desk from my usual place in the corner, by the encyclopedias. The librarian leans in to hear what he is saying. He doesn’t need the call number though; he looks at the same book every time. He takes the slip of paper from her, reaching out with a shaking hand and shuffles to the non-fiction section. He disappears between the shelves and returns with a thick, worn book. I can’t see the title, but I know what it says: World War II, A History. A few years ago, I caught a glimpse of the title as he was closing the book. When he had left, I went into the shelves and flipped through the pages, coming across one with a picture of a group of nurses. Their smiling black and white faces stared up at me. I remember the water stains, blurring some of the text beneath the photo. My mind comes back to the present and I bring my eyes back to him. He’s looking at one page, never moving his eyes. After a few minutes, he finally closes the book, returns it to its place, and walks back out.
November 4, 2010