September 23, 2020 by The Citron Review
by Phebe Jewell
Deep in the stacks of the Young Adult Graphic Novels section, I get to work. Sure, there’s a sign that reads “Teens Only,” and it’s been years since I could pass for one, but the librarians are busy answering questions or fixing the self-checkout scanners. It’s just me and kids with home-dyed hair in black hoodies. They barely look up when I squeeze through the shelves.
Plopping down at a carrel by the window, I fish around my backpack for that special pen, a utilitarian ballpoint I found rolling around on the bus. I believe in found objects. A button, a pencil worn to the nib, a Canadian loonie from 1988. Each a message from a stranger.
Some days I sit for hours, pretending to read some massive tome. I’m watching, waiting for the moment when someone pulls a book and finds my note, like the one I folded into a 400-page sci-fi queer romance set on the planet Zirconia yesterday: “Dear Friend, You are not alone. Love, God.” I’m fond of God, though we’re not that close.
Today I’ve chosen three books – a purple-and-yellow-spined book with a long-faced teen staring out with eyes shaped like giant tear drops, a family history of the Japanese Internment in muted blues and grays, and the second volume in a retelling of Grimm’s fairy tales.
I pick up the history first, leafing through barren landscapes, kids lining up for soup – some smiling, most not. Who would read this book? I close my eyes, imagine the hands carrying the history to the checkout counter. What would they want to know? I grab my notebook, scribble “Dear One, You will survive. Life gets better. Love, God.” I tear the message out of my notebook and fold it twice, tucking it between a scene of a funeral and a picture of a wedding.
Nodding, I turn to the well-worn purple-and-yellow book. Page after page of shapeless figures wander empty city streets. No captions. No dialogue. I study the long faces, the tear-shaped eyes over tiny mouths, and my breath catches. What words could reach these readers?
Setting the book aside on the desk, I pick up the Grimm’s Tales. The book is so heavy I have to hold it with both hands to keep it open. Taking in elaborate scenes of dense forests and castles in pen-and-ink, I realize that last month I left a note in the first volume of the dark fairy tales, after a page peopled with giants and ogres. Pulling myself away from a moat swarming with snapping crocodiles, I turn the page and a strip of paper falls out.
Curious, I put the book down and read “Dear God, Thanks for the kind words, but I’ve got it from here. A friend.”
Smiling, I slip the note into my pocket and reach for my notebook.
Phebe Jewell’s recent flash appears or is forthcoming in New Flash Fiction Review, The Cabinet of Heed, X-R-A-Y, Ellipsis, and Crack the Spine. A teacher at Seattle Central College, she also volunteers for the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, a nonprofit providing college courses for women in prison. Read more of her work at phebejewellwrites.com.