“So who else is here?” I asked Mrs. Bishop, the lone librarian on duty.[i] By the time I reached the main desk, the person I’d seen outside was no longer in sight.
“Why aren’t you at the game, Victoria?” she replied, looking at me over the tops of her glasses. “You’re going to miss all the excitement.”
“So are you.”
“I’m not really interested in football,” she said.
“Neither am I.”
“But aren’t all the other young people—?”
“Mrs. Bishop, I’m really happy to see you here,” I said. And I meant it. She was an assistant librarian, and one of the oldest people I’d ever known—so old that I couldn’t even have guessed her age. She could’ve been anywhere between 60 and 100, for all I could tell.
Although Mrs. Bishop was ancient, she took no nonsense in the library. When there were rowdy kids in there, just hanging out so they wouldn’t have to go home, she would shut them up right away—or kick them out. I have to say I liked that—a lot.
But now she was thanking me for my compliment. “That’s so nice of you to say, Victoria. And I’m glad to see you here, too. Not surprised, mind you. But very glad.”
We just sort of smiled stupidly at each other for a moment. We knew each other pretty well, as you might expect. I came into the library a lot, and she always recommended books that I ended up loving though they looked, well, a bit intimidating. Thick books written by authors long dead—like Anthony Trollope and William Makepeace Thackeray and Jane Austen and others. Heavy books—in every way. But I ended up loving most of them, and Mrs. Bishop always had a sly smile on her face when she gave me one, another smile when I returned it. And she would always ask a single-word question: “Well?”
And I would talk about what I liked and didn’t like, and she would smile and sometimes, when she wasn’t busy, invite me to the librarians’ workroom for tea and a sugary donut to talk more about books. She and Father would have made a good pair—though she was surely twice his age. Besides, Father was already spending lots of times with another librarian, the director of the library, Harriet’s mom. But we’ll get into that later on.[ii]
“Well, Victoria, what can I help you with?” Mrs. Bishop was asking me.
“I’ve got to get started on my local history project—”
“Oh, yes, that’s why the young man is here this evening, too.”
“The young man?” I’d almost forgotten about him already.
“Yes, I believe his name is Gil. He’s been here several nights already, reading microfilm of old newspapers.”
“Gil? I’m not sure I know anyone named Gil.”
“He just moved to Franconia last week, Victoria.”
The new kid. I’d noticed him in the halls at school, and he was in a couple of my classes, but I’d not learned his name. In fact, I was having a hard time remembering what he even looked like. He had not made much of an impression.
“Oh, I sort of know him,” I said absently. “What’s he working on?”
“I think that’s something that he ought to tell you, Victoria. Librarians really should not reveal private information like that.”
I looked at her quizzically. “Are you saying librarians are like priests … and lawyers? Privileged communications,’ that sort of thing.”
The more I thought about it, the more sense that seemed to make, so I didn’t say anything more.
“So can I help you find anything?” Mrs. Bishop asked. She smiled. “Not that this library holds many surprises for you anymore. You know just about everything about it.”
“Just about?” I asked. “Are there things I don’t know?” I was joking. But when I looked at Mrs. Bishop, she was not smiling.
“You can never know everything, Victoria,” she said grimly. “Not about anything or anyone—and most certainly not this old library.”
The Franconia Public Library was an old building, one of the oldest in town. It was built with large sandstone blocks that looked as if they’d risen up out of the earth, then reassembled themselves into a building. It looked as if it belonged there—and nowhere else. Its size and presence seemed to say: I was here long before you; I will be here long after you. I found that both comforting and very troubling, all the same time. And when I’m troubled, I always have one response: try to learn more.
“Well, here’s my project, Mrs. Bishop,” I said, getting a brand-new idea all at once.
“I’d planned to do a history of this building. The Franconia Public Library.”
“That’s very nice,” said Mrs. Bishop in a flat, unemotional tone—as if I’d just told her I was doing a report on beagles or fire trucks or something. “I’m sure you’ll find … plenty of information.”
“I thought I’d start in the clipping file,” I said, moving toward it.
“That’s as good a place as any,” she said.
Why did I lie to Mrs. Bishop? The report I’d planned to do was not about the library, not at all. I had intended to do research on the American Indians who had lived in the region. The Shawnee. I had thought that would be interesting to do—and then I’d write some dumb report for the class, saving whatever important information I found for my computer files.[iii]
To get to the clipping file—which held newspaper articles on all sorts of topics from years and years and years ago—I had to go past the little room that held the microfilm readers. This little room, just off the hallway, was as small as a child’s bedroom. I couldn’t imagine what its original function had been, for the dimensions were really quite small. Still, I’d spent many hours in that room, researching.
I was curious to get a quick look at this Gil boy—and I hoped that he would be using the machine right inside the door, the one whose screen you could see from out in the hallway.
There he was, hunched over, writing furiously on a yellow tablet that sat on the table part of the machine. Because he was bent over, I could see what he was looking at on the screen.
I was so surprised that I stepped inside the door for a closer look—just to be sure.
I was right. The picture was from an old newspaper article, and as Gil was writing, I moved right behind him—not a foot away—and stared.
The picture showed my house.
[i] Mary Shelley’s aunt Eliza married a man named Bishop.
[ii] Readers will recall that Vickie’s father and Harriet’s mother began as friends in the previous installment—then things began to … change.
[iii] This is the first mention of Vickie’s computer files. She was apparently building a huge database of information on all sorts of subject. Her reasons will become clear later. Readers of Vickie’s first book will recall that she does not try her hardest in school; her usual pattern was to do just enough to earn a grade good enough to satisfy her father.