Our Life Exempt From Public Haunt
By Jeff Baker & Wm. R. Baker
I was there late that evening in the old Lopresti Library because the books I needed weren’t online and I couldn’t check them out. Somehow the guard and I must have missed each other when I wandered from the old reading room in the basement to go to the Men’s room because when I walked from there through the back corridor I realized the only lights on were the emergency exit lights and a couple of bulbs that were always on.
I walked into the old reading room, which was pretty much a storeroom with boxes lining one wall, a bookshelf lining the opposite wall and a long table straight out of a grade-school lunchroom in the middle of the room. I picked up my notebook (spiral bound, this was about 1986) and glanced up at the old light bulb with a metal shade on top of it hanging from the ceiling. I didn’t know if it ever shut off.
I wandered down the hall and up the short flight of stairs leading to the old checkout desk that had been there since the library was built there in Pending, Kansas in 1919. I figured if the security guy was still there I’d explain things, tell him I was Carl Fiske and I was studying for a big midterm and he’d let me out. Small college town, they all knew everybody. If not, I’d go out the back delivery door, hoping it didn’t trigger an alarm.
I looked around. Nobody there. Lights almost all out. I sighed and headed towards the back of the building.
That was when I heard the voices.
“Nobody under the bed; nobody in the closet: nobody in his…I used that, didn’t I?” the first voice said.
“Yes, you used the lines before, but they do have the ring of poetry,” said a female voice.
“While poetry is all to some, prithee attend to the task at hand,” said a third, this time male, voice.
“It’s true, you know, when the lights are low, gotta go with the flow…” said a fourth voice.
I peeked around a stone column and a bookcase and saw several people at one of the main library tables in a dim light. The one who had finished speaking was wearing jeans and a plaid, long sleeved shirt and was actually smoking. He took a long drag, leaned back in the chair and blew a long puff of smoke upward.
“And it works just so…” he finished.
I wondered for a second if this wasn’t a late night book club. I hadn’t seen any fliers advertising it. Then I got a good look at the others. The woman was in a long, white gown of an earlier era. The bald man was wearing a suit with long stockings, puffed-out shoulders like on Dynasty and a white collar and another man was in a velvety blue suit that looked vaguely Nineteenth Century. He had a dark beard and looked familiar. And there was a Black man in modern dress I could not see clearly.
The whole thing made me think of that show PBS had aired years ago when figures from history would be on a talk show. Maybe this was like that.
I stepped out from behind the column where I could get a better view. The five of them had papers and pens in front of them. They didn’t seem to notice me, but I was still in shadow.
“The stars above trudge their nightly path, the working man below trudges the dust.” This was the Black man, who pointed upward as he spoke. “And we will get nothing accomplished if we do not write this down.”
“Well put, Langston,” said the bearded man in the velvety suit whose voice I identified as the first speaker.
“I still do not know about this,’ said the woman in white. “My poems were my garden, but a private little one by a house of all my cares.”
“Surely nobody will know who has done this work, were we to sign it ought none to believe it,” said the bald man. “Our life exempt from public haunt.”
They laughed at this and one of them chortled and repeated the word “haunt.”
I was going to announce my presence but I had glanced upward and saw no source for the light streaming down upon them. Instead, they were in a light with no source, like the haze of sunlight in the dark sky at the middle of the night’s cycle.
I quickly backed away and headed for the exit. The metal door opened after a moment of pushing on the bar, thankfully not setting off an alarm. I walked around the building to where I’d parked my car. By the time I reached the car I was running.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: My late father, Wm R. Baker, wanted to be a writer but never got around to it. This was an idea he told me about some forty years ago. I decided to finally write it down, because we both loved libraries and authors. ——jeff b. 2/10/22
Sweet note, about your father. Mine wanted to be an artist; he ended up working for a huge electric company in the Twin Cities. This is a reminder that we all have dreams, and often they don’t come true, but we muddle along as best we can.