From the Stacks

The book I wanted was classified as a reference book, which meant that it couldn’t be checked out and I’d have to study it at the library. So the librarian at the reference desk had someone retrieve it from the stacks, and I went looking for a table to study at. The first two had signs declaring them off limits to anybody not doing genealogy research. I skipped those tables and the next two, which both had people sleeping at them.

As I settled into my seat, a man at one of the genealogy tables looked over at me quizzically. I nodded a hello back at him, but he didn’t look familiar.

I noticed the man glancing up at me a couple of times over the next twenty minutes, while I dug through the book and marked the pages that I wanted.

When I found everything I needed, I got up and went looking for a photocopier. I walked back the way I came, past the genealogy tables, where the man who’d been looking at me earlier was re-stacking his papers and getting up. He stepped away from the table and started talking to me, so I slowed my pace down.

“As you get older,” he said, “you start seeing more people who look like someone you know. . . . But I was thinking, ‘That was thirty years ago.'” He hesitated and closed with a shrug.

I shrugged back and perhaps my face communicated some understanding or some sympathy, but we both keep walking. He headed one way, into the shelves, and I went another way.

He left that sentence hanging there because — I presume — he had little more to say besides, You look like someone I know, and because anything sounds more profound if you end it with “That was thirty years ago”.

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