Kind Gestures by S. Webster
Anna – 9:30 a.m.
Anna is in line behind two other people placing orders to go. She recognizes Fred Albright, the lawyer who handled the property transfer to her name and the other one is George Saunders, a man who never misses a chance to look her over whenever he can. There is nothing Anna does to encourage this. If their eyes meet, like now, she looks away while the hairs on her neck rise just a little. Soon George turns his attention to Kitty behind the counter.
“You look especially good today, Kitty,” he says.
Anna thinks, ‘Not you look nice’, but ‘you look good’ like he wants to take a bite out of her. She steps up to the check out where Marty’s son, Tony, asks what he can get for her. He’s a nice kid in his late teens and Anna thinks this is exactly where he will be in ten years, probably twenty. Tony will simply move into the kitchen when he takes the diner over from his father. And Marty will likely be out here taking orders, making change and keeping an eye on his boy. She smiles at the thought that maybe the families here in Oliver are close and tend to stay with what they know and who they love. Anna envies that just a little, the sureness of where you’ll be and who will always love you.
“Just coffee and a tuna salad sandwich, Tony, both to go.”
The coolness of the air conditioned library is a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of August. The coolness of her personality is less noticed in here. Anna is returning to her desk when the door opens and Beth Saunders and her two young boys come in followed by a man she assumes is with them. But when the mother and boys go into the children’s book section, the man disappears down the first aisle.
Anna notices he is carrying a large shopping bag, the reusable ones you get at the grocery store for a dollar to save on plastic and paper. It looks heavy. He looks heavy. Maybe solid is more like it. Dressed in overalls, T shirt and work boots, he looks out of place in the library.
She remembers seeing him on his tractor at the corner gas station last week. He is one of the two Hargood brothers working the family farm out on SR 53.They raise beef cattle and during the summer the older one, not this one, brings fresh vegetables to the Saturday market on the town square. She knows their last name but does not recall hearing their first. This Mr. Hargood is probably bringing books to the library rather than taking them out to the recycle center on the edge of town. Farm journals most likely.
It didn’t take long for the Saunders boys to find the books they want and present their library cards to Anna. She smiles politely to them and reminds them again to take care of the books and bring them back by their due date. Their mother assures her they will and follows the boys out the door. A few more people come in to use the computer room and Anna goes back to checking in returned books.
She looks up to see Mr. Hargood standing on the other side of the desk still holding onto the shopping bag. Anna can see that it is not books but a plant of some kind. Small green fronds peek over the top.
“Hello, Miss Long, my name is Ed Hargood and I’d like to make a trade.”
“A trade? “ she asks.
“Yes ma’am – you take this plant and I take books from the library,” he says holding up the bagged plant.
Anna says, “You can take books from the library without giving me a plant.”
“I know that. But I want you to tell me which ones,” he says.
“You want me to tell you what to read?” Anna is incredulous.
“No ma’am, I want you to tell me which books I should read. Books having stories that can take me places I will never go,” Ed is trying to explain.
“I don’t think I can or should do something like that,” says Anna.
Ed responds, “But I do. I want to know about other places and people through the stories they tell. And I don’t know where to start. My life is going to be what it always has been. I know my own story. I want to read someone else’s.”
Ed pauses slightly and continues, “And the only time I have for reading is in the evening after my work is done. I’m only asking for your help.”
He said this while pulling the plant out of the bag, pushing her papers aside and setting it firmly onto her desk. It is a potted fern that showed all the promise of taking over even more of her barrier if she cared for it.
Anna gathered up her papers and stood to look at him closely.
He looked away from her gaze and said, “Sorry to bother you, Miss Long, you can keep the plant anyway,” and started to turn away.
“Wait. What kind of reading do you do now?” Anna asks.
“Farm journals and the local paper,” he says.
It was enough for Anna. She took another look at the fern, agreed to his terms and went to retrieve Herman Melville’s classic from her parents’ collection.
“Take as long as you like with this one.”