Flickering lights, soft humming computers, the quiet chattering of people spread throughout the room, the smell of ink and paper wafting through the air and two weeks to devour my next alternate universe with choices the plenty. The librarian gave me a gentle nod and smile as I passed the reception desk, familiar faces with little investment in each others lives with the exception of the new intake schedule. I browsed the new and popular by demand section, the same books have been sitting there for the last four visits, nothing new on my persona.
I need adventure, friendship, romance, contempt, security, heartache, energy; truly anything to distract me from the reality that I walk every day. With a sharp left, I headed straight for the fiction section. Authors aplenty, I have a choice to explore the African plains, dive into the Indian ocean, become a detective on a mystery set in the 1800’s or fall in love with a man who was addicted the devouring emotions of his mother. The limits for escape are endless.
Running my finger over the spines one at a time, devouring the titles and authors who put their heart and soul onto the pages of each book, I felt comforted as if I was surrounded by old friends. Making my way up the aisle I passed the B’s and C’s turned the corner and found myself somewhere between H and N, but what stuck out to me was not a book with fancy bold type lettering. No, the book that stuck out to me was bound in leather, with no lettering on the spine. It was like the black sheep of all that surrounded it; completely different and unique, yet satisfyingly similar.
Slowly I pulled the book from its line on the shelf. The binding was old, the leather well worn, and the pages a dusty yellow. No identification of the book, no title, no author, it’s mystery was already a great intrigue to escaping the present. What was held between these two covers that were hidden away from view and why was it so ornate that even a title was not needed?
Studying the book as if it were the keeper of some great story yet to be devoured by my curious soul, I slowly opened the front cover with some trepidation. Was this some form of sorcery that someone had hidden within the shelves of a rural library in the middle of New Hope, Pennsylvania? One eye shut and the other expecting the light of dark sources to explode from the mixture of air on the pages I held the book at an arm’s length distance, enough room to jump back and prevent any bodily harm.
As the spine cracked and the book laid out in my hands open, no reaction of spiritual captivity occurring I brought the book closer for a deeper inspection. In neat, smooth lettering, the title of this mystery book became clear “Keeper of the Past.” Sounds pretty cliche considering that the title was written in pencil, after all with the simple workings of an eraser, the past could be no more. Flipping through the next few pages what I found was not a book, but the life of a person who detailed parts of their life in scripture that felt foreign compared to the simple type font that is mass produced on the hundreds of neighbors that surrounded me.
Date: January 7
A new year, a new life. Jeb keeps teasing that things will change soon. I don’t believe him. I’m meeting Catherine at the library to study for our English exam. Pronouns, verbs, blah blah blah. Why can’t my teacher understand that I just want to write and tell stories like I do to my younger brothers and sisters? What does knowing a pronoun vs. an adjective have to do with anything when they are picturing a dinosaur fighting off a fairy dragon to save the kingdom from doom?
But I do what mama says and study my notes. Maybe my stories can be printed someday like the many books in the library. Maybe someone else can explore the worlds that transfix my siblings. Oh, to be a writer would be amazing. But I’m only 12, not even a teen. If I was a teenage I wonder if Jeb would take me more seriously, if mama would trust me more, or if papa would let me date.
But when I become thirteen I’m sure not much will change, mama will still need me to watch after the younger siblings and Jeb will still be a pain.
Date: January 11
There are threats of war. I hear them on the television, mama keeps ringing her hands and telling us children to stay inside. But I want to be outside, the air is fresh, there is grass and my friends. We can play in the wide open spaces there, not inside where the walls contain us. Thankfully for me, books can keep me occupied for hours, but the younger children are itching and climbing the walls to expand their limbs as the sun beams through the curtains. I feel bad for them, unable to understand or contain themselves to cater to mama’s yearnings.
On my way home from school, I stop at the library every day to exchange what I had devoured the night before. I have just a few minutes to browse my options before my curfew closes in on me. I must be back in the house no later than 4:00 pm. The sun still up, shadows still not so scary, and the mystery of the night in the distance as we say our prayers over dinner.
Date: January 21
Jeb was right, everything has changed, in the matter of just one night. The first bomb fell, there is no more news of what is happening in the world, it seems as though the television lines have been destroyed. Papa uses a radio he found in the basement to get static filled news. Luckily we had batteries. There are so many restrictions, I can’t even go to school now. Jeb talks about a resistance, while mama cries over the potatoes she boils for dinner. There’s not much food to go around either. Thankfully spring is coming, which means we will get to grow fruits and vegetables a plenty. Maybe this will help mama stop worrying. Soldiers march up and down the street yelling at anyone out of order. I don’t feel safe anymore. I’m scared, they have large guns slung over their shoulders. Jeb talked about how they used a barn a few miles out as target practice. Thankfully no one was tending to the pigs in the barn, but the farmer lost his whole stock.
Papa says this is an adult problem and shushes us out of the room when the radio is on. I stand on the stairs listening. I don’t know if he knows this or not. I don’t like living in the dark. The bomb took out the television, next could be the lights or even the house. We are not threat, but we are treated like one.
All I can do is pray for safety and peace. I can’t escape into an alternate universe anymore, I no longer have the books from the library to keep me sane. I’m scared.
Date: March 3
Papa says that we will not be able to go to safety, that there are people who are afraid of us. I’m not sure what there is to be afraid of. I’m a good student, made great marks in school until the bombs hit. I take care of my sisters and brothers, mama is too weak with fear to move. Every night we are hiding from the men with guns, Jeb has not come home since the night that the town was under siege. With each bomb more rubble falls, last night a piece of ceiling hit Lia in the face as she slept. Her blood curdling screams waking half the town. It took me hours to sooth her back to sleep, to reminder her that we are safe. But are we?
Maybe I can talk to the man who says we aren’t safe, maybe I can tell him how nice we are. Maybe he can see my fear and hope for that same luck. Maybe someday I will be free again.
Date: March 8
The soldier brought me ice cream. It was the sweetest gesture after so many days of being seen as nothing. The little ones cried with their big brown eyes for the same attention. We are warned of such gestures but all the same, it was still sweet. If I take the ice cream am I a trader? If I don’t take the ice cream am I a hater?
Date: March 25
Our home is no more. The last bomb turned it into rubble. It looks like breadcrumbs for a mouse and we are the ants that survived the attack. It was the first time I saw Papa cry. His hard work, heart, and soul in shambles. He says he’s more thankful we all escaped before the last brick fell, but inside I know that he’s devastated by the demolishment of everything that held him together.
Where will we go from here? We have been walking for days, You are the only thing I have left from that night, everything from the past. I’m glad mama told me it was ok to sleep with you under my pillow at night, a place to keep you safe, now you are the only thing that keeps me sane in a world where I don’t even know where I will sleep.
Pages were torn out, events not recorded. This is like reading Anne Frank’s Diary back in middle school. When was this? Where was this writer? The questions started coming faster than I could read, I needed to know does it end like Anne? Is this someone just like Anne? So famous, so full of hope and innocents, the lives were parallel. I have to know more.
Turning on my heels I backtracked towards the information desk. Sitting on her stool checking out another patron, I bounce on the balls of my feet. I need to know where this book came from. What could she tell me about this person, this child, who gracefully steps into horror? With the slam of the register and a quick goodbye of the patron, I lean into the counter.
“Lorrain, who wrote this?” I slid the book across the green formica counter.
Carefully she studied the book, running her fingers over the handwritten pages. “I remember seeing this before.” With each gentle turn of a page, I felt as though I was connecting to a dial-up, the wheels were turning, but the information just wasn’t arriving fast enough for me to feel satisfied. My impatience was growing stronger by the second.
“A young girl, she used to come in here frequently a few months ago. Then when everything started happening she was less frequent. I always remarked about the book she carried.” She said in a hushed tone as she caressed the book. I could see the memories flooding her with each stroke. A girl with bouncing curls and rosy cheeks, smiling as she pattered across the floor to take a seat at one of the desks. The memories of innocents swirled around me as I looked at Lorrain, there was something happening inside of her, as if a heart break so deep burned into her eyes.
“What happened to her?” I squealed. My heart is pounding, my body shaking. Her story, it’s left here and I’m the one who found it. I felt responsible, I felt like I needed to understand her story, I felt as though I should have been able to protect her. Lorrain put the book down and started typing away on her keyboard, deep in thought. “What’s her name? Lorrain, if she was coming here for years what is her name?” I barked.
“Sabrina Mannan,” she said without blinking. A name, I took the book back from the counter. I skimmed the pages, looking for clues, answers, anything. But the last entry left me with nothing but horror.
Date: November 7
Nothing will change, the past will never be the safety I need again, the future is now grasped in the hands of a bully. I am scared, I am weak, I am alone. I am thirteen today. My prayers not granted. I have lost faith in God and all of mankind. I still hold the flag, the one mama gave me, close to my heart. But I do not know where to call home, I do not know who to call friends and I have lost all of my family. This flag with its red, white and blue means nothing to me anymore. I bleed red, I see red, I feel red. I am angry and sad, I feel sorrow in my soul and bones ache with envy. I miss my old life, I miss my teachers and siblings, I miss mama’s cooking and papa’s laugh. I miss Jeb teasing me. I would give anything to be back the way things were. I’m thirteen and someday I hope to be everything I want to be, but I am afraid they will never let me.
“She had a name” Lorrain whispered. “She had a mother and father.” Lorrain was lost in a trance as she clicked through her file on the computer. Regret washed over her.
“Lorrain, what happened to her?” I said with a motherly tone. I knew panicking at this point wouldn’t provide me any answers.
“They wanted all of our records. I didn’t know they would use them for evil.”
“You gave them the records, you where forced too.”
“I could have stopped it, I could have protected her. Deleted her name, her age, her race.” Lorrain let out a tiny sob.
With those last few words the mystery was solved. It didn’t matter how her journal had landed on the shelves of the library. Sabrina was just like Anne, except it was 2020, almost 100 years later. Generations of knowledge, history and resistance was still overloaded by hate. Fear was a fickle puppet master, he played with bombs and guns, he built hate and anger, while many suffered. This story was one of millions, one of those who where not like the rest because of their religion and race, one that was extinguish earlier than expected, one that the puppet master won. With her tenderly written words my strings where cut, my reality was no longer clouded by fiction, and I had a reason to keep fighting for the resistance.