I had seen a lot of strange things recently, but nothing quite matched the moment when I first realized that the girl I had been looking for only existed in the reflection of the mirror. And yet I felt her standing right next to me. I wasn’t terrified. Thinking about that I still wonder about my comparative cool. My heart was beating like crazy and my stomach was churning. I was speed thinking, but in circles. I didn’t think “it’s impossible”, not once since I had ventured out to find Penelope Hofmann had I entertained that thought. But I was coming close to it this moment. All other inconsistencies with reality that I had noticed before had still born small elements of ambivalence that left open the possibility of an explanation to reestablish everyday logic. But there were only two explanations for the incredible appearance in the window: either there were more phenomena possible than had been scientifically accounted for so far – I wasn’t ready to think into the direction of supernatural beings – or I was raving mad. Whatever it was, it didn’t seem directly threatening. I was still sitting here, the girl was still standing right next to me in the reflection of my world in the window, and there was nothing I could do at this moment to change that. Maybe with the exception of an immediate termination of my belief that this was possible. Somehow. I realized at that moment that I would prefer to be raving mad to inhabiting of a world without surprises. I managed a weak smile in direction of the girl. She responded with a grin.
The floor in the library greeted me with the reliable intricate tessellation I had marveled at since I had moved to Summerville. Knowing that it would have seemed strange if I had stood still and just stared at the carpet tiles I walked slowly towards the lockers trying to mirror the rhythm of the tiles with my feet. I stuffed my backpack into a cubby hole and tried to work out – not for the first time – the plan for quasi-periodic tiling of the plane with only 2 figures each with a five fold symmetry. It had a peculiar energy to it. Also not for the first time I asked myself who in the world had come up with this specific mathematical tessellation for a library floor carpet. Following the outlines of the tiles with my gaze I felt my heartbeat slow down and my fear subside.
Stepping to the side still following the edges of the tiles I had a sudden feeling that I would run into someone. For a split-second I felt an intense anticipation of a physical obstacle, a person I would run into whose body I already felt like you feel a chair in a dark room the moment before you hurt your shin. I had an apology on my lips as, looking up, I still waited for the run-in. But nothing happened. There was no one near me, in fact, the lobby was empty, even the front desk was temporarily unoccupied as a metal sign indicated. I felt confused. Have you ever mistaken a shadow on the pavement for a shallow hole in a road and stepped down too hard or, being preoccupied while walking up the stairs, have misjudged the number of steps and taken one more step than necessary to climb the staircase? I had exactly that kind of empty anticipation, a strange stomach upsetting emptiness as if I had taken one step too far, out into nowhere.
For a moment I waited. The hum of voices on the first floor of the library reassured me. I had missed a heartbeat just now, but after a moment of reconnecting with reality I finally crossed the lobby and walked up the stairs. And yet I felt like every step I took was echoed by a second, like I was walking with a friend at my side. I checked twice whether someone walked up the winding staircase right behind me, in my blind spot, so to speak, but there was no one.
Tuesday afternoon at the library. I like vacation as much as the next person, but there is something special about a school afternoon at the library. I like the idea that the library is a space solely dedicated to the transfer of knowledge from the pages of a book into a brain. I like the hushed atmosphere, people writing excerpts from gaping volumes, an old lady in woolen stockings inexplicably spending her days copying Anna Karenina in a beautiful script on fine stationary with the initials LNT, kids hanging out mostly with some kind of school assignment, procrastinating and talking in low voices with occasional shrieks.
Towards the back shelves of the first floor there was a little niche with a chair I favored. It was right at the window behind a safe wall of three aisles of age old art books. Art was clearly not a favorite topic in Summerville and the volumes were mainly collecting dust, emitting this strange smell only library books acquire over time (and that makes you want not to read whatever it is that is hiding inside because the smell indicates that the contents of the book have expired since, are deceased and encased in their last dwelling, like a body in a sarcophagus.)