Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Second Day

I managed to do chapters two and three tonight, though I'm still a bit behind on word count. Also, I was channel surfing between various election coverages all evening, and picking out paragraphs as I went, so I'm going to vouch for the quality of the writing even less than usual. :-)

Hopefully it's getting a bit more interesting, if gradually so.

Chapter 2

"What are you doing?"

Seamus turned around to see a little Hispanic girl behind him, looking at him with curiosity. She looked about 8 years old, slightly pudgy, with a round, snub nosed face and a cute, awkward smile.

"I'm checking my email. What are you doing?"

"I'm doing my homework. But I can do email too! You type in your email name up there in the box, and then you see web pages."

"Um. Yeah. That's very good." Seamus liked children well enough, though he didn't always know how best to interact with them.

There was a voice from the doorway. "Gabriela! Are you bothering someone?"

"No! I'm not bothering him! Am I?"

"No – no, not at all. It's alright." Seamus turned around to see a short, cheerful looking lady, clearly the young girl's mother. "Do you work here? I was just borrowing a computer to check my email. Is that okay?"

"Oh yes, that's fine. The computers here are for our students. They can use the programs to practice their English when they aren't meeting with their tutors. But you can see it is very empty at some times of the day."

She had a distinct accent, but spoke with the clear precision of someone who had practiced enthusiastically for a number of years. She introduced herself as Maria, Gabriela's mother, and she worked in Project Read, whose office was attached to the computer lab. They chatted a little bit until she found out that Seamus was a "computer guy" and asked him to take a look at a computer with a CD stuck in it.

He took a look at it, and it was a pretty simple fix, but it won him a quick reputation as a friendly expert. After that, Maria would catch him whenever she saw him visiting the library, and get him to fix the latest computer problem they had, since neither she nor the other lady who worked in Project Read had a clue about anything computer related. (The adult students, of course, were mostly focusing on just learning to read, and weren't much help when it came to computer issues.) Maria had a infectiously friendly personality, and an endearing way of drawing herself up to her full five feet zero inches , looking up and calling him "Shorty," which made her difficult to refuse.

Seamus met Deborah, the director of Project Read, as well, and was eventually convinced to go through the tutor training program. He was leery about actually becoming a tutor, though. With the uncertainty of his temping schedule, he said, he didn't want to commit to anything he might not be able to keep up reliably. There was more to it than that, though. Really, he felt nervous about teaching, and what it might require of him, and he didn't know if he could do it. So he compromised, and agreed to come in once a week and spend a couple solid hours in the computer lab, answering questions people might have, and generally keeping the machines working smoothly. So it was more or less what he was doing already, but with more time dedicated to it.

So Seamus spent his Wednesday evenings for a few months in Project Read, frequently with Gabriela tagging along and trying to avoid her homework. Seamus would often help her work on her spelling or math when it was a quiet evening in the computer lab, but just as often ended up drawing pictures with her or spinning her on one of the rolling chairs.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" he asked once.

"I'm going to be a doctor, a dentist, a teacher AND a cheerleader!" Gabriela replied enthusiastically.

Isn't life simple when you're eight, Seamus thought. Anything's possible. It's like you can just throw yourself at life and it will all work out somehow. He kind of regretted asking her, since it only reminded him of how he had 15 years on her but still wondered what he would be when he grew up. Pity he didn't have her kind of enthusiasm for something, anything, that would give him a direction. Career temp worker, then. Whoopee. Oh well.

He looked up. Gabriela had her head cocked at him and was starting to tug on his arm. "I said: Spin me again! Spin me! Spin me!"

A quick glance around – Maria was back in the office, and the two students in the lab had just left. So around went the chair again, accelerating with Gabriela's giggles, until she tottered off, slightly green and dizzy, but happy.

Chapter 3

It was on a Wednesday in early December that Seamus discovered the most intriguing part of the Menlo Park library.

It was near closing time and the quarterly round of tutor training had just finished up in the basement conference room. Deborah and Maria had gone upstairs with the prospective tutors and Seamus was cleaning up the room, putting away the projector, and picking up a few information packets that had been left behind. He had already made one trip back up the elevator with the cart containing the leftover snacks and drinks, so he didn't have much to carry this time and decided to take the stairs for a change.

This took him to the opposite end of the hallway, where he noticed a smaller, darker corridor branching off, and leading down a few steps to a level slightly lower than the rest of the basement. He hadn't even known that it was there before, and its lights were off, so it was hardly noticeable from the main area of the basement hall.

Intrigued, Seamus abandoned the stairs for a minute to take a look. Down the steps was a fairly short corridor that contained only one door. The door had a small window in the upper part, but he couldn't make out much that was inside the room. It didn't seem to have any windows or light source inside it, and there wasn't much coming from his side in the hallway. But he thought he could see the beginning of a row of shelves full of books. He couldn't see the far walls at all. For all he knew, it could extend under the entire library. He tried the door. It was locked.

A faint voice came down the hallway. "Seamus? Are you still down here?"

He turned and popped back up to the main basement corridor to see Deborah at the other end of it, by the conference room.

"Oh, there you are. We were about to take off for the night. Do we need to get anything else from down here?" She stuck her head in the room to give it a quick glance.

"Nope, I got it all taken care of. We can head on up." He led the way to the elevator and pushed the button. Once inside, he turned to Deborah.

"Do you know what's in the lower level, down at the other end of the hall?" he asked.

"Lower level? Oh, you mean by the stairs?" Deborah was about 55 and had a bad knee, and had probably never bothered taking the stairs. "I've never been down there. I think they store old books down there for the annual book sale."

"You mean the great big sale out in the park in June?"

"Yes. Donations and old books are hauled down here once in a while, so I assume they must get shoved in there. And I remember seeing people drawing them up by the cartload last summer before the sale. I don't think they ever actually bring them all out, though. Someone told me once that the room is so big and has so many books in it that they never quite manage to empty it. There are probably some ancient, mildewy books down there since the library was founded in 1916."

"Really? Wow. That must be quite a place." By now they were back at the Project Read office and were gathering up their bags and coats to head home.

"I suppose so. I don't think anyone gets down there very much. Susan over in the main office probably has a key, but she doesn't think about it much except around June. Anyway, have a safe drive home. I'll see you next week?"

"Same as usual."

Deborah headed off to her car and Seamus stood by his bike for a minute, watching the lights turn off in the library and wondering about the darkest place beneath it.