Gracelyn Polk sat in the Cabbage Junction Public Library reading about the Napoleonic Wars from an old, oversized book.
She sat at a large table by herself surrounded by high shelves filled with thick and important volumes, just like the one spread open wide before her. Her muddied golden eyes intensely scanned the large pages, and then she licked at a fingertip and turned to the next ones.
“I see. How interesting,” she said aloud to herself.
Sunlight streamed in through long, narrow windows situated at the top of the outside walls. The beams bathed Gracelyn in a yellow, angelic glow as if she were dead and doing her homework in Heaven.
But Gracelyn Polk was very much alive, and had been for 413 years now, even though at the moment, she was really just a girl of 11 and the smartest sixth grader at Cabbage Junction Primary School.
She looked up at the ceiling and smiled to herself as she thoughtfully spoke to the air. “I just love history. It’s just so fascinating – especially when you’ve lived through so much of it as I have.”
When the girl decided she had had enough of the Napoleonic Wars, she closed the big book, clumsily lifted it, and returned it to its waiting space on a nearby shelf. She slapped her hands together as if knocking off dirt. “My, my. Books are so heavy and take up so much space… And so much paper.”
She suddenly felt very small surrounded by all the high shelves of books. It was very quiet in the library as it should be. She glanced up toward the windows and could tell the light of day was beginning to fade. A red wasp angrily danced against the glass. She retrieved her cell phone from a deep pocket in her pink sweats and pulled it out. She held it up before her face, smiled, and took a selfie. “I don’t know why I do that,” she said to no one. “I’m such a hot mess.” She looked at her phone again – no messages, no calls, no energy. Gracelyn sighed, snatched up her backpack from the large table, strapped it on and walked toward the exit.
As Gracelyn approached the circulation desk near the front doors, she smiled, waved, and cheerfully called out, “See you later, Mrs. Costilla,” and walked out with a bounce.
Mrs. Costilla didn’t reply. Her bones remained still and silent, gathering the gently falling dust from the comfort of an office chair, just as they have done for a very long time now.
Gracelyn pulled her bike out of the bike rack, got on it, and started to ride down the middle of Main Street. There wasn’t any traffic – only silence and wind. Her burnt-sienna hair flapped and flowed behind her like a torn flag on a motorboat as she passed by the husky downtown buildings of red brick and large windows. A horribly dressed and bald mannequin slept dead on a bed of broken glass in front of the Cabbage Junction Thrift and Antiques store.
When Gracelyn came to the intersection of Main Street and White Chocolate Road, she turned left. The neighborhood there, called Vinegar Village, was cluttered with old houses, most in shambles, yards overgrown, streets empty, odd smells in the air. Her legs pumped faster because she didn’t like the area. It scared her. “Avoid the dream,” she said to herself. “Avoid the dream.”
As the neighborhoods thinned, the landscape became more pastoral – farmland, fields, and wide pastures cradled by forest walls of dark green. The sky above, wide and bluish yellow. She turned right on a gravel road and toward the big white house that rested at the end of it.
She set the bike down in the grass near the front porch painted battleship gray on the floor and peeling wedding-gown white on the spindles and caps. She bounded up the few steps to the front door. She stood on a faded welcome mat as she fished for a key from her pocket. She inserted it and turned it, then her small hand grasped the doorknob and pushed forward.
The Creamsicle-colored cat, Moses, stared at Gracelyn with wide lemon-lime eyes as he squatted on the dining room table just a few feet from her as the girl did her homework. He resembled a wide loaf of bread. The girl was surrounded by jar candles for light, and she warned Moses of the danger. “Don’t come any closer, my dear kitty, or your fur is liable to catch fire, and that would be a terrible thing.”
Moses quickly turned, jumped down and trotted off into an unknown darkness in another room. Gracelyn shook her head and laughed. “What a smart kitty,” she said, and then she picked up half a peanut butter and mint jelly sandwich from a plate by her side and bit into it and chewed as she studied. “The Romans were amazing engineers,” she said aloud to the quiet house as her eyes danced across the words in the book. “I wish I could have been there to see it all. Perhaps someday.” She reached for her can of Elf brand grape soda and put it to her mouth and drank until it was completely drained. “Damn that’s good,” she said, and she threw the can over her shoulder, and it landed on a growing pile of other cans behind her.
Moses reappeared and rubbed himself against her legs below the table. “I know, dear kitty. I need to find more, or I may not have anything delicious to wash down my meals with. If only I could build a soda pop aqueduct, like the Romans.” She sighed. “But I’m afraid that would be nearly impossible without any help.” The cat purred loudly and uttered an instructive meow. “Yes, yes. I’ll get to the recycling as soon as I can. But I’m very busy, you know… With school and studying and everything else. It’s not easy being a young girl in a world such as this. Be patient, Moses kitty.”
TO BE CONTINUED