A Summoning in Section 292.1.J-P
By Anya Josephs
Some of the best things that Varoushti Bogosian has: a tarot card (the Tower, signifying catastrophe), a dried rosebud (from a neighbor’s garden), a candle (scented like pine, stolen from her tati’s house at the family Christmas party). Today, a small golden bell fell off Priya Simpson’s bangle in the cafeteria, and Varoushti slipped it into her pocket to keep.
Some of the worst things that Varoushti Bogosian has: four even, round bruises around her right wrist (blooming since Sunday night), a bad stammer (her first word took her half an hour to chew through), a missing mother (three years), a present father (eternal, inevitable). Varoushti keeps her good things on shelf 292.1.J-P of the public library.
She chose the library because it’s the only place (besides school and home) where she’s allowed without Papa’s permission and presence. The library is where studying happens, and studying is one of the few things Papa approves of. He doesn’t know that she carefully saves homework for after her five o’clock curfew so that she has an excuse to be upstairs and busy after supper.
She chose shelf 292.1.J-P because it’s deep in the reference stacks. It smells of slowly rotting paper and stores texts relating to Greek and Roman mythology. Not interesting ones, either, mostly elderly encyclopedias and battered college textbooks. No one ever comes here except for Varoushti, when she is meant to be studying but is visiting her good things instead.
At first, she thought of shelf 292.1.J-P as her altar, and then, her secret. But Varoushti doesn’t pray here, and secrets are for telling. Her things are just that. Little things that she finds and keeps.
At first, Varoushti kept her things taped to the underside of her bed, buried in the backyard, or hidden in an old pair of shoes that don’t fit anymore. Then Lianne at the bookstore had read Varoushti’s tarot cards and let her keep the deck. When Papa found it, he called Varoushti a witch and then a thief and then a liar. He hit her so hard that she lost a tooth in the back of her mouth that wasn’t even loose yet. He told her to never fucking go back there and that he’d know if she tried any shit.
Varoushti never got to say goodbye to Lianne, who had bright blue hair and a ring through her lower lip, and who had let Varoushti sit in the back reading as long as she wanted and never asked her any questions.
Varoushti took the only card that wasn’t ripped too badly and the candle buried in the backyard and the rosebud that had been hidden in her shoe and brought them here, looking for a safe place. She visits shelf 292.1.J-P daily.
She deliberately takes the wrong bus, sneaks along the jogging path behind a row of big houses, and slides open the great glass doors.
She ducks past the checkout desk, dodges the always-smiling children’s librarian, ignores the rows of undergraduates with their heads bent over laptops, and enters the musty silence.
She kneels down on the industrial carpet, pulls Women’s Bodies in Classical Greek Science away from The Landmark Herodotus, and uncovers the stretch of cold grey metal where her things hide.
She turns the card over. She plucks a petal from the rosebud. She smells the candle. Today, for the first time, she rings the bell.
She closes her eyes and wishes for Lianne. She remembers her mother. She thinks about the minutes between now and five o’clock and what’s waiting for her on the other side. She listens to the quiet.
“Are you okay?”
Varoushti manages to slam the books back together, the thud echoing in the aisle, before looking up at the stranger. She’s tall and white, with grey hair cropped short like a man’s. She wears khaki pants with dozens of pockets and a black T-shirt. Her arms are crossed over her chest as she looks down at Varoushti.
“I’m fine. J-j-just reading.” She gestures vaguely at the bookshelves. The sound of her own voice shocks her. As always, her stammer is at its worst when she doesn’t have time to prepare herself to talk. As always, it sounds so different from the voice in her head. Did this woman see her things?
“My name is Jane. Mind if I join you?”
“Um. N-n-no?” It’s not meant to come out sounding so much like a question.
But the woman, Jane, doesn’t feel obligated to answer. She sits down cross-legged on the floor across from Varoushti and retrieves a book from one of her many pockets. Without another word, she begins to read.
Varoushti rests her back against shelf 292.1.J-P. If Jane makes a sudden move for her things, she’ll be ready. She watches Jane and counts to a thousand in her head. Nothing happens.
Carefully, she withdraws a novel from her backpack. She chews on a strand of her hair as she opens it, one hand on the book, one hand behind her to feel the cold and solid presence of the shelf that holds her things.
At first, she’s not really reading her book, but rather watching Jane, trying to catch Jane watching her. But Jane seems wholly absorbed in her reading, and after a while, so is Varoushti.
For a long time, the world is as quiet as they are.
“It’s 4:55,” Jane says. “So that you don’t have to get up to check the clock.”
“Thank you.” Varoushti returns the novel to her backpack, zips it, stands. Jane doesn’t move.
She doesn’t even look up from her book. But she says:
“Will you be here tomorrow?”
“Do you mind if I join you again? It’s nice and quiet here.”
Varoushti smiles her small, uneven smile. She says nothing, not even goodbye. As she walks away, past shelves A-J, she adds to her list.