Albert parked his mother’s quarter-century-old 1987 Ford Tempo with 21,000 miles behind the post office across the street from the library. He wanted to walk a bit before going in, to prepare himself to face Director of Circulation Agnes Zubetta, the successor and spinster daughter of the Agatha ‘The Enforcer’ Zubetta, whose initials were scrawled on the due date sheet on inside cover of the book, next to the red-ink return date, May 13, 1964. Yesterday Albert had found the 49-year-overdue book in a trunk in the attic he was cleaning out to get his late mother’s house ready for sale. The book was hidden under his Cub Scout uniform, on top of a collection of his primary school report cards and photo albums of his family—his brother Mike, his Mom, and even some photos of Dad before he ran off to California with his receptionist from the insurance agency, which Mom continued to run for thirty more years from the little office in the back of the house.
“Why do you want this book, Alfred?” The Enforcer had said, tapping her fountain pen on the edge of the circulation counter while glaring at him over her half-glass spectacles. “It’s very special, donated by the retired university professor who helped write it.” Alfred explained he’d been the victim of one of Ms. Binder’s crazy biology class assignments; he’d picked pig from the animal box and central Asia from the geography box—Pygmy Warthogs of Vozrozhdeniya Island was the only book in the library meeting the assignment criteria. “All right, but you had better get this back to me by the due date. No renewals.” Miss Zubetta, who looked to be putting on a few pounds, initialed the slip with a scowl. The next week she disappeared for several months, long past the due date. Months later Alfred’s Mom, never imaging her son would read such a book, put it up on a high shelf in the library where her husband could find it upon his return from California and, thirty years later, into the trunk with Alfred’s boyhood mementoes.
Agnes Zubetta inherited her mother’s retaliatory disposition toward those who misused the printed treasures placed in her charge. As Alfred swung open the library door, his eyes met Agnes’. She could sense bibliothecarian depravity at a hundred yards, and her moral arsenal immediately engaged. A cruel smile blossomed on her face, like a crocodile spying a gazelle trapped in the mud. Alfred raised the book he’d been concealing under his arm and placed on the circulation counter.
“This is late,” he said.
Agnes opened the front cover. Her eyes widened when she saw her mother’s initials. Her chest swelled. “This is going to cost you, Alfred,” she said in her mother’s condescending voice, even though Alfred was ten years her senior.
“How much?” Alfred said, thinking he might make a quick break for the door.
“Let’s see.” She sounded calm and detached, but Alfred could see her nostrils flare. “I’ll need to put this into a special program I wrote to calculate exceptional delinquencies.”
“I could have just thrown this away,” Alfred said. “Who would have ever known?”
“Mother would have known,” Agnes said, looking heavenward. “It’s best you decided to settle your delinquency in this life.”
For the next few minutes Agnes worked feverishly on her computer, with an occasional ‘ah-ha,’ ‘ummh,’ and ‘oh.’ Then she relaxed and looked up at Alfred.
“I just sent the township attorney an e-mail requesting a lien be placed on your late mother’s house,” she said. “You haven’t sold it yet, have you?”
Andrew Hogan has published more than eighty works of fiction in the Sandscript, OASIS Journal (1st Prize, Fiction 2014), The Legendary, and others.