I wonder if I have ever known Marie Antoinette. I have studied her painted portraits and read countless biographies on the woman. Only I don’t read them for a paper like I see the university students doing, bodies crouched over their books and (what are supposedly called) laptops. No, I read them to see if I ever lived in France during the French Revolution. I am certain that I was alive at that time. You can sense your own age in your bones, and when you cannot die, that ache becomes the only pain you know. However, I cannot recall what I was doing during the 1700s when Marie and others were getting beheaded.
Wearing a long dark coat, I entered this library to find answers. If I have been alive for so long, I’d thought, then surely I can find clues written in the history books detailing all the important events of the world. Yet so far, I have found nothing. Even after reading so much about Marie Antoinette, I feel no intimacy when I see her name. I know how she lived a lavish life which the common people despised, and how young she was when she was finally executed. But I don’t know if she had nightmares that prevented her from sleeping, or how she fought boredom, or what her favourite colour was. I close the book with a sigh. I do not think I ever knew Marie Antoinette.
I follow an unchanging routine, perusing the endless shelves of books, in search of a title that will spark a memory. I don’t know what it will feel like when it happens,, but I take my chances on any books that sound promising. I pick up a book on the French Revolution, this one specifically from the perspective of the revolting peasants. I return to a spot in the library that I secretly call my own: a small corner with an uncomfortable wooden chair. It has its downsides, but at least no one bothers me. I sit down and begin reading. That’s one aspect of the library I appreciate—the hushed silence. I like to think that it will help me regain my memories. Perhaps in the quiet, my mind will suddenly recall the sounds of entering my home, or of someone calling my name.
When the sun is setting through the gold panelled windows, I give up on the French Revolution being my past. I stand up, arms full of the biographies and textbooks I have picked up throughout the day, and walk towards the stairs. The library is grand, with statues of Greek philosophers such as Plato and other prominent figures in history. Without their stone faces, I would have never known of their existence. Unfortunately, I doubt that I knew Plato. Although I like to believe that we would have gotten along quite well, if only for the fact that I would have someone to talk with. The shelves are built out of dark oak wood, as is the staircase. I study the smooth carved edges of the white statues as I pass them, pressing their images into my feeble and murky mind.
Descending to the first floor, I reach the front desk, and place the books on a metal cart. The humans are drifting out of the library, heading to their homes for the night; I return upstairs to my chair. It sits alone near a dip in the wall, as if the construction team planned to build a hallway there but gave up as soon as they began. I sit down, hidden away from the employees who are closing up the library. To them I am a devoted patron. They do not know that this place is the closest thing I have to a home.
When the lights turn off, leaving me in darkness, I tell myself the same thing every night:
“Maybe tonight I will dream of my past,” “And then I will wake up like a newborn, and finally have a path to follow.”
My voice sounds rough like sandpaper, but echoes softly around me. I want to remember it, so that I can recognize it in my dreams. My body sits upright in the uncomfortable chair, and yet I am settled, and feel no inclination to move. I slowly close my eyes, and hope for dreams to come.
But I don’t dream. I do not ever seem to dream in any capacity. I have read up on dreams before; some books say that you forget most of your dreams the second you wake up. Others say that it is possible to lucid dream, controlling what you do in your own subconscious. I try to do both. Find my own dreams, or create my own. But nothing happens. The only thing I can visualize is myself. My own thin shrunken hands reaching out into darkness, nothingness, searching for anything to grasp.
The morning sun prods my eyelids open. I never sleep restfully.
* * *
I stand in the middle of an aisle full of Eastern history books. Nothing about France, Germany, or Britain sparked anything for me, so perhaps I lived in a country like China, India, or Mongolia. My eyes pass over the titles, the names of hundreds of countries—an endless inventory of names. I wonder if any belonged to me, but I would be able to sense that, wouldn’t I? My eyes hover over the spines like a hawk hunting for prey. The title Feudal Japan: Its Rise and Fall enters my view, and I stop. The white text burns itself into my mind. Perhaps all my time in this library is finally reaching its conclusion. This is the book that will reveal my memories. I reach out my hand to grab it like the hawk homing in on the mouse, but another hand takes it from the shelf. The human holds the book against her chest, scanning the shelves for any others she might want.
I recoil away from her, a strange anxiety coming over me. I can never place why exactly I feel this way towards humans. I suppose it’s because I have nothing to say to them,so instead I observe from a distance. They rarely approach, and probably don’t even notice me. This I am grateful for. I don’t know how to explain my strange circumstance, so keeping to myself is for the better.
The human walks out of the aisle with the one book I truly want to read. Perhaps if I am patient, she will take it to the cart after a short amount of time. I reexamine the bookshelf, picking up a book focusing on the Samurai in Feudal Japan. It is a cold stone compared to the warmth of Feudal Japan: Its Rise and Fall, but it will have to do for now.
I find the human with my book sitting at one of the long work tables for patrons. I return to my chair, hiding away from the world, yet watching the human clearly. I open my own book to begin reading, only I glance up at the human often, waiting for her to close the book and stand.
An hour passes, and the human is still reading. I let out a long sigh, my bones shuddering in tune with my breath. How can she read for such a long time without any breaks? She can’t be a student. Human students hold a distinct look about them. They enter the library with large book bags, and dark eye bags, wearing permanent expressions of stress and resignation on their faces. This human’s expression is serene, her brow slightly furrowed. Aside from the idle tapping of her fingers on the pages, she is completely still. Seeing all of this, I suppose she must be reading that entire book out of her own volition.
What a strange human.
How much longer must she read for? The book she hoards hovers in my mind, taunting me with memories I may never regain, at this rate. I try to convince myself to be patient. That a human’s life is feeble and could end when she inevitably leaves this library, and then I will be able to read it. I have all the time in the universe to wait for her to be done with it, after all. But that does nothing to comfort me. I wish to have limited time. To grant myself enough motivation to stand from my chair. To walk up and snatch that book out of her hands.
But even if I had less time, would I still want to actually speak to her? Humans are such finicky creatures. What if she were offended by me politely asking for the book? Where would I run off to? I can only hide, but I cannot take refuge.
Human interaction can be quite unpredictable. I would know, because I’m always reading about it. Yet there is a certain distance when reading that allows me to feel less affected by the unpredictability of humans; to be able to contain it within a snow globe and gaze at it from all angles. If the human were a book, I could approach her, but alas.
I look down at my own hands, long fingers with short fingernails clutched around the hardcover books. They look human enough.
Are they human?
I cannot answer, and no one is here to inform me. I can do nothing but stare at my own unrecognizable hands and feel the weight of my bones bind me to this chair.
I find myself growing impatient, so I stand. I walk up to the human, standing on the other side of the table. Multiple small lamps line the wooden table, one of them lit up over the book on Feudal Japan. My shadow falls over the book, and the human looks up.
“Do you need something?” she asks, her voice quiet. She wears black square-shaped glasses that reflect the golden lamplight, shrouding her eyes.
“I…was simply curious…about the book you are reading,” I say. My voice is hoarse from disuse, as if I’m recovering from a cold. My limbs go still like a deer in the “freeze” response.
“Oh,” the human says, glancing down at the book. “Really? I don’t mean that to be rude. I guess I just have never met anyone interested in this period of history.”
“Really?” I ask, not expecting the word to come out of me.
“Yeah, well, most of my friends think it’s strange that I can read an entire history book for fun.”
I say nothing for a while. The human stares at me. I catch a glimpse of her eyes, the glasses escaping the light of the lamp. They are brown, and they are waiting for me to respond.
I suppress a shudder. This is usually why I avoid conversation. “I don’t see how it’s strange,” I say.
The human lets out a soft laugh. “Then maybe we have more in common.” she says. “Have you read much about the Feudal era in Japan?”
“I have not.”
The human closes the book, staring at the cover. “This book would be a good introduction for you then.”
“Ah, but…you have…been reading it for a long while.” Towering over this random human only makes my bones go more rigid. I want to relax, yet it seems that my body has strictly forbidden even moving an inch.
“Oh yeah, but I’ve already read it.”
“Already read it? You’ve…read it more than once?”
The human lets out another short laugh. “Yeah. I can’t really afford to buy too many books, but I love reading about history, especially this specific period. So I like to come here often.”
I feel like I should say something, but all that comes out of my mouth is, “Interesting.”
The human holds the book out to me. “You can read it if you like,” she says.
“Oh…but you were reading it just now.”
“It’s fine, I’ve already read it lots of times. Besides, it’s a library book. It technically doesn’t belong to me, so I shouldn’t hog it.”
I take the book from her hands, my arms tensing to hold its weight. I should say thank you and walk away, to be rid of this nerve-wracking conversation. But I only say thank you, and stay perfectly still.
The human peers up at me, her expression curious. “You can sit with me, if you’d like,” she offers. I sit down in the chair across from her, not making any eye contact. These chairs have cushions, and I almost turn to glance back to the abandoned chair in the corner. Why have I been attached to that one small chair?
When I barely move an inch, the human asks, “Do you come here often?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“Do you usually read history books?”
“I only read history books.”
“Really? What would you recommend?”
I try to think of an answer, only to fall short much sooner than I realize. I think about every book I have come across ever since stepping foot into this library, and I can only recall their titles. I think of the book on Marie Antoinette, but nothing about her life springs to mind. Who was she again? I have read a book on her, haven’t I? I grip the sides of the Feudal Japan book. I have walked the halls of this library for as long as I can remember. But can I only truly remember the events of today? Why don’t I remember reading about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution? I know that I have no memories, and there is more to my existence than ghosting these halls. But what is it, if I can’t even remember the books that I read?
“I can’t remember…the title,” I say, my scratchy voice getting jumbled in my own words. The human does not seem to notice.
“That’s okay,” she says. “If you remember it, let me know.”
“I will do that,” I say. “That way…you could remember it as well.”
Before I can berate myself for letting slip a desire that must be so strange to this human, the human smiles and says, “Yeah, that’d be helpful for the both of us.”
“Yes,” I say, merely to sound normal. Her response lingers in my mind like the pain after a fall.
The human stands up. “I should be heading home soon, but hopefully we’ll see each other around soon.” She slings her bag around her shoulders. Before she leaves, she asks me one last thing. “My name is Paige. What’s yours?”
My throat grows tight. I…do not have one. I should have one, and I’m sure I do, but what is it? I do not know. But I cannot tell the human—or Paige—that. It simply wouldn’t make sense to her. But this is not the kind of question one can avoid through silence. I glance around the room, hoping Paige doesn’t stare at my darting eyes too much. Another human sits next to Paige at the table, pulling out a novel. My eyes latch onto the name printed on the cover.
“It is Logan,” I blurt out. I’m struck by how average it sounds.
Paige makes no comment about my nervous behaviour or the mediocrity of my name. Instead she only gives a smile, this one looking more genuine than just polite, and says, “That’s a nice name. Well, good night, Logan. I hope you enjoy the book.”
“Good night,” I manage to say as Paige pushes in her chair and walks to the staircase. A moment later, she disappears from my view.
So much time in this library, and yet that was my first time speaking to a human. Using my voice for something other than reminding myself of how I talk.
I do not move for a while after the human leaves. I am replaying the conversation over and over in my mind. After a while I open the book that Paige has generously given me. The seats at the tables are much more comfortable than the abandoned one I have been using for so long. I decide to stay seated until the library closes, and begin to read Feudal Japan: Its Rise and Fall. The eagerness to learn lingers in my mind as always, but it is not alone now. While I read the book and wonder if it will return my memories to me, I am also replaying my conversation with Paige over and over. Surprisingly, the more I dwell on it, the clearer the memory becomes.