Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hello, Dolly

Dolly leaned into the thin shadow under the eaves, but the red brick burned her back. The kindergarten playground had big canvas shade structures, but the upper grades had to tough it out under the desert sun with only a couple mesquite trees for shelter.

In her book, Tessa Singer was embracing her fairy heritage to vanquish the Troll of Baby’s Lake, but light reflecting off the white pages needled Dolly’s eyes. She held the book over her head, between her face and the sun. Kaya Green bumped her on purpose and Tessa Singer, fairy princess, fell into the hot dust at her feet.

Dolly rescued Tessa and went inside.

Sometimes you could sit in the lunchroom but it smelled like fish sticks and all you could hear was screaming. After a long, thoughtful drink, she noticed that the hall was empty and decided to be invisible. She walked right past the lunchroom door without the monitors seeing her, and into the courtyard, where there would be peace and quiet and shade.

The courtyard was still too hot. The benches were metal—stupid idea—but she could see into the library, where Mrs. Ketchum was rolling carts around. She tried the door and walked into another world. Mrs. Ketchum had to wear a sweater, that’s how cold the library was.

“Hello, Dolly,” Mrs. Ketchum sang. Adults always thought that was funny, but Dolly forgave Mrs. Ketchum. She did the best story time.

“It’s really, really hot out there,” Dolly said, except she knew it came out, “Ith wewee, wewee hot out thaya,” even though she’d had to go to the speech therapist twice a week since first grade.

Mrs. Ketchum’s eyes sparkled. “And what did you want in here?”

“Just to sit out of the sun and read my book.”

The librarian smiled wider, but her eyes fell in a sad, sorry way. “Go ahead,” she said. Then she went back to rolling her carts around, putting books here and there.

Dolly tried to get back to Tessa Singer and her epic battle with the troll, but they felt very far away now, even though she had almost smelled the sulfur on the troll’s breath in silent reading that morning. Mrs. Ketchum looked happy with her books. Her hair was just the yellow color that a fairy would have.

“Can I help you?” Dolly asked.

“Maybe so. I have to put books on the tables for the kinders to choose from. They’re not allowed to take them off the shelves yet. What books did you like in kindergarten?”

Dolly set Tessa Singer on the edge of the table and walked along the stacks. “Curious George,” she said. “And the one about the dragon who likes vegetables. And that book with the unicorn and the lake.”

“Good, good, good,” said Mrs. Ketchum. She knew where everything was and could just pull a book off the shelf the way you would pick your own backpack out of a pile. “How about Little Critter? Did you like those?”

When they had made all the hard cover books stand up on the tables with the paperbacks in between, Dolly said, “What else can I do?”

“Do you know Dewey Decimal System?”


Mrs. Ketchum tried, but Dolly only understood about half of it. They put some books in order. “That’s OK,” Mrs. Ketchum said. “It takes practice. But once you learn, you’ll be able to find any book, any time. Until college. Then you’ll have to learn a new system. Was that the bell?”

It was.

“Come around again sometime and I’ll show you more.”

Dolly grabbed her book and ran back to class.

“Where were you?” Mrs. Vance demanded.

“In the library, helping Mrs. Ketchum.” Forty-six eyes burned her like the sun. She pressed Tessa Singer to her chest like a shield, but then remembered what Kaya Green had said about fifth graders who read books about fairies, and she held the book behind her back instead.

“You know you’re not allowed to wander the building during recess, Dolly.” She paused long enough for Dolly to get to her seat, then tapped the desk. “You were three minutes late. You owe me three minutes of recess tomorrow. And I don’t want you bothering Mrs. Ketchum again.”

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