It is midweek. In the room at the end of the hall, upstairs in the small-town library, the sun beams through the bent slats of the blind which rambles across the window's oversized expanse. I sit and attempt to write. It's a good thing to have assignments to complete. At the same time, I am brain-weary at the moment.
I can't concentrate; I leave the cramped corner where I prefer to hide, and set out walking for the little grocery store. The town feels worn old today, dingy around the edges. In the rail yard to my left, a rusty caboose and car sit detached and silent. To my right, up a gently sloping street, I see the water tower, its steel untainted but dull, the town's name outlined in square black letters. At its foot and off to one side, a white statue commemorates the soldiers of the two wars, standing out crisp and sharp against a background of dormant tree branches scratched from the mundane background of commonplace dwellings.
I walk along the alley. There is no building on the side toward the tracks. It burned down several years ago and was never replaced. The alley takes a quick jaunt, adjusting for the increased depth of the store buildings along the next part of Main Street, and skirts behind them, tight against the side of the rink. The store is just beyond that hulking, half-cylinder-shaped venue. I buy a snack for my young dancers, whose classes straddle suppertime. Wednesdays are a weird sort of day for us this year.
Walking back, the north wind cuts right through my felt coat. I didn't feel it so much on my back, but now it seems determined to give me and the entire town a fine smack in the face for the way we've relished the warmth creeping in at winter's end.
There is a lone tree where the back alley jogs. Its top forms a rounded crown, and just beyond its reach, a half-moon sails amid wispy puffs of cloud. The late-day sky is pale, as if the cold air dilutes its colour. I smile upward, and do not attempt to record the moment's nuances in my internal notes. No inspiration comes of it. It simply is.
The library beckons, and I stride inside, escaping into its warmth. I retreat to the room upstairs, having fed the girls and sent them back to their computer games and books. It occurs to me what's wrong – I've written myself dry. I am sitting in a library, starved for reading.
I generally hide where the old books are, the ones too fragile for the downstairs shelves, and I'm thankful they've not been got rid of. On the shelf behind my chair is a volume of the plays of Oscar Wilde, with foreword by Edgar Saltus. Though he has fallen into obscurity, and apparently recognized that bent in himself even during his association with his more famous contemporary, his wit and turn of phrase are brilliant. Delightful. Like water on parched ground.
I read the introduction, reread portions of it; I've made a new friend in Edgar. From there, I turn to Ecclesiastes. Now, Saltus wrote with unabashed heathenism, but he and the Preacher shared a certain sense of irony, and I have never quite heard Solomon's voice – the human voice of this book – in this way before. Before, I have made study of the truths of God in it, for it's the book which speaks best to a former atheist's heart. God has always known about atheists.
I meet these men across ages and oceans, men just like other men, who plumbed the depths of life, frivolity and meaning. I realize that Solomon and Saltus speak alike on a number of things in the short time I spend with them.
“Guy de Maupassant left over a thousand books each bearing that smirk, 'the compliments of the author,' and not one of which had he so much as cut the pages. In that respect Wilde resembled him. It is less fatiguing to invent stupidities than to read them.”
“The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.”
I feel the warning of their words. Perhaps it's foolish to sit in a library for so long, to read and write so much while time spins past.
Like Alice, I'm a peruser of epitaphs. Out here on the prairie, the abandoned churches and their graveyards speak quietly to me. The dingy, aging buildings of dead and dying towns speak too. These are the monuments and the resting places of my neighbours and my ancestors.
The epitaph is long, spanning decades. It's the longer for the internet generation, who have both compressed the passage of time into the speed of light, and so neatly saved the word “scroll” from falling into permanent disuse. One hardly hopes to end up in some digital recreation of Maupassant's abandoned library, and at the same time, I'm sure it's very quiet there, with little criticism going on.
Perhaps it's the wind retracting spring's promise; perhaps it's the fading of the day. Perhaps I am weary of the invention of words. I can't seem to write a one which doesn't fall afoul of Solomon's criticism. What do we talk about, all our days? All is vanity and striving after wind – and the wind is cold, forbidding and insensate, driving earth and cloud before it to an unknown end.
Ah, but as Solomon found out, God has always known about atheists. The end is known – it need not be known by me. I am known by Him. So, T.S. Eliot's burnt out ends of smoky days may find their way to a final rest; and in the dingy fading of the world, I still may consider a leafless, lifeless tree which cannot reach the moon for all its trying, and smile.
Cathi-Lyn Dyck is a freelance writer and editor living on the Canadian prairies. She has been eclectically published in the realms of homeschooling, Christian speculative fiction and gardening humor. She homeschools four wild (but not uncultivated) children and is married to a super-guy who goes by the unassuming alter-ego of Dave. A former atheist and feminist who came to Christ in 1995, she runs a weekday blog on Christian thinking, life and culture at ScitaScienda.com.