Frank gave the guys at the hardware store a line about putting in a mailbox. No need to have them ribbing him about little libraries or dollhouses or what not. He bought a post, some ready mix, gravel. A few of those nice stainless steel knobs for the doors.
He’d taken to the task of building it with the same precision he had his job of supervisor at the plant, adding a few flourishes here and there for a custom feel. Schoolhouse red on the walls. Charcoal gray shingles. A sip of lemonade as he stepped back to take a look. Glenda would love it.
The next morning, just as the sun lit the day, Frank loaded up the truck and drove three quarters of a mile drive down to the end of the street. He parked at the curb, set his black coffee on the tail gate, and took a big pull of brisk morning air.
The soil was free of roots but loaded with rocks, so Frank chipped away with his spade shovel until he reached twenty-three and a half inches, where he set the gravel and mixed the quick-crete with the jugs of water he’d prepared.
On Saturday morning, Frank set the new library at the post. Adding a few reflectors to the post due to Mrs. Beckman and her propensity for wide turns, he then stood back and admired his work.
Glenda beamed. She had an arm full of books that she couldn’t wait to shelf. A high school English teacher for twenty-eight years, she adored the classics. She made a show of it all. Grapes of Wrath. To Kill A Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, The Scarlett Letter. Frank groaned as she slid Little Women into place.
With her little free library fully stocked, Glenda posed as Frank snapped a photo of her and her brainchild. Her giddiness was catching. Frank had to admit he’d enjoyed the work, as much as seeing his wife so wound up. He secretly hoped that she would post the picture online, which she did.
That night they ventured out to Gilbert’s Steakhouse to celebrate. Frank sipped a beer, as they made a toast to philanthropy and began plotting their next adventure.
“I think the next one should go over near Blue Bluff Park,” Glenda said, picking at her salad. Frank was already turning over a new design in his head.
Sunday morning, just before church, Frank made coffee, munched on his Grape Nuts, then slid out for a quick check on the library. He’d found a couple of paperbacks, hoped to squeeze them into the top shelf, thinking the library could use a little muscle.
Twenty yards away and Frank could see one of the doors hanging open. Closer inspection showed that a few books were missing. Replaced rather,with colorful magazines fluttering in the breeze.
The Grape Nuts shifted in his gut as Frank hurried over to find that all the books were gone. Every single one of them. With a quick glance over his shoulder, Frank focused on what had been left in their place. Slippery stacks of smut in Glenda’s beloved library.
Another quick sweep of the neighborhood. As a serviceman he was no stranger to a nudie mag, but those were no pinup girls inside those pages. He reached in for the pile.
Frank nearly ripped the little library from the post as he whipped around only to find Cedric Benson, the pain in the rump from three houses up. Cedric, always with that yappy Jack Russell, looked as ridiculous as ever in his firefly yellow track suit. Frank put his back against the library. For Pete’s sake he couldn’t let Cedric see what was in there, the whole street would know in minutes.
“Good morning, Ced.”
“Barbara said you guys had put one of those up. Nice.”
“Uh, yep, well, Glenda…uh…” Frank stammered, his six foot frame awkwardly guarding the little library–or little house of pleasures as it now stood. Cedric jogged in place, swooshing to the racket bleeding out of his headphones.
“Okay, well, see ya around.”
“Uh huh,” Frank waved, his back stuck to the structure and his eyes following the little man huffing off down the trail. When he’d swooshed out of sight, Frank went to work.
He hustled up to the house, hopped in the car. Backed it out and sped down the street. There was no time for stalling. Frank flipped back his tie and scooped out the porn. He tossed an armload of the stuff to the back of the car. Rivulets of sweat fell on precarious body parts and the women seemed to stir with pleasure. Frank avoided their eyes.
Under different circumstances, he might have chuckled. But if Glenda saw she’d be mortified. As library steward, she took a personally responsibility to her commitment. If some poor kid stopped to borrow a book only to get an eyeful of noogie woogie, well, Frank couldn’t imagine. He shoved the magazines under the seat, caught his breath, then adjusted his tie as he drove back to the house where there she was, in her Sunday best, waiting at the end of the driveway.
She spoke only of the library on the way to service, after Frank somehow managed to talk her out of a quick drive past it on the way out. Oh how she lauded his handiwork to the Gilbert’s on the way in, that their two boys just have to come right down check out Of Mice and Men. Frank tried not to think of what else they might find in there.
After service, Glenda picked up where she left off, going on to the Spencer’s about her mission to have one at every park, spurring the minds of the citizens. Frank nodded through it all, doing his best not to choke on his tongue. During the sermon he’d decided that the only thing left to do was go to the bookstore and find replacement novels. He could certainly never tell her about what he had found.
Frank ditched the porn at the recycling center on Williams Road, just after supper on one of his evening spins about town. He had to wait for the place to clear first, for a young mother and child to leave, before he could chuck the filth into the bins. Back home in the driveway he took a minute to compose himself. In truth, Frank was quite proud of himself, really, having restored respectability to Glenda’s little library, and all in all, the most painful part of the whole endeavor had been buying Little Women.
Later that week, on a sunny Thursday afternoon, Frank was enjoying the Golf Channel with a bowl of pretzels when Glenda pulled in the driveway, back early from her weekly library luncheon. A quick brush of his lap, wiping himself clean as he heard the kitchen door open.
“Glenda?” Frank asked when he heard her come in, her steps clicking and clacking with teacher-like prudence. Fixing to get up, Frank stopped mid-hoist when he looked to her.
“I didn’t know at first,” she started, her face flushed and her voice low. “Cars honking and drivers whistling at me.”
“What are you talking about?” Frank said, his stomach plunging.
“Oh, I think you do,” she said, her shoulders erect and hands behind her back, another something Frank recognized as a teacher’s stance. But what terrified him the most was her voice. Calm and measured, even as she whipped out a well-thumbed issue of Juicy Buns.
“Then I found this, in the back of the car, pinned to the window for all to see.”
That centerfold, spread across both pages. For a split second Frank was caught by her smokey gaze, the lusty smile, her…flexibility. But Glenda was a cold piece of steel.
Frank’s neck prickled. He tried to meet his wife’s eyes but couldn’t.
“Glenda,” he said without conviction.
“You can’t even look at me Frank. I can’t believe you.”
He tried again but couldn’t. Couldn’t get past the dame, held firmly between Glenda’s thumb and forefinger–pinched as though it were radioactive. Frank felt his mouth go dry. A hushed applause on television. How could he have missed it? After all he’d done.
So he told her. He told her everything. About the prank, how he’d restocked the library–even Little Woman!–and recycled all the smut. And he’d done it for her, so that no one would know.
When he was done Glenda sighed. Her shoulders slumped and she tossed the Juicy Buns to the armchair.
“For goodness sakes, Frank,” she said, wiping her brow. “You could have just told me you had a dirty magazine. There was no need to make up some elaborate story.”
Frank sat on the couch, his face the color of blood. He began to protest but was reeling from all the excitement. Glenda slid down beside him and patted his leg. Rubbed his leg. He turned ever so slowly, to find his wife of nearly half a century eyeing him with a crooked smile, shiny dentures, and minty breath. Leaning in, she stroked the back of his head, her voice deep, husky even.
“I’ll be your librarian, soldier.”