A Closure Carol

E. Kindle

The Capital City's library was dead.

There was no doubt whatever about that. The plan for its burial had been signed by the administrator of books, the treasurer, and finally, Ebookaneezer Kindle - the Town Clerk - and his name was good upon anything to which he chose to put his hand.

Throughout Castoria, all books and reading were becoming electronic, and here in the nation's capital the last library branch was closing and the town book program was to be terminated – both would be dead as a door-nail. Of this, Kindle was certain.

It was the closing hour, and he was suffering the blowing airs of December on his way to his limousine when two portly gentlemen intercepted him.  With heads bowed and papers in their hands, they spoke to the Clerk.

"Mr. Chaptors, I believe," said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list of names. "Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Chaptors ?"

"Chapters has been well and gone these many years," Kindle the Clerk replied. "He left with a whimper and now sells house wares, greeting cards, and confections on the street."

"Ah, but we have no doubt his liberality, love of books, and interest in reading are well represented by your office," said the younger gentleman, presenting his credentials.

At the menacing word "Liberality !!!"  Kindle frowned, shook his head, and pushed the credentials back.

"In this cruel season of the year, my Clerk, it is more than usually desirable that our town should make some slight provision for the laid-off librarians and government book-handlers, who suffer greatly,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen. " Many are in want of common necessaries; hundreds are in want of gainful employ."

"Are there no oil fields in western lands?" asked Kindle.

"Plenty of oil fields in the bitter regions of northwest Castoria, and many have resumed operations despite the changing climate and falling prices," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the union-free big box stores?" demanded the Town Clerk. "Are they still in open to low-quality business?"

"They are - Still," said the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."

"The fish and chip shops and the burger mills are in full vigour, then?" said the Clerk.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," Kindle said. "I'm very glad to hear it is not the case."

"Under the impression that part-time and seasonal employ brings scarce Christian cheer to mind or body," returned the gentleman. "A few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to provide the laid-off government book workers some means for re-training and transitioning to other circumstance. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when cold and want are keenly felt and fiscal year-end budgets are being tallied. What shall I put your office down for?"

"Nothing!" Kindle the Clerk replied.

"You wish to make it in the name of the Town ?"

"I wish to be left alone - since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer," said the Clerk. "I begrudge the leave my own staff take and I won't support former librarians in their idleness. The town, through its works and purchases, helps to support the establishments I have mentioned -- and those who are badly off due to electronic publishing and are in need of employment must go there."

"Many can't go there, and it is not their field of business,” said the older of the two gentlemen.

"Well, their book business is not the book business of the future," the Clerk returned. "And it's enough for a man to understand real business, and not to be concerned with dying ones - this new trend occupies me constantly.”

“But for those who are aged and have devoted decades to their former book-handling trade, it would be near impossible to adjust to the work you have proposed, sir,” said the other man. “And many would rather die."

"If they would rather die," said Kindle the Clerk. "They had better do it, and make rapid and permanent the decrease in the publicly funded workforce - good afternoon, gentlemen!"

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew.

The tower bell rang, and Kindle the Clerk continued down the snow-covered steps to his limo, now in an even more facetious temper than usual.

Yet the dull, moaning conversation, the recitation of the tedious reasoning for library closures, and the lateness of the hour pushed Kindle toward much need of repose.  When he arrived at the manor house that eve, he went straight to bed without undressing, slid on the button to his e-book, and stared at the flickering light all the while cursing the feeble, fractured Tiny Tunes audio feature.  He fell asleep in frustration -  his thumb pressed upon the “shuffle” button.

Kindle drifted in and out of consciousness throughout the night - each time awaking to the dark haze around his bed.  His e-book glowed like the moon through a bedroom window and was speaking in a faltering electronic voice that seemed inhuman.  It worked over the words in a ruthless, methodical fashion that disturbed the very marrow in his bones and softened his mind.

On the first occasion, the glowing book had been speaking to Kindle all the hours preceding by drawing from the previously un-accessed, but free-with-the-purchase “classics collection” –  Huckleberry Finn, Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe, Sunshine Sketches, and other books of the like.

Kindle clasped his device and stared at the spectre-like screen.

“I was bred with these books !” he whispered. “I was a boy when the school librarian introduced me to them!”

He recalled how the kindly, old book-handling woman had recognized his loneliness and showed him the power of stories that illuminate and embolden.  With this recollection, he was, in an instant, connected with a thousand thoughts, hopes, and joys long, long, forgotten!  His lip trembled; a droplet ran down his cheek; and he smiled. Depleted by the thoughts, Kindle drifted back to sleep, his finger gently touching the screen once again.

When his cellphone rang notice of impending battery failure, Kindle awoke for a second time that night.  Now, he emerged from the unconscious to the reverberation of present-day readings – The Da Vinci Code, Tipping Point, South Beach Diet, Freakonomics, and books aimed at enhanced financial affairs and personal happiness.

Having purchased and read these works on varied occasions under varied impulses and with no reference other than fleeting gratification, Kindle had never before recognized a  commonality to these books.

Now, with the faltering, tiny Tunes voice chanting them as an ensemble, he at once realized the blending of desire and falsehoods in works that amuse and distract, but do little to advance the common welfare and proclaim ennobling truths.

“Spirit of the touch screen,” said Kindle, shaking the e-reader in his hands. “I wonder how you, of all the things in the world about us, should desire to mock a man’s inclinations to innocent reading enjoyment.”

The bowels of the instrument rattled, clanged, and emitted foul odours.  Its grating voice resumed with full vigor drawing on weblinks, Internet news, and Youtube videos.

 “How is this possible ?” said Kindle. “I must have downloaded some bad bits, crumbs, and rotted biscuits with the disabled Tunes player.”

The sound echoed through the bedroom and increased the disarray in Kindle’s mind. 

“Fifty Shades, Miley Cyrus, my cat peeing in toilet, allegations against the leader, Gaga, Bieber’s haircut,” said the shimmering spectre of metal and light. “Amazon.com, Ebay.”

Kindle pleaded with it to stop. 

“No, you Device of the Devil ! Oh no, no! please cease.”

But the harder he squeezed the touch screen the louder and more rapid its spewings became.  Seeking reason in the fracas, Kindle thought of his first two encounters that night – those being with books of the present and the past.

“Are you the book of the future, the reading yet to come – is this what is being foretold ?” said Kindle to the thin slab of silver in his hands.

The spectre resumed the dirge and floated out more words upon the bleak, dark night.

“The Kardashian Christmas Card, mixed martial arts, Kim Jung Un, porn star, basketball, Friend Me,” sputtered the device. “Shop online, Click here to Buy Now.”

“Spirit!” Kindle cried, tight clutching his e-reader. “'Hear me!  Cease now!”

Kindle had no impact on the device, but he became sensible to the confused sounds of lamentation.

Although Kindle was still unsure as to why and whither his e-reader had gone awry, he came to comprehend what it was saying.  It started as a hissing whisper at the back of his head growing in a wrenching, hideous crescendo “ignorance and want ... Ignorance and Want … IGNORANCE AND WANT !!!”

“The future books of this device beseech Ignorance and Want,” he screamed. “They confuse with falsehoods and implore our spending on wants we did not know we had,” Kindle concluded with a gasp. “Would that someone steps forth to guide mankind through this mire and warn us of the doom written in these multitudinous words – the world, the world needs more … more …  librarians !!”

Librarians, he now saw, were not mere handlers of bound paper and cards, but guides who organize information and knowledge and make it accessible to the masses.  Their skills have value that can be transformed and can transform our sorry world !!!

And with this, he collapsed, fell back onto the bed, and into his thrice interrupted slumber.

The next morning, Kindle was so fluttered and so glowing with thoughts and intentions that he leapt from his bed still wearing his clothing from the day before and headed for the Town Hall.

“I’m as giddy as a drunken man,” he said aloud.

Arriving at the local government offices, he spotted a boy in the Finance Department, the little weasel-faced one who arrives early and leaves late each day. 

“Boy, do you know the decree that we signed on Friday last to close the municipal library?” said Kindle. “The big one that was to be unveiled by the mayor and local MP this week.”

“I should hope I do,” said weasel-face. “I drafted the briefing notes myself and I have it sitting on my desk for processing this morn.”

“What a delightful boy,” said Kindle laughing. “What an intelligent young man -  Go, go -  Tear it up.”

“Whhhhaaattt, are you mad ?” said the boy.

“I am in earnest, go and tear it up, and bring the scraps to me that I may give you direction on the matter,” said Kindle.

The boy packaged the torn pieces in an envelope and delivered them to the Town Clerk within the hour.  In the Clerk’s office, weasel saw Kindle smiling and typing out a new proposal.

“Lad, I want you to run this document to the mayor for his signature today,” said Kindle. “Tell him that I have had an epiphany and come to realize the value of our city librarians, the great good they can deliver in the age of burdensome information and nonsense, and I have withdrawn our decree to close the library – Tell him ...  I have a new strategic operating review plan ...  

It will recognize the value of libraries and librarians.

It will bring great benefit to our town.

It will make money.

WE WILL SELL THE LIBRARY !!! – Perhaps - Perhaps ... hee -- hee -  to avaricious local men of business === or, or to an establishment in Asia with inexpensive labour and few paid holidays.”

With this Kindle, the Town Clerk became, in a manner, merry as his own heart laughed with knowledge that he had come upon a means of finding value in a government library.

With comfort in his own Tablet and Fire which were quite enough for him, he felt that he knew how to keep amused - as well as any man alive - because he had been so blessed with wit and with searchable words electronic.                                                          

 The End