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An Air of Books

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Carol Aird arrived as she did every workday at a quarter-to-ten. She smiled at the metallic thrack rendered by her key's retraction of the time-honed deadbolt. The library door's opening flooded her olfactories with her favorite aroma, the smell of books. After entering the relative warmth of the vestibule, she turned and locked the door behind her. A human figure in her peripheral gave Carol a start. 

The vestibule had a spring-fed drinking fountain on its north wall and a marble bench on its south. The "Bubbler" was one of Plain County, Alabama's natural wonders; it was right up there with the ten-foot rattlesnake skin hanging in the courthouse and the ghostly image lightning-burned into Dr. West's second-floor turret window. Yet, this Friday, December 9, 1960, Carol would skip her morning sip of ambrosia to address the disruptive presence. 

The personage was a professionally dressed and well-groomed young woman. The petite brunette's green eyes gazed at Carol from beneath a pair of striking, dark eyebrows. The girl stood and sparked, "I'm sorry to startle you, ma'am. The custodian let me come in out of the cold to wait until the library opened."

"Oh, I see. Well, only a few minutes left." Carol made a mental note to admonish the soft-hearted John Johnson — gently, of course. 

Carol turned to pull on the lobby door to find it locked. She fiddled with her keys only to pause and sigh when the stranger spoke, "By chance, ma'am, are you Carol Aird ... the head librarian?"

"I am, and you are?"

"My name is Therese Belivet. We spoke on the phone Tuesday and set an appointment for this morning."

"Ah, yes ... Miss Belivet ... you seemed older on the phone."

"Well, I'm twenty-one."

"Oh, I must have missed that in your résumé, or did you omit your date of birth?"

"No, ma'am, it was there."

"Of course. Well, your appointment is at ten-thirty."

"Yes, I just wanted to be on time. I've never been to Sally. I caught the 4 a.m. Greyhound out of Birmingham and didn't realize how fast it would get here."

Carol glanced at the eager eyes again and then let her gaze drop to the pale hand anxiously clutching what looked like a Sears and Roebuck shoulder bag. Carol noted an overnight case snugged under the bench. "Have you had coffee this morning?"

"Yes, at the bus station ... around seven."

"Would you like another?"

"Yes ... that would be nice."

"Well then, come in, Miss Belivet. And bring your suitcase; I'd hate to see it pinched. We are a small town with small criminals.”

Therese grabbed her case and followed Carol. 

Carol did not bother to relock the inner door; they tended not to. She decided not to worry John about admitting the job applicant; he had thought to lock the internal door. 

"Good mornin', Carol!" chimed a plump fortyish woman with a country accent.

"Hello, Mildred, this is Therese Belivet; she is here for an interview."

"Okay. Hi, Therese! You're certainly bright and early." She turned to her stack of night drops then sang, "The Bunn is done, Carol."

"Thank you, Mildred." Carol unlocked her office door, and opened it wide. She plucked a ceramic mug from her desk then directed, "Miss Belivet, just put your bags in that corner chair, and follow me to the coffee maker."

Carol filled a styrofoam cup and uttered apologetically, "There's only Coffeemate, but I insist they keep the sugar fresh."

"This is fine, thanks. I like it black."

Carol nodded approvingly as she filled her colorful mug ignoring the cream and sugar. 

Back in her office, Carol gestured to the chair in front of her desk, "Have a seat."

"Thank you," Therese said as she sat. Watching her interviewer settle in, Therese sipped her coffee. "That's good."

"Oh, well, good ol' Red Diamond is hard to beat."

Therese's heart raced with the possibility of landing this job, but she couldn't help but notice how attractive Carol was. The slender blonde had Therese's five-three inches by at least five, and her attire was becoming. Carol wore corduroy trousers, a cream silk blouse, and a tweed blazer. A pair of brown, square-heeled lace-ups anchored her comfortable, classy look. 

Carol did not flitter about looking for Therese's résumé. She started right in from memory. "So, I take it the bus trip went smoothly."

"Yes, there was just one quick stop in Jaspar."

"Good. And, you graduated last week with a degree in English?"

"Yes, and a minor in History."

"On the phone, you said you worked in the school's library all three-and-a-half year's, correct?"

"Yes, ma’am. Someday, I might pursue a master's in library science, but I'd like some practical experience first."

"Your letter of recommendation from Dr. Grendell at Birmingham-Southern's library is impressive."

"Thank you; she was an exemplary mentor."

"I met her at a University of Alabama hosted conference once. We had lunch together each day with some other attendees. She's an intelligent woman and very funny."

"She remembers you quite fondly, Miss Aird."

"So, you went straight through going summers as well. Your grades and list of activities and organizations are excellent. Not any social organizations, though."

"Well, I was dependent on my academic scholarship, so I concentrated on studies and work. There didn't seem to be much time left for socializing." Therese drove her nails into her palms, preparing for a negative response such as One must engage the broader aspects of academic life. College is more than books and studies. The student will have to function in the real world after graduation. Yet Carol moved on.

"Miss Belivet, what will you do if you don't get this position?"

"I will not return to Birmingham. I have some savings. I will try Nashville and perhaps, Memphis."

"I see." Carol took a long swig of her coffee. Her blue eyes fired into Therese's. "Do you have any questions of me, Therese ... do you mind if I call you 'Therese?' It's a unique and beautiful name."

"Oh, thank you. No, please, 'Therese' is fine ... I'd prefer it. And, yes, I have a question or two. The position is for an Assistant Librarian, correct?"

"That's right?"

"I must support myself ... alone. What does the position pay?"

"It has a salary of $3,000 a year."

"Oh," Therese smiled. 

"You had a second question?"

"Yes, ma'am. At the risk of being impertinent, may I ask what happened to the preceding Assistant Librarian?"

Carol blinked. It was impertinent, but she liked this girl's asking the question. "Good question, Therese. And the answer is, I didn't have one. I managed with my two full-time clerks and two part-time student workers from Sally State."

"Oh."

"But we've grown Therese. I started a bookmobile for the county two years ago, and we host an impactful library event each season of the year. Our fall festival was well received. I have a supportive board of directors, and we work hard for them. They have been gracious enough to approve this salaried position to assist me, and a lot is on the line."

"Gosh. I understand."

The two women chatted about library specifics and the local community. They conversed through the original start time of Therese's interview and continued for its allotted half-hour.

"Therese, would you like the position?"

Shocked, Therese swallowed hard and replied, "Yes, ma'am. I'm honored. I'll gladly take it."

Carol stood and offered her hand. Therese rose and took it. The handshake lingered as they made eye contact. 

As they released the clasp, Therese asked, "When would you like for me to start work?"

"Now."

Therese's eyes popped wide open.

Carol chuckled, "Well, I would. I needed you weeks ago. However, I know you need to find a place to stay, and I guess you have things to move from Birmingham."

"Actually, I always lived in the dorm. All of my worldly possessions are in a trunk at the bus station."

"My, you were prepared to move on to a new life."

"I was."

"Hey, I have an idea for you on a place to live."

"Really?"

"Yes, I live in my late parents' house a few blocks north of here. I recently converted our old barn into a garage and turned the loft into a one-room apartment. I intended to make a little extra income by renting it to a Sally State student. I was about to pin an ad up on the bulletin board at the student union building. It's tiny but cozy."

"What's the rent?"

"$50."

"$50?" the numbers clicked in Therese's thrifty noggin. 

"I tell you what; let's make that forty."

"Miss Aird, you have an Assistant Librarian and a tenant."

"In that case, call me "Carol."

*****

Carol had John drive Therese to the Greyhound station to collect her trunk then to the apartment. John and Therese carried the heavy steamer up the steep flight of stairs to her new home. The door key Carol gave her worked perfectly. 

"I'll leave you to it, Miss Belivet."

"John, I tell you what. May I ride with you back to the library? I'll unpack tonight and over the weekend."

"You sure, Miss?"

"Very ... and call me Therese."

"Come on then. You know, Therese, I think you are going to be just what Miss Aird wished for."

As they nimbly descended the stairs to Carol’s Lincoln, Therese grinned. She thought of the look of surprise Carol would have when her new hire showed up ready to go to work.