Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Suffer the Children

Without warning it sneaks silent and deadly across the library floor on all fours, a foul smog curling and rippling across its demonic back, corrupting the air on its way to my chosen table. It rears up and hits me with a blast of rotten, fetid heat, charring my nose hairs and blurring my eyes.

I am marked like a territory; one of my three fellow library patrons sitting nearby has farted, floating an air biscuit that could war for its country.

My tee shirt gas mask pulled up over my nose, I set about profiling my quiet companions in search of the guilty.

Suspect #1

A tired-looking woman, sloppily dressed and frazzle-haired, she sighs as she reads the newspaper with a squint because she has forgotten her glasses, which are in fact perched on the crown of her head. I’ve seen her in here before, and every time I’ve imagined that she’s snuck away from a house crowded with feral children or visiting relatives, or that taken an extra long lunch in order to avoid an annoying officemate that incessantly clears their throat and listens to country music on their desktop speakers. Her soda cup indicates that today’s pursuit of quiet and personal time included a trip across the street; perhaps she consumed a few sulfur-cloud-inducing Egg McMuffins before her ritual hiding away inside the library?

Physical proximity: 8 feet

Probability of guilt: 9 out of 10

Suspect #2

A greasy young man wearing a swimsuit, tank top, and flipflops, his right leg bounces as if he were trying to set a personal best record on his step-counting sports watch while he struggles to focus on reading his book. Maybe he’s serving a summer school sentence in the library? Could his stomach be punishing him (and subsequently his fellow library patrons) for the over-inflated metabolic confidence of youth? I envision several slices of pizza, a bottle of Mountain Dew, and an ice cream sundae chaser making their way into his troubled stomach before his mother chases him off to the library to atone for his bad grades.

Physical proximity: 10 feet

Probability of guilt: 9 out of 10

Suspect #3:

An older man, his balding dome partially hidden beneath a clean and sensible baseball cap, his feet adorned with clean white socks and sensible shoes. Unlike the sighing newsreader, he has remembered his glasses, and is having no trouble seeing well enough to scribble into a notebook as he reads from multiple reference books open on the table before him. Unlike the greasy young man, his legs are calm, but he does squirm at the waist in apparent discomfort every few moments. Is carrying a payload he’d rather be rid of? Maybe he’s clenching the bomb bay doors closed, hoping to hold off his bombing run until he’s back in the privacy and comfort of his own bathroom.

Physical proximity: 12 feet

Probability of guilt: 9 out of 10

I am at a loss; while I want to lay blame on one of the three, there is no conclusive evidence, and I cannot pass judgment based on speculation. I return to my writing, half hoping that in the next few minutes a more vocal piece of evidence will present itself, thumbing its nose at but also pleasing the social court of decorum.

A few sentences later I am distracted by the muted sound of one hand clapping. I scan the surrounding area in an attempt to pinpoint its source as the sound settles into a steady, rhythmic, and somehow familiar thumping. It seems to be coming from behind the chest-high bookshelf to my left, and my curiosity begins to get the better of me. I stand and wade through the stale remnants of that dense, rotten, and invisible fog, making my way around the shelf, acting as though I am looking for a book.

I come around the shelves and see a woman sitting in a comfortable chair, a smile on her face and a blanketed bundle held against her chest. I try not to stare as she pounds her baby’s back like she’s the rhythm chief in a drum circle. My teeth clench at the sound, but I can’t help smile at the memory of burping my own children.

A wet burp erupts from the tiny bundle, followed by a break in the thumping that allows me to hear the tiny sigh of relief. A moment passes, and the thumping continues.

This woman knows her baby; there must be more air in there.

I turn to walk back to my table, and the baby farts. I can’t help it; my smile bursts into a laugh.

Case dismissed.