Most of her weekday afternoons were spent at the library, which was located just a half mile from the high school she attended. If she walked quickly enough, and if it wasn’t raining or snowing, she could smoke one cigarette on the way there. She knew she shouldn’t smoke, especially just an hour or so before her rehearsal downtown started, but the cigarette was an integral part of what made her feel more grown up than sixteen. The walk was the start of the transformation that took place in her.
Once inside the library, which was small and warm, she would find a large, tucked away table near the nonfiction shelves and put her backpack on the floor and drape her jacket on the back of a chair. She knew enough about her neighborhood and the library’s patrons to know that her backpack would not be lifted if she didn’t take it with her to the bathroom, so she let it rest on the floor below the table.
The library’s restrooms were located directly to the right of the circulation desk, and before she entered she usually asked whomever was working if there were any new books in that day. She liked the smell of new books, and liked being one of the first people to hear the satisfying crack and smell the bright chemical smell of the freshly published pages. The clerks and desk assistants usually looked at her a bit oddly when she asked her strange little questions or smoothed her thin hands over a new book after they had handed it to her, but if she noticed this it must not have bothered her.
After stopping by the desk, she went into the bathroom. This was a routine that gave her comfort, and she followed it religiously even if she didn’t feel the need to use the facilities. If this was the case she would reapply her face powder and lipstick, which she kept in the pockets of her jeans. Girls her age usually carried a thick and round Cover Girl compact in their back pockets (the boys were puzzled by the circular shapes that were tattooed on the asses of every girl in the school), and they usually carried their lipstick or lipgloss in one of the front pockets. The product was usually warm and melted by body heat when it was eventually spread clumsily on lips, but the pocket was too convenient a place to stop storing it there.
She usually had homework, but she preferred to finish it at home or in study hall the next day. In the library she wanted to look at books of her choosing, and once at rehearsal she would be too busy and too fidgety to concentrate.
Once out of the bathroom, and settled in with a book or a magazine from the rack, she had about a half hour before she had to gather up her things and catch the bus that would take her downtown. The library was located on a state route that curled from farmland to suburb to blighted main street then back again, without veering or turning left or right along the way. She liked the bus…it was an old fashioned cable car, and every now and then sparks would rain down from the wires above to the window glass. The movement of the bus was rhythmic, and soothing, so she usually rested her eyes until she sensed that her stop was near.
Her parents had let her ride the bus to rehearsal with reluctance and lips bitten in apprehension. Her father especially was afraid for a young girl’s safety; the town they lived in was safe but it did have its odd lunatics ambling around the perimeters. Just earlier that year someone had been caught defecating onto books in the very library that she patronized daily, and the story had made the national news. She wasn’t afraid, though. The only time she felt her heartbeat too fast and her scalp tighten a bit in fear was when a small man in a large black coat had sat next to her and asked very slowly if she had ever sat on a balloon and popped it before. When she looked over at him his eyes were glassy and eager-looking, so she scooted closer to the driver and pretended she hadn’t heard him. She always tried to get a seat right behind the driver – she had promised her parents that.
Sometimes she was sad to leave the warmth of the library for the bus, and sometimes she was sad to leave the peculiarity of the bus with its sparks and odd characters for the dance studio she rehearsed in. Sometimes she was sorry to leave the steamy, boy-smelling studio for her mother’s sedan after rehearsal was through. She was always the last to leave, and her mother had to wait patiently while every other teenager in tights and legwarmers had emerged through the glass doors and into the cocoon of their parent’s safe cars again. When she finally came out, the sky would be purple, the studio empty, and the downtown street would already be filling up with taxis and night students and bartenders and exotic dancers.