The rooms echoed; the ceilings soared. The furniture, walls, and floors were white and shimmery. I hoisted my sister on my hip, or rather, against my hip -- her cast held her legs apart in a rigid upside-down U and her feet were held apart by a spreader bar -- and we found the kids' room.
All the furniture was pressed against the walls and the Sahara white carpet invited you to fall to the floor and crawl across it, which is exactly what Emma and I did. I had stopped looking for red when I discovered an enormous plastic treasure chest, filled with plastic toys in plastic wrappers and a roll of jewel-colored lollipops sealed in cellophane that endlessly unfurled. While the grown-ups were in the hallway I stuffed my pockets. My mother walked in the room and shot me a look. I stuck a lollipop in my mouth. Red, of course.
"We need to go now," she said.
"We just got here!" I whined. Then, low, "Did you find the treasure?"
She looked embarrassed or mad, or both. The man beside her kept talking. Her foot began to rock. She was wearing the most marvelous shoes -- blue suede clogs with a three-inch cork wedge. They looked like little boats that could be docked in a marina. "Where do you currently reside? Will you be relocating to Chesapeake soon?" The sales rep fixed his one hand to my mother's shoulder and she was bending her knees and twisting her body in order to disengage him. I hoisted my sister off the floor and my mother bent down and seized my hand and literally pulled me out of the house. The sales rep followed us to the car and continued his pitch. She didn't say anything and refused to look at him.
She opened the door and he blocked her by leaning into the door frame with his one arm. "Look here, lady, don't waste my time. I'm here for people who are interested in buying. You got me, lady? I'm no tour guide." Then he looked at me in disgust -- a look that would become increasingly familiar in the years to come. At that time I was thinking that look meant he was going to take back the lollipops, but he merely sneered as we got in the car and drove down the long hill and out the gates of Chesapeake Pointe.
Rush hour traffic had set in, and the roadways were otherworldly. A rippled haze of exhaust made the pavement float and buckle, and the taillights of the chain of cars flashed and jerked like a slow-moving Chinese dragon. My mother's face crumpled on itself and her hands trembled.
My sister, who was normally placid, began to cry. I unwrapped a yellow lollipop for her and she sucked on it between sobs until she fell asleep, her sticky hand jammed in her mouth, the lollipop tangled in her hair.
We turned onto a four-lane byway and the car in front of us stopped without warning. My mother slammed on the brakes and she began crying in earnest and so hard that she turned off at the next exit and pulled over to the side of the road. She didn't speak. I handed Mom a green lollipop. "I know the way," I lied. "Let me tell you." I was tired and scared and I wanted to go home and yet I was sure I could find our way back. Mom stared out the window, and I could tell she wasn't really looking at anything. Then I saw that she was looking at the empty reflection of herself in the glass. I took the lollipop back from my mother, unwrapped it, and handed it back to her.
"We go down this road on field trips. I'll tell you how to get there." She blankly turned the key and started driving. I began looking for signposts of my own. The pink dairy building -- turn here, I said. Then the Esso billboard -- soon things really did begin to look familiar. There was the Be-Lo, the road my dentist's office was on, there was our town home complex, there was our town house. My mother pulled into our parking space and slumped at the wheel, pale. I was full of myself, so pleased I had found our way home.
My father was waiting on the stoop, one hand jammed in the front pocket of his Levi's, the other fishing dead bugs out of the front porch light. I leapt out of the car. "We were lost on our treasure hunt, but I found our way home! All by myself!" He looked at me, puzzled, and walked over to where my mother now stood, tears streaming down her face. My father unstrapped my sleeping sweaty sister and handed her to me.
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