Excerpt of Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks
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It isn't like the Kid is locally famous for doing a good or a bad thing and even if people knew his real name it wouldn't change how they treat him unless they looked it up online which is not something he wants to encourage. He himself like most of the men living under the Causeway is legally prohibited from going online but nonetheless one afternoon biking back from work at the Mirador he strolls into the branch library down on Regis Road like he has every legal right to be there.
The Kid isn't sure how to get this done. He's never been inside a library before. The librarian is a fizzy lady - ginger-colored hair glowing around her head like a bug light, pink lipstick, freckles - wearing a floral print blouse and khaki slacks. She's a few inches taller than the Kid, a small person above the waist but wide in the hips like she'd be hard to tip over. The sign on the counter in front of her says Reference Librarian, Gloria... something - the Kid is too nervous to register her last name. She smiles without showing her teeth and asks if she can help him.
Yeah. I mean, I guess so. I dunno, actually.
What are you looking for?
You're like the reference lady, right?
Right. Do you need to look up something in particular?
The air-conditioning is cranked and the place feels about ten degrees cooler now than it did when the Kid came through the door and he suddenly realizes he's shivering. But the Kid's not cold, he's scared. He's pretty sure he shouldn't be inside a public library even though he can't remember there being any rules specifically against entering one as long as he's not loitering and it's not a school library and there's no playground or school nearby. At least none that he's aware of. You can never be sure though. Playgrounds and schools are pretty much lurking everywhere. And children and teenagers probably come in here all the time this late in the day to pretend they're doing homework or just to hang out.
He looks around the large fluorescent-lit room, scans the long rows of floor-to-ceiling book-lined shelves - it's like a huge supermarket with nothing on the shelves but books. It smells like paper and glue, a little moldy and damp. Except for a geeky-looking black guy with glasses and a huge Adam's apple and big wind-catching ears sitting at a table with half-a-dozen thick books and no pictures opened in front of him like he's trying to look up his ancestors there's no other customers in the library.
A customer - that's what he is. He's not here to ask this lady for a job or looking to rent an apartment from her and he's not panhandling her and he's for sure not going to hit on her - she's way too old, probably forty or fifty at least and pretty low on the hotness scale. No, the Kid's a legitimate legal customer who's strolled into the library to get some information because libraries are where the information is.
So why is he shaking and his arms all covered with goose bumps like he's standing naked inside a meat locker? It's not just because he's never actually been inside a library before even when he was in high school and it was sort of required. He's shivering because he's afraid of the answer to the question that drove him here even though he already knows it.
Listen, can I ask you something? It's kinda personal, I guess.
Well, see, I live out in the north end and the people in my neighborhood, my neighbors, they're all like telling me that there might be like a convicted sex offender living there. In the neighborhood and they tell me that you can just go online to this site that tells you where he's living and all and they asked me if I'd check it out for them. For the neighborhood. Is it true?
Is what true?
You know, that you can just like go online and it'll tell you where the sex offender lives even if you don't know his name or anything?
Well, let's go see, she says like he asked her what's the capital of Vermont and leads the Kid across the room to a long table where six computers are lined up side by side and no one is using them. She sits down in front of one and does a quick Google search under convicted sex offenders and up pops the National Sex Offender Registry which links straight to www.familywatchdog.us. The Kid stands at a forward tilt behind her shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He thinks he should run now, get out of here fast before she clicks again but something he can't resist, something he knows is coming that is both scary and familiar keeps him staring over the librarian's shoulder at the screen the same way he used to get held to the screen when cruising pornography sites. The librarian clicks find offenders and then on the new menu hits by location and another menu jumps up and asks for the address.
Excerpted from Lost Memory of Skin
by Russell Banks. Copyright © 2011 by Russell Banks.
Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.