Blurb: This was inspired by the line, "Treason. Would be happening. In. A. Bookshop." (from "I Guess We're Falling Out" ( - /s/13369624/1/I-Guess-We-re-Falling-Out) by YearOf39) Orwellian dark times for Catherine Morland.
Thoughtcrimes In The Library
It had not always been this bad, but Catherine's life was a jerky procession from bad to worse. At nearly twenty, she was old enough to remember an earlier and safer time, but surely it was more heartbreaking for her parents who could easily remember when there had been so little crime simply because so few ordinary things had been declared criminal.
And if Catherine thought about it, she could vaguely remember those days herself. There had been Itzel, her best friend in kindergarten who had black eyes and black hair and a loud, room-filling laugh. Itzel's mother had looked like an older version of her daughter, but tried to keep quiet. When she spoke, her words were thickly accented, her sentences broken. Catherine had difficulty understanding her, and Itzel often had to translate between her family's native tongue and Catherine's own English. But still, even without reliable words, the woman had always been kind to Catherine.
It had been a shock when Itzel and her family were deported. The kindergarten teacher had to explain what that meant, along with a few other words that were now so familiar that Catherine didn't expect five-year-olds needed to be told anymore.
Catherine had been too young when it happened, but she remembered the epiphany in middle school while thinking back on the desperate, almost aggressive friendliness of her friend's mother, the need to weave Itzel into the lives of her white classmates, the prayer that these connections would make Itzel impossible to cast out.
It didn't work that way. By middle school, the ruling party had begun to exile their most outspoken critics, but they wouldn't have been able to do that if they hadn't made it common practice to get rid of undesirable foreigners first.
When Catherine's brother James has graduated from high school, his counselor recommended a military career for him. The idea was ludicrous. James was not cut out for that kind of life. He was bookish and gentle, nothing like the thugs in the news reports. Catherine's mother had refused to consider it. Catherine's father, on the other hand, attempted to be more pragmatic.
Military families received favorable treatment. They received leniency, forgiveness. Mr. Morland understood that. They had books at home - not the sort that were already black-listed but troublesome, and the rules were constantly shifting - and younger children, and Mr. and Mrs. Morland had occasionally said unflattering things about powerful people who were not above petty revenge or punching down.
In the end, James made his own decision. He was legally an adult and had his heart set on a girl who claimed to love a man in uniform. He enlisted.
For two months, he was away at boot camp. Letters home charted his progress. It was not good. When James came home, there was a hardness in his eyes, a firmness in his jaw. Mr. Morland had expected his son to be able to protect the family from scrutiny in these dark times. He had not counted on needing protection from his own son.
James saw things differently. He still needed to protect his family, but not from whatever his parents feared. He explained things to his little siblings in ways the older generation did not.
"I invited a friend for dinner tomorrow," James announced one evening. "I figure it will be smart to clean up before then."
Mrs. Morland kept a spotless home because she didn't go out much anymore. She didn't raise her voice in disagreement, but her face was expressive enough.
"No, Mama," said James, "I meant the books."
The books were - they all agreed - not banned, but they were on the gray list. Black-listed books had to be destroyed, but gray-listed books could remain the property of their owner. The law merely forbade the transfer of ownership, so Catherine's family could keep the books as long as their father was alive, but the only way to get rid of them was to destroy them.
It broke Mr. Morland's heart to do it, but he would not delegate the responsibility to anyone. Before the children woke up the next morning, one bookshelf was practically empty and the scent of smoke hung above charred remains in the backyard.
Catherine had started spending a lot of time at the library. It was quiet there and she could study. She also didn't worry about her brother's friends stopping by like they did at the house. The library was safe in ways that home was not.
The library also did not automatically burn its gray-listed books although they could not be checked out. In fact, people had to go on record to ask for them to be retrieved from a locked case. Catherine had done it once, just because she could. When James found out about it, he berated her for two weeks.
The library also displayed a list of recently black-listed books. This was considered a community service, to warn people against inquiring after or even possessing dangerous contraband. Catherine looked at the list and felt tears welling up in her eyes.
One of the books on the newest list had been in their home. It had only been gray-listed at the time, but it was gone now, vanished in one of her father's late night purges. Catherine had hoped that her father wouldn't have burned his entire collection but neither of her parents would ever admit to sparing a single book, not with James still living at home, not with the younger children to overhear and expose their crime.
She had never read it, never been interested in reading it until it was too late, but she had asked her mother about it once when they were alone. It sounded like something she would have enjoyed very much.
Seeing it black-listed made her world feel smaller, more claustrophobic. Being deported or exiled seemed like a better fate than being trapped in this hopeless place.
She didn't notice that she had started crying, or that she crumpled into a pile on the floor. She only became aware of anything when someone tugged repeatedly at her elbow.
"Hey," said a calm, soothing voice. "Hey there. Are you okay?"
It was a stupid question. Who in her position - openly sobbing on the floor of a public place - could be okay? But it was a warning that she had forgotten to behave, that her conduct was attracting attention, that it was in her best interest to stop right now.
She roughly scrubbed the tears from her cheeks and nodded. Her throat was still too occupied with moaning to voice anything positive, but she tried to stand. Unfortunately, the man - his nametag announced that he was Henry - was hovering too close and she had to scoot away before she tried to get off the floor.
"Henry, what's going on here?" barked an older man. He glared at Catherine suspiciously, as if she must have done something terrible to deserve the tears she shed.
"Nothing, sir," said Henry in that same soothing voice. "One of the patrons has stubbed her toe, I believe."
Again, it was a stupid thing to say, but the other man grunted, "Just get her off the floor before anyone else complains." He marched off with the bearing of a military man and Catherine didn't want to know more about him than that.
Henry smiled at her, a warm curve that reached his eyes. "Would you like to sit in the break room for a bit, until you are feeling better?"
Catherine didn't smile back, but she nodded. She followed him through a series of doors to a small kitchen with a table and chairs.
"Please have a seat," he instructed before going to the counter. "Can I offer you some coffee?"
She sat warily, trying not to think about how she might need to run past him, through the halls, to reach the rooms of the library where there were other people, where there was safety.
She didn't remember nodding, but he set a full mug in front of her, then dragged a caddy of powdered creamer and sugar within her reach.
He sat down across from her and smiled again, taking a sip from his own mug. "Rough week?" he said lightly.
Instead of answering, she brought the cup to her lips.
Rather than letting the silence fall awkwardly, Henry kept talking. He had just started working at the library a month ago. He loved books - all kinds - although he tended to stay away from any gray subjects. There was no point getting attached to a set of ideas to have them taken away.
Catherine said nothing, just sat there as his words washed over her. She gripped the mug tightly in both hands despite its heat and occasionally brought it to her lips but she did not drink. Gradually, she realized that Henry was charming and handsome and clever and more than aware of his own attractions.
"Have you noticed that box over there?" Henry asked after watching her eyes focus more than once on a carton of bound pages. "It's full of recently banned books. I spent all day yesterday and this morning removing the covers and tags so they can be incinerated. I need to work late tonight to take care of them." He sighed as if it was a terrible waste but his hands were tied.
Catherine looked at the jumble of creased pages with an ache. Life shouldn't be like this. Books and ideas shouldn't be banned, or perhaps the wrong ideas should be banned, the sort of ideas that deport kind people or exile whistle blowers, or make people unsafe in their own home. It hadn't always been like this, but it was now and for the foreseeable.
"Treason doth never prosper," she whispered.
Henry hadn't heard her clearly. It was the first thing she had said in the whole time they were alone and he had probably already given up on hearing her voice. "What did you say?" he prompted.
Catherine shook her head and pulled the cup to her lips again. She never actually drank from it, but it was important that she not offend him by refusing the drink.
"Right," he answered and sighed. He had tried being friendly but the young woman was simply too nervous to trust him just yet. "Um, can I leave you alone here for a moment? This is my third cup of coffee and I need to…"
Catherine didn't need him to spell it out. She nodded and squeezed her mug. Henry apologized and slipped out.
Catherine sat unmoving for thirty seconds before she sprung from her chair and knelt in front of the doomed books. She rifled through the pile, reading the first few pages of a book to collect the title before casting it aside to grab another volume. At the tenth book, her breath caught, her frantic hands stilled. This was it.
Without thinking, she shoved the book in her bag then began to stand up before her knees gave out on her. She couldn't steal this book. It was black-listed. If she was caught with it, not only would James be powerless to help her but he would be unwilling to intercede. She couldn't do this, no matter how moral and good it was. She reached back into her bag and her fingers brushed along the waxy spine of a math book she had picked out for class. The textbook wasn't special; it was in fact a decade old but numbers didn't go out of style at the same rate as other subjects, and the library had a few other books that covered the same material.
The idea came to her so quickly and fully formed that she didn't really think about it. She ripped the math book out of its cover and tossed it in the pile, shuffling a few other volumes on top of it to mask her crime. She wrapped the cover around the black-listed text and scurried to her seat. By the time that Henry had returned, her fingers had resumed their death grip on the mug.
"I'm sorry for leaving you here," he said. "You look calmer than before. Are you feeling better now? Do you want to go back out on the floor?"
She nodded vigorously and stood up. Henry had been nice, but she wanted to be alone. For the next hour, she sat in a worn chair in a corner where the math and science books were found. When it was time to go, she carefully reshelved the book with the other math texts, intending to find it again on her next visit.
That night, Henry sighed and unburdened himself when his sister asked him about his day.
"I sat with her for half an hour," he said. "She never told me her name, and she didn't check anything out when she left for me to track her."
"And do you have a reason to track her?" his sister inquired with a knowing smirk.
"No," Henry said thoughtfully. "I left her alone with the bait for five minutes at least and she didn't take anything. After she went back to the floor, I counted the books in that box four times and there were just as many as before."
Mary laughed at his chagrin. "What! The mighty Henry Crawford failed to lure another girl to perdition? The admiral must be so disappointed in you. Oh well, better luck next time."
She kissed his cheek and wished him good night.
Henry waved her away with a flick of his wrist, his mind already forming his next entrapment.
/ THE END /