In the university library on a Wednesday night after the semester has ended, you try to find an isolated table, but cannot escape the diversity of life that the library shelters in all seasons. The woman with red pants hidden behind a carrel twenty feet away cannot stop herself from burping over and over again. Occasionally, she murmurs, “excuse me” to the otherwise silent wing of the library. A wild-haired man with headphones zips past on his way to the bathroom, never to emerge.
You close your eyes in concentration. You can feel the weight of the pen in your hand. You are listening for the burping woman in the red pants – what could she have eaten? balloons? – when you hear a sudden disembodied voice declare, “Holy shitfucking fuck.”
You whirl around looking for a man in distress. The voice came from somewhere in the aisles of German literature, but you hear no footsteps, no creaking chairs, no other sign of human existence. You think of the story of the PhD student whose laptop – with the only copy of the thesis he’d been working on for four years – was stolen while he was in the hallway, talking on the phone. He put up desperate posters pleading with the thief to email him the files. “Keep the computer,” he wrote, “but, for the love of God, Give Me Back My Thesis.” You don’t know if he ever got it back, or if he started over again or if he dropped out of school. You think about the book you are trying to finish. You wonder how he felt leaving the library that night after all the fraught and pointless conversations with the staff and security, walking away from everything he’d written into the night.
The worst part of you envies him.
In the library, the ghostly voice does not come back. Life on the 9th floor returns to normal. You shift in your seat uncomfortably, holding tightly to your pen. The woman in the red pants burps.