Author’s Notes: This an excerpt from my novel Song of the Lost. It’s the story of James and Katherine who struggle for the lives while lost deep in the forest. Chloe is Katherine’s estranged daughter who lives on the streets of Nashville. Although mentally challenged, she has occasionally expressed a latent musical genius. She has been befriended by Brad McNear, a country music star in Nashville. In this scene, Chloe is hanging out a public library.
Chloe had two hours before the library would close and she went to her usual place, a table near the newspaper racks across from the reference desk. She wheeled her cart beside the table, took off the blanket, set her brass compass on the table, and took out her book of poetry. She had read the poems so many times that their rhymes and rhythms had shaped not only the songs which seemed to emanate from her spontaneously, but also her everyday speech patterns. She would have been regarded as special and lovely simply on her own natural countenance, but to those who took the time to talk to her, her poetic expression created an aura of special knowledge or prescience. In the sense that they conferred wisdom and understanding upon her, it was, of course, unwarranted. But in realm of simple clarity of truth, there was no one like her. For these reasons, Chloe Nielsen attracted people of kind and gentle heart.
Georgia Taylor, one of the librarians, was such a person.
“Hi, Chloe,” she said as she approached her table. She sat down beside her holding a book, which drew Chloe’s eyes. Its binding was old and worn, with frayed strings which at one time helped form the cloth that was glued over the cardboard cover. Along the spine in gothic letters that had faded into barely visible shadows was the name of the author: YEATS.
“Hi, Georgie,” Chloe said.
“It’s late for you to be here, isn’t it?”
Chloe nodded, then reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out the pass to the show at Willie’s. She handed it to Georgia.
“Oh. This is to Brad McNear’s show tonight. Where did you get this?”
“Brad gave it to me.”
Georgia leaned back in her chair. Her look was quizzical. “Do you know Brad?”
Chloe nodded. “We play music together sometimes.”
“You play music with Brad McNear.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement of implied doubt.
“Sometimes. He recorded my song.”
Georgia could no longer feign her belief. “Are you making up a story, Chloe?”
Georgia had heard Chloe play and sing, but she had never witnessed her genius – only the three-chord cover songs that eventually disintegrated. She had never known that there was more. She gave up her pursuit of the truth.
“Well,” she said, “if you’re going over to Willie’s, be careful. The hustlers will be out trying to take advantage of the tourists. They prey on the vulnerable.”
“I know,” Chloe said.
Georgia looked at the ticket. “The show doesn’t start until eight,” she said. “You’ll have to be out of here by six. Where are you going to go until then?”
“Have you eaten?”
“I ate lunch at St. Mark’s.”
Georgia thought for a moment, then went to her desk. When she returned, she put a folded twenty-dollar bill into Chloe’s jacket pocket.
“There’s a sandwich shop between here and Willie’s. They’ll make you whatever you want. Get you a cup of coffee, too.”
“Can I have tea instead of coffee?”
“Of course. Just stay there until you can get in the club. They won’t care as long as you buy some food.”
Georgia smiled, then slid the book in front of Chloe. “I thought you might enjoy this. I know you like poetry. This is William Butler Yeats. One of the great poets of the twentieth century. I’ve had this since I was a child. It means a lot to me. I want you to have it.”
Chloe ran her hand over the worn cover, tracing the edges with her fingers. She opened the book to a random page and felt the yellowed paper. She followed the words with her eyes, her lips moving as she did.
Georgia patted Chloe’s hand. “I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.”
“Thank you, Georgie. I will.”
Georgia went back to her desk; she had work to do before closing. Chloe opened the book of Yeats poetry to page one. She read the half title, the title page, the colophon, the table of contents, and the forward before stopping at the first poem, The Stolen Child. She glanced at the verses that seemed so long, with words that were strange and unknown. She read the first few lines, stopped, and read them again. The meaning wasn’t clear. What was this poem about? A lake, herons, rats? She read more, grasping a phrase here and there but failing to put it together into anything coherent. Until the last line of the first verse.
the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
That, she understood.
She spent the next hour pouring over the book, reading verses and even single lines at random. It wasn’t easy. But there was something in the difficulty that was beguiling. She doubted that she would ever understand it all. She knew she would never stop reading.
It was almost six and Chloe was the only one on the main floor. She looked up at the desk, looking for Georgia. She wanted to thank her again for the book, but she didn’t see her. Chloe packed up her cart, putting her book of Yeats underneath her book of Frost, then covered them both with her thin blanket. She walked around the first floor, looking behind the stacks for Georgia, but there was no one. She started for the double doors at the front of the library and walked by the main desk.
She almost missed it. It was just another book among a dozen others to be re-shelved. But her mind filtered the blur of images so that the one book stood out and caused her to stop and turn around. She took a step back to the desk, and stared, her mouth open.
The elevator door to the right opened and Georgia exited pushing a cart. Chloe didn’t move or otherwise acknowledge her presence.
“What is it Chloe?”
“Katherine,” she answered. “That’s Katherine,” she said as she pointed to the back of the book jacket.
“Yes. Katherine Loudendale. That’s a new bestseller.” She turned the book over, revealing the cover art of the blue sneakers. “In the Forest of the Night. The story of her survival in the forest.”
Chloe turned the book over. “Katherine. My mother.”
“Katherine Loudendale is your mother?”
Georgia stared at Chloe. Anyone would have recognized the look as incredulity, but Chloe was oblivious.
“She got lost in the woods,” Chloe said.
“It’s been on the news,” Georgia said. “She was on The Shelley Show.”
“Dad got me a compass so I wouldn’t get lost.”
Georgia put her arm around Chloe. “Do you want me to take you back to the shelter?”
“No, I’m going to go hear Brad McNear.”
“Maybe I should just take you home.”
“I should go.”
“I’m worried about you Chloe,” Georgia said, but she didn’t say why.
“I’m ok, Georgie. I’m not sick that I know of.”
Georgia sighed, then hugged her from the side. “Please be careful. And go to the sandwich shop and get something to eat, ok?”
“I will. Thank you for the book.”
“You’re welcome. Try to get some rest tonight.”
“Miles to go before I rest.”
“Robert Frost,” Georgia said.
Coyright 2015, Joseph E Bird
January 4, 2015 at 3:16 pm
Can hardly wait to read the whole thing. And now I have to read that poem.
January 16, 2015 at 12:59 am
Perfect poem for Chloe. Did you just know it, or did you research to find something that would fit her?
I’m still pondering her self defense moves as Taekwondo.
January 16, 2015 at 8:14 am
I dug around for that poem. There’s hardly anything that I just know. If it weren’t for the interweb, I’d be extra stupid. Yes, let me know about taekwondo. Don’t want to disparage the sport.
January 29, 2021 at 12:40 pm
Joe, I had no idea. You are truly a gifted writer. I’ve read several from your collection. Here, it warms my heart and intrigues me to recognize St. Mark’s, Jericho House, and Union Mission. Possibly Brad Paisley. Keep up the good work. I look forward to reading more.
January 29, 2021 at 12:41 pm
Thanks, Chuck. Appreciate the kind words.