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Libraries, Mangoes, and Memories

Hi gang! I’m busy working on a few projects right now, so please enjoy a little CNF post I wrote a while ago but never had the chance to publish. Most of this one was written while sitting on the floor backstage under the blue lights, dressed in concert black and heels, typing into WordPress on my phone between warm-ups and call time.

You know, standard time-wasting techniques when you’re waiting for the show to start and the adrenaline to kick in.

The rest of it is from an overstuffed blue beanbag pillow, sitting in it cross-legged with my laptop the day after the air conditioning broke this summer and it was too hot to sit in the garrett even for me.

I think I’ve set the scene enough, so that’s all the introduction I’ll do.

Read up, me hearties!

The last time I ate a mango, it was high summer, green leaves and sticky hot. Exactly the time of year one wants sweet fruit. I was sitting in a car, parked under one of the two trees that shaded the library. It had been so long, I had quite forgotten how to eat a mango, or that they have a thick skin that you really ought to peel. But seeing as I was there without cutlery, having an impromptu picnic, I bit and peeled it and had a glorious orange sticky mess there outside of the library.

My friends laughed at me, of course. I was a sight, so I don’t blame them. But I don’t mind it much, either, because they don’t know how good it tasted, how good it felt.

There is something about eating a mango that way, like a little hungry monster, that is somehow right. You never notice, I think, how sweetly orange the inside of a mango is. Maybe more perfectly orange than an orange itself. If you took a photograph of that moment, perhaps you could capture some of the beauty. But I think you’d miss the feeling of it, the softness, the laughter, the summer, the library.

Summer meant as many books as I could read back then. It meant the white plastic card with my age-old scribbled signature, making off with as many books as I could carry. And even back then, I could carry a surprising lot.

The library.

I cannot describe the anticipation, the breathless thrill of that moment, the buzzing goodness of that place, just before stepping into the icy-cool air conditioning that always smelled of lightly musty books, to anyone who does not know what it is to love to read.

I have endless stories about that library. The one with the short flowers and bushy shrubs and bronze statue out front and inside, the shelf of dollar books that were too old and tired to stay “on tour” and wanted to retire to someone’s private collection.

I got Anna and the King of Siam that way. And others, I’m sure. You always looked, even if it was just a glance on your way to the new books, the cozily short middle grade stacks, the glass-walled YA section, or the adult book stacks where the shadows seemed to pool in the farthest corner almost like a living thing.

I couldn’t be scared of the dark there. Not really. What could there be in that place that did not welcome me? I daydreamed about being locked inside the library for a night, the way so many MG protagonists were. Sometimes the characters in the books came out to play. Sometimes I had to hide in the dark from some mysterious figure chasing me. Or maybe, more likely, I was so quiet that the librarians locked up without noticing me and I spent half the night reading before even I realized what had happened.

It was home.

I knew exactly where it was. Even if we weren’t going there, when we were just passing by, I would look out the window, crane my neck for a glimpse of it, like I was greeting a friend. I know the road through the curving hills, the metal return box by the front door still much bigger than I am, every shelf and song of that place.

Even after I moved away.

I forgot about the mango. We laughed about it that night, when I came home with my stack of bookish plunder, but then, like so many memories, it tarnished and faded into the background, dusted with cobwebs, not quite forgotten, but not brightly there.

Time passed. I read on. I started to like the color orange, pale for spring, the color of spiced pumpkin in the fall. I ate apples in September, read the entire volume of Grimm’s, moved into the garrett, used a different, green library card.

I think it was Victoria and Abdul that did it. It’s a movie, if you haven’t seen it. Judi Dench and Ali Fazal. I sat on the couch, squished between two loved ones, giving my homework the slip, watching Judi play Victoria.

And she asks for a mango.

I think that’s what made me remember, her saying that she’d never tasted a mango, after Abdul waxed so poetic about it. I remembered that day at the library, laughing at myself. I remembered the smooth peel, orange and red and green, and the sweet orange fruit, the stickiness and wild goodness of it all.

I hope you know what it’s like, to taste a mango. Not delicately, with a fork and bowl and knife and spoon and a napkin to dab away the bright, staining juice, but out in the sticky-hot air, biting into it with your teeth.

I hope you know what it’s like, to be that breathless at the prospect of reading. I hope you know the hot, sweaty summers, the dappled shade of trees. I hope, just once, that you eat a mango like that, sticky, orange and sweet. I hope you make a mess, and I hope you relish it.


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