The Notetaker’s Card

As soon as she reached the reading room she saw her things had been left alone. Massimo had vanished. She felt a prick of pique, but caught herself; it could only have been that he had misunderstood. She would make light of the lapse the next time they met. 

A moment later she came to her chair; on the table before it lay a kind of notetaker’s card. Still standing, she looked out over the broad hall. All of the regulars were there–il Professore, Mme. Prim, M. Balzac–all of them absorbed in the usual pursuits. Then to the notetaker’s card again, where there was inscribed what looked like a Dewey Decimal number.

The handwriting she recognized right away; she had been examining it inverted for three days now, but it meant nothing to her at first. If it were some kind of riddle, she wasn’t yet amused. Her impulse was to set it aside and get on with her work. Wasn’t it a little strange then she began to gather up all of her things to see where this number would lead?

Just outside the reading room hung a floorplan of the biblioteca with the stacks identified by subject and decimal. The card she was still holding pointed to letteratura—she ought to have known this—but where was letteratura? She came to the library three or four days a week but never to its stacks, for she had not enough Italian.

Down and up the vaulted hallway she looked, then off again with only a clue.

It was several minutes and something very like going around in circles before she felt she had found the way, up one staircase then down another—it is often thus in Italy—right, then left, then right again by way of crepuscular corridors, past a marquee at last that read pile or stacks and through a heavy door. The light winked on when she entered; it was the 500s, pure science, and a little musty to her nose. Directly before her ran a long aisle between a stretch of shelving whose reach dissolved into darkness. 

Forward or back now, she told herself. But away from science.

The Italian Novel

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