- Quiet People
The archive center is the color of a manila envelope, has no windows, and smells like dust with only a hint of lemon Pledge cleaner. There are four hundred and fifteen rows of shelves that stretch ten feet into the air like the columns of an ancient structure, each shelf completely full with neatly labeled boxes in chronological and alphabetical order.
Margaret arrives every morning at six am with a thermos of decaf coffee creamed to the light brown color of an old newspaper. She wears her hair in a loose bun, bangs neatly combed in a straight line parallel with her eyebrows. Her clothes add twenty years to her appearance with her muted blouses and charcoal gray skirts and high stockings. Nobody coming into the archive center would guess she's under forty five, though she graduated with her master's degree in historical preservation only two years ago at twenty four. Margaret looks at people's hands when she talks and barely speaks above a whisper.
Around nine, a man enters the building while Margaret is logging a set of police reports from last month. She stands and greets him softly, but he pushes right past her desk and heads for the large room with the shelves, gruffly grumbling, "Maps," and ignoring [End Page 53] her offer to show him around. He has hands like baseball gloves, fingers blackened with some sort of oil or dirt and Margaret's brow wrinkles, worrying about smudges and fingerprints. She fumbles with the hem of her sweater and chews her lip, peeking into the room to make sure he at least heads in the right direction.
While Margaret can no longer see the man, she can hear him coughing and snorting and oh, dear lord . . . spitting. She grabs for the Purell pump on her desk and coats her hands in the sanitizer, breathing in the wonderful sharp smell to calm her down. About fifteen minutes pass and she quietly walks into the archive room to ask the man if he's finding everything all right, hands clasped lightly in front of her waist.
"Do you need assistance with anything, sir?" she asks, keeping her distance since he's still hacking like a coal miner. She notices that he's pulled dozens of large maps of the county out onto the viewing table. She sees a large black smudge marring the immaculate ivory of one map and her heart sinks. They're all completely out of order and he's folded several of them and the corners are getting dog eared and God in Heaven is that a soda he has leaving a ring on Main Street?
Not bothering to look up, the man grunts, "No, now leave me alone, lady."
Margaret nods and whispers an apology before turning on her heels and scurrying back to her desk. She takes a few deep breaths, feeling her head spinning. It would take hours to reorganize those maps and even longer to get replacements for the ones he'd ruined. Sitting back down, Margaret takes a mint from the jar next to her Post-It notes and bites it in half.
A loud, "Well, shit!" comes from the archive room and Margaret's stomach twists like a pretzel. She hides behind the shelf with the yearbooks dating back to 1902 and peeks around to see that the man has spilled his Big Gulp soda all over the table . . . all over the maps. Her jaw tightens and she once again retreats back to her desk, but this time she pulls open a drawer and takes out a heavy box filled with tools for maintenance.
She wraps her dainty fingers around the red handle of a wrench and walks quiet as can be back into the room, sneaking up behind the idiot who has desecrated her work. He is bent over, occupied with trying to mop up some of the sticky mess. With one quick swing Margaret knocks him in the side of the head with the wrench and he falls forward onto the table with a smack. Margaret pushes up her sleeves and drags the man's sweaty body across...