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For the Carter family, Wednesday mornings were inseparable from the almost-perfect smell of old books.
As they eat their usual breakfast, memories of the smell fire up, causing the Carter sisters to insist that their bread is stale. The mother pays little attention, too busy running through in her head how she will use her library time. Without context, one viewing the scene might think they were preparing to go to market. An undeniable excitement, undulating at a frequency often associated with the experience of novelty or the out-of-the-ordinary, teems in the room. The dining room appears rustic though the shinny reflection of its table and the large mural of a Western landscape depicted on an entire wall give it a self-conscious air. The windows of the room are darkened, suggesting the sun has yet to rise but rather it had or not was inconsequential as people mostly set their own sunrises. In the corner, a boy counts on his fingers, “one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten,” then back down to one before returning to ten.
“Come on girls, stop bickering. Your bother and I are ready, so hurry up.”
The two sisters, shocked by their mother’s irritated voice, turn to stare at her. The mother takes their silence as the end of breakfast and ushers them out of the room and down a hall and into another room. The door to this room gives the impression of an old ship door, though perhaps its designers were merely going for old. If one were to knock, a muted and hallow sound would result.
In the center of the room, five chaises made of dark wood and upholstered in a heavy forest green fabric form an awkward circle around a low table. Underneath them, is a thick carpet in poor shape and underneath that is a shiny wood floor. Curtains flow floor to ceiling over the windows and ornate cabinets line the remainder of the wall space. All in all, one feels as if one were among the stage scenery of Pemberley in a high school adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
The mother, flushed with excitement, now begins fussing over her children, smoothing their hair and their clothes, helping them to get positioned comfortable in the lounging chaises. When she is satisfied with their position, she goes over to a cabinet, subtly marked with an ‘A’ on one of its knobs. Inside are racks and racks of tiny perfume bottles, each marked with a four-digit number and smaller text underneath. She makes to grab for one, hesitates, reaches for another then calls over her shoulder, “Well my loves, how old would you like your books to smell today?”
It is the boy’s turn to decide and his sisters respectfully remain silent. He calls out, “Treasure Island-old” as that is currently one of his favorite books. His mother grabs a vial marked ‘1883’ and delicately sprays it around the room. She closes her eyes and breathes in deeply through her nose. A look bliss mingled with anticipation settles on her face.
She closes the first cabinet, and moves to the next. She removes from the cabinet a bottle of milky liquid in an misshapen wine bottle and takes it over to the table in the center of the chaises. She returns to the cabinet for four glasses which she places beside the bottle. She pauses in her preparations to look at each of her children. “Ready my loves? No one needs to use the restroom before we go do they? All right then. And let’s behave this time please.” All three promise they will so long as they are not provoked.
The next cabinet the mother opens holds electonrics. When she opens the door, lights on the equipment turn on. And a voice fills the room: “Good morning Carter family. Hello Jane, you are looking well today. Please select your designation.”
The mother states clearly: “the library.”
The voice says, “You have selected, ‘the library.’ If this is correct, please have a seat. Departure will begin in one minute.”