Author Casey Wolf’s Short Story “Invicta” in the Winter 2011 Link

One of the hats I wear is flash (short short) fiction editor at The Link, a cultural journal distributed free of charge at 12,000 locations in Peterborough and Northumberland counties. It’s kind of a rural Eastern Ontario Now Magazine, but is weighted towards culture and alternative health over news. In fact, Sharon Hamilton, The Link’s publisher and CEO, and Alice Klein, NOW’s publisher and CEO, have met, but that is another story to be told another time.

We focus on brilliant local authors including Anishnaabeg scholar and activist Leanne Simpson, novelist and performer Kate Story, choreographer Ryan Kerr, Alderville First Nations historian Ruth Elizabeth Clarke, and many more. Casey Wolf, whose story “Invicta” appears in the current issue, has a grandmother buried in the Fenelon Falls cemetery, but lives in British Columbia.

I chose to include her story because it’s about libraries. Libraries have been in the news much of late, particularly the pressured Toronto system.

“Invicta” is a beautiful piece of historical fiction about the importance of the library in one uneducated mother’s life. The library is her education, her escape, her friend. To me, the story really exemplifies why libraries are important, and appropriately, does so through fictional devices, rather than a list including the one I’ve just shared.

Invicta
by
Casey Wolf

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.”

—William Ernest Henley

1946.

Joan stood in a library for the first time ever. She’d pushed open the wooden door with the oval window of bevelled glass, and stopped just inside. The wind was chill and as the door settled into place cold air swirled around her knees and ankles. She paid it no mind.

Till now, she’d lived too far away to walk to the library. Mum and Roy wouldn’t have heard (if she’d asked) of giving her a nickel for the bus. But she’d wondered and wished, she’d read, reread, and rereread everything that came her way. Mum herself had borrowed books from the Catholic college; Roy’d indulged here and there in things unrelated to hearth and home. But though she’d longed, she’d withheld; she’d never been inside, let alone allowed to peruse, a room whose only purpose was to harbour books.

Now here she was. A married woman of twenty with daughters of her own. She’d need a library card—she knew that. She’d need to learn how many books she could withdraw and for how long. What it would cost if she lost or damaged one.

Growing up, every Christmas her Mum had bought her and her three sisters a book. One book to share, to keep them company through long winter months, read anew every year. Kim. Little Women. Gulliver’s Travels. (That last never made sense. She was sorely disappointed that year.) Since marrying she hadn’t had much time to read, though, apart from the Medical Encyclopædia. She’d had children. Learned to keep house. To be a wife.

But now… The smell of the place was magical. Wood and old varnish, ink and aging paper, things Joan couldn’t quite identify that made her flare her nostrils and inhale deeply.

She turned. There stood a bank of books with an elegantly hand-lettered sign: “Archæology.” Beyond that: “Geology.” And further: “History.” She drew a breath, hands tightening in her mitts.

She would start at the first bookcase and read everything there. In order. Then she would read the whole library.

Before her was a librarian’s desk, unoccupied but for the notice: “Quiet Please.” Further, a man squinted into shelves, beading his eyes to read, searching, perhaps, for some scholarly work she could never comprehend. People turned pages at long wooden tables or drifted from shelf to shelf with piles of books in their arms.

She licked cracked lips in worry and embarrassment. She didn’t belong here. But having entered, she couldn’t leave.

No one looked up. No one cared that she had broken their sanctuary, bringing that swirl of chill air and the trace of fine snow upon her boots. The floor didn’t open to swallow her.

She slipped into the room and travelled quickly to the nearest stand of books.
***
The story continues on page four of the Nov.Dec. 2011
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