“Thank you Binny.” Michel said, as they stood outside the door to the Secret Garden.
“For your poem. For hope.”
Binny sighed. “What hope? I wrote that when I still thought it was possible to have a life in this place.” Binny felt tired and spent.
“Maybe it is?”
“How exactly? Finding new and increasingly interesting ways to kill myself?” Binny joked darkly.
“Or, maybe you could find new and increasingly interesting ways to kick everyone’s dessert across a room.” Michel said. “Seriously though. Don’t give up. OK? You may write that new chapter yet.”
“Binny nodded, but she only agreed because Michel looked so eager for her to feel better. In her heart, she knew there was nothing to be done.”
Binny took a half-step into the Secret Garden when a thought struck her. She looked back over her shoulder, but Michel had already blended into the crowd. Binny made her way across the library and walked the hallway until an arched entrance to the library made an appearance.
Binny walked through the maze of the library, not sure exactly where to go, but knowing she would know it when she saw it. And then it was there. A small alcove, tucked away, and private, with a comfy chair. Books rose on either side of the chair in dark wood bookcases.
Binny sat in the chair, closed her eyes briefly, and then started scanning the bookshelves. In seconds the teal spine revealed itself. Binny placed the book in her lap.
Maybe Michel was right. Well, maybe she had been right. There was another chapter to write. But she wouldn’t be able to write it. The person who wrote her chapters was her author. And Binny had a sense that maybe knowing more about him would give her the clue she needed on how to get some control, any control of her life in the Stacks. Binny examined the book in her hands – The Madrona Heroes Register: Echoes of the Past. Her book.
Arya had said she saw a picture of her author on the back flap. But Binny’s book had no flaps. It was a paperback. The back cover was empty except for a bar code and the other half of the painting that graced the cover. Binny had only seen her book every morning in this form. The other girls had had paperbacks and hardcovers. Was Binny’s not available in hardcover?
Binny scanned the book. Still the same story that she experienced every day when she would do her job. Some days it was early chapters, some days later. Binny knew it well now. But, the story ended on page 327. The book went all the way to page 336. There were nine more pages to examine that Binny had never looked at closely.
There was a section on what music the author thought the reader should listen to while reading the book. Who does that? Binny thought to herself. Binny kept flipping pages. There as a long acknowledgement section where the author thanked a lot of people she’d never heard of.
Though Binny did notice that he thanked his children. The author seemed to have three children of the same age as Binny, Cassie, and her brother Zach. Are me and my siblings based on his actual children? Is there some version of me out there in the real world? Something about that struck Binny as wholly unoriginal and kind of unsettling.
Binny turned the page. There was an entreaty to tell people about the book so they would read it. That was something. At least the author was trying to get people to read the book. Maybe Binny would last in the Stacks longer than she had feared. But was that really the preferred outcome? Binny pushed the thought out of her mind and turned the page.
And there it was – About the Author. No picture though. Shoot! Binny was disappointed. Arya’s book had had a picture of her author. Somehow Binny thought that if she could just see what her author looked like, it would give her some connection to him. Maybe it would give her some tenuous way to get some control over her life. Control that only her author really had.
But there was no picture. There was only text. It said: “Hillel Cooperman has pretended to be a superhero since he was a small child. He conceived of the story of the Madrona Heroes in the summer of 2012 on a trip abroad with his family. By winter, he had started writing in earnest. He lives in the Madrona neighborhood of Seattle with his three children, their three cats, and thousands of Lego bricks. His superpower is procrastination. The Madrona Heroes Register is his first novel.”
At first Binny didn’t almost notice the detail. But then Binny reread it. Once. Twice. Three times. The author lives in the Madrona neighborhood of Seattle with his three children” Just like Binny’s family. But the sentence continued to say that the author, this Hillel person, lived not only with his children but with “their three cats.” Three cats. Binny’s mind was racing.
Binny shoved the book back into the shelf, and ran for the exit. Binny was careful to slow down a little bit when she made it out of the recesses of the library and other people were around. There weren’t many, but thought maybe some of them had seen her outburst earlier, and she didn’t want them to report even more erratic behavior.
Who knew? Maybe the Stacks had a prison where they would lock her up. Maybe she’d get locked up in Diyu with the authors. Binny didn’t want anything to get in the way of what she was about to do. Binny was still moving as fast as she thought wouldn’t arouse suspicion when she made it back to the spot where Michel had left her earlier.
Binny closed the door behind her and found herself once more in the Secret Garden. In her secret garden. Trellises of roses overhead. Sprays of tree branches forming little canopies.
Binny called out. “Are you here?”
All Binny heard in response was the sound of the land settling in for sleep. Not quite silence.
Binny slowly made her way to the same bench where the man had been the previous night. “Hello?”
Binny hadn’t noticed at first, the figure sitting on the bench. It was darker than it had been the night before. More clouds in the sky obscured the moonlight. “I thought you might be here again.”
“I’m sorry I disappeared last night. I came back to apologize for leaving so quickly.”
“What is it with you?” Binny asked, her voice hardening.
“What do you mean?” The man asked, sounding a little hurt.
“Why do you keep following me around? It’s creepy to be honest. You always seem to show up and give me some sage advice, but you never stick around, and you never talk about yourself.”
The man laughed nervously. “What do you want to know?”
“You said you had kids. You said you were looking for them. Why are you looking for them? I met my father… My book dad. And guess what? He wasn’t looking for me. Not for me, not for my siblings, not for my mom. What makes you so different.”
“I’m worried about them,” The man said more seriously.
“Why would you possibly worry about them? What could happen to them? They could get run over by a train, or jump off a cliff, and guess what? They would show up the next day out of their books as good as new. You’re off the hook now. You don’t have to worry about a thing. You can just spend your time doing whatever you want. Nobody has to be a parent here!” Binny took small steps towards the man to punctuate her points.
“That’s why I’m worried about them. I’m worried about what it’s like for them in here. In this place,” The man said.
“I see. So you’re some kind of super dad?” Binny said sarcastically. “Out to show up all the other dads?”
The Man relaxed a little bit as Binny joked, even though there was a hard edge to her comments. “Nah. I just love them.”
“So I suppose, if you love them so much, you’re looking out for their cats too, right? I mean, if you’re gonna look out for them, then you should really do a complete job. They each have a cat right?”
The man cocked his head. He looked at Binny strangely. He seemed unsure of what to say next.
“Oh come on. The cats. One is white. One is gray. And one is calico. Your children’s cats.” Binny took a chance. “Aren’t you worried about them too? I haven’t seen any animals here in the Stacks, but they must be here somewhere. I should ask Hermione about her cat. It’s gotta be somewhere. Maybe they have a special version of this place for pets.”
“Binny. What are you talking about?”
“Look, I don’t know what book you’re from. I don’t know anything about you. I don’t even know your name. Just answer me one question? And I’ll stop bugging you. OK?”
The man looked like a deer caught in headlights, oddly fascinated by the oncoming truck that would spell his doom. “OK.”
“Are you my father?”
The question hung between them. Binny’s eyes dared the man to say anything other than what she already knew. She could see him making calculations before he answered.
Finally, after a deep breath, the man spoke. “Yeah. I am.”
And then, totally unexpectedly for both Binny and the man, Binny started sobbing, ran to the man, and hugged him as tight as she could. Not knowing what else to do, the man hugged her back.