by Jeff Oaks

If not for reading itself, which after a few thin books of my own came out of the library, how would I have known how to escape? The new one then was located directly across the street. I knew the children’s section by heart, especially the fiction section where I read every story with a witch or wizard or an animal at its center. I borrowed books on magic, on mythology, on ancient history, field guides and picture books about the natural world. I learned to relieve my boredom reading. I learned to spend time in letters, to expand time, to escape it. I was engrossed by stories, intensified, destroyed, transformed, made “Like nothing else in Tennessee,” as I would one day learn, ajar. One night a week my mother volunteered so of course I hung out there too until I knew enough to volunteer too. I could run and get books for elderly patrons. I could shelve loose books faster than anyone else. I learned the Dewey Decimal System. The older ladies loved me. So much so they trusted me to lock the doors at night. They didn’t know I was also reading in the quieter sections of the adult stacks, books about sex or, worse, the joy of. One night I left the back door unlocked. Nobody double-checked. With a flashlight, I snuck in and stole a book about spells cast by naked witches, pages of adult bodies dedicated to candlelight, moonlight, the turning of the seasons.