By Eduardo Martínez Báez
They arrived early in the morning. The old library door opened and purred like a waking tiger. Despite the violent noise, the librarian didn’t notice them at all. He made use of those early hours to straighten up the literary incongruities that plagued the building. For him, this small task was a simple and powerful pleasure. A slow shiver invaded him every time he finished a section, as he took a step back to contemplate the order of words and time. While he did this sacred work, Rebeca and her friend nestled near a dark, seldom browsed corner.
She got the ritual underway by first arranging two chairs, placing her coffee on her left and a pencil to her right, then tying her hair and taking out her glasses. As she took the manuscript out of the briefcase, her friend flinched, then relaxed her face half a second later. It was almost imperceptible, but Rebeca caught it. She knew her well. Rebeca didn’t mention it. There wasn’t any reason to concern themselves just yet.
“Should we begin?” asked Rebeca with a smile. Olivia briefly sighed, then replied, “all right,” with a stoic look on her face.
Rebeca arranged a stack of papers in the middle of the table so they could examine the work together. She started at the beginning, even though they had read the story a hundred times before. They followed every sentence with the pencil, making notes and editing out whatever they considered unessential. They sliced away as two adventurers opening a path through the jungle. They both hated wastefulness over anything else in a story. Any letter, sentence or character that did not carry any true consequence was disposed of.
“Look at this word,” said Olivia as she pointed to the accused adjective.
“The doctor assured the parents her death was quick, fleeting and painless,” read Rebeca.
“Isn’t a fleeting death and a quick death almost the same kind of death?” said her friend. Immediately Rebeca flipped her pencil and erased one of the two.
Rebeca stayed with that phrase, fleeting death. She had suffered a couple of those in a short period of time. Her father, her cat, her career. Although no one ever gets used to death or loss, she worked hard to remember what she couldn’t control. It was a daily exercise, learning to let things go. After a while it became an obsession. When eventually she ran out of things to give up, she started conjuring ways to possess and then release others. For example, she would find a new bakery downtown and fall in love with it, memorize all the kinds of breads, pastries and cakes they had, and she’d try every single one of them. She would become friends with the owners, she’d ask about their kids, felt bad when they had a bad season, she would become a routine for them and they for her. And then one day, she would never come back.
After a minute, Rebeca erased the word fleeting.
“I would’ve left the other one,” Olivia replied. They smiled at each other and continued with their holy work.
When they were finished, Rebeca immediately turned to her friend. She found her calm, holding a bittersweet smile.
“What do you think?” Rebeca asked.
“I think this character here is beyond rescue, she is completely unnecessary to the story,” said Olivia.
“Are you sure?” said Rebeca in disbelief.
“Read it again,” her friend replied.
Rebeca read it again. Then a third time. And even though she couldn’t hide her obvious grief, in the end, she accepted her companion’s honest observation.
“You’re right,” said Rebeca, surrendering.
“Told you,” replied Olivia, completely undisturbed.
Rebeca held the stack of papers together, flipped the pencil, and dragged the eraser over the selected words until Olivia disappeared. The librarian, who had finished reordering his miniature universe, found Rebeca alone, with a sad but firm look in her eyes.
“How’s the story coming along?” he asked.
Eduardo Martínez Báez is a lawyer and writer from Mexico. He writes in both Spanish and English, usually sci-fi and magical realism. He has previously been published in Gata que Ladra (flash fiction magazine) and Agora (short fiction magazine) in Mexico.