Derek Dufust fingered through the books laid out on the table in the old armory building across the street from the library in a small town. It was the annual library book sale and Derek, one of the few patrons of the library who read humanities, was delighted to add to his collection of philosophy, poetry and classical literature. Most of the books in Derek’s bag had been discarded after years of being in boxes and on shelves without having been perused more than once or twice and he had already found several books, Emile by Rousseau, a Voltaire reader, Rabelais, the Life of Kant. Books meant more to Derek than what he dismissed as the mundane voices around him that mimicked roles depending on the situation.
Derek was forty years old, a loner who chose to be alone, who shunned the strained sensibility of social conversation. He didn’t banter well with the others at the office. He lacked social grace and didn’t understand decorum. Socializing with others and their assertive yet unintelligent perspectives was more than Derek was willing to do if he didn’t have to. He registered communication with others as a ritual that involved assuming a characteristic persona and mannerisms such as those taught in business seminars. Looking back on a day of interaction with others he couldn’t see the things said in response to his questions as anything other than people acting according to ritual, and the thoughts that others attributed to themselves sounded to Derek in most cases to be nothing more than group thinking. Derek saw knowledge as the ultimate goal of life. Entertainers were forgotten. Artists were forgotten. Accomplishments were forgotten. The only memorable actions or thoughts were designed in signs and forms that appeared and then recurred in language and in nature that gave us our understanding and furthered our learning.
Derek’s old trailer sat on a small lot in a swampy gully. It, the trailer that is, was as messy as could be expected for a loner, with bare cupboards and a counter filled with dirty dishes. The bedroom and hallway were arranged with books roughly by subject. There was classical literature, Western fiction, poetry, philosophy, linguistics, literary and art theory, commentaries. In a cabinet were copies of dozens of papers in the MLA format which he had written utilizing the books on the shelves as references. Derek had received a B.A. in Humanities and had attempted grad school twice, but in the end discontinued after disagreeing with professors over grades.
Derek also wrote short stories and poetry, toward what end he didn’t know. He wasn’t a business man and didn’t want to be. He had a job that paid for the necessities of life and that left him ample time to do the only thing noble for him to do. Learn. Derek did not not want recognition because that would mean he would have to discourse with others. However, like everyone else he desired his ego to be assuaged on occasion and would find a zine to publish a poem or a story, or a co-worker willing to listen to him expound his interpretations of William Carlos Williams. It didn’t matter much to Derek how much his work would be read while he was alive. A writer wasn’t an entertainer who needs people to recognize him. Thoreau had few readers in his lifetime. The only meaning achievements have after you die is how much they can be appropriated by others. Maybe the friendly neighbor with the admirable sense of duty to man will find Derek’s writings. Maybe he will preserve them and keep them somewhere. Ah, that is wishful thinking. But even a note scribbled on a page in a book can spark something of value to someone else reading it one hundred years later. Derek imagined all of his books ending up at the local book sale for a dollar a bag. Twenty books in a bag. All filled with his commentary in red, blue, and black ink.
Derek was holding a copy of Engels’ The German Cultural Revolution when Ethel, a round woman in her mid forties wearing a pair of bleached yellow sweat pants with a stain on the thigh walked past and gave him a sneer. “They shouldn’t let people just by all these books so cheap at these sales” she barked across the room at the librarian who was counting change for a customer. “They’re just gonna take “em home and sell them.” The librarian finished counting out the change and said “more power to them. We want every book to find an owner.”
Ethel turned her lip up in ridicule and shook her head. “It ain’t right.” It gave her an idea. Instead of buying three packs of cigarettes later she would buy two. That way she could buy six bags of books. Her sister was going to stay the night and she could smoke her cigarettes and then borrow a few dollars from her before she left. Wherever Ethel saw Derek looking through books Ethel would appear and scoop up armfuls into her bags. In her mind Derek was an opportunistic book seller purchasing loads of books for pennies. There must be a market for whatever he is doing. If she could only make a dollar per book. Among the books she scooped up was the Engels book which Derek had forgotten.
The books stayed in her van for six months before her brother visiting from Oklahoma took them inside and put them in the closet of her extra bedroom where they sat for fifteen years. Someone she was talking to said it was a waste of time to try selling books. That was enough to not make her waste her time thinking about it. At least she kept others from buying and selling the six bags she had bought herself.
One day Ethel had a heart attack while sitting and smoking in front of the television. Derek is now fifty seven years old and looking through the books at the annual book sale in the same armory and he spies the Engels book. “Hey, this book looks familiar.” And there was a vague recollection of something he had been thinking of studying a long time ago. He couldn’t remember the topic but holding the book caused him to remember the vague form of a round woman as though in a dream, and she makes a remark about people buying books just to sell them. He drops the book in his bag and looks around the room to see what looks others are wearing, their clothes, the difference of tone in their voices. There is the old librarian, looking much older in the face, but still youthfully buoyant with her voice and movement. She smiles at him.