From the time he began college, he kept every single book he bought for every course he took. His library grew. When he went on to graduate school, his collection grew at an even greater speed. By the time he began teaching his library counted perhaps 10,000 volumes.
The books were everywhere in his house including his garage. He even built bookshelf wall units in his bathroom.
And then, finally, he came home from a Friends of the Library sale, and he stopped short as he pushed through his front door. Putting down the two bags of books he’d just purchased, he surveyed his living room. Then he entered an adjacent bedroom and moved on to the adjoining bathroom. Next, he went upstairs, checked the study, bedroom, and bathroom there.
Heading back downstairs, he descended to the bottom floor. The kitchen, dining room, bedroom, and bathroom on the ground floor were jammed wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling with books as well.
He went back into the dining room and sat down to contemplate his next move. Where, he wondered could he store his books next? Could he build sheds out in the yard? No, the books would take a beating from the weather.
And then it dawned on him. Why not build an addition to his house. A library? He pulled out his phone and checked his bank account. No, not helping there.
Since he’d retired, between his pension and Social Security, he’d taken nearly a 40% pay cut. It would be difficult to qualify for much of a loan, even a home equity loan.
He’d often wondered why there hadn’t been an uptick in bank robberies due to mask-wearing mandates. Sure, a lot of mask types showed enough of a person’s face to probably identify him, but he’d seen people with scarves tied around their faces, ones using plastic shields, some even wearing balaclava-like masks. Surely in some combination it would be possible to disguise oneself enough to be unrecognizable.
And so it was that a series of bank heists began on the west coast. He didn’t live on the west coast, flew in and drove to small towns in the outbacks of California, Oregon, Washington. Even a few in Nevada.
Each time he hit a small-town bank, he would immediately fly home. It was killing him that he couldn’t buy more books while he was slowly amassing enough cash to build a substantial addition, perhaps three stories, like his current house, expand each floor. A room dedicated as a library, one on each floor, he liked that idea.
Because of the random pattern and timing of his robberies, law enforcement could not anticipate his targets, and because he would immediately fly home, he was never around long enough to be zeroed in on as a person of interest.
Finally, he would stash his cash in a filing cabinet he’d bought for the specific purpose of holding his renovation funds.
Each time he came home, he would figure the grand total. The day did come; he had enough. Early on he’d selected an architect and a contractor to do the job. Everything was in place.
And then he felt the pain, just a small one, in his shoulder. He assumed it was just a strain of some kind, and as it persisted, despite his attempts to stretch it out, he guessed it might be things like sleeping in awkward positions, and very likely stress, given his new career path.
The foundation of the addition was being poured when he realized the pain had progressed. Now not only did he feel it in his shoulder, but the area from his shoulder to his neck began to bother him. Sometimes he would feel a sharp pain shoot from his shoulder right up his neck into his jaw and his cheek.
He sought out massage therapy, tried acupuncture, and Asian herbal remedies. The pain was constant now, and the headaches began. Finally, he visited an orthopedic physician, told him about the pain, wondered, he said, if it could be bone and muscle-related.
The X-rays told a dire story. He was referred to an oncologist. Biopsies and further testing proved that cancer had metastasized, was now in his lymph nodes, most of his organs, and his brain. It would be a matter of months.
This he did not tell the contractor. He wanted the construction to proceed. Indeed he hoped the three-story addition could be finished so that his family would inherit a completed home, do what they wanted with the three rooms, even sell the house should they choose.
His last decision was to donate his entire collection to the Friends of the Library. He thought it a good idea that his books would end up in the hands of those who would actually read them, love them as much as he had.
One day the Friends of the Library sent a truck to pick up the books. The workers were surprised to find that it would take several trips to retrieve all the books. Finally, every book in the house had been taken. Every book except one.
The last night of his life, only a week after the addition had been completed, he sat down with that single remaining book. It was a long-time favorite, had been one of the very first books he’s fallen in love with as an undergraduate.
It was his goal now, now that the meds could no longer control the pain, to read as much of the book as he could before he died. If he could finish it one last time, that would be wonderful. If not, well, that really was life, wasn’t it?
A few days later, his sister found him at his desk. That last book lay closed in front of him. She noticed that there was a bookmark in it, turned to that page.
As she read the poem, she cried. This, she thought, should be a poem to read at his funeral.