The Reading Room

The iron tracery of the library windows outline stained glass depictions of campus heraldry beside scenes of history’s most famous writers and scholars. As the summer haze seeped into the reading room, its dark wood-paneled walls somehow grew more oppressive. The haze was once much thicker though, and had carried with it the scents of Connecticut tobacco, back when the room was used as the library’s smoking parlor. But those halcyon days are long gone. The reading room has long since been scrubbed clean and its walls are now lined with travel writings and medieval texts. Now, people come here to escape –into descriptions of distant cities or into the records of another time– but at that moment, Walter Field felt more like a prisoner.

A glowing depiction of St. Mark writing his Gospel was the only ecclesial image in the entire library and though its light fell singularly on the small desk at which Walter worked, the hope for divine inspiration was the farthest thing from his mind. He was captivated by another illuminated image – the computer screen in front of him was showing a photo taken only a few days ago in a small chapel in Venice. June was a slow month in the University library and as he stared into the screen, Walter was grateful for the small luxury of working alone in the huge reading room. It had taken more than six hours of searching through the dusty, leather-bound manuscripts that now lay piled around his desk but he had found what he needed. The object of his search was propped open next to his computer, displaying the same image – or rather, what should have been the same image. Something was off though; something was different. Where is it? As he scrolled through the image, it seemed that something was tugging at the fringes of his awareness, waiting to be discovered. Wait. There. He nervously kicked at one of the stacks at his feet with each with enlargement of the digital photograph. There [click] it [click] is [clickclickclick]. The books toppled over. The discrepancy was small but once seen, couldn’t be ignored. How could this possibly be? It just doesn’t make any sense.

Confused, frustrated and tired, Walter rubbed his eyes and as he looked up from the screen they refocused onto the words inscribed into the stone fireplace: haec studia adulescentiam alunt, senectutem oblectant. A common enough inscription in university libraries, the words of Cicero were meant to encourage young scholars. Resting his chin on his fists in a gesture more consternation than prayer, Walter sighed and recited aloud, “‘These studies nourish youth and delight old age.’ If only that was the case this time.”

Secundas res ornant, adversis perfugium ac solacium praebent, delectant domi, non impediunt foris, pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticator.” The voice startled Walter from his brief reverie. He quickly stood up from his chair and turned around to find himself facing the strangest looking man he had ever seen.

“Sorry, I didn’t hear you come in,” Walter mumbled, “I’m kind of used to having the room to myself.”

“Hm.” Tilting his head to one side, the stranger seemed to consider him briefly before speaking again. “You are taller than I expected, Walter Field.”

[image: Linonia & Brothers Reading Room in Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University (2011)]