Thank You For Using Fairfax County Public Library

A crinkle of plastic and a giggle caught my attention on the other side of the 610 Medical Science aisle of books. An unexpected whiff of peppermint mingled with the tang of ink, woodsy-vanilla pages, and dust. Through a gap in the shelf exposing 620 Engineering & Allied Operations sat two little girls, crossed-legged, their knees touching with a large leather handbag between them. Their small fingers with chipped glittery nail polish unwrapped red and white-striped peppermint candies. They took turns popping the sweets into their mouths and when the cool menthol bit their pink tongues, they spat them into the handbag. The clear wrappers littered the floor and the girls giggled again at their challenge game. 

I cleared my throat. Two heads swiveled and their puckered mouths froze in minty OH’s.

“I’ll keep it a secret if you clean up those wrappers,” I said, my voice soft.

Four hands swept the floor hiding the evidence in the purse. 

I selected the book where my fingers were paused and sat in a carrel next to a boy playing an online game. The game’s beat and repeating melody were audio contraband for this quiet space. I gophered over the partition, a shushing finger over my lip. The music stopped. He shuffled his belongings, a calculus book opened, and I winked. Another secret at the library.

I paged through my book. A scrap of smooth thermal paper fluttered from behind the cover. 

Customer ID 32498

Items that you checked out

Multiple sclerosis: a guide for the newly diagnosed

Due: Thursday, August 24

How we live and why we die: the secret lives of cells

Due: Thursday, August 24

A complicated kindness: a novel

Due: Thursday, August 24

Thank you for using Fairfax County Public Library

These titles, shelved somewhere in the rows shouted a life twist more real than any prose. A secret graver than peppermints and games. A medical diagnosis? Research for a loved one? I looked around as if Customer 32498 were still in the quiet stacks seeking more than books. A secret revealed to a stranger.

Sharon J. Wishnow

Sharon J. Wishnow is a writer from Northern Virginia. She has an MFA from George Mason University and serves as the Vice President of Communications for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She is represented by Ann Leslie at Dystel, Goderich, and Bourette. You can find her online at and Twitter @sjwishnow.