He came frequently to the library. The gray man.
He was of average height but well above average weight. His hair was missing except around the edges and it was a lighter gray than his skin.
The man’s color always looked bad to me. I thought him on the verge of heart failure. At least for a while. But for four years I saw him at least once a week, often more, and during that time he scarcely changed physically except for losing a few pounds here and there.
When I arrived at the library as a grad student, people spoke of the gray man with an intense dislike. He was retired from the university. An ex-professor. But he seemed not to have recognized the “ex” part. I had heard that he would pontificate and exasperate. He was said to demand services, in a loud voice. He sent staff members scurrying to fetch the articles and tomes he sought. And he never said, “thank you.”
People watched the gray man with clouded and hooded eyes when he walked in. It was those eyes that made me ask about him. And I was told. I got an earful. No one liked him. They wished he’d retired to Florida. Some said, “to Hell.”
The thing is, I rarely saw him speak during the time I was at the library, and then only in a monotone, almost a stale whisper in passing. For four years I saw him come in, saw him remove papers and volumes from the small black satchel he habitually carried and spread them out around him on a library table. I saw him rise ponderously on occasion to fetch more books and journals from the library shelves.
For four years I saw him scribbling notes on the various legal pads he owned. I saw him transferring snippets of information from one place to another. I never heard that he published an article from it, or even that he’d put the material together to submit. I thought, perhaps, that he was working on a book, but the research materials he used were too varied to reveal a subject. During all that time I scarcely saw him interact with the library staff; he spoke only when spoken too, and then not at length.
Over the years, the clouded looks the staff gave him changed, from irritation, to resignation, to tolerance, to pity. Even after I left that school I sometimes thought of the gray man. He might have a lost a few pounds outwardly, but he seemed to have lost a great deal of weight inside.
And I wondered. Did the looks of pity dissipate too? Did the gray man finally become as gray and ephemeral as a passing rain? Did anyone in the library notice when he stopped coming?