The Old French Woman In The Library

She was overdressed for the library. She wore a flowered dress, mid-heel shoes and even tasteful earrings. Her makeup was simple and elegant. She spoke English well but from her accent it was clear that French was her first language. She was reading with a slight smile and her brow was furrowed with the intensity of her engagement.

The book was Sartre, in French. She repeatedly flipped to the back, referring to the author’s glossary of his own invented terms.

I sat at the same table, paging through My Weekly Reader, looking casual and surreptitiously stealing glances at the odd character across from me. She continued to read.

I turned a page with an unexpectedly loud wrinkly noise. She glanced at me, frowned and then smiled. She gently pulled the Weekly Reader from my hands.

“You can do better than this, no?” she said in her accent which I cannot imitate.

“I’m catching up on the news,” I answered indignantly. “Somebody’s hogging the New York Times.”

The French lady’s smile widened.

“Let me show you what you should be reading.” She began pulling books off the shelves.

“Have you read this?” She put a book in front of me. “Kidnapped” by Robert Lewis Stevenson. “Or this?” And she showed me “A Wrinkle In Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. She then pulled out a scrap of paper and started wildly jotting down a long list of books for me to read. I thanked her, and crumpled the list, sticking it in my pocket.

After she left, I checked out the books she’d shown me. I even looked through the copy of “Being And Nothingness” she left on the table.

That was twenty years ago. I still carry the list she gave me. The old French woman is dead now and because of her I am truly alive.