Book 1

Digby was the library director. His eyes followed the columns up to the starry ceiling. “When a librarian is retired, he should not move here,” he said.

“We had a cake and an antique book for him,” replied Aurelia Adams.

There had been multiple sightings of Phipps and his rabbit Alf; but at this point, it was hard to separate whimsy from truth. During the next few days, Phipps was constantly moving but with few naps. In fact, it required more hijinks than smarts to elude the staff. The rabbit followed Phipps past the Odeon Theater where he came across gold-trimmed biographies.

“’I carried you in my womb and nourished you with my blood,’” Nero’s mother had written (Nero snuffed her out) .

Phipps headed into the Founder’s Room. It had display cases with the Guttenberg Bible; Leonardo flying machine sketch; and letters between Abelard and Heloise: “I now lament my lover, and of all joys have nothing but the painful memory that they are past.”

In a painting on the wall, Charles Woolsey Belford leaned against a column. He had saved his diggers from scimitar-wielding villagers near Luxor when he fired his gun, yelling, “The mummy isn’t cursed.” After becoming a millionaire from sugar interests, he retired in order to embrace his true mistress: books. His son, Bronson Alcott Belford, founded both the utopian community New Tibet and Belford Library.

Phipps saluted the Belford family and smiled at the rabbit, “Listen rabbit. Molly has passed on, I loved her for fifty-five years. My friends are dead or act that way. Alf, you’re my only friend. Let’s make our time in the library wickedly good.”

The rabbit nibbled away. Phipps had a glass of bubbly while he looked at design plans of the library. A few were so old, they were impressionistic.

Phipps reached the bottom of the known staircase, continued on his quest until he reached a back room, where he removed a false panel and climbed through with Alf. He set up a bed, reading lamp, modest kitchen. He hung a print of Dido and Aeneas and put flowers in a vase. He set up a cabinet for food. Water was available at the end of corridors, the staff stored food and sweets. Phipps gave a carrot to Alf and held up a glass of champagne.


As dawn emerged with rose fingertips across the windows, a woman appeared. She was owl-faced with a blue dress and a necklace of lollypop-colored stones. Phipps rubbed his face and smiled the smile of those who have erased fear.

“Ah, Sylvilagus floridanus.”

“Yes, that’s Alf,” Phipps nodded, “And a hearty eater.”

“Pets are not allowed, only seeing-eye dogs. Sorry.“

“Alf is a seeing-eye rabbit, so there,” he replied; “Are you the fuzz, the police?”

“I’m hunting for the purple chair for the poetry contest winner. Sir, were you issued keys?”

“Don’t need ‘em,” Phipps said; “Greatest key is an open mind and a body electric.”

“I could no more evict you than a bee from a flower.”

Phipps bowed and wished her well. He put on a tie and walked around. He was so immersed in book-world that he felt made of paper, at one with the library, with words flitting across his eyes like zebras. Although the library (as employer) had closed for Phipps, he opened it to infinity: to become invisible like a turtle in its shell. The Upanishads spoke about the ear of the ear, the eye of the eye, the mind of the mind; Phipps pondered the library of the library, that there was something layered, quantum, spine-tingling.

Book 2

Noon. Director Digby’s Office. Letter under inkwell. Aurelia got there first. She fluffed her hair, made Darjeeling tea, sat on the couch. When Digby arrived, she handed him a cup along with a free-range bacon sandwich, kale chips and an envelope.

“Aurelia, days have elapsed. This story mustn’t leave the library.”

“A muddle,” she said, adjusting her sweater, tossing tea in the receptacle.

Digby kept his hands on the envelope.

“You’re getting yourself sick, and so label it anxiety and it takes care of itself,” she said in her clipped British accent; “Our very biology is a library of cells and alien life. “

“What?” he asked, with his head cocked and his eyes half-closed. A fleeting laugh became a hiss. “Is this some kind of Eden or Fruitcakeville? The Belfords will be here next week. Have the janitors and guards meet me at the front entrance, pronto. “

“That beasty will make a handsome rabbit’s foot,” Aurelia said. “Director, since it’s addressed to you, I give you the honor. Read.”

“’Dear Director Digby,
There is a mystery and perfection here in this temple of books. The library spreads genius like a virus. Ideas, archetypes, visions, lives, philosophies, love affairs, inventions, histories, farewells, duels and wars and death, the origins of life, underworld journeys, magic moments, ecstasies – all here. Time defeated by memory. Library is the totality of human aspiration, the dream of everything, a friend, a time-traveler, a labyrinth, magic carpet. We inhabit a library in the way we inhabit the body. (Speaking of flesh, even Casanova was a librarian). In the library, there is no place that does not see you. Therefore, I quit my job in the library in order to live in the library. Go fish! Phipps Araby-Smith.

*PS, a stacker died reaching toward the top shelf – Floor 8, near books on weaving. I started a bereavement card.”

At noon, seven employees and Madame Del Riva (a psychic from the university’s Club Mysterium) began searching. They began at the Founder’s Room. Finally, someone came across a jar of marmalade and crackers on a shelf.

A janitor handed him a bowl with some cubes inside, “What’s this, Mr. Digby?”

“Pumpkin, Mr. Lomax. The Indians shared such things with the Pilgrims. Carry on. “

“I have an idea,” Aurelia said, “Now let’s come and go talking of Michelangelo.”

“Is that a line from T. S. Eliot? Never figured it out.”

Book 3

As the orange sun melted on the horizon, Phipps and Alf wandered the hushed levels, turning the doorknob of a room unfamiliar. There was a table with lace, candles and two people reading poetry to each other – their eyes met in one mystical aura. She was tearful and removed her flowery hat, “Sorry to interrupt you. Am I dreaming — or are you John Keats and Franny Brawne?” asked Phipps.

“Sir, ‘tis true,” said Keats, with a deathly cough; “A joy forever. See, I’ve written a new poem. “

“Your love will live forever,” said Phipps; “But you must go to Italy for the warmer climate.”

“You too must leave, for time trembles,” said Keats; “Go forth, timeworn angel.”


Phipps looked back twice, then opened the squeaky door. He found ecstasy amidst the mint sky and turmeric sun. He stood at the door of a monastery at the foot of a mountain. A monk greeted him in today’s Greek. Phipps replied in ancient Greek: “I too live in a time capsule.”

“I hope your path never ends,” said the monk, handing him a book. They went to the scriptorium where monks searched old manuscripts for palimpsests. Later, as they shared lentil soup, bread and wine, an acolyte read to them.

The monk-librarian asked about lost books: Aristarchus’ book on heliocentrism; Claudius’ Etruscan dictionary; the Inventio Fortunata; the epic section from Aristotle’s Poetics; Margaret Fuller’s manuscript on the Italian Revolution of 1848; Hemingway’s WWI novel that Hadley lost on a train, which evoked pre-shotgun blasts in his shadow-self. “A wanderer isn’t alone if he has a book to read or a column to sit upon,” said the monk.

The gate opened. Phipps walked into the desert. For a few days he traveled with a caravan that slept under the stars at a joyful oasis. Lawrence of Arabia was correct in saying that the desert is clean. Phipps wished to continue with the caravan. But he waved to them, dusted off his shoes, and tried to re-enter the library. He was in a panic, the door wouldn’t open. It took much exertion.


Phipps marveled at the dome and Main Reading Room. He passed the hexagonal Italian Study with its long-nosed statue of Dante. He eyed the Illuminated Manuscript with the sky cradling the lactating virgin. He passed the Egyptian sarcophagus and the adjacent Black Knight. Their arbitrary placement amused him, “I’m sure that was the founder’s doing. Anyway, Alf, we’ve been away so long, and now the real work comes.”

When Phipps passed the periodicals room, he saw a heavyset man in a corner. He had sunk into the couch with a snore, a game of chess on the table. “The library is closed,” said Phipps. “You must exit at once.”

The man gave a bewildered look and hurried away faster than his body could carry him.

Book 4

The following day, Phipps wandered through an onion-shaped arch and down a marble staircase and into The Poets Corner. Over the doorway: Enthusiasm signals God within us. He signed up for Around the World in Poetry Club (AWPC).

Workers were fixing the marble stairs. Phipps, carrying Alf, said hello to one of them and continued up a level.

“I thought you’d retired, Phipps,” he called up the stairs.

“Retirement overwhelms the soul with leisure,” Phipps replied with a laugh. Phipps passed aisles with an acrid scent and interior journeys. Phipps and Alf sat on the ledge observing chandelier clouds. Below, a science club released rockets. Phipps pondered how inventions sped time and diminished awe and the very senses, that it had an unstoppable momentum, compelling humanity’s rush to alien planets, as mother ship Gaia collapsed. Evolution-destruction is the rolling ball of humanity.

He persevered until finding Mars Bibliotheca. He crept through an arch, tripping onto a floating escalator. There were plastic columns and shelves, readers sat on invisible couches or media stations. Light scrolls, books projected, hologram rooms for interactions across time. Cyrano emerged, telling Phipps and the rabbit, ‘“My elegance is interior.’’’

There were traditional books and a haiku contest. In a stretch of colors Raphael’s School of Athens — with Aristotle pointing down, Plato pointing up and Hypatia looking at the viewer — floated off the wall. Alf tried running on air. Phipps peered out the window at the dunes, mountains and valleys, scars, cold atmosphere and glare from the moons, Phobos and Deimos. Phipps wondered if the New Physics changed how humans perceive time. If I move my hand in here, does that action curve space? Say, is this library solid? I’m in here but my mind, composed of the cosmos, is also out there; I’m myself, the library, the cosmos. Is the cosmos an infinite book? Am I Phipps dreaming of the library, or is the library dreaming of Phipps?

Alf leaped off the ledge and scampered down the corridor. The security team slammed doors as they got closer. Phipps gasped. With desperate strength Phipps pushed one bookcase into the others. He headed toward the basement and below. He felt terrible damaging the library. Great libraries — Library of Ashurbanipal, Library of Alexandria, Villa of the Payri, House of Wisdom in Baghdad — had been destroyed. During the 1966 flood, students rescued books at Florence’s National Library.

Book 5

The following afternoon, a hand emerged from behind a curtain. “Reach for the sky, old man,” said the voice; “Books and ideas are rich soil – and the Swiss Army Knife for every job.”

“Is it Amanda Peabody?” They embraced, staring through desperate tears. She had Shaker elegance with a Botticelli-inspired face and blondish hair in a seaweed tangle.

“Phipps, I’ve been searching. Once I attached a string to my ankle if I got lost in the subterranean mystery tour.”

“Amanda, you’re a priestess in this temple,” he said; “We must fight for books and numberless species now.”

“Let’s go.”