ON A THURSDAY AFTERNOON, our town’s small library is empty except for my librarian and me, which is good because her expression is equal parts concern and annoyance. But that’s not the worst of it. I’m standing on the other side of the counter with obscenities about to burst from my lips like birds from a cage, and I’m wondering, how did I get here?
Somehow, I’ve ended up the leader of a women’s book club. When I told my sister, she laughed so loud I had to hold the phone away from my ear. “Why do you do these things to yourself?” I pictured her shaking her head at me.
“People stress you out,” she said. “You should be living in a cabin on a mountain somewhere with no electricity and a phone you only have for emergencies. Instead, you end up with fifteen women and twice as many toddlers descending on your home once a week for scones, coffee and reassurance. Why do you let this happen to you?”
I didn’t mean to. Just like I didn’t plan to be standing here, staring at my librarian with some of the vilest words in the English language pounding in my brain to the rhythm of my ever-increasing heartbeat.
The women in my book group are in their twenties and thirties, with a couple of old girls like me who are in their forties and did careers first, then kids. They run the gamut of liberal and hipster-rich to extremely conservative and not so wealthy, from self-educated to multi-graduate degreed—which makes for some weird cross-cultural discussions, by the way.
But generally, everyone is fairly accepting. We’re all Christians, of one kind or another, so we have to at least act like we love each other. Most of the time, I think the affection is genuine.
I could be wrong, though. My sister knows me well. Intuition about human relationships is not my strong point, and these women could despise each other, for all I know. But they keep coming back, week after week, and I don’t think it’s just for the coffee.
One of the wealthy members, concerned for the not-so-wealthy ones, wanted to see if we could find some way to get our books for free. My poorer book club members never suggested they had trouble getting their hands on a book, but they took the gesture in the spirit it was offered.
We’d been reading this series called The Bad Bible Girls about women in the line of Christ who’d led less than exemplary lives—and our discussions were going well. The members had all warmed to the idea that God accepted and used imperfect diverse women just like them.
Somebody learned that if we registered our book club with the local library, we could get copies for all of us and a longer checkout period. Great idea, everyone agreed. “However,” liberal hipster-rich said, “we have to have a name for our group.” That discussion took up the rest of the meeting, but everyone finally decided on a name.
The next day, I added a library visit to my long list of errands and kid carpools. All I had to do was run in, tell the librarian the name of our group and sign a form. How long could it take?
“Are you sure that’s the name you want?” My librarian looked as if I’d just served her monkey brains. She peered at me over her glasses, expecting a response, but I was caught off-guard.
My hot, hungry, increasingly bored children were waiting in the car and was she really going to make an issue out of this? “Well, yeah, I’m sure.” I didn’t even try to disguise my impatience. “Everybody agreed to it.”
I adore my book club friends, but navigating a course through their personalities can be treacherous. As my librarian’s lips straightened into a disapproving line, I imagined the women in my group arguing about a more appropriate name as they changed the aromatic diapers of frustrated toddlers and nursed their wailing infants. I don’t think so.
“You know, a lot of people in the system are going to see this name,” the librarian said, as if I hadn’t responded. “There’s the woman at Central who handles the book clubs and my boss over in Smithton, just for a start. They list the names of all the book clubs in the newsletter, you know. I don’t think they’ll understand.”
That was when my already tissue-thin patience shredded, and my brain filled with some language, as they say in the movie guides. Really, those words rarely come out of my mouth. I think them all the time, though. I may not be of the world, but I’m in it, you know?
I can’t understand why she cares so much about the admittedly inappropriate nature of the name we’ve chosen. I rack my brain, trying to make sense of this attitude I’m getting from her. Why these waves of criticism crashing toward me from across the desk?
I actually like this librarian. I consider her a friend of sorts. Her kids are about the same age as mine. We’ve had some good conversations at soccer games about kids, husbands, life. Her face with its frown of censure fades, and the dusty, musty smell of the library is replaced by the scent of loamy earth and wet grass.
I remember one particular evening I spent with her. We are leaning against our cars, watching the kids on the field while dusk settles around us and mist beads on our fleece jackets. We discuss how much we love our families and our friends, but they wear us out. We cry and we laugh. We hug when we say goodbye.
But that was a long time ago. Her face comes back into focus, and my brain fills with those words that betray my lack of self-control, like they’re plastered across her forehead. Before I completely lose it, I want to be finished with this. It’s taking up too much time, as if the rest of my life isn’t draining enough.
“Look.” I practically yell. “That’s the name.” I stretch across the counter and jab at her computer screen with my finger. “Type it into the computer.” I enunciate each word clearly. “Bad. Bible. Girls. That’s what we are. Freakin’ Bad Bible Girls!”
At that precise instant, the stern, white-haired president of the library board, of which I am also an officer, walks through the door with my three sweaty, forlorn-looking children close on her heels. They all stand there staring at us, mouths agape, eyes wide.
My librarian friend looks from them to me and turns to her keyboard. She shrugs and starts typing. “Okay,” she says, a smirk tugging at the corner of her lips. “You’re Freakin’ Bad Bible Girls.”
She covers her mouth to try to muffle the chuckle she can’t contain, but it’s no use. In seconds, we’re both laughing out loud. The sound echoes through the library and fills it up. My kids join in, but the elderly member of our audience has a horrified expression on her face. I can see she’s trying to decide which one of us to accuse of what.
If she picks me, I’ll have no excuse. What can I say? I’m a bad girl.
About this story: “Bad Girl” was originally published in Passageways: A Short Story Collection ©2014. Later posts to FICTION FRIDAY will feature ICW members’ unpublished stories of 1500 words or less.
Beliefs represented by individual authors are not necessarily shared by all members of ICW.