THE RECEIVING ROOM by Wayne Ray
The small receiving area at the university book room was crowded with low, black tables, cluttered with books processed in either coming or going, upstairs or down, specials or textbook, medical or children or adult categories. The constant hum of the two fans and the air conditioners added little to the white monotony of the ceiling and walls. The shuffling of papers, the classical distance of the radio and the occasional thud of a box of books on a table were the only sounds to break the noise of this silence. Shippers and receivers can dream of kings and dragons and paupers. A gallery of historical dreams. A galley full of paper dreams and in it, nightmares imbedded in cardboard and transformed by memory, divorced from the detail of before and after. The titles of the books passed out of the boxes and through the fingers of the men who worked these tables, were enough to stimulate even the weakest mind. Many times in as many days were there pauses in reflection and inspiration among these men. Sly smiles and widened eyes were to be seen while their imaginations were turning things over in their heads.
In front of the longest table (a table used for the largest returns and orders) worked a three man crew. The other tables had one man each. They were spaced unevenly around the room and facing a different wall so that no one man could see the other without moving drastically from one side to the other and inside each man, the heart wearied of the monotony. The crew were busy counting, erasing, boxing and processing a large number of books at a steady stoic pace. The constant breeze of the fans lifted the edges of loose papers on the table and on the shelf above and laid them down again in a steady rhythm. Up and down like the hands of the three man crew, lifting and pricing, lowering and erasing, lifting and counting and dreaming, lowering and dreaming.
Someone had placed their face on the xerox machine and photocopied their profile with a knife blade against the throat. It was taped to the wall above the table. Empty boxes of all sizes and shapes filled the cluttered floor in the aisle leading to the textbook sales area, where racks upon racks upon racks of sleeping books awaited another fate.
The stock control computers were idle after sixteen thousand entries and across the room, directly under the fans, were five tables piled ceiling high with boxes of unsorted, unprocessed books waiting for the chance to be sold, dreaming their own dreams, full of their own stories, screaming color. The other men at the different sections of the room, followed their own routine, quiet and supreme in their little worlds, sublime..silent.
There in the distance of their minds, a real sound breaks the silence. The sound of truck engines and the rattling of the automatic doors opening and in robotic unison all seven men form a line, a human chain, unloading the truck of its brown load of double dark brown boxes, passed from one pair of strong arms to the next set of hands and on to the conveyer belt at the back of the room. A few minutes later the door closed and the brown boxes disappear into the second floor storage area. The seven men, faint smiles, idle chatter, return to their work stations. There are no windows in the room. There are no windows in the loading bay. There are no windows in the doors and there are no reflections on the floors and the books in the boxes are still screaming. They take their jackets off, shed their hard outer covers... SCREAM... in all the languages of the world. That other world, not this sterile one. The fans increase their noise to hide the screaming. Several men turn their heads and answer someone they thought they heard call their name. Someone says to shut off the radio. Some of the men didn't even hear it. The boxes are bursting at the seams. The books are bursting with their screams.
These books are the dreams of men, these seven men, this cities men. These exploding boxes, cardboard ripping and disintegrating in a flash. These colors splashing prisms on the walls, ceilings, and floors. Animals and cars and fictions bursting, life and death springing forth from the boxes of books. The letters flew off of the words which flew out of the books and filled the white room and the vacuous minds of men, enlightening the world like a long sleep waking and the dust in the tear's of God fills the eyes of the strangers.