Sweet Relief

It’s a good job and it pays well and everyone is always so happy to see you. Grandmothers come up to you and kiss your cheek, young men with their hands and faces smudged with soot, hair too-early white with falling ash clap you on the back. Everyone dances and sings and claps their hands; it’s a festival, a sacrament, a joyous celebration of life and humanity.

The librarians are less happy to see you. They arm themselves, barricade themselves inside their libraries, snipe at you from behind thick stacks of encyclopedias. “Literacy or death!” they cry. You walk calmly through their fusillades, shields overlapping, and pull down their walls. They are fighting a losing battle and they know it. They scatter as you come through the doorway, teeth flashing white in the light of your torches.

You only burn some of the books, never all of them. We are drowning in a sea of ink, smothering in an avalanche of paper. You think of forest fires, of soft green shoots springing up through rich, fertile ash, and are content. The librarians flee, collect their whispering charges, and rebuild.