In every story she’s ever read, eternal life is always notoriously lonely. Ximena had always considered herself a bookworm, and she had always dreamed of a world beyond the stone walls that kept her hidden far away from the rest of the world. She dreamt of worlds where there were no nations, no races, no wars, only completely ordinary people in a completely ordinary world. But the one thing she never dreamed of was eternity. Eternity was not meant for people. Eternity was meant for concrete structures and bright blue skies and the kiss of summer rain against cobblestone sidewalks. Eternity was meant for history and knowledge and all of the stories she loved so much. Eternity was not meant for a person. Ximena trailed her fingertips along the stone surface of the library’s walls, slowly but surely making her way from her father’s office to the reception desk. Her family’s library was the only home she’d ever known, a small pocket of the universe where war didn’t affect her. Ximena was supposed to be taking a shift at the front desk, but her fingers caught on the hinges of a door she hadn’t opened in quite some time, and she stopped. Casting a glance around the library, Ximena opened the door and slipped inside. The room was dark despite the window, as everything had become overrun with cobwebs. In one corner, Ximena could see the bed pushed up against the wall, a small bedside table sitting nearby. The air in the room was stale and musty, nearly making Ximena sneeze as she inhaled eighty years’ worth of dust. It used to be her parents’ bedroom, back when they were still alive. Sometimes, if she squinted hard enough and listened, Ximena imagined she could see the outline of her mother’s skirt and hear the whisper of her father’s rumbling laugh. If she stared at the bed long enough, she could see her little brother pressed between her parents. He always clambered into bed with them after a nightmare, even when he was growing too big to fit between them anymore. The ghosts of her family haunted Ximena, no matter where she was in the library. Her little brother lingered near the section of books about outer space, her mother wandered the shelves in search of something new to learn, and her father always seemed to be watching the doors. The library was her family’s pride and joy. Ximena crossed the room to stand next to the old window, which had become foggy and dirty after years of neglect. The curtained cobwebs didn’t bother her anymore as they brushed against her, covering her shoulders with dust. Ximena stared out the clouded window for just a moment longer before she turned to look at the bed below the windowsill. The world may be convinced that war was over, but Ximena wasn’t convinced. She knew better than to believe the words spoon-fed to her by the government and had seen the horrors of war nearly ninety years ago. That kind of evil didn’t just wash away, no matter how much time had passed. Ximena remembered that day quite clearly. She remembered standing at the reception desk, her little brother sitting cross-legged on its surface while they waited for her father to finish locking up. She remembered watching her mother load up the cart of book returns and trundle away into the stacks to return the books to their proper homes among the millions of other books in the library. She remembered the way her little brother nearly fell backward off the desk trying to cajole their mother into letting them go out for dinner. Most of all, she remembered the way her father stormed back into the library’s reception area, demanding that she and her brother duck down and stay quiet. She remembered grabbing her brother in her arms and holding him tight, crouching beneath the reception desk in the spot where she knew nobody could see her. She remembered listening blindly as her brother’s heart pounded, as thudding footsteps barged into the library and a booming voice demanded the title of a book she’d never heard of. She remembered her father’s desperate pleas and she remembered listening to those pleas turn to screams until they turned to silence. She remembered the way her brother wriggled out of her arms, desperate to help a father that was already gone, and she remembered watching him freeze where he stood behind the desk before he crumpled like he was nothing more than a sheet of paper. She remembered the sound of her mother’s cart, remembered the sound it made when it fell over and all of the books spilled across the floor. All for a library. No, not even. The intruder had killed her family for a book. Ximena shook herself out of the memories. Cruelty like that didn’t just dissipate. Cruelty like that wrapped itself around its victims like a python and never let up. Ximena turned her gaze back to the bed, watching the apparitions of her family sleep peacefully beneath the covers. She longed, not for the first time, that she had died with them, that she hadn’t been cursed to forever tend a library her father had died for, a library her mother had adored, a library that her little brother had grown up in. Outside the bedroom’s window, Ximena could just make out the dark blurs of people passing by in their dark clothes, the customary style for a nation that seemed to be eternally mourning. She wished she could join them, passing by the library to a better destination. She wished she didn’t want to. Ximena shook her head to clear her thoughts and headed for the door. The receptionist would be going on break soon; someone would have to take their place. She cast one last glance at the bed, where the vision of her family vanished right before her eyes. Eternity was never meant for people.
When I saw the image, it reminded me of eternity, whether that's someone who lives forever or a ghost. I hope that this piece conveys the sense of longing and melancholy I often attribute to eternal life (or death). --Isabelle Blue from Kettle Moraine School for Arts and Performance