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Chinook appeared one day behind one of the library info desks in a flurry of color.
Her real name was Jane, as one of the older librarians pointed out when she gave her the codes to the computer system, but her name tag, in warm, sprawling block letters read “CHINOOK”. The name alone kind of buoyed my imagination. It smacked of adventure, and she looked like it, too.
I watched her through the narrow gap between a row of books and the shelf above them, until she reached for her coat and pack of cigarettes and headed off towards the elevators. Even then, that first day, I thought she’d left a strange hole in the fabric of space-time around that desk. I squinted at it; and for a second or so I thought I could see its flickering edges, but then I blinked and it was gone.
I padded over into the dictionary aisle. They were heavy tomes that smelled of decaying paper you could burrow yourself into like a cave. Sitting Indian-style on the grayish green carpet, I started pouring over the infinite columns of words. I remember thinking how improbable a thing language was, caressing the print with my fingertip, word for word down the long list.
I couldn’t find it in the Longman, which swept straight from China, chinchilla and chinless to chinos and chintz. The Merriam-Webster was heavier, beautifully bound, and I grunted under its weight when I pulled it onto my lap. I loved the fluttery thin paper, butterfly wings with intricate markings – all those beautiful unfamiliar words like tiny flowers or poems: chinoiserie, chinoline, chinone, chinook.
My fingers rested on the entry as I copied it down into one of my notebooks. Then I compared it with the Chambers and the humongous Oxford English Dictionary (at this point it was a little gratuitous, I admit). By the time I was done, my notes extended over 3 pages, and they boiled down to two definitions:
1. A member of an American Indian people in the pacific north-west
2. A warm spring wind
A warm spring wind, I whispered to myself and then quickly looked around in case anyone had heard – but I was still alone in the aisle.
I stuffed the dictionaries back into the their shelves and pocketed my notebook. It was an old-fashioned one, paper instead of a screen. Sometimes, I had the energy to pretend to myself that this made me more sophisticated than others, that it hearkened back to a different time, that real observations, thoughts, ideas could only be captured by hand, but most days I was realistic enough to admit that the main factor in my loyalty to paper was money.
Ironic, that. Paper money, get it?
There are a few things you should probably know about me, before I go on. That just makes it easier for all of us, and you won’t have to wonder whether I’m trying to sound mysterious or speak in metaphor or something later on. Spoilers: I’m not.
The first thing is that I haven’t said more than a few words to anyone since my mom died six years go.
The second thing is that I am a collector, and an investigator.
The third thing is that I can turn myself invisible.