She seemed to have little in the way of personality, but actually she was simply hiding most of it beneath a thin veneer of bland niceness. Her lack of opinions hid a plethora of scorn, rage and shame. Her sweet smile had the power and delicacy of a blowtorch.
Fortunately for them, most people who could have become ensnared realized this at some gut level and steered away from entanglements. Only the sickest dove right in, but they were quickly consumed.
In the 1950’s she had been a member of a missionary order of nuns, the Maryknolls, who ran an orphanage and school in the part of China that borders Tibet. The Communist Chinese usually left them alone, but one day they arrived in force and it just happened to be the day a copy of Life magazine arrived, with a picture of Phil Silvers playing the role of Sargent Bilko on the cover. The Chinese assumed it was a picture of the Dali Lama, and arrested everyone. The school was closed, the nuns imprisoned and eventually sent back to the States, and the orphans were never heard of again.
After that, something in her snapped. She became a party girl, once sleeping with Peter Lawford and Robert Kennedy at the same time. She was with Jim Morrison the night he overdosed in Paris. And now, fate had brought her to Storm Lake, Iowa, where she was the children’s librarian. The parents assumed she was a kindly grandmother. The children were afraid of her.
True, her colorful past had left her with many stories, though she couldn’t share most of them. How could she use story-time to tell of her role in getting Che Guevara’s hands delivered to the FBI after his ambush and execution in Bolivia? Would she use her role as reference librarian to inform students writing term papers about the time she did acid with Tim Leary and Baba Ram Dass?
No, her life was a cipher, a closed book at best. After work, she went back to her furnished room at the senior center subsidized housing in the former Post Office and browsed social media until sleep overtook her.