Of the forty-seven smokers at the library that morning, the girl in blue shrug and corduroy pleats sat apart by the south window and refrained. She was reading a collection of stories, Handbook for Asteroid Camping. She had not thought once about lighting a cigarette, not a cigarette nor a cigar or cheroot or cherry stick. Not even a twigaret, the hash-tobacco blend sold over the checkout counter. The Madison Academy graduate library was the quietest place on campus and she spent quite a lot of her free time there. The quiet was pervasive, almost absolute, made so, or so librarians claimed, by the abundantly smoke-filled climate.
No one looked at her out of place. They went about their business, removing books and looking at their title pages, contents if time allowed, then replacing the books below their original spot exactly one shelf down, in regular and acceptable fashion, a gray tendril of smoke curling up from the corner of the mouth, both their own and that of the librarian hastening from behind to correct the position of the book they had just been perusing, progressing steadily through the stacks and the hazy fug dimming the library air. The south corner remained somewhat free of this haze and the girl sat at a table there, beside a window where there was a view of the canal.
She crossed periwinkle polka dot leggings, tapping the heels of sea green clogs, enjoying her book. The temperature by the window was cool and she adjusted her burgundy beret so that it settled over the semi-frozen lobes of her ears.
Someone cleared their throat, quietly but with authority.
Facing her was a librarian in polyester monochrome, manuals teetering in the crook of her arm, offering a sealed pack of mentholated Holler Bills, the brand sold exclusively at branches of the settlement library system.
'Keeps 'em quiet,' said the librarian in a low, confiding tone, 'smoking instead of gabbin'. Everybody's happy.' She smiled. 'You?'
She politely refused the pack.
'Buy some later, that's your preference. We're all happy here.'
She looked around at the shelves. 'Isn't it... flammable?'
'From these?' Back into the pocket of her polyester blazer, mark of librarians system-wide, went the mentholateds. 'Yes, sure. But why worry?" She set the manuals down on a table and took the top one, opening it. The book's jacket was more parts kevlar than paper. Overleaf pages were loose around a reader screen, the thickness of which was determined by the nature of the book itself, thick in this case due to its technical nature.
"Besides, we need the profits," said the librarian, closing the manual with a dusty thump and replacing it on the stack. "We're building a new wing off the east arm. Something has to fund it.'
Again balancing the precarious pile in one arm, with the other she showed great dexterity by extracting a twigaret from her breast pocket that landed neatly on the librarian's lower lip and was promptly lit. Puffing blue smoke with each syllable, she offered to hang up the girl's hat.
"No, thanks," she said politely.
She had finished the fifth story in her book, a perilous tale of oxygen deprivation in the Kuiper Belt, when a boy approached her. Domelight spilled in through the window. Over the canal waters below danced a gleam of diamonds. She turned to face him, approaching from an alley of aisles stretching into dark depths.
Bright spider silk shirt and striped slacks distinguished the boy from the otherwise indistinct air that muffled sound as well as any sharp distinction of objects within the alcove. His flame-orange tricorne hat split the fog and marked a path through the dimness. She knew him from Jovian Lit. They got along inconspicuously, which was to say, they got along but neither was acutely aware of the fact that they did.
A nod of the head carved a vertical crescent with the pointed tip of his hat, indicating he was on his way out of the library. Deciding five stories was sufficient for one day's idle reading, she followed along.
Outside the air was clear, a bright domelight green. They walked down the library steps and across a small footpath that bridged the glimmering canal she had been able to see from her high window perch. Somewhere in the distance, on an unseen tramway, a horn squawked.
'That is a brilliant hat you are wearing, Amy.' The boy spoke cordially. 'Kind of like mine,' he said, 'like we...'
'No,' she said, removing the beret and shoving it into a pocket in her skirts.
The boy reacted -Eric Dimaggio, she remembered- as if she had taken action in the least expected fashion. 'It's a sharp hat, isn't it?' he said bemusedly.
'Not very,' she said. 'I love it, but this isn't a red hat day. I'm not in a very red hat mood today.'
She was thoughtful and didn't hear the question, picturing the rack in her dormitory closet. It had a range of colors to choose from. 'Blue hat,' she decided.
'Like your sweater,' the boy said, meaning her shrug.
She did not ignore him, as such; rather she walked alongside inconspicuously, drawn inward without giving any outward appearance of it. She thought how quiet it had been inside the library and felt suddenly, irrationally, inexplicably like having a cigarette.