When Shay Johnson sees me coming, she usually tries to hide behind the book she's reading. This is perfectly OK with me. Partly because I know she's just kidding around, but mostly because I'll usually have a pretty dumb question for her. Shay is my favorite reference librarian at the Allen County Public Library, and if I were her, I'd hide from me, too. They say there are no dumb questions. Shay would disagree, I think.
Years ago, I brought her an atlas, pointed at a map of Canada and asked, "Where's Amsterdam?" Her response? "Martha, stay away from drugs, girl."
On television and in movies, you have your choice of two librarian stereotypes. The old lady - hair in a bun, rimless glasses perched on her nose, lots of "shushing" - and the young, hip, tech-savvy librarian. The one who wears black emo glasses and sports a star tattoo on her neck.
Shay is neither of these. Shay wears lime green spiky high heels and can quote Shakespeare and Tupac with equal ease. In high school she was part of a dance troupe called Five Play - five girls with early-1990s asymmetrical haircuts who wore matching blue shorts and knee pads. Also, Shay's a great knitter ... which doesn't quite fit. Knitting doesn't seem glamorous enough to be a Shay-approved hobby.
I worked with Shay for a couple of summers at the library, just shelving and checking out books mostly. And she had this wonderful way of shaming me into improving myself, which is just what I needed. "Look it up," she'd say. "I'm no dictionary." Since then, I've taken all my questions to her. Because she always has an answer - even for the dumb ones.
"Well, well, well," she said, wincing at the sight of Jessica and me approaching her reference desk, the two of us fumbling with Darleen's box. "If it isn't the Too-Cute Crew."
"We have a question," I said. "A real one this time."
Shay spent a few seconds admiring her pedicure - bright pink with little jewel-like crystal flowers on each toe - and said, "Here's your answer. It's still chest of drawers. There has never been - and never will be - a chester drawers."
"That was the question last time," I said.
Jessica and I let the box of Darleen's stuff tumble onto Shay's desk and fished around until we found Darleen's birth certificate. I handed it to her.
"Who is Darleen Fitz?" I asked. "That's the question."
She looked at me, one eyebrow up. "Why do you want to know?" she said.
"Will 'because' work?"
Shay smirked. Of course it wouldn't work. Not with her. So we told her the story. Most of it, anyway. Darleen was our neighbor and she'd moved - in the middle of the night - without telling anyone, we said. Now, creepy thugs were coming over to her house, slamming things around in cupboards and howling about money. It's not like we had any reason to contact the police. All we really knew for sure was that Darleen had moved.
"We want to find her," I said. "Just to make sure she's OK and give her this stuff back. But we don't know where to start looking because … we kinda don't know anything about her."
"Martha, you are a troubled child," she said. "Has anybody ever told you to mind your own business?"
"Yes," I said. "You did once. But I didn't listen then, either."