The inside of the public library is an anticlimax. From the outside it shines white like marble. Inside its shelves are small and sparse and the blue carpet and bad tables remind me of high school.
I sit looking out the window at the grounds. Young students study maths at the next table. A book is open in front of me: The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. I am writing a presentation on Gertrude Stein for my literature tutorial and have made it my mission to read as much of her oeuvre as I can before I begin. The mission is going badly.
I finish a page and flick away a stray eyebrow hair before I turn it. Continuing is difficult. It is hot and the heat makes me tired. My skin feels greasy and tired. I force myself through the page.
My eyebrows itch. I scratch them vigorously to remove loose hairs. I see some fall in front of my eyes. Two weeks ago I did a presentation on Australian modernist poetry and could not finish. I was prepared not excellently but reasonably well and whenever I looked up to see people’s reactions I saw nothing. My phone went off halfway through. I could not finish.
I drift to the next page, batting away an eyebrow hair, and look for a quotation to discuss. Nearly any quotation from this page is discussible. They are all similar.
A great sudden itch causes me to scratch my eyebrows again and I feel a number of hairs fall. I move my hand away and every hair of my eyebrows dislodges and scatters onto the open page. Every hair. My eyebrows have fallen out.
I slam the book shut, throw it into my bag, cover my eyes and stand. Under my fingers I feel the baldness there which has never been bald before. I run outside and step into the sun.
For hours I traverse the grounds and wonder about my presentation. I think I will begin it with an anecdote about how I lost my eyebrows reading Gertrude Stein and hope this elicits some kind of laughter. I think I will have to shave my head. I wonder if I will look stranger with hair and no eyebrows or no hair and no eyebrows. I think I will shave my head. I will tell them at the start of my presentation that I was reading Gertrude Stein in a public library and all of my hair fell out. It is a funny anecdote. They will probably laugh.
I think I will not go to class to deliver my presentation. I think I will try to get a doctor’s certificate.