The Rules

Sally Lentz
first-prize tie in creative non-fiction

I got a letter from the library today. Acting in the best interests of the entire community, it said, they have put me on probation for six months. I can't check out books, just videos. Not any video, mind you, only videos from the children's section. At the end of my probation period, when they receive a letter from a psychiatrist, the library board will decide whether or not to reissue my regular card.

The incident that caused this restriction occurred one quiet Saturday. The kids were out of the house, my husband was planted in front of the television, and I settled into the couch with my coffee, a Snickers bar, and a paperback I'd quickly grabbed the day before while returning the kids' books to the library. By the end of the first paragraph, I could feel a howl welling up inside.

The last time I had successfully suppressed a howl was ten years before in the middle of a Mount Everest contraction during labor with my first child when my husband leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Honey you just keep doing what you're doing, I need to check out the third quarter scores. I'll be back."

Now once again I found myself dying to let it rip. I wanted to throw my head back and howl, to rant, to claw at the air. But then I remembered that all the windows were open and the neighbors were outside. So instead, I took a few deep cleansing breaths and rotated my head, which produced a satisfying, calming, crack-pop-crunch. Then, thinking that I must have missed a word, skipped a phrase, something! I forced myself to read the offending sentences again. Sure enough, the same shit was still there, including these two faux pearls of pathetic puke strung together in The Rules.

"It's a good thing when men get upset; it means they care about you," the book explained. "If they're not angry, they're indifferent, and if they're indifferent, they've got one foot out the door."

As if this bound block of kindling weren't enraging enough, the photo of the authors on the back of the book revealed that it truly had been written by two women. That became the final piece of evidence I'd been searching for: The Rules was proof positive that continued exposure to cosmetic chemicals in our society did indeed culminate in impaired mental capacities. Finally, I had physical evidence that too many trips to the dye bowl killed brain cells!

Truthfully, in this day of shameless marketing strategies, I fully expected small and shiny Rules storettes to pop up in malls across the country where girls could buy waist cinches and corsets and tote them home with the yet to be penned Rules creed, "Full face veils and bound feet can only add to the winsome appearance and dainty walk of The Rules girls!" embossed in swirly, feminine, handwriting on every shopping bag.

At Rules storettes, the full blasting hard-rock sounds coming out of the Muzak would be replaced with the rolling rhythm from the book, "Don't feel you have to be entertaining of have interesting conversation all the time...Remember, men fall in love with your essence, not anything in particular you say."

Sadly, I must admit that I finished reading the book, partly because I was looking for a disclaimer, anything - like "April Fool" or "We don't believe any of this, we lost a bet, a dare." Plowing through it was like slowing down on the interstate to look at a gruesome pile up. I didn't want to stare; I just couldn't stop myself. But the minute I finished, with the last word still on my cornea, I threw the book down and walked out of the room. Then I bolted out of the house to get the book out of there.

The whole drive back to the library, I chastised myself, muttering "You are such a crumb, how could you finish reading that!" I thought I had managed to compose myself as I walked into the building, but I guess I must have regressed a little, because when I got inside, I slammed the book on the counter. The startled staff member took a beat, then cheerfully asked, "Oh! So what'd ya think of it?"

Not a good move on her part, but I calmly responded, "Have you read it?" As I waited for her answer I guessed that she was maybe twenty. With that in mind, I decided to process whatever she said through the "you're still young" filter in my brain.

But when she giggled, blushed and gushed, "Well, not all of it, just the parts I want to use!" I totally lost it.

"And what parts might those be?" I growled as I paced between the desk and the water fountain. "Could it be Rule Number Thirteen? How about that one? 'Don't see him more than once or twice a week.' Is that a part you use?" My voice was reaching the level of a tea kettle at the end of it's task and spit was flying as fast as my words. Pulling out a chair, I climbed up onto a wooden library table. Marching down its length, I kicked books and paper into orbit as I stomped. "Maybe it's Rule Number Three, huh? Are you using 'Don't stare at men or talk too much'? Or my favorite, 'Don't tell him what to do,'" I snarled. In a perfect pirouette off the end of the table, I landed no more than a foot from her terror-stricken face. In a very convincing "Linda Blair" I hissed, "You have heard of the Feminist Movement, haven't you? For crissake, you work in a library. Try reading a book that actually offers something intelligent to women, would you?"

I barely remember seeing her scamper to the safety of the stacks, but a few minutes later, she reappeared behind the shield of the circulation desk, this time with another woman who I later learned was her supervisor. After she mimed my "episode" to her boss, they took turns ceremoniously cutting my library card into pieces and throwing them at me.

After the pieces of my card were tossed in my general direction, I was instructed to leave the library. Believe me, at this point I wanted to go as much as they wanted me gone. I almost made it out of there. I had my hand on the door, but then that teenage twit had the nerve to ask, "OK, so you're saying that I should act how I really feel? Like it's not good to pretend, you know, like the book says, to 'act as if' ..."

Before I could think about stopping it, the primal howl that had been ten years in the making was exorcised and released into the sanctuary of the public library. It was the howl that punched me through the invisible force-field that keeps us human women just this side of predatory man-eating beasts. What I did that afternoon in the library crossed over into another species. Looking back, I suppose the punishment fit the crime.

In closing, the library letter went on to say, "If you want the privilege of a library card, you must follow all of the rules."

I'm pretty sure that means library rules. My shrink thinks that after a couple of sessions, I should be able to handle those.

© Sally Lentz

Sally Lentz is a former Municipal Court Bailiff who now spends her sanity writing, as well as performing Stand-up Comedy for women, about women, to women. For what she calls "the most creative four days under the sun!" check out her website,

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