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Words and Pictures

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When Oz says he needs a dictionary--a really good dictionary--Giles look, well, happy. He smiles. It's not a teachery smile, either, like when you get an A on a paper and they want to show you you're a good boy. It's real, with eye crinkling and everything.

"I have just what you need," Giles says, and half-runs up the stairs. Then he has to stop and wait for Oz, because Oz doesn't run unless something's chasing him. But he's still smiling, kind of dork-ish in a good way, and it reminds Oz a little of how Willow smiled the first time Oz used the word "girlfriend."

Librarians really aren't like other people.

When they get to the reference section, Giles points at the top shelf and says, "This is the Oxford English Dictionary."

The top shelf is really tall, and Oz is not, so he has to sort of press back against the opposite bookcase to get a good view. It's big, that's for sure. Not just one book, but maybe fifteen, each the size of one of those mega-boxes of cereal from Wal-Mart. It must weigh a couple hundred pounds. The black hole of dictionaries, with a mass so enormous no word can escape.

Giles, meanwhile, is saying, "We just got it. I had a row with Snyder over the budget, which apparently was earmarked for buying videos."

"Huh," Oz says, and then, because of how excited Giles still looks, "Congratulations."

"Thank you." It takes Giles a second to tear his eyes away from the books, and then, glancing at Oz, he seems embarrassed all of a sudden. "Pardon my enthusiasm. But every library needs an OED."

"Hey, words are cool," Oz says. Wishing while the words were still in his mouth that he'd said it better. With more syllables. "Um . . . bodkin."

"I'm sorry?"

"It's a word I like. It's from Shakespeare."

"Yes. Hamlet."

"Concentric," Oz offers. It feels like sharing a bag of chips or something. "Snood. Vacillate."

"Antediluvian." Happy librarian Giles is back now. Or maybe it's just happy Giles. "Incunabulum."

"What's that mean?"

"A very old book. One printed before 1500. It comes from the Latin word for cradle."

"Cool. Incunabulum." Oz tries to say it the way Giles did, with those rounded u's and crisp consonants. Giles has a way of giving weight to words, making them things that you can feel. From Oz it probably sounds weird, but he grins at Giles, and Giles grins back.

"So," Giles says. "What word are you looking up?"

It would be nice, now, if Oz's word wasn't so lame. He'd love to say something impressive, with a lot of prefixes and a Sanskrit derivation. But not because he wants to play show-off-for-teacher. The opposite. Giles has been talking almost like Oz is another grown-up, a person, and Oz doesn't want to get sent back to high school on account of a dumb-sounding word.

Then again, lying would be a really high school thing to do. "Hootenanny," Oz says. "I read it in - " Okay, he draws the line at admitting it was an old comic book. "Somewhere. I know what it means, but I want to see where it comes from. The way it sounds . . . maybe it's really old, super old, or maybe somebody just made it up one day."

That came out okay, or at least Giles seems to think so. "Ah. Yes." Giles hands him down one of the volumes. Without any to-do, which Oz likes. Sometimes people--mostly guys--get all embarrassed, like they're insulting Oz if they notice he's short.

No way is Oz hefting this book all the way back to the tables, so he sits down at the end of the row, where there's more light. Giles sort of crouches next to him, not quite sitting. "May I?" Giles asks. "I'm curious now."

"Sure." If he was alone, Oz would go slowly. It's like the used bins in a record store. You look at every CD and all the old vinyl, because there's always cool stuff that you don't know you want until you see it. He can't make Giles wait, though, so he flips past hapteron and hemitery to hootenanny. Which isn't old, it turns out, and used to be a word for things you don't know the word for, like whatchamacallit. That makes it a pretty good word--no, an apt word--for describing a folky jam session or a crazy party. "I like it," Oz says, and he tilts the dictionary so Giles can see better. "Gotta decide how to use it in a sentence."

"I can't imagine the opportunity will arise often." Giles is rocking a little bit, like his knees hurt, and Oz wishes he would just sit down and talk. Dictionaries, words, that's part of Giles's job anyway, so it's not like he'd be slacking. "Unless you're a fan of country-and-western music?"

"Nah. Well, Patsy Cline's okay. And Hank Williams. Senior, not junior."

Classic country, Oz figures out when Giles stands up, is the wrong way to keep the guy talking. And Oz, for once in his life, wants to keep talking. He's been collecting words since he was seven or eight, but now he wants to take a few off the shelf and play with them. "Hey, Giles?" he asks, and Giles, who's been shuffling the way people do when they're not sure whether to leave, stops. Look at him like he doesn't mind hanging around. "Do you ever read comics? Or maybe when you were a kid? 'Cause some of them are . . . are profound. Sophisticated."

It wouldn't work to talk to Giles about regular books. Giles probably knows them all already. And Oz wants to show him something new. "Sequential art," he says. "That's what some people call them."

"Do they?" Giles sits down on the carpet, very un-Giles-like with his arms resting on his knees, and says, "Tell me more."