There’s Just One Problem


I would like a copy of Amy Hempel’s Collected Short Stories please.

I’ll just do a quick search, she says.  Good news, We have a copy in the system. One copy. We can get it from the Burnside library.

That’s great.

There’s only one problem.

What’s that?

Did you learn any foreign languages at school?

French, Spanish, a spattering of German. Why?

How about Croatian?


The only copy we have is in Croatian.

How did that even happen? I ask.

God only knows. Do you know any Croatian?

My cleaner comes from Montenegro. He taught me a few swear words. Does that count?

Not really, she says. You could do a crash course in Croatian.

No thanks. I’ll wait till there’s an English version.

It could be a while. This version came out in ’96.

Have you got anything else by Amy Hempel? I say. In English.


  • have you ever encountered an unusual problem in the library?
  • can you speak Croatian? are you one of the readers of that Amy Hempel book?


  • photo by Jakub Arbet from Unsplash



Can I come and stay?



Can I come over? He says. Can I come and stay?




I won’t be any trouble.


You’ll show me up, I say. You beat me at Scrabble. You speak two languages and now you’re learning a third.


That’s not so unusual, he says. Many people can speak two or more languages.


But you’re a cat!


Tell you what, he says. You let me stay and I’ll teach you ‘cat.’


Teach me ‘cat’? What is there to learn? It’s all meows, purrs and hisses!


Wrong! He says. It’s a little like Chinese. Full of inflections.


Tempting, I say. But what earthly use would knowing ‘cat’, as you put it, be to me?


You could speak to me.


I’m already speaking with you.


But think how much fun it would be speaking with me in my mother tongue.


I thought about this for a few seconds.


Do I get a certificate? I asked, to show I passed and if so who issues it?


I can issue you with one.


But you can’t write!


I’ve got him, I think. I’ve really got him.


But he does what everyone does when they’re caught in a quandary. He changes the topic.


So can I stay? He says. Can I come and stay?


He gives me a winning look and rubs against my legs.


O for god’s sake, don’t start purring, I say.


I won’t upset the apple cart, he says. I’ll stay out of the way.


And he does. He’s unobtrusive. He’s clean. He keeps the mice at bay.

If  only he’d stop walking up and down the passageway at night loudly declaiming German.