Volume 31, Number 4

The History of How We Existed: Out of Print

E. F. Schraeder

She slid the book that saved her life from the library shelf at 4 p.m., carried it gently under one arm as she approached the back door. She stood there briefly, biting her lips.

She lacks a name because there was no vantage point that afforded a glimpse of her perspective beyond witness to her imminent disappearance. Without a point of view, she doesn’t exist. She’s a referent, an example. If this were a cautionary tale, she would become its metaphor.

On tiptoes leaning heavily on the cane at her side, she glimpsed out the small square window at the top of the door. Outside, perhaps twenty-five feet away stood fifty noisy protestors, scuffling in a lumbering circle. Grinning, joyous in their hard-won success. Some of them shouting, most waving hand-drawn signs. She had made a sign, too, which propped against the door. Written in black, bold letters it said: “Read Whatever You Want.” She picked it up and nudged open the door, but let the sign fall to her side, silenced. She made no eye contact with anyone at the gathering. Shame was her companion. She slid into the car, an unimpressive sedan, twelve years old. She didn’t yet know it, but she was on the verge of something momentous.

In fifteen minutes, she would cease to exist.

* * *

The book in question was removed by Mrs. Doreen Carver, President of the Palmer County Library Review Board. Mrs. Carver spotted the book and made note in her file. Even the title was an affront, so she didn’t dare open the pages for fear of the resulting chaos, the painful bruises to innocence such words could deliver. Mrs. Carver made sure to omit the offensive words in her notes, sparing her assistant and herself the shocking burden, the trauma, of accidentally deciphering any assaulting symbols. Trash.

This place, Carver believed, was part of a Larger Plan, meaning, An Agenda. This Title Not-to-be-Repeated would be dumped along with fourteen other Offending Titles into a box labeled Friends of Palmer Library Sale. But These Titles would not enter a Friends’ Sale. Smut.

The corners of her mouth turned down while she drew one finger across the shelves looking for other suspicious words, others to claim and revoke. She clucked her tongue, angry at the many wrongful decisions to be righted. Filth. She’d return with volunteers to carry out these orders another day.

When that day at last arrived, it brought onlookers who waited outside the building. They chanted and cheered when Carver handed off the first box to a square-shouldered man in a gray suit. Carver didn’t know his name, but that didn’t stop her from clasping his shoulder like a good friend and declaring him a champion of the cause, which of course like all causes, was for the best thing: for everyone’s own good.

“Hooray!” A crowd loves a crowd.

Just as Mr. Gray Suit braced his knees to accept the weight of the box, Mrs. Carver turned to the crowd. She smiled as if posing. Dark blonde curls framed her pale face. After a deliberate pause she waved at the gathered fans and followers of This Important Moment.

“We are just beginning,” Mrs. Carver said. She spoke to the unfamiliar gentleman who now held this box, this first of several boxes, at waist height.

The box, while not particularly heavy, he raised to cover part of his face. If anyone took pictures, he would not be seen. Mrs. Carver regretted that detail. An oversight. Little evidence of his action was necessary, but someone always took pictures, and the sight of a strong man in an Important Moment held influence.

The boxes were to be removed, that was the important thing. And yet. Carver nudged him, pushing and flapping her hands in a downward motion until he lowered the First Box of Many. She drew her lips up, nodding, and he returned the gesture, obliging her request.

Photos were taken. Soon, Mrs. Carver knew her phone would chirp and purr with announcements and tags. This was what Righteousness looked like: winning.

Mrs. Carver smiled at the supporters and then smugly at the distant rumble of resistance. Those weak counter-protestors stood thirty feet away inside a temporary fence erected by the Palmer County Police Department. Menaces. Mrs. Carver shook her head, frowning when she glanced their way.

When a reporter invited her to comment, her smile returned, brightening her eyes. “I’m dedicated to protecting our children from the vile influences of the world.” Mrs. Carver nodded to the growing herd of protestors. A scowl turned her lips at the threat. “We have a responsibility to protect our community from outside agitators like them. We are making history by making this place safe. I’m here for our children and our future.”

“Mrs. Carver, isn’t it true that those so-called ‘outside agitators’ are residents of the community?” The reporter pointed to the jeering onlookers.

Carver huffed. “Some of them claim to be, but I’ve seen no evidence of that. I’ve never seen them until today, swamping us like roaches. They should crawl back under their rocks where they belong.”

The nearby members of the Review Board clamored, cheering her on. “Be brave! Be brave!”

A stray, solid tenor began to hum a bar of a well-known protest song, invoking urgency and aligning itself with history and meaning. Candles were lit and raised. Tears shed.

Mrs. Carver continued, “They claim we’re bigots, but they are bigots. They impose and infect us with their warped habits and perceptions. We can’t even do the things we used to do without them shouting and pouting. It’s their fault. Shame on them. I am a proud member of the community and this Review Board, and I have a right to decide who we mean by ‘public.’ That is my job. We are the real citizens of Palmer, and we will not be silenced.”

The nearby crowd applauded. The reporter un-ironically thanked Mrs. Carver for her candor. Mrs. Carver said of course, of course.

Without attention or fanfare, a glass side door swung open. A tall, thin, gray-haired woman stepped out and looked at the silver-colored sky. A cane draped over one wrist that she didn’t use as if out of pride. Instead it swung, close and tight to her slight frame. She gulped a breath of air while a police officer escorted her toward a car. His arm stiff behind her, hand at her back as if either he was her lover or about to arrest her. She held her chin up as she walked. She slid a bag and then herself into the car. For a moment, the car did not move.

* * *

Inside the car she sat beside a stolen book, the only thing she had ever stolen. It seemed, almost, to stare at her from the seat. This prompted a feeling of inexplicable guilt and shame. Unfortunately, precisely the kind of feelings she knew Carver wanted her to have, but she could not allow the book to be damned or doomed.

She had not argued. Fight fled years ago. After dialogues and scripts and meetings and nothing. She simply collected the book and tucked it under her arm, planning for a sort of reluctantly early retirement for herself and the liberated title.

To her, books had been an unyielding cure, a path to understanding. Herself, the world, her place in it. Awakened to the stories and words, she’d been read alive. Books were also the key to the mysteries of time. A decade here and there, a career, a hobby, an illness, all defined and neatly categorized alongside the books she’d piled at the bedside. Books were survival. Friends and companions. Ideas. Connections. Dreams. Gifts. Intimacy. She’d unpacked and repacked her life according to what she’d read and shared, the new voices she’d discovered.

The Title in Question was uniquely situated in her life. An honest discovery between adolescence and adulthood. The cusp of everything about to unravel before her. At that time, she’d been afraid, isolated. Approaching a sense of herself that reckoned with how she was not like others. Her queer heart, her unpredictable body. How she was a construct of parts that moved in ways most people did not. The authors she found in The Title in Question located her in the world.

Stealing it meant saving it. Nothing else mattered. She started the car.

On the seat beside her the book sat still and quiet, despite all the roaring it held.

The History of How We Existed. Out of Print.

Radical Voices Press, 2026.

Edited by Angela S. Carter, Alfonzo Davis-DeSantis, Clyde Petronovicz and Carlotta Rivers.

“Necessary.”—Starred review, Paris Revolt

“If Ursula K. LeGuin and Audre Lorde would have crafted a book together, this would be it. A stunning and necessary title for anyone invested in social change movements.”—Larry Stein, author of NY Villages bestseller, The First Thing We Forget is Truth

“There are no easy answers and no multiple-choice questions in this collection of diverse voices, mapping global protest movements. This may be the book needed to inspire a generation of progressive change. A manifesto for the ages.”—Huston Wilcox, author of Now is the Winter of Our Discontent

“An inspired collection of essays, stories and poems by global authors and activists. Required reading.”—Chase Stein, Huxton Prize Winner and author of Social Change in a Time of Hyperbolic Memes

She turned the key in the ignition then sped off, trailed by a cloud of blue smoke.

In twelve minutes, the car would vanish, with her inside it.