(Closedown - The Cure)
“I’m sorry,” the librarian said. “We’ve got to close. You know…” She shrugged, and he nodded. “Thank you for being here though. We thought it might be empty today.”
“It’s a crime,” he said, and she nodded.
“Two more minutes?”
“Go on then,” she said. “But then we really must.”
“Are you having a party, or something? The staff? Oh God, that sounds like I’m trying to invite myself, I’m not. Just wondered.”
“We couldn’t really face a party,” she said. “Be more of a wake. We’ll go round the corner for a quiet drink.” She paused. “You are welcome, if--”
He shook his head. “Thank you, that’s kind. But that wouldn’t be right. I’ll just have two more minutes, then…”
“OK,” she said.
“Are you fixed up? With another job.”
“Not yet,” she said brightly. “But sure it will be soon.”
“Bastards,” he said. “Apologies for my language.”
“Twats,” she said. “No apologies for mine.”
They laughed, and then he raised a hand in thanks, and walked back down the aisles. He had been coming here since he was a child. Back then it was every week, as an adult less so, more demands, less time to lose himself, but it was always there. When the closure was announced he had come along to a campaign meeting he saw advertised, angry but wary, not sure if it would be his sort of thing. He ended up one of the most committed members, writing letters, lobbying, threatening sit-ins, none of which made a blind bit of difference. We don’t want to do it, the people closing it down said, and he believed them. It’s this or helpers for the disabled. Or lollipop ladies or care visitors for the elderly. We don’t want to do any of it. But we have no choice. They have taken all the money away.
He’d spend the afternoon there, wandering the stacks, trailing his hand along the spines. He went to the children’s section, looked for some of his old favourites, sat and read a chapter or two. He remembered an sf book he’d read, something about intelligent talking Kodiak bears on some mining planet. He’d never seen it since, couldn’t remember title or author. He binged on children’s sf then, Heinlein and Norton. Back then, it was all magic. He never saw the flaws, just got transported, lost in the words.
It had been his world, this place, the old wooden shelves along the walls, rich and battered, the newer plastic shelves in the middle. The desk where they used to keep the boxes of library tickets with the little ones from your books inside, and the stamps he coveted so much, ker-chunk, slam of a hard cover, here you are love, see you next week.
When his mum and dad rowed, which was often, he lost himself in the stories. When he was bullied at school, which was more than it should ever have been, he lost himself in the stories. When he was happy, was less than it should ever have been, he still lost himself in the stories.
He turned around on his heel, looking for one last time. Then he breathed in deep, because the smell was as familiar as the sight of the place.
When he walked out, he waited across the road, tucking himself in behind a sign because he was worried the woman librarian would see him and think that he was waiting to follow her. They always got hit on by weirdos, the women who worked there, and they acquired the skill of dealing with them in the same way they did the men who came in and fell asleep, or took their shoes and socks off and picked at their toes.
It was dark, and the wind flung squally, spattery rain in his face. I will go home, when this is done, and I will write more stories, he thought. And I will leave them places where children can read them. I will buy secondhand books, and I will leave them in McDonalds and in cafes and arcades with a post-it note on saying read me, pass me on.
One by one, the lights went out, and he was back there again, a child, sitting at a wooden table reading Clarke’s story about the stars going out. Four people came out and stood on the steps. They paused there for a minute, and then the woman he had spoken to locked the door. They stopped again for a moment, like they were paying their respects, and then turned collars up and pulled down hats and marched off into the rain. He waited for just a moment, and then he walked the other way.
Thank you for watching and reading 52 Songs, 52 Stories throughout 2012. It's now time for us to say goodnight.