I scuffed my feet, sneaker soles screeching on the linoleum.
I knew what Jacob was going to say next and I knew it was rubbish. I stopped
listening; Jacob’s lips moved while he, incapable of eye contact, stared at my
left shoulder. I scratched there, watching his gaze twitch to the other side.
He’d always reminded me of a startled rabbit in a field. If I stayed still, so
would he. But if I moved suddenly, he’d bolt for the nearest hole.
He slid a piece of paper towards me, leaving a sweaty streak
across the desk, and sighed.
‘This is your first formal written warning. A second written
warning will result in instant dismissal.’
I signed my name with an I-don’t-care flourish and waved the
pen at him. He learned early on not to stand too close when we were talking,
especially if I was holding the date stamp at the time. He once spent an
afternoon at the issues desk with FEB24 smudged across his cheek.
‘You know this is a load of rubbish. Mrs McIlroy has it in
for me because I don’t like James Patterson.’
Jacob sighed, shifting his nervous gaze from the pen to my
right earlobe. I rubbed my ear, irritated. He blinked.
‘You told her James Patterson was making her stupid.’
‘I did, yes. Along with all those other hacks she reads. But
I gave her my list of suggested reading.’
‘Do you really not see how condescending that is? Rebecca,
you bullied her. It can’t happen again.’
‘Are we done? I have books to shelve.’ I shoved the letter
back across the desk, where it caught the air and glided to the floor. When I
left the office, Jacob was crouched on the linoleum, retrieving the letter from
under his chair.
I fled to the cool, dry air of the basement archives,
sulking in the dark at the bottom of the stairs. I’d been as polite to Mrs
McIlroy as I could have been, under the circumstances. But she insisted on
reading every James Patterson and Jeffery Deaver she could get her wrinkly
hands on. Maybe it was my reference to her age that offended her. Old ladies
got funny about their age. I’d only said she didn’t have much time left to read
the quality books, and she’d have to read fast. It was true, wasn’t it?
The room smelled of decades of ink. Every issue of the local
rag was stored here in huge folders that slid smoothly into recesses against
the walls, a newspaper morgue. In the middle of the room were four large
reading tables. The cleaners seldom came down. This was my refuge when I wanted
somewhere quiet to read, or just to avoid Jacob and Ellen, the junior
librarian. I kept my own stash of books under the stairs. Melville, Hemingway,
Dostoevsky: my old friends were always here. I reached for Great Expectations
and held it close, running my fingertips across the cover.
The solution to my problem came to me slowly, but it was
such a clever idea that I had to act on it right away. I stood, brushing dust
from the back of my knee-patched work pants, and climbed up to the main floor.
Jacob pecked at his computer and Ellen was nowhere to be seen. Probably
shelving books, or maybe singing to the mice in the kitchenette. She carried on
like a princess in a musical. No handsome princes in the library though, only
Jacob the startled rabbit.
There were no customers; the village is small and this is
usually the time the old ladies cluster at the tearooms to share gossip and
cakes. I rolled an empty trolley out from behind the counter and hid myself
among the stacks.
Where to start? Ugh, those ridiculous vampire romance
novels. I swept through the aisles, digging out two dozen trashy supernatural
stories and piling them onto the trolley. Next? Pseudo-erotica! Fifty shades of
purple prose, lined up on the trolley next to the vampires and werewolves.
Then to Self-help: I gathered armfuls of 'non-fiction' and
stowed them on the lower trolley shelf. The trolley was already almost full. I
would have to make multiple trips. I heaved books along the shelves to fill the
gaping holes where books had been extracted, rotten teeth yanked from the
mouth. Last and with utmost pleasure, I rolled into P and removed every James
Patterson book from sight.
I wheeled the trolley back towards the counter. Jacob’s head
was still barely visible above his monitor. He wouldn’t show his face: a
combination of embarrassment at having to reprimand me this morning and general
nervousness. I sailed confidently past him and turned the corner, where I’d
left the door to the archives wedged open. In no time at all I had stacked all the
books neatly out of sight, under the archives stairs.
When the old ladies came in for
their weekly supply of junk food for the brain, they were mildly surprised to
find they’d been cut off.
‘Margaret, there aren’t any Miss Marples this week! I wonder
who has them.’
‘Joan, dear, it’ll be that Mrs Higgins. You know she loves
mysteries. I can’t find any Ladies’ Detective Agency books either.’
‘She probably paid to upgrade her membership. I’ll go and
‘I wouldn’t. It’s that young girl on the desk. Rebecca?
Rachel? You know, the little thing with the brown hair. She bullied poor Ida terribly. Ida laid a complaint.’
From my hiding place behind the shelves, I heard the musical
tones of someone settling in for gossip. I slipped back to my place at the
counter and waited for them to approach. I was a queen presiding over the realm
I had shaped, the peasants queueing to beg my favour.
This was just the beginning.
About the author
Tracy is a New Zealander living in Switzerland with a husband, two
teenagers, and a cat who screams curses. She is a literacy teacher and
is currently working on an anthology.