It’s hard to describe this hushed atmosphere of expectation. Some libraries sulk at night or resent intrusion into their reflective silence: this one is different.
Being empty and deep into the night it’s quite dark other than light from the street invading through tall arched windows. Passing vehicles race light and fleeting shadows of books across shelves, blazing on spines, making each illuminated title vehement, urgent.
There’s a peace and a charm pervading the still air. I’ll take you to the source. I’m invisible, so too are you, dear listener. We must be: only the invisible can witness this.
Follow me between the poetry and travel biography shelves. We must enter the children’s section. Look at the dais. The plaque is there but not the bust. It’s a mystery.
Within the circle of shelves there are chairs and bean bags for children, the bright colours muted now. A primary school has made a model of the Jabberwocky, always a good choice because you don’t have to purchase particular materials – just use whatever’s left over from other projects. In this case, peacock feathers and cardboard rolls.
The tense anticipation is right here. No, not emanating from the book open on a low table but from two children sitting hand-in-hand, side-by-side. They’re four maybe five years old. She’s stroking the faux fur covering her seat. The boy swings his legs until he bumps the chair and gives them both a fright. They giggle.
From among the shelves of infants’ books comes a woman, tall and thin, wearing a long dress. In the shadows it’s impossible to judge her age or whether her hair is fair or grey. Another mystery for you.
“Hello, children, Emily the story teller is back!” Her voice is perfect, low, suppressed excitement … a promise.
She kneels before them and studies the open book. “Ah! What a lovely picture. But where are the figures? They’ve gone! I wonder … I wonder. You don’t think they’ve snuck away do you? naughty, naughty people.”
The children giggle again, the girl rubbing the toes of her shoes together.
Emily goes on, “I think a monster may be after them. People who sneak out of pictures almost always get chased by monsters. Sometimes it’s the wobbly jelly whose eyes float around and creep up…” She claps her hands, and gasps. “Don’t look behind you!”
The girl squeaks and ducks her head, eyes firmly closed. The boy covers his face. Emily rises, pulls feathers from the jabberwocky and tucks them into the belt of her dress. Walking behind the children she says, “It’s all right. Don’t worry, the wobbler can’t frighten me.” She sucks a breath through her teeth. “I wonder … could the bristly spiders who creep up on girls and boys be the monsters tonight? Look over there.” Kneeling behind the children she puts her head between theirs. Pointing deep into darkness she says, “They … the biggest, hairiest, ghastliest spiders ever … come from the shelves of hysterical romance. The spiders lurk during the day, and their favourite secret places are shiny embossed covers.” She stares. “I can’t see anything moving, can you? Look hard!”
The children’s eyes are as big as can be without springing from their faces. Emily’s voice drops to a whisper, “Maybe they’re out already and creeping, creeping, creeping upside-down on the ceiling ready to drop…” She patters fingertips on the children’s heads. Screams rip through the library – piercing enough to wake up even the books in the philosophy section.
The girl and boy hug each other.
“It’s all right, children. I’ve looked and there are no spiders on the ceiling. Hmm, I wonder if they are on the floor…” Under the chairs she flicks feathers across the children’s calves.
The girl shrieks, leaps up and stands on her chair, the boy dives for a beanbag and hides under it.
Emily chuckles and waves the feathers. “Oops. Did I tickle you too much?”
“That was mean!” splutters the girl. “I need to go to the toilet.”
“Give me your hands and we’ll all go.”
They wander away and return after weaving tales between every shelf and computer desk. Emily sculpts stories into the air, the children adding questions, gasps and laughter. As they enter the circle, holding hands and deep in a conversation, Emily says to the boy, “Oh, that poster … I see… That was a very good try but it’s not usually called ‘skiffy’ and not about skiffs. But yes, I suppose it’s about boats of a sort, ships, but they sail among stars. The picture is of a spaceship. My-my. I’m impressed with your reading, I really am!” The girl keeps looking back and tugs Emily’s arm until she leans down to get a whispered message in her ear. Emily nods. “Yes, they do look like big windows. In a way they are because you can see right through to the street.” She kneels between the children and releases their hands. “But they are doors.” Placing her palms side-by-side she mimes doors sliding apart. “When they open to let someone in they say ‘Shh…’.”
“Like a librarian?”
Emily nods, “Exactly. But the doors say it these days. It’s called technological advance.” She lifts the open book.
The girl asks, “Do we have to go home now?”
Before Emily can answer, the boy says, “But we can come back soon!”
“Yes to both of you. Hop back into your picture now.” Emily closes and hugs the book. She walks to a shelf and slides it into a gap.
Don’t go yet, dear listener! It’s not quite over. Wait until she goes out.
Emily leaves the children’s story area and is lost in darkness.
Now follow me. See? The bust is back on the dais. In case you can’t see the plaque clearly in this light, I’ll tell you what it says. Oh, wait, there’s a car’s headlights coming to light it up.
©Gary Bonn 2017