The noise was unbearable, as always.
"I’m awake already," Jeremy groaned at his phone as he reached out to silence its alarm, instantly feeling tired now that the wait was over.
He lay in bed willing himself to get up. "Come on," he said to himself. "I need to go to work." He continued to lie there. Jeremy reached over to his bedside table and switched on the light in the vain hope that this would encourage him to get up, or at least stop him from falling back to sleep.
"It’s always the same, every day. What is holding me back? Why am I fighting this hard just to get out of bed?" Jeremy tried to sit up but couldn’t muster the enthusiasm. Dreading god knows what, he pulled the duvet back over his face and lay in quiet contemplation. "One day, I won’t hate myself so much," he thought. "One day, getting out of bed will seem like a good idea."
He let the feeling of dread subside. "What a waste of time." Jeremy’s feet hit the floor as he swivelled himself into a sitting position. Standing up, he grabbed his dressing gown and put it around himself. "I hate winter, always too cold." He marched himself to the kitchen and fixed some breakfast.
Sitting down at the table in the front room Jeremy started to read a magazine as he consumed his breakfast. "I don’t know why I bother with these science magazines," he thought. "It doesn’t stick in my head, and it’s not like I have people to chat with about these things. I should probably give in and buy something more vapid."
"No," he said to himself, the feeling of dread returning. "Stop reading. I need to wash and get to work." He got to the end of the next article and got up and went to the bathroom.
The shower’s water fell warmly across his shoulders. It felt comforting. Jeremy sang to himself as he washed his body. When he was done, he struggled to give up the warmth and step out into the coldness of the bathroom. Eventually he got out and wrapped himself in his towel, cracking open the window to let the steam clear.
Still wrapped in his towel, Jeremy paced around his flat trying to convince himself to get dressed. He put his lunch in his bag and organised his clothes. Eventually he’d distracted himself enough to get dressed. "OK," he said quietly. "All that’s left is putting on my shoes and I can leave." He stood staring at his shoe rack for what seemed like forever and willed himself to pick up his shoes. Finally, hardening himself to the task, he left the flat and descended to the carpark.
The cold air hit his face and Jeremy found himself confronted with a frosted windscreen. "Goddamn stupid weather!" he cursed. He got in the car and started the engine, hoping to speed the melting process. He searched the clutter on the passenger seat, looking for the deicer.
After a good half an hour scraping and spraying at the ice on the windscreen, Jeremy got back into the car. "I’m so late. This does not bode well." He pulled out of the car park and set off towards the next town.
"Jesus fucking christ!" Jeremy yelled, slamming on his breaks, as another driver proceeded to pull in and break hard in front of him. "Why can’t these people learn to drive?" Jeremy could feel his blood pressure start to spike. He took a few deep breaths. The traffic began to clear, and it became apparent that there was an accident in the right lane of the dual carriageway. "Bloody rubberneckers. They’ll cause another accident if they’re not careful." Jeremy tried not to stare as he drove by.
"And now for the travel," piped up the radio. Jeremy started, not expecting the interruption.
"Yes, yes. I’ve just driven past the bloody thing." He said, as the radio reported the accident. The radio shut itself off as the travel news ended. "Oh come on!" The car ahead hadn’t seen the lights change. Jeremy gave his horn a little toot and the car in front stalled. Jeremy sighed. "It’s never easy."
Twenty minutes later Jeremy saw the familiar sight of his library ahead. A squat, wide building, one floor high. The 1970’s civil service architecture offended from every angle. Unpleasant as it was to look at, what really mattered was its contents. That resonated with Jeremy. He dearly loved the books. The DVDs he could take or leave. His opinion was that branching out from books as a source of income was all well and good, but it shouldn’t draw people away from the main attraction.
He pulled into the staff carpark and switched off the engine. He took a few deep breaths as he calmed down from the drive. The door clicked open and Jeremy stepped back into the winter cold. He rushed over to and through the front doors. The warmth enveloped him like a thick heated blanket. "I do love central heating. Glad it’s not my bill, though." Jeremy surveyed the library. "Like the calm before the storm," he mused. Not that the library was ever unmanageably busy, but Jeremy loved the quiet of the morning. It gave him time to inspect the collection before settling down to the business of running the library.
He stalked the aisles, going from shelf to shelf, admiring the vastness of the collection. It paled, he knew, in comparison to any city library, but none-the-less it felt as though he could feel the knowledge seeping into him as he walked by. Every fictional story, every recounting of a life, all the facts and explanations, slowly filling him up, making him whole. Nonsense, he knew. That’s not how learning worked, but he had read so many books, voraciously devoured them, that it might as well be true. He sniffed in the air and let the silence calm him.
The entry bell went. "Hiya, Jer!" a friendly voice called from the front of the library.
"Hello, Fi," Jeremy called back. He made his way back to the front, to greet his colleague. They smiled as their eyes met. "How are you today?"
"Oh, yeah, not bad. Yourself?"
"It’s a bit cold out for my liking, but otherwise fine."
"Are the books behaving this morning?"
Jeremy smiled thinly. "Yes, the books are exactly where we left them. I wonder if they could fly: would that make our jobs easier or harder?"
"Oh! Then we could be like book wranglers. I wonder which books would be most wayward?"
"Hmm, possibly the kids books, or maybe the raunchy romance novels."
Fiona laughed. "Best get to it, I suppose. Is there much to do?"
"Just two trolleys." Jeremy and Fiona walked over to the book trolleys, the books evenly distributed between the two, with the books sorted by category.
"Nicely done, Mr. McAllister." Fiona cast an approving eye over the books.
"Thank you, Miss Jones. I’m getting good at wrangling." He nodded at her.
"Right!" announced Fiona as she took a trolley and went on her way. Jeremy did the same.
Jeremy’s sense of dread had somewhat subsided. He found stacking the shelves somewhat calming. Every book had space in a particular place, and the system could tell you exectly where it should go, or where to find it.
Jeremy could hear Fiona humming to herself over the other side of the library. She was imagining life as a book wrangler in the wild west as she slotted the books home. She smiled as she imagined riding a horse though the library. "Oh! And how would people keep control of the books in order to read them?" she chuckled to herself. "Maybe there would be a special way to stroke them, to keep them calm." She gently ran her hand down the spine of one of the books.
Jeremy finished his task like clockwork, so he went to the computer pod and started powering the systems up. Fiona headed over to the main desk and looked at the tasks for day.
"Oh no!" Jeremy heard the exclamation from across the room. He wandered back to the desk to take a look.
"What’s up, Fi?"
"Oh nothing really. We’ve just got to do a stock take tonight. Such a drag."
"Tch," shrugged Jeremy. "Not much to do about it. We’ll make quick work of it if we work together." Jeremy scanned the task list. "Do you want to do the children’s hour this afternoon?" He mentally crossed his fingers.
"Yeah, alright. I’ll look after the little blighters," Fiona grinned.
Jeremy heaved a sigh of relieve. "Thanks, Fi. you’re a life saver."
They divided up the rest of the tasks and Jeremy put a brew on. The entry bell went.
"Morning boss," piped Fiona, from the front desk. "One more for tea, Jer," She called back.
"Good morning, Fiona," Carol greeted her. "No problems, I trust."
"All ship shape in here." She saluted.
Jeremy walked out with a tray of teas. "Morning, Carol," he greeted his boss. She took a mug of tea. Jeremy handed one to Fiona.
"Thanks, Jer," she smiled.
"You’ve got a bit of a worried look on your face, Carol. Is everything alright?" Jeremy enquired.
Carol looked up from her tea. "Hmm? Oh, nothing important. My mind was just wandering." She walked off to her office and sat down.
"I wonder what could be on boss lady’s mind," said Fiona. "Her mind is usually all business."
"I’m sure we’ll find out in due course if it’s important." He went to the front doors and declared the library open for business.
Jeremy resumed his position at the front desk, beside Fiona. The morning went by slowly. People came and went, books were checked out and returned.
"I’m sorry sir," Jeremy said. He hated this bit of the job, confrontation was his worst nightmare. "We can’t let you check out any more books while you have an outstanding fine."
"Now listen here! I pay my council tax, just like everyone else. I demand to check out this book!" Jeremy hated it when they tried to argue. Other patrons were beginning to stare. The man noticed he had an audience. "Look at this, would you!" He beckoned to the would be crowd. "Denying us our books. The cheek of it!"
"I’m sorry sir. Our policy, which you signed up to when you joined the library, states that you cannot take out another book when you have a fine. The book you have a fine on is overdue by six weeks."
"What? What book?"
"It says on our system right here, you have a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus. That’s quite unusual, as we don’t normally lend reference works like that. Your current fine is one pound twenty. If you bring back the book and pay the fine then you can start borrowing books again."
"This is preposterous. I have never checked out that book. I demand to speak to your manager."
Jeremy sighed. "Fine sir, please wait here." He walked over to Carol’s office. "Hi, Carol. Sorry to interrupt."
Carol looked up from her screen. "Hi, Jeremy. What’s the problem?"
"We’ve got a customer with an outstanding loan and fine. He says he’s not even checked out the book."
"Oh dear. Can you bring him in here, please?"
Jeremy looked puzzled for a moment. "Uh, OK. Sure, I’ll bring him right over." He walked back over to the front desk and led the man to Carol’s office.
"I’ll take care of this, Jeremy. You can go back to the desk."
"OK," Jeremy complied, confused but glad not to have to deal with the gentleman any more. Carol shut the door behind him as he wandered back to his station.
"Everything alright, Jer?" asked Fiona.
"Yeah, I’ve just never seen Carol handle a mardy customer like this before."
A few minutes passed and then Jeremy saw the customer being walked to the exit by Carol. He looked over to catch her eye on her way back, but she seemed to have tunnel vision.
"I just don’t get what’s going on."
"Like you said, Jer. If it’s important, Carol will tell us. I’m sure it’s nothing. Don’t worry so much."
"Easy for you to say!" Jeremy walked over to Carol’s office.
"Carol, is everything alright with that customer?"
"Hello, Jeremy. Oh, yes. Nothing to worry about. It seemed like he wanted to cause a scene, so I took him into the office to keep him from disturbing the other patrons. Some people just want to be made to feel special, you know how it is."
"OK, thanks for helping out."
"No problem," Carol smiled back.
Jeremy took a book trolley and started sorting books to calm his nerves. When a customer walked over to ask him a question, he nearly jumped out of his skin. Fiona noticed his state and took him a cup of tea.
"Here you go," she offered.
"Thanks a million. I just can’t seem to keep it together after that guy." He sipped on the tea.
"It’s fine. He’s gone. You didn’t do anything wrong."
"Yeah, thanks." He smiled at her. "You know how I get, I’m a bundle of nerves."
"No problem. Time for me to read to the little monsters!" Fiona walked of towards children’s section.
"Good luck," he called after her.
Jeremy went back to man the desk while Fiona was indisposed. Her story time was very popular with the locals. She could really bring a tale to life. He could hear her doing voices and sound effects. The thought made him smile.
"Looking forward to the stock take tonight?" Carol asked as she wandered over.
Jeremy broke from his reverie. "Oh, well, looking forward might be an over statement. It’ll keep me occupied, though. I think Fiona would rather be somewhere else."
"It’s boring, I know, but it’s got to be done."
"I’ll be here, too, so don’t think I’m going to be getting away with it!"
Jeremy slouched back in his chair. "So do you think it would be easier if the books could fly?"
Carol gave him a puzzled look. "I think Fiona’s getting to you."
"Much better," said Carol. "Just forget about that guy from earlier. There’s really nothing to worry about."
Jeremy managed a weak smile. "Yeah. Confrontational customers get under my skin. I should really just let it go."
Carol nodded and headed back to her office.
Jeremy spent most of the rest of the day idling at the desk or restacking the books. By the end of the day the aberrant customer was a distant memory and the three of them were preparing for the arduous task of taking stock of the items in the library. Carol had prepared dustbin liners for things to be thrown out. She saw the stock take as a good time to do some spring cleaning, even in the middle of winter.
"Jeremy has kindly sorted out an organisation chart that should speed things along and make sure we cover the most amount of stock in the shortest amount of time. Thank you, Jeremy."
"Suck up," taunted Fiona.
"You’ll thank me later."
"Lets get to it. The sooner we’re done, the sooner we can go home."
The three of them set about the library like busy little bees, cataloguing all the items, one by one, making sure that books that were on loan were still out and that book not on loan were not missing. The intermittent beep of their scanners gave the impression of little electronic birds defending their territories.
Outside the library there was a noise as if someone had climbed over the fence and fallen in to the bins in the staff car park.
"Wait here, you two," said Carol. "I’m going to check this out."
"I should come too, don’t you think? Safety in numbers," ventured Jeremy.
"No, no. Stay here and carry on taking stock. It’s probably just a fox. I call if I need help." Carol left the other two to keep at it.
"I don’t know," said Jeremy, a moment or two later. "I think I should go out just in case. The thought of her by herself makes me worry."
"OK, but I think she’ll be alright. I mean, who’s going to rob a library?"
Jeremy walked out into the car park and around the side of the building. As he got to the corner he heard what sounded like a violent struggle. He ran around to see Carol knocking two men against the fence. He stood stock still, not sure what to make of what he’d seen. Carol turned around and saw Jeremy.
"I told you to stay inside."
"I... I’m sorry. I wanted to make sure you were OK." Jeremy looked at both men, groaning on the floor.
"Well, get back inside. You can see I’ve got things under control."
Jeremy, unsure what else to do, turned around and walked back inside.
At the sound of the entry bell Fiona looked up. "Everything alright?"
"Uh, yeah. I guess." Confusion roamed across Jeremy’s face. "Did you know Carol is a some kind of black belt?"
"What do you mean?"
"I just saw her knock out two guys without breaking a sweat."
"Cool. I wonder if she can teach me!"
Not really knowing what else to do, Jeremy got on with the stock take. A few minutes later Carol walked back in.
"Is everything alright in here? Nobody else tried to steal books?"
Jeremy was as quiet as a mouse.
"Nope, everything’s been fine in here," piped up Fiona. "Were they after any books in particular, or were they going to steal books at random?"
"No idea. Probably just students larking about," she replied.
Finally Jeremy got his voice back. "How long have you been a martial artist, Carol?"
"Oh, quite sometime. Comes in handy when I’m trying to keep my place in the queue at the bus stop."
"Don’t you think it would have been better to have called the police? I mean, what if they’d been armed?"
"Oh no, no need to bother the police over something so trivial. Like I say, it was just a couple of rabble rousers up to no good. They won’t be back tonight. Right, lets get back to it. We’ve got a lot still to get through."
The three of them got back to work and the digital aviary reëmerged. Time passed and it seemed like the antics behind the library hadn’t even taken place. After a few hours the three of them were sat around the table enjoying a well earned cup of tea.
"Thank you two for your hard work this evening. I know it hasn’t been the most exciting work."
Jeremy felt like she was misremembering the night’s events. He was sure it had been much more exciting than any stock take had a right to be.
"I suggest we all go home and get a good night’s rest," said Carol, draining her cup and standing up. "You two go ahead. I’ll shut up here."
Fiona and Jeremy started to make their way out. Just as Jeremy was about to go out the door Carol called him back. He felt a shiver down his spine as he turned back towards her office.
"Is this about what happened in the car park earlier?"
"What?" Carol seemed surprised. "Oh, that was nothing. Just forget about that. I need you to do a favour for me. I’d ask Fiona, but I have another task for her which requires she stay here."
"Oh, OK, what is it?"
"Well, you know the gentleman who caused the rucus this morning?"
"Well, he said he’d return the book on the condition that someone come and pick it up. Apparently it’s a bit of a heavy one, and he can’t carry it in himself. He’s been too embarrassed to ask us for help. I’ve said I’d see what I can do."
"You want me to visit a customer’s house, to get a book?"
"Yes, we really could do with it back."
"This day just keeps getting stranger," he thought. "Sure, no problem. What’s his address." Carol passed it to him.
"It’s a bit out of town, so you can take the rest of the day off once you’ve delivered the book back here."
"Thank you. See you tomorrow." Carol smiled at him.
"Yeah, see you tomorrow." Jeremy exited the office feeling more puzzled than when he went in. "Maybe a good night’s sleep will sort me out. Fat chance of that, though," he thought on his way to his car.