The Library Book Project – 23 August 2013

Obviously, this stamp was the date on which I was meant to return the book by. Don’t worry, I don’t still have it! I returned it a couple of weeks ago, but I was reluctant to hand it over without even trying to let someone know why this particular book was kind of special (to me, at least). So, I wrote a note explaining what I had done, and tucked it inside the plastic cover. ImageThe likelihood is that one of the library workers noticed it when checking it back in, thought, “Who is this crazy person?” and threw it away. But, I like to think that maybe the next person to pick it up will take out the note, read it, and think, “Oh, that’s kind of cool.” And then they will take it home and be part of this exclusive club of people who borrowed this exact book, and who will probably never meet each other.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t actually count how many stamps there were before starting this project. I just thought it didn’t look like a lot, and that it would be over with quite quickly. It turned out to be a bit more work than I imagined, but it was definitely worth it. I really enjoyed thinking about the different kinds of people who might have picked this book up, and what their problems might be.

I guess I did project a lot of my own reasons for going to the library onto the characters. My housemates were/are busy working most of the time, I had just finished NaNoWriMo, my friends from uni are back in their home countries. I still had another two months to go before going back to uni. I felt a bit lonely and purposeless. The library was just somewhere to go, a reason to get out of the house.

I’d really love to know what you thought overall of the project, so please comment, get in touch, something like that. You can find all twenty stories by clicking “The Library Book.” in the Categories list to the left of this page, or alternatively, you can go to the intro page and look through the pingbacks in the comments section.

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The Library Book Project – 12 January 2011

To read more about this project click here.

The clouds lay low and heavy over the skyline, their shades of gray just as grim as the concrete monstrosities that rise above the slate rooftops. If I stare for too long at the horizon, the icy air causes my eyes to tear up. I tell myself that my lethargy is due to the long break, but I don’t recall feeling this tired after my first day back last year. The atmosphere feels so cold, it’s like the air is thicker and harder to walk through. My legs complain and refuse to be forgotten as I get closer to home.

The house is warmer than outside and my fingers begin to itch and swell after a few minutes, even though I wore gloves. The smell of last night’s takeaway flirts with my nostrils, and I would open a window if it wouldn’t let all the warm air out. My first act is to sit on the couch, but resting only seems to accentuate the soreness of my joints. Unfortunately, getting up requires more energy than I am willing to part with.

I tell myself that I am mentally preparing. The fact is, it is only a little after 3 in the afternoon, and there are many things that I am meant to be doing. The kitchen needs a wipe down, the bins need taking out and there is a pile of washing up by the sink. The stale sheets on my bed would be an affront to any proud housekeeper. The laundry pile spills out across dirty carpet. If I manage these things, I will feel better.

I pull myself up and decide to tackle the bedroom first. The washing machine can do its work while I clean the kitchen, but first I need to strip the bed. I try not to think about anything as I do it, making my movements as robotic as possible. I can’t afford to pause or I won’t start again. When taking my pillows off the bed, a book falls onto the floor.

It’s the library book I took out weeks ago. I flick to the front page, dreading what I’m about to see. The book is due to be returned tomorrow. I look at the date stamp, feeling defeated, before placing it on the desk. I know that I will want to traipse to the library tomorrow afternoon even less than I want to today. As inconsiderate as it may be, I’d rather pay the fine.

The Library Book Project – 13 October 2010

To read more about the library book project, click here.

I count the change in my hand, hoping that I miscounted or that an extra pound coin will appear somewhere. The sum of money in my palm does not change. I shift my weight and begin to make decisions. Maybe if I made half? No, I’d still have to buy the same amount of eggs and ground almonds. The macarons will have to wait for another day. I venture down the baking aisle, flicking through the recipe book of my mind.

As tempted as I am to go look at cheap fruit, chocolate is a surefire winner at these family get-togethers. No matter what Nigella says, all I can afford is the supermarket value range, so that is what I pick up. I already have all the other ingredients, so I walk towards the chilled goods section. Philadelphia is on offer, giving me a glimmer of hope, but I am twenty pence short of being able to choose it over the own-brand cream cheese.

Once home, I find the recipe book and lay out the ingredients, relieved that I have everything I need. I love baking. It really is just as simple as following the recipe. If only life worked that way, just get the ingredients and follow the instructions. While you’re at school, they make out that’s the way forwards. A handful of hard work, some education, a splash of initiative, and a couple of good ideas. Mix them together and you’ve got a bowl of success.

It wasn’t until I graduated that I realized I was fresh out of good ideas. A minimum wage cleaning job ensued, one I’m still trenched in, waiting for that golden handshake to pull me up. If it wasn’t for my boyfriend, who got straight into the graduate scheme he wanted, I’d probably be back to living with my parents. He makes it feel okay that I’m a cleaner, he makes me believe this rut really is temporary. My family are the opposite. Why am I in minimum wage work? The idea is abhorrent to them. What am I doing about it?

I didn’t even want to go to my father’s birthday party, but I knew that wanting avoid those questions wasn’t exactly a reasonable excuse. I’m determined to give them something positive to say to me this time. I stare at the brownies in the oven. Even if it’s something small.

The Library Book Project – 22 September 2010

To read more about the library book project, click here.

I sit stiffly in the physiotherapist’s waiting room, trying to be more aware of my posture. Across from me, numerous flyers and leaflets hang limply from the walls. I read them all, despite having read them a dozen times before while waiting for my previous appointments. I would have brought my library book, but I was too busy getting together my physio outfit. I’m past the point of caring that the tracksuit bottoms are hardly flattering, but I draw the line at tops that haven’t been washed since last week.

I hope he doesn’t give me anymore exercises to do. The chart on my bedroom wall is already full of gaps from the odd day where I only had time for one or two routines. I close my eyes and suppress a disgusted sigh when I realize I have forgotten the chart. I can only assume that when physiotherapists are trained, they also teach them how to use this particular tone of voice that is 100% effective at making patients squirm. Mine always deploys it when I say something like, “No, I haven’t found a new bag yet.” or, “I didn’t do my exercises this weekend,” or, “I forgot my chart.”

Not that I’m complaining. The exercises are definitely helping, and I’ve heard horror stories about ignorant physios on the HMS forum. Hypermobility syndrome, I run the term through my head again. I’m used to it now, but when my GP said it, I almost laughed. Hypermobile? I’ve never been able to touch my toes. I was doubtful, but when I did research, and when I visited the rheumatologist, the little problems all began to make sense.

The way my hands would sometimes seize up when writing, the way my joints sometimes hurt inexplicably. I would never have thought to connect them to my shoulders, which popped out and grated with the slightest provocation. The rheumatologist seemed certain I did have this thing, this hypermobility syndrome, and I felt slightly cheered on knowing there was an explanation for these little things that I’d always taken for granted.

The cheer was short lived. The physiotherapist wagged his finger at me on the first appointment. No ice skating or volleyball for you. I had to be more careful,  he shook his head, or I would end up in A&E before you could say “dislocated shoulder.” He lifted my bag and proclaimed it too heavy. I laughed because I’d already half emptied it before coming to the appointment.

My smile faded. I’d always assumed disabilities were about the things you couldn’t do. Where did I fit in with all the shouldn’ts?

The Library Book Project – 5 August 2010

To read more about the library book project, click here.

I’m going on a diet. Right now. Seriously, what is all this? I’m soft and white all over. It’s the crap food I eat all the time. I went to the kebab shop yesterday and they layer all the meat over your fries. They absorb all the leaking fat, leaving you with heavy, greasy carbohydrate that tastes good but feels very bad. They turn to rock overnight in your belly. I press my hand against my stomach and grimace at the mirror.

I pick up my book and head into the bathroom, anticipating that I may be in there for some time. I wonder if it’s kind of gross that I’m taking a borrowed library book to read on the toilet. Nyaah. It’s not like I’m wiping my ass with it. I find myself slightly distracted from the words as the muscles in my gut clench painfully around my intestines.

I breathe and rest my forehead against the pages. After this I’ll go to the supermarket and buy fresh fruit, vegetables and all the other things that are meant to be good for you. I put down Then We Came To The End and wash my hands thoroughly. The towel is missing so I have to wipe my hands on my jeans before picking the book back up.

I’ll go to the supermarket and buy those things. But I’ll just finish this book first…

The Library Book Project – 18 June 2010

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I take the brown bottle out of the paper bag and place it on the kitchen counter. I stare at the label. The paper bag crackles as I scrunch it into a ball, and the noise seems to be obscenely loud. I throw it in the bin, almost angry with the bag for making such a racket. My mouth is dry as I walk back to the counter, where the bottle sits. My expectations aren’t heavy but my desperation is. The brown glass shows my face, contorted like my emotions. I’m not even strong enough to summon self-hatred, just more self-pity that rains down from the clouds of my consciousness, free flowing and plentiful.

I struggle to even open the bottle. After a couple of attempts I laugh at myself. I sound hysterical and wounded. The noise is so pathetic it spurs me on, and eventually the cap gives way and I’m looking at the little white pills. These are not my saviours, I know. But they might help. And at this point I’ll try anything, anything at all. The doctor thought they might work. But they might not. And I wonder if I can wait long enough to find out.

Because I can’t do this. It is now 5 o clock. He will come home in an hour and I will make dinner and then I’ll clean up and then we will watch TV and then we will lay in bed together without touching. I will lay there and think. And think. I will try not to shake as I cry. If I wake him, he’ll be annoyed. Silly woman. Yes, yes, I am a silly woman. Nothing more. The thought makes me want to consume every last tablet in this bottle, so I can escape.

I can’t escape.

I’m trapped behind this face. This face is not depressed. This face calls the children and chirps cheerfully down the phone at them. This face goes to work and natters with the office staff. This face is a regular at the local library.

This face swallows a pill.

31 December 2009/Alastair’s Photo Fiction – The Clean Sheet

Image

Copyright – Alastair Forbes

So, I’m trying to cut down on my workload a little and merge the two things I need to post today. The photo challenge came from Alastair’s Photo Fiction Blog. To read about the library book project, click here:

Kayla tugs me along the embankment, eagerly pointing at the boats. I’m sweating inside my heavy coat, but Kayla darts along the path despite her many wrappings.

“Don’t pull your grandmother like that, Kayla!” My daughter gently reprimands the little girl, whose excitement only fades for a few seconds. Throughout the car ride down to London, she was full of questions. She’ll be exhausted by the end of this weekend away.

“It’s like the pictures we coloured in at the library, grandma!” My granddaughter’s smile is broad and infectious.

I agree with her. I ask her if she’d like to go to the library with me again. She nods enthusiastically.

I look backwards to see my daughter’s face. Her expression is strained and barely covers the years of resentment. I swallow and know that the apology in my eyes is not enough to erase the  murky stains on our past. The clean sheet with my granddaughter is more than I deserve.

The Library Book Project – 23 November 2009

To read more about this project, click here.

Today, this company will lose a major asset. I open the top drawer of my desk, revealing reams of printed paper that are dated between yesterday and and five years ago. No, surely I must have cleaned out this drawer since I first moved into this office? I suppose I always had far better things to do. I was a busy woman, constantly managing and advising the junior staff, who always seem so much more clueless than I was at their ages. They’re not completely incompetent, but they can’t back up their own egotistical bluster.

Amongst the stream of fury, I feel a small amount of relief that I’m not obliged to clear out all these documents. Most of them could probably go in the bin, but I’ve always erred on the side of caution, which is why the second drawer down is equally full. In fact, all four drawers contain nothing but pages which now have no relevance or importance to me. It’s liberating and soul-destroying all at the same time.

At first they wanted me to reduce my hours. That conversation left me with a sour taste in my mouth. It was sickly, sugary lines from a man half my age. Made me almost long for the days when sexism was rampant, but at least the man (it was almost always a man) in charge didn’t bullshit you and pretend that everything was for your own good.

I vowed not to let it set me back. I joined the gym. Even though I can afford books, I frequented the library because I couldn’t think of any more excuses to go outside. I ended up drinking wine on the evenings and watching box sets of my favorite televisions shows. When I retired to bed I’d still be wide awake, wondering what I’d done wrong, and why they wanted less of me rather than more. Hadn’t I proved myself invaluable?

Soon, my colleagues will come into the office and present me with a card and some flowers, congratulating me on my early retirement. None of them will look me in the eye. Tomorrow, I will be the main course on the cafeteria gossip menu.

The Library Book Project – 24 August 2009

For more information about this project, click here.

“Thanks again for doing this for me.” I coo.

“No problem. It’ll only take another couple of minutes.” Brian replies, as he rummages through his toolbox

“Do you want a drink? Juice? Tea?”

“A mug of tea, would be perfect, thanks.”

I shuffle to the kitchen in my slippers, impressed by how clean the place looks. I became bored of the book I was reading, so I gave the place a thorough scrubbing. Before I retired, stacks of dog-eared papers would lie in every corner, and crumbs would moulder between appliciances. I was never a houseproud kind of woman, and Kenneth would roll his eyes if I so much as suggested he do any housework. Kenneth was a good man in many ways, but he certainly had some traditional views about men and women. He wouldn’t be seen dead in a pair of washing up gloves.

Of course, if he were still around, I wouldn’t have to ask Brian to put up the mirror for me. He would have done it in a second. Kenneth took pride in being the ultimate handiman. There was nothing he couldn’t stick, fix or make better. Well. Apart from himself. I pause for a moment before pulling a teabag out of the jar, wondering if I could have said something that would actually have made a difference. No, I decide.

After that first heart attack, I begged and I pleaded. “Let’s go for a walk, get some exercise.” I’d suggest. He’d always grumble, saying that he was watching something on the telly. I tried cutting out red meat, all the things the doctor suggested. He’d get angry, saying he was hungry and he wasn’t going to eat this slop. What was I to do? In the end, it was his body. Those kind of thoughts didn’t make the funeral easier, though.

I walk back to Brian with his mug of tea. The mirror is on the wall, and we stand next to each other and both stare into it. He gazes at my reflection, and I smile like a self-conscious teenager. I loved Kenneth with all my heart, but he had his flaws, bless him. I don’t feel guilty about thinking that and I don’t feel guilty when I have thoughts of Brian. There’s a difference between replacing someone and letting someone else take the empty place they left behind.

The Library Book Project – 16 July 2009

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I give the coloured envelopes on my doorstep an ambivalent stare. I then pick them up, but decide I want to make myself a coffee before opening them. I feel a little more tired as I consider my new age. I sigh as I flick the kettle’s switch and gaze into space as it boils the water. I feel like I ought to be more anxious about my age, and then decide it’s probably a good thing I can’t muster up any strong feelings about it.

Once I have my caffeine hit in place, I carefully tear the envelopes open and pull out the cards inside. There’s a good mixture. Humour from my sister, though not the tasteless kind that’s about tits or beer or both. That kind of card comes from Mark, my closest friend who I haven’t actually seen in months. Then there’s the sentimental card from my parents, telling me what a treasure I am. Those kind of lines were patronizing at ten, let alone at forty odd.

I look at the cards from across the kitchen table, sipping my coffee and hoping I’ll feel more alive in the next ten minutes. How did it get to this point?  It’s my birthday, I have no plans, noone to call, and nothing to do. This is why old people turn crazy, I decide. It’s nothing to do with your brain deteriorating, it’s the loneliness and complete lack of meaningful contact. Gone are the days when phone calls to the family were something I’d guiltily hate. Now they’re the only thing I really get, and I string out the conversations with pointless questions about people I haven’t seen in years nor have any particular interest in.

My sister’s husband, for example, is a solicitor and the dullest person I’ve ever met, yet I quiz my sister on his work, which I don’t even understand. She mumbles on about various contracts, clearly finding the discussion even more mundane than I am. I reluctantly let her go, wishing I knew what to ask that would animate us both. I remember a story from our childhood, but it’s too late; she’s put the phone down.

I set out a plan to celebrate my solitude. I will walk to the university campus and wander around the lake. Then I will go to town, return my library book, and then eat at whatever restaurant I feel like. I’ll buy some booze, cider will do, and return home. That’s when I’ll start drinking, and later on at night, when I’m hungry again, I’ll order the greasiest takeaway on offer.  I’ll scour the internet for the most promising porn film I can find and link it up to my larger TV screen in front room.

I wouldn’t be able to do that, if I wasn’t alone, would I?