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 – 26 August 2010

To read more about this project, click here.

Hannah reclines on the sofa, one hand holding the TV remote, the other diving into a packet of crisps. She gives me smug grin.

“Hope you guys have fun!”

I mumble something before backing out of the lounge door and greeting our three children, who are supposed to be putting on their shoes. Ben and Tom are too busy shoving each other to dig their footwear out of the jumble by the door.  Kaitlyn, the oldest, sucks in her cheeks and directs a baleful look at me with her brown eyes.

“Can’t I stay behind with Mum?” she pleads.

“No.” I say, firmly. “We’re going to the museum, just me, you and your brothers. And then, if you’re all good,” I raise my voice slightly so the boys can hear me, “We’ll get some ice cream or something, how does that sound?”

“Yeah! Ice cream!” the boys chant together, distracted momentarily from their tussle. Kaitlyn’s demeanor brightens.

“But only if you get your shoes on right now, no fuss!”

Ten minutes later we’re walking up the hill, and I’m feeling more sympathetic towards my wife with every step. She works from home, but the last few summers I’ve managed to get time off to help her out during the school holidays. This year, things were harder, and so I can only take the kids off her hands on the weekends.

On the way through the town centre, I drop off my library book, and then we head towards the museum. Hannah was doubtful that the kids would particularly enjoy a contemporary art exhibit, but I insisted it was never too early to start exposing our children to modern art. I showed her the exhibit online. It was a collection of photographs by Diane Arbus. Hannah made a face, which caused me to be all the more determined.

It’s not until I stand in the museum’s entrance, the sound of my rowdy children the only audible noise, that I begin to wonder if this is a good idea…

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 – 27 July 2009

To read more about the project, click here.

I try not to look across the crowded hall. Many of them will be sitting and eating, but some will be staring up at the top table, hoping to get a glimpse of the happy couple. Until I woke up this morning, I was under the impression that I’d float through today on a cloud of love and bliss. I expected to transcend above everything but the thoughts of my new husband, and how happy we’d be. In truth, there are moments I’m slightly bogged down with anxiety. I worry about the food, what people think of my dress, all the photos. The list of things that can go wrong is endless.

I feel this absolute joy when I look at him, knowing we’ve made this pact to stick together for the rest of our lives. I was nervous this morning. It wasn’t about marrying him, I knew that was the best decision I could ever have made. When he bent down on one knee all those months ago, I felt like my stomach was being vacuumed out of my torso. “Yes!” didn’t feel like a good enough answer. It didn’t convey that I was past wanting him. I knew that without him, my life would feel so empty.

The nerves were more about the fact everybody would be watching me, all day. This is the person who broke down with stage fright as a little girl during her school nativity. I was playing the role of a sheep. It was a non-speaking part. Walking up the aisle this morning was terrifying, and only the prospect of being next to John calmed me enough to get me through the wall of stares.

To my left, Kathy sips her drink. I smile at her, and she smiles back. It doesn’t comfort me after overhearing her conversation a couple of nights ago. Me, John, Kathy and Greg, (John’s best man,) were sat in our front room, preparing the centrepieces. We finally finished, and got stuck into some bottles of white wine we had in the fridge. John was on a night shift, so he turned down the wine and left for work. I went to the kitchen to collect the library book I’d asked Kathy to return for me while I was on my honeymoon. When I returned, I could hear Kathy talking through the door.

  “So, I feel like I’m the only one now. It’s so crazy, just a bit of paper really, but it makes such a difference… You do feel like you’re suddenly less important.” I heard Greg mumble something in reply. “Of course I’m happy for her. Overjoyed, she deserves him. They’re great together. But I’m allowed to feel a little sorry for myself, aren’t I? I mean, it’s the 21st Century, I’m 27, and yet I feel like Bridget Jones. Seriously,  I thought society was past this, but I feel totally invisible.”

I quitely tiptoed up the stairs, then loudly bounced down them to make my prescence known. When I came through the door, both Greg and Kathy were giving me false grins.

I turn back to John and he notices my expression.

“Is everything okay?” he asks. I reply that everything is fine and tell him I’m terrified of something getting spilt on my dress. He laughs, and I take a moment to silently adore him. This is our day. Noone else matters. But, I think of Kathy and wonder if it’s that kind of attitude she’s unhappy about.

The Library Book Project – 22 June 2009

For more information about this project, click here.

I give the driver a big smile as I step onto the bus. After all, it costs nothing, and it must make a change from all the other stony faced, sleepy eyed commuters. To my relief, the bus isn’t quite full yet. I spy a dishevelled Metro on the nearest empty seat, and so I pick it up, hoping that my good fortune will continue for the rest of the day. I settle in my seat, trying to keep a good distance between myself and my neighbour.

I straighten out the grey sheets of the newspaper before flicking past articles about swine flu and the local elections. I go straight to the horoscopes.

Pisces:

You may lately have been feeling discouraged in a certain endeavor. Don’t give up! Today, a friend or colleague will shed some light on the situation, and you’ll have all the tools you need to reach your goal. However, don’t forget your other commitments.

It’s not that I believe in horoscopes, I just enjoy reading them. The reason people think they’re a real thing is because once they’re told a certain thing will happen, they look for it. Most horoscopes are pretty positive, nobody would read them if they were constantly predicting miserable days, so what’s wrong with trying to discern the good things that happen on a day to day basis? Today, I’ll look out for people helping me with my goal. Whatever my goal is.

When the bus nears my stop, I shove the paper into my handbag, crushing it against my library book. I thank the driver before stepping onto the pavement. I feel that this moment is where my day really begins.

The Library Book Project – 9 April 2008

For more information on this project, click here.

They say that you can better tell someone’s age by their hands than by their face. As I chop these salad vegetables, I feel a renewed love for my fingers and palms, despite their bulging veins and arthritic swell. I’ve settled into a new rhythm with my body over the past few days. I can live with the imperfections and the aches, all the sags and wrinkles which would have horrified my younger self. It’s my body, and it’s pure.

What I couldn’t live with was all the poisons. Not just those cancerous cells in my breast, but the chemotherapy, the radiotherapy and the surgical drugs as well. I felt so invaded. I knew the doctors were only trying to treat me, but it felt like they were part of the assault. The night after the mastectomy was the worst. I couldn’t bear to look at myself, I couldn’t bear to be myself. I broke down to Richard. “What did I do to deserve this?” I cried. Richard put his arms around me and told me that I was still the most beautiful woman he knew.

Being given the all-clear was the sweetest victory I’ve ever tasted. I fought for this body, how could I not love it? Richard’s been very protective, a little too protective perhaps, so the trip to the library yesterday was the first solitary, unnecessary excursion I’ve had in a while. I watched Richard and Judy almost every morning during my recovery, so I picked out some of the books they endorsed, as I’d meant to for such a long time.

I haven’t started reading yet, I’ve been too busy. Some family and friends are coming over tonight, to celebrate my recovery. I smile. It’s going to be a good party.