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 – 23 February 2013

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It’s funny how some words on a little screen can cause pain like real punches. I have to sit down, winded, and fight the instinct to cry. Yet, I invite these words in, I carry around my phone in my pocket, a little portal through which people can injure me at any time. Of course, only a few weeks ago, it was our connection. The tone it played when it received a message gave me thrills, and I’d leap across my bedroom so I could read the message you’d sent.

In those first few days, the communication was incessant. There were messages from you well into the night, and your words were the first I would read in the morning. You’d continually joke about my clumsiness. That was how we met, after all. When those books spilled to the floor, my face turned crimson with mortification. You were the only one around who didn’t give me a filthy stare. Instead, you smiled sympathetically and waited around for me to check my book out. We started talking, and couldn’t stop, so we exchanged numbers.

After a week or so, I’d be anxiously checking my phone every half an hour to see if you’d responded to my texts. Your responses were slow, half-hearted, sluggish and with none of your previous wit, like you weren’t paying attention anymore. I wondered what I’d done wrong, and fought the desire to text you back straight away when you did eventually send me something, ashamed of my eagerness.

You added me on Facebook at one point, and my heart rose, thinking this was a sign your interest in me was picking up again. There were a few good conversations, and you suggested we meet up. I laughed at myself then, about how worried I’d been about some stupid text messages. I remember how I felt when you kissed me. I smiled for the entire afternoon, and I really thought this would last.

I was surprised, hurt, and maybe a little angry when you didn’t reply to any of my messages after that. I couldn’t figure out what you wanted. If you weren’t interested then you shouldn’t pretend that you are. I told myself that was it, that it was the end of our small whatever-it-was, emphasis on the word small. I was a person, I had a life, and you didn’t just mess someone around like that.

It didn’t prepare me for when I was browsing Facebook on my phone, and I saw that you were in a relationship with someone else. Hurt, confusion and depression weigh me down as I walk back to the library. I post the borrowed book through the return point. I do it hurriedly, because it upsets me to think that the book has been in my life for longer than you.

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 – 26 August 2010

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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 – 18 June 2010

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

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 – 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.