6: Induction

Garry stares at the door. The frosted glass window is coated in a film of yellow grime. It looks like it has never been cleaned. He doesn’t want to get any closer to it. The woman in dungarees has gone back down in the lift. He feels scared. He doesn’t like being alone in this corridor. He wishes she had stayed and accompanied him into The Office, introduced him. He knows he will have to move soon. He can’t stay in the corridor all day. So he slowly walks towards the door.

Garry imagines spores launching themselves onto him from the grime. He holds his breath, anxious not to let them get inside his lungs. Pulling his sleeve over his knuckles, he knocks on the door, hoping the rattle doesn’t dislodge anything. From inside the room, he hears a dull thump thump. He waits a few more moments before knocking again. He hears the thump thump again, and then a voice calls out Enter.

Still with his sleeve over his hand, he turns the knob and pushes on the door. It opens into a room bright with sunlight. Garry has to shield his eyes as he walks towards the desk. He can’t make out the occupant of the chair, all he sees is a silhouette framed by blinding white light.

Thump thump.

Thump thump.

Thump thump.

I’m here for the Induction, Garry says.

Thump thump.

The hand is moving. A whole arm is moving. It dissects the window in a perfect line. And then thump thump. A ball bounces into the hand. It is a tiny ball. It is all the colours of Planet Earth, but with more green than blue. Thump thump.

Pick a number between 0 and 999, the person in the chair says.

Thump thump.


A-ha! Death customs! Another!


Diseases. Another!


Existence. Very good. Now leave, there is much work to do.

5: Night Eyes

Rosalyn lives in the basement. She's almost certain that kind of thing isn't allowed. But it's been a long time since she's thought about that. It's been a long time since she's thought about her other life. Before. She thinks it's because she lives in the dark. She knows it has affected her skin. Probably her eyes too. She used to struggle with seeing in the dark. She considered buying a helmet with a fitted torch. But after a while, she got better. It's all all right now. Everything is. Everything is all right. It's fine.

The basement is a nice place to be. There are electric lights, but she prefers to leave them off. The red and green LEDs from her machines and the glow from the 'observation monitors' is more than enough illumination for her.

Rosalyn is Night Staff. The only person who knows she exists is The Boss. Sometimes, when she is watching the borrowers come and go and counting the beeps on the People Counter Console, she thinks that if she died down here she'd rest on the concrete floor, either dissolving into dust, or becoming a kind of moss for flowers to grow in. She likes that idea. The moss and the flowers. No-one knowing. A kind of secret garden, just below their feet. They'd never know. She's the only one that doesn't get a box of Turkish Delight at Christmas. She likes secrets. She likes the idea of becoming a secret.

No-one would ever know. Not until the bins needed emptying, that is.

Bins. What curious things these people throw away! What strange objects end up in Lost Property! What unexpected surprises and treats. She has quite a collection now.

Rosalyn goes over to the first rack of shelves and starts taking out objects, holding them in her hands and smelling them. Each one is a memory. Each one has a story attached to it.

1. One pair of red leather gloves.
2. Postcard to 'everyone' from Malta, from Bob.
3. Toe-nail clippers.
4. A lemon.
5. A toy penguin riding a plastic skateboard.
6. Cactus seeds in a brown envelope.
7. Spare keys.
8. A green hair ribbon.

4: Restricted Items

Linda is shaking Garry's hand. It's a nice hand, a kind of soft and clammy but certainly very clean hand. She shakes for a bit longer and gives it a squeeze and strokes the back of it with her thumb. She wants to hug Garry because he is new and he is holding a roll of cling film and the poor little bugger looks like he's expecting someone to come and eat him right up any minute now.

Now Garry you must be nervous but don't be. As soon as we get your locker sorted out we are going to go and put that nasty little tube of cling film right inside and lock it up until lunchtime! Oh yes we are! And then I will take you Upstairs for your induction and I can see that the first that we need to address is the list of Items That Are Restricted On the Library Front Desks and Public Service Areas For Health and Safety Reasons and Due To The Imminent Terrorist Threat! That all right by you! Good! Lets get you upstairs then, shall we! Chop! Chop!

Linda takes the cling film out of Garry's hand. It feels like the poor little thing is trying to hold on to it, but it slides out right enough and she taps it on her palm like it is a baseball bat. Garry flinches, so she stops tapping and puts it into a pocket in the front of her dungarees. The pocket isn't big enough and the top of the roll pokes into her tummy now and again as she strides across the library.

She takes Garry through a back room. The one from Ref is hanging about in there again. And that means the Enquiry Desk has been left unmanned. Linda thinks two thoughts at the same time. She thinks 1) she will have to report the desk being unmanned but that would mean Going Into The Office. 2) is 'unmanned' a sexist thing to say for a representative of the elected members? She waits for him (poor little sod) to catch up and she pushes the button to call a service lift.

There is one other thing to remember! Other than Restricted Items! Everything Else You Can Pick Up As You Go Along! So first, or second, after Restricted Items, is never, ever push the button for the basement! You don't want the lift to go into the basement! The cellar! The storage area! It is dangerous down there and only personnel with the Working At Depths certificate are allowed to make Ingress into the Basement Working Area! Nothing to worry about!

What's down there? Garry asks. Linda doesn't hear him at first. She puts her head on one side as if she is a bird and asks him to speak up. He does.

Oh, well, she says, nobody really knows. Old books. Records. Archives. Special collections, I expect. If you're really curious, you should ask Bob. He might know.

Linda feels a hiccup coming on. She swallows hard, and bangs her chest.

The lift is very slow to move. Eventually it starts. Garry sways slightly. Linda smiles at him. She thinks about polishing the leaves of the rubber plants in the children's library. She thinks about The Library Lion. She thinks about crepe paper and gin and burnt sienna Crayola crayons. After a little while the lift stops and the doors slide open with a wooshing noise that sounds like disappointment. She thinks about gin again and steps out of the lift.

They are near The Office.

Here we are, she whispers. I think I'll leave you here. It's that door at the end. Good Luck.

3: Barcodes

John’s head is full of information. He sees himself as a living, breathing book with an infinite number of pages. He sits at the Enquiry Desk and wills people to press him for specific facts. He is sure he has them all stored and filed away somewhere inside his brain. He longs to be useful, to fill voids in other people’s knowledge.

He wishes Katerina had a void that he might fill. She has spoken to him only a handful of times, and the only “knowledge” she wanted to elicit were his name, job description and length of time served in post. He wants her to give him the chance to impress with some little known fact, some almost-secret she never dreamed she would become party to. But she sits in the back with the barcodes and all the new books and barely notices him at all.

He has some information about barcodes. He has one of those Did You Know speeches planned in his head. He has been practising it. He has visualized the exact way he will casually walk past her desk and pretend to only just notice the barcode sheets, even though they have been on her desk in one place or another since she began working there. He has practised his pitch, making sure he can maintain some deepness in his voice when he speaks. He doesn’t want to squeak again. He is sick of squeaking when he talks to Katerina.

John stands. He takes a deep breath. It will take him exactly fourteen seconds to get within barcode-viewing distance of Katerina’s desk. He has measured this distance seven times. He is satisfied with his calculations. He takes another breath, nods to himself, and begins his journey.

He starts to panic as he approaches her. She is wearing the green dress. Any other dress but the green one, and he might’ve been fine. He can see the nape of her neck, soft and exposed. He tries to think BarcodesBarcodesBarcodes, and as he gets to her desk, he stops and focuses on the barcode sheet she has in her hands. He opens his mouth. Nothing comes out. Not even a squeak this time.

Katerina stares up at him. He tells himself to think fast. He remembers the barcodes, he remembers the weeks of practise.

Barcodes, he says.


DidyouknowthatthefirstproducttohaveabarcodewasWrigleys chewinggum?

No, I did not know that, Katerina says, and then turns away from him and sticks the barcode she is holding into the front of a book about horses.

2: Face Fascists

Katerina is in one of the back rooms of the library. She can hear the rustle of newspapers and the beep of the issue machines from the front part of the library, where the books and people and issue desks are, but she can't see them.

And they can't see her. Which is the point.

Katerina applied for a job on the front desk. She bought a new dress for the interview. She bought new lipstick. She had her hair done. And it worked. They gave her a job.

But it wasn't the one she wanted. Instead of sitting pretty at the counter (pretty was the problem - the county council are face-fascists, and everyone knows it) they put her at a desk under a dirty window in a back room behind a big row of shelves stacked high with new books. It only took her an hour to learn her new job.

Katerina has to stick the barcodes into the front of the new books. When she's done that, she puts a little bit of sellatape over the front of the bar-code. When she's done that, she puts the book on a trolley. When the trolley is full she wheels it to the next desk, where Bob sits. Bob does something else with them. She doesn't know exactly what.

Katerina is bored. She turns her monitor off and checks her teeth in its blank reflective surface. She flicks a rubber band at the back of Bob's head, which is red and bare and obscene looking.

Bob. Bob. Bob. She says.

Bob turns around.

Isn't that new guy starting today?

Bob shrugs and lets the air coming out of his nose sound like a shrugging noise. He turns back to his computer. Katerina leans around her desk.

Bob is googling for 'naked librarians' again.

1: 146 Books About Hearts

Garry goes through the revolving door and into the library. The carpets are brown. The walls are light brown. There are a lot of books about. Some are stacked on trolleys waiting to be put away. Some are in people's hands or making holes in the sides of second-hand carrier bags. Some are lying open on tables. They look as if they have been abandoned. They look, he decides, like giant paper butterflies.

After looking around, Garry decides that most of the books are lined up neatly on the shelves. Someone has been along the shelves, possibly staff who are on duty during the night when the library is closed, and pulled all the books outwards so their spines are lined up exactly with the metal edge. It looks very tidy.

Garry walks over to the section of the library that is to do with diseases. Someone else is there. He waits until they have moved on. He notices there is a gap. He notices some of the books have been pushed back against the back of the shelf. He rearranges the books so they line up neatly again and there is no gap. He looks for a book about Heart Disease.

There are 146 books with the word Heart in the title in this section of the library. They take up most of one shelf and half of another.

Garry puts his back-pack down on the floor. He leans over and opens it. Inside his backpack there is:

a baked potato wrapped in cling film
two dairy lee cheese triangles wrapped in cling film
a fork wrapped in cling film
a bottle that used to be for orange juice but which is now full of blackcurrant cordial wrapped in cling film
his wallet wrapped in cling film
a bus timetable wrapped in in cling film
a bottle of super strength waterless hand sanitiser wrapped in cling film
a roll of cling film inside a zip-lock bag

He takes something out of his bag. He fastens his bag back up. He wipes his hands on his trousers. Someone taps on his shoulder. He turns around.

Hello, the person says. You must be Garry.

The person wants to shake Garry's hand. Garry doesn't want to put his hand out. After a while (he counts up to three in his head) he does. He caves in. He shakes the hand.