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.

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