32: Treason

'Never mind Fucking Google,' Mike says, turning towards John. John clenches his fists. he is breathing out of his nose and mouth very quickly. If he was a woman, it would look like he was about to have a baby. But John is not a woman.

The music changes. Mike registers the change but it doesn't bother him. John seems to flinch, but he doesn't move his eyes away from the screen and its single word. Its blasphemy.

Mike stands on a chair. It is a typist’s chair and at first he has problems keeping his balance. The seat wobbles and the whole thing doesn’t as much spin, as turn gently 90 degrees in one direction, and then the other. His arms flail through the air. If someone was looking through the window at him they might think he was doing SOS semaphore but had forgotten his flags.

Mike stands up as tall as he can. He wants his throat to be out of John's reach. John is muttering to himself. Poor John – his mind is so stuffed full of catalogues and subject classifications and interesting facts that he can’t manage an uninterrupted thought of his own. These poor library people – ask them to actually think about something, and they’d go and look at a book on meditation or performance evaluation.

For a minute Mike thinks of the librarians as his children. He thinks about getting down and touching John's shoulders and forgetting the whole idea. But he knows he can’t. He’s got to say this, even if it hurts him. Even if (Mike is certain this is a possibility) he kills him for it. He wonders if anyone has been murdered by books. He thinks of crushing, clubbing, and a million paper cuts. John would know, he thinks. John is probably going to be the one to do it.

‘This is an age of information,’ he begins, and John looks at him. Actually, John glares at him. ‘Age of information’ is a phrase that often occurs close by other words. Words that John doesn’t like.

‘We have access to more information than we have ever had before,’ Mike says, and smiles at John, ‘through encyclopaedias of all kinds.’ He's got to shout now, because the music is getting louder, but Mike doesn't mind. The booming is filling his chest and he breathes it in, fills it with his speech, and spits it back into the computer room.

John is pointing at his own throat with a finger. He draws the finger slowly from right to left.

‘Primarily we get this information through printed material,’ Mike adds. He is proud of this. He knows many librarians don’t even like the word ‘books’. They prefer ‘units’ or ‘information resources’ or ‘the service we deliver’. And the lie doesn’t matter either. The Point is not in Britannica or Google or even in the plundered Western paperbacks that are toppling from the barricade.

John nods slowly.

‘But maximum information means minimum meaning,’ Mike says. ‘This product,’ he flaps his arms weakly, not wanting to set the chair spinning again, ‘is smothering all of us. There are eleven miles of shelves in this library. How many libraries in the world? Are we going to fill the whole world up with books?’

John stares blankly. The facts rattling in his mind seem to be draining away with his anger. His faces is a confused little postage stamp staring up at Mike. Mike knows he is not getting his message across. He thought his inarticulacy would startle a literature lover into mutiny. It isn’t the music that has made John and the rest of them mad, it is the words. Words are useless here. If he printed out what he wanted to say, bound it between hard covers and had it catalogued, he would still not be able to understand what Mike had to say. John might as well be handling tins of beans. Anything with a bar-code on it.

What Mike needs is gestures, big curly gestures that this print-sick man will be able to fathom.

Mike pulls a book from his pocket. It is a battered paperback version of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. He holds it in front of him. He hides the spine label with his thumb, so as not to distract John. He passes it from one hand to the other. John follows it with his eyes like the book is the ball in a tennis match. Mike tears a page from it, crumples it, and throws it onto the floor. Before John can come closer Mike finds his cigarette lighter, presses his thumb to the wheel, and sets the cover alight. He holds it over his head until the flames burn his fingers. Then he drops it into the floor in front of him.

'It's all on-line now, John,' he says gently, 'fully searchable. For free.'

Mike feels exhilarated. He laughs and jumps down from the chair. He wants to set fire to the stacks, and breathe in air that has been cleaned from the stink of ink and yellowing paper.

John lunges at Mike. Mike feels himself falling backwards, feels his shoulders hit the chair and push it away. He feels hands around his throat. Now he's on the floor all he can see is John's brown jumper, and, if he turns his head, the snakey coil of wires under the computer tables.

The book is smouldering by his elbow and John is screaming and squeezing as hard as he can.

1 comment:

Mel said...

So this is where Jenn Ashworth has got to :o)