40: Adjacent to Miss World
For John, all isn't well with the world. They've left him alone. He can hear Katerina laughing somewhere very far away. He thinks of his field and her green dress. There is a meadow, speckled with blue and white flowers. It smells beautiful. It is exactly the right kind of meadow. It looks, he decides, like a fabric-softener advert.
And then there she is, standing under a tree waiting for him. She is swirling her skirts about and laughing, but she is not laughing at him!
John realises very slowly that Katerina is laughing because he has been away somewhere else for a long time. Somewhere where his face hurts, and his back hurts, and his neck hurts, and humiliation rubs him all over like an old towel washed without fabric softener.
Fabric softener. That smell isn't the meadow, it is Katerina's hair, which is waving softly around her face. She is laughing because he's back from that place, and she is glad.
'Bob,' she says, with the curl of a smile in her voice, 'Linda would have you sacked for making a remark like that!' she laughs again, and it it a little tinkling that sounds just like the library bell.
There is another noise. Like someone patting a horse. Horsebook. No. It is the sound of hand against skirt-covered buttock.
John opens his eyes. He opens one of his eyes. The other is sealed shut. It hurts. John is sitting on the floor of the computer room. Katerina's cardigan is draped over his knees. It smells like fabric softener and her hair. He clutches it, and listens. Her voice is coming from very far away. From near the lift in fact.
This is as bad as G-----. Not worse, but just as bad.
John gets up painfully, and limps out of the computer room and into the library. Through his one good eye, he can see the path through the bays, around the counter, past the Enquiry desk and into the back room. He imagines the rest. The seventeen steps to Katerina's desk. And a sharp left, to the lift. That's where the sound is coming from.
Through his bad eye, he doesn't see Complaining Borrower approach.
'I've been waiting here for twenty minutes!' the voice startles John, and he turns, almost falling.
'You do realise, don't you, that it's my council tax that pays your wages?' Complaining Borrower says.
'Yes,' John says, truthfully. He is well aware of this. Someone points it out to him every day. He used to keep a tally, but he ran out of paper.
'You're a public servant, aren't you?' Complaining Borrower snaps.
'Yes,' John slurs.
'Serve, then! Come on!'
Complaining Borrower takes John's arm and pulls him back towards the issues desk.
'I've a good mind to complain,' he says, and pushes a pile of books at John. 'Book barricades! Those are my books! Who paid for them? Me, that's who. What's wrong with your face? Does your supervisor know this whole establishment is staffed by a gaggle of loons and misfits?'
John didn't know 'misfit' was one of his trigger words until Complaining Borrower hurled it at him. He can still hear Katerina giggling and this is now worse than G------. He reaches out his hand and lets his fingers curl around the first thing they touch.
'Misfit!' John says, hitting Complaining Borrower in the face with the metal date-stamp. 'Misfit.' (again) 'is' (again) 'right' (you get the idea) 'Next. To. Miss. World. In. The. 19. 94. Dewey. Decimal. Subject. In.dex!'
John raises his hand to keep hitting, but the Complaining Borrower isn't there anymore. Where he stood is now just another space in the library. Has he disappeared? John looks down and there he is again. He chuckles, and drops the date-stamp.
He'd better move the body before Linda notices the mess on the carpet.