56: Paper Roses, Only Imitation, Just Like Your Imitation Love, For Me

The Borrowers fold origami flowers from pages ripped out of the books. They cross out the swear words and complain about the bad plots, but still they tear and fold, making a huge paper wreath that they place gently at Complaining Borrower's Feet.

Complaining Borrower's head is leaking. It leaks all over the roses, all over the carpet. The roses are white, the roses are white and red, the roses are red.

The Borrowers stare. They turn as one, stop to listen, and head towards the kitchen, marching slowly, muttering softly. As they pass the barricade, they stop, and stare again. They think.

55: The One True Grail

The kitchen is a poky little room. It is just like a lift, but a bit more compact, and minus the ability to move up or down. It doesn’t have the benefit of sliding doors, either. In accordance with Fire Regulations, the door has to be a Fire Door, which means it has to be a big, heavy lumbering thing that is impossible to prop open. And even if it could be propped open, it would be Against All Regulations to do so. The room has to be vacuum sealed at all times. The occupants have to survive on whatever air is in there for the duration of their stay. The kitchen is a place that is used for the smallest amount of time possible, and only in moments of dire need. Tea is one of these dire needs. Tea is the reason that brings anyone and everyone to the almost-cupboard. They come in search of the one true Grail - a Morphy Richards Accents stainless steel jug kettle.

Standing shoulder to shoulder in front of the kettle are Garry and Katerina. They are watching the water, lit up all blue, hoping it will start to bubble soon. Tea is needed and it’s needed fast. John has lost his marbles and Garry has a lovely new lady friend in need of rehydration. Katerina is in need of something sugary, too. She can feel her blood sugar reaching an all time low. She has been running to and fro all day. Standing in the blue glow of the kettle finally allows the fact that she is exhausted to seep into her consciousness.

‘What a day,’ she says, just to say it.

‘Yep. As first days go, I’d say this was a pretty pigging spectacular one.’ Garry is grinning. He can still feel the soft kiss on his cheek. He is happier than he’s ever been.

‘I think I just want to go home,’ says Katerina. ‘Do you reckon it’s all safe now? I’ve not had a lunch break, so I could technically just go now.’

‘I don’t know. There are still lots of questions that need answering. Do you know what the music was? Or where it’s gone? Or where it came from? I’m new here so I don’t know how everything works exactly...’

‘Didn’t you have your Induction?

‘Yes, I think that’s what it was. But all this happened after that. And I didn’t get the chance to read all the Staff Manual.

The kettle purrs and then clicks off with a faint whistle. Katerina pours the boiling water into four cups. The tea brews, curls of steam rising up to the strip lighting. After stirring in enough milk and sugar to keep a woolly mammoth alert, they both leave the tiny room, letting the door crash firmly, heavily shut behind them.

54: Dealing with Borrowers

An Extract From The Staff Manual.

When dealing with 'Borrowers' it is always best to assume a blank, neutral smile. Remember, Borrowers are not built like you and me. They are apt to fly into irrational rages, threaten to write letters to the local rag, sit in the library until their fines are refunded, and take sole charge of selecting and displaying new stock.

The smile helps. If it fails, say something like, 'I can see you are very upset, Sir/Madam, perhaps you'd like to fill out one of our feedback forms? The Authority take customer feedback very seriously, you know.'

In no circumstances must completed feedback forms be inserted into the Suggestions Box. They can be disposed of as sensitive waste in the usual way, by burning or flushing.

If the situation escalates, and develops into General Borrower Unrest, Revolt, or Anarchy (particularly during half term or Saturday mornings) please refer to: Terrorist Threat and apply the instructions found therein accordingly.

53: An Army of Borrowers.

The Borrowers aren't just Borrowers. They are individuals who require a User Centred Service. They are a Community that requires Engaging. They are Customers who desire Full and Frank Consultation on Service Development and Delivery. They have Cultural Needs. They have Information Requirements that need to be addressed. They have Learning and Literacy Challenges, or present Behavioural Obstacles to Patron Centred Service.

Sometimes Borrower who Leaves Pictures Torn Out Of Porn Magazines Inside The Children's Books and Borrower Who Rips Out The Barcodes and Then Denies It and Borrower Who Complains about Blasphemous Books and Borrower Who Asks for The Karma Sutra Every Single Pigging Day And Never Pigging Borrows It, and Borrower Who Winks For No Reason, and Borrower who Complains about Mobile Phone Noise Pollution, and Borrower Who Leaves His Books on the Newspaper Table then Gets Angry When They Are Still on His Ticket, and Borrower Who Brings Quality Street In At Christmas and Borrower who Cries, Silently, in the Science Fiction Section, come together and become something more than Borrowers.

Sometimes, they plan things. Sometimes Petitions, sometimes letters to The Council, and sometimes, much worse things.

The Borrowers who have managed to get up in the lift from the Basement Area walk towards the queue. But they keep on walking. They walk through the library, past the shining Rubber Plants and the Poster Paint on the carpet, and into The Dead Zone.

They circle the lump on the carpet. They kneel and pat Complaining Borrower gently. They make little growling noises, groans and confused whimpers.

When it becomes clear Complaining Borrower is not going to wake up, they gather together to mutter and plan.

They have come together. They are an Army of Borrowers now. They are not planning a petition.

They are planning a War.

52: Something Nasty In the Library

As Mike runs into the office something strange happens to The Boss.

She was starting to feel like she'd been dangling upside down for a long time. A really long time. She was starting to wonder if everyone in the library and the outside world (it's been years since she's even remembered there was such a disordered, noisy, bookless place) had forgotten about her.

And then the blood started to throb through her brain, beating like a drum, like a whole pit of percussionists, like a bin-bag of pots and pans being thrown down the stairs. Her gums and eyeballs started to throb. Her skirt, brushing against her chin, seemed to be throbbing too, although that wasn't possible.

These migraines are enough to make the library itself tremble, The Boss thought, and then the sentences in her head scattered and made themselves into a picture that looked like a heap of broken twigs and umbrella spokes, and was frightening.

The Boss closed her thrumming eyes and let her legs go limp just as Mike opened the stationery cupboard door.

She collapses into his arms, and he catches her, but she doesn't know anything about it.

'Linda,' Mike says, 'get the First Aid Box, The Boss has...'

Linda hesitates at the door. 'I'm not allowed to do First Aid on The Boss,' she says, 'it's a rank thing. It's about line-management structure, and council hierarchy. It's in the Staff Manual.'

Mike sinks to the carpet on his knees, half in and half out of the cupboard. He pulls The Boss' skirt over her legs and doesn't look.

'She's fainted!' he says, 'she needs some First Aid.'

'What she needs,' Linda says, 'is a cup of tea and some Fresh Air.'

Mike opens his mouth to argue, but The Boss twitches in his lap. She flutters her eyes open.

'There's something nasty in the library,' she slurs, 'Games and Puzzles.'

The Boss closes her eyes again. Mike taps her face gently. He doesn't quite dare a slap. How old is The Boss anyway? She could be twenty-nine, or eighty. There's something strange about her face, like the skin has been creased up and ironed out again hundreds of times, for hundreds and hundreds of years. He doesn't quite want to touch her, but she is a woman, and she is ill, and Mike is a Gentleman.

'What's she talking about?' Linda says, 'lets get her downstairs to the Staff Room.'

'Hide the Evidence!' The Boss screeches, eyes still closed. 'Dishonour! Shame! The tax-payer!'

Mike looks at Linda, and shrugs. 'Maybe a cup of tea would help,' he says, and shakes his head, 'we've all had a hard day.'

51: A Cup Of Tea Solves Everything

The lift doors open. Garry strides out, Rosalyn still in his arms. Her shoes clang against the sides on the way out, but she is unconcerned. Garry plops her down on Bob’s desk. She makes a sound like a disturbed goose. It is part-honk, part-squeal. Garry freezes on the spot. He imagines his heart slowly deflating. But then Rosalyn lifts one buttock and pulls a paper knife out from underneath her, and lowers herself back down, smiling. The paper knife is not sharp. It looks like it has been used for cutting something other than paper. And it doesn’t smell right. The smell reminds her of something she can’t quite place. Rosalyn uses the very tip of her index finger to push the weird-smelling paper knife as far away from her as she can. She smiles again at Garry. He smiles back. His heart is fine. His heart is going to be okay.

Bob stands behind Garry. He is flanked by Borrower Who Eats Scotch Eggs At The Computer and Borrower Who Borrows Black Lace Books But Always Puts A War Book On Top. (Who is he trying to kid?) Bob seems to have shrunk. His usually puffed-out chest is not puffed-out at all. The two Borrowers are looking to him for directions, but he is not meeting their eyes. Bob is looking around the room. Bob is staring at the floor.

‘Oi,’ says Garry, ‘get them out of here. This is a Staff Only area.’

Bob nods and sweeps the two Borrowers back out to the front desk. They rejoin the queue. They scratch their heads.

‘Now let’s get you a cup of tea,’ Garry says softly. Rosalyn gazes after him as he heads off towards the kitchen.

50: It's Me, Katerina

John is a mess. He is wild-eyed, and his thinning hair is plastered to his face with sweat. He reminds Katerina of a skinny Heathcliff who’s been lost on the moors for days. He is shouting ‘Katerina’ rather than ‘Cathy’ though. But he is shouting. In the library.

When it was dark, all Katerina could hear was his weird panting, coupled with the shouts, but now the lights have kicked in, she is fully aware of the spectacle of him, loping towards her, wearing her cardigan as a sort of cape. For the first time ever, Katerina is a little afraid of John. And Bob is in the basement. Mike is in The Office. She is all alone.

‘Sh,’ she tries to say, but he drowns her out with another shout. He is calling her name. ‘John, it’s me, Katerina. I’m right here.'

‘Good. Good. Okay. Are you okay? I have this...’ he holds out her cardigan. ‘Why do I have this?’

‘Er...you were in shock, John. You had one of...er, well...you had an electric shock. It was pretty bad.’

‘Right. Right. But I’m okay now? I am okay, aren’t I?’

‘Yeah, you’re fine John. You look like you could maybe do with a sit down, though. How about we get you into the back, eh?’

Katerina takes John by the arm and guides him through to the back room. She sits him in her chair.

‘Horses. 6...’

‘What John?’

‘6...’ He taps the book. ‘6?’

‘Yes, 636.1. That’s an easy one, even I know that one, and not just because I did it this morning.’

‘It’s gone.’

‘John, what are you on about? Tell you what, I’ll make you a cup of tea, lots of sugar, get you back to normal.’ Katerina slowly backs away and heads towards the kitchen.

‘It’s all gone,’ John says, laying his head on the horse book as a single tear runs down his burnt cheek.