Dreyfus's Bed

Submitted into Contest #91 in response to: Set your story in a library, after hours.... view prompt

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Friendship

Dreyfus had got used to this. Three nights in a row he'd managed it, as well as twice last week. It was almost too easy. They really should take better care of this beautiful old building. You shouldn't let any old riff-raff into the place. He of course, Dreyfus III, was an educated and honourable man. Not like those other rough sleepers who only had themselves to blame for their misfortunes. He had just been unlucky. The others had made stupid choices.   

Oh yes, it was so easy. He came in about four o'clock in the afternoon. He'd sit at one of the reading tables and look through the newspapers for half an hour or so. Then while whichever librarian was on duty started putting things away he'd d slip off to the conveniences and hide himself in a cubicle, which he wouldn't lock. He waited for the librarian to lock the outer door to the toilets and switch off the lights. That was his cue to come out again.

Getting out of the toilets was always easy. He was a very experienced lock-picker and he always had some handy tools in his pocket. This one was trivial anyway. It only needed a straightened-out paper clip. 

It had been such a good find, this place. It reminded him of the library he used to go to with his mum when he was a kid. High ceilings. Tall windows. And what looked like marble pillars. They were probably just painted plaster but they looked impressive. And here, even nicer, soft squishy sofas. As well as all those books to read. Of course he couldn't put the light on but he could actually just about see enough to read with the help of  street lamp right outside the window. Not that he read for long. He needed his beauty sleep. Living on the streets was hard.

The lights snapped off and he heard the door being locked. Right, he'd give it ten minutes and then he'd let himself out. 

All went according to plan. In no time he was back in the main part of the library. He chose himself a book: The Infinity Files. It was a kid's book really. Science fiction. It was the kind of thing he liked anyway. It was brand new. He liked that. Probably no one had read this one before him. Nice and clean. You wouldn't catch any germs off that. It wasn't long, though, until his eyes closed. It seemed warmer than usual. Had they forgotten to switch off the heating? This seemed more than the normal residual heat.

He woke suddenly to realise that the lights were on and he could hear someone moving about in the entrance hall. He jumped up quickly and hid behind the sofa. What was going on? Why was there someone here at this time of night?

He could hear voices.

"I'll fill the urn," he heard someone say. "And I'll put out the biscuits."

"Great. I'll go and get the books and then all we'll have to do is put out the chairs. We've another twenty minutes yet."

He heard one set of footsteps going off towards the kitchen and another towards the store room. He quickly straightened out the cushions on the sofa and made his way towards the exit.

"Oh good evening," said a voice as he opened the big wooden door. "I'm at the right place, then. Josh?"

The speaker was a posh young woman whose dark hair was pulled up into a neat French pleat. She looked very sophisticated in her dark trench coat.                      She was carrying a lap-top and she wore wire-framed spectacles. Intelligent as well then.         

He bowed slightly and took her outstretched hand. "Dreyfus III, ma'am, at your service."

At that moment the door to the main part of the library swung open and a young man that he recognised made his way over to them. "Linda? I'm Josh."

They shook hands. "We're almost ready." He turned to Dreyfus. "I'm afraid you're a little early, sir. But do come in and help yourself to a cup of tea and some biscuits. And we could do with a hand putting some chairs out. You wouldn't mind, would you?"

Dreyfus bowed again. "My pleasure."       

It didn't take long for them to put out the chairs. Linda chatted to the other librarian who he learnt was called Miranda.

"Come on then, you two," said Miranda. "Come and get a cuppa before the others get here. There are chocolate biscuits as well."

Dreyfus enjoyed the tea. It had been brewed really well - almost as well as his old mum used to make it. It was just a shame they weren't serving it in real china. Those cardboard cups always spoilt the taste. The biscuits were good mind. All wheaty, sweet and chocolatey.

People start arriving and they were soon all invited to sit down. Dreyfus sat on the edge of one of the rows. He suspected he might be a bit whiffy. He'd not managed to go for a swim for a few days.

Her looks hadn't lied, this Linda. She was a very intelligent young woman. She talked about her work amongst the homeless. She showed pictures on the big screen. Dreyfus even recognised some of the people in the photos. Then she told everyone about her research for her book. Finally she read a passage from it.

"And that is what happened to Susan," she said as she closed the book again.

Dreyfus had to blink back the tears. So, there were other people like him. Who had to live on the streets because of several instances of bad luck. Not just because they were too idle to live their lives properly. That young Susan had had to leave home because her partner was abusing her. She'd applied for housing help but couldn't get any because she'd voluntarily left her home.

Then there'd been time for questions.

"Surely there are benefits? Surely there is social housing? Why don't these people apply for them?" said one man.

Linda nodded. "You would think so, wouldn't you? Do you know,though, that if you make a mistake on your form it has to be resubmitted and it can take up to fifty-six weeks before it's processed?"

"So why are there council houses standing empty?" asked a middle-aged woman.

"Many of them are deemed to be too big for the people who need them. They are family homes and it's single people who are homeless. And again, it's ponderous processing."

"So what can we do?" asked Josh.

"Whatever you think fit. Whatever you find is in your power to do. Don't not do things because you think you are powerless. Anything you do, no matter how small the gesture, will count. Lots of tips in the book, by the way."

"So that seems a good place to end," said Miranda. "Do all help yourself to more tea and biscuits. Linda will be signing books now. She'll be happy to answer any more questions. Do buy a book if you can. Remember, all profits and royalties support the Mayor's fund for the homeless."      

  He had to speak to her. He joined the queue of people who wanted to buy signed copies of her book.

"I don't understand," said the girl in front of him. "I've heard there are actually enough beds to get them all off the streets in this town. People say it's because they're all junkies or winos and they'd rather live with their addiction than be forced to give it up."

"That may be a little part of it. But it's much more complicated than that, really. There are enough beds some nights but not every night. All sorts of short term emergencies arise. Just think how disruptive that is. One night in a reasonably cosy hostel and the next back in a shop doorway. What if somebody has moved into your spot while you've been away? Hostels aren't homes anyway. Yes, some people hang on to their addiction but even if they can give that up they miss the camaraderie. They miss their friends."

The girl nodded.

"Here you go." Linda handed her a copy of the book.

It was his turn.

She smiled at him."So, what's your story?"

How did she know? Did he really smell that badly? Could she read his mind?

"You looked like you'd just woken up. And I saw the open book next to the sofa. You wouldn't be the first to spend the night in a library. And I'm guessing you like your own company?" 

And so he told her. About how his brother had cheated him out of his inheritance. Of how he'd stolen all of his papers and reported him missing and now enough time had gone by that he was presumed dead. And how he missed his dear old mum, who had been the only one who'd understood his funny habits and the odd way he looked at the world.

She gave him a little card. "Come to my office tomorrow. 10.30. It's just down the road."

He took the card and slipped it into his pocket.

She took a book off the pile and opened it ready to sign.

"I'm sorry. I've got no money. I just wanted to talk to you."

She smiled again. "Don't worry. This one is on me. If you really want to repay me you'll agree to feature in my second book but only of you want to." She picked up her pen. "Dreyfus, isn't it? After the famous Jew?"

"Dreyfus III, actually after my mother's two cats who were indeed named after the famous Jew. She was a bit odd as well."

"There you go." She handed him the copy of the signed book. "People will help you if you'll let them."    

Two more youngsters were waiting to get books signed. Then people started drifting away. Josh chatted to Linda while they stacked up the chairs. He and Miranda collected up the used cups and she started putting the biscuits into a tin.

"That was a really good evening," said Dreyfus.

"It was, wasn't it? I'll be glad to get home now though."

"I suppose I'd better get going." He shuffled towards the door. He could see from the droplets on the window that it was raining outside. Where could he go tonight? 

  Linda turned to Dreyfus as she and Josh went to leave. "Don't forget to come and see me tomorrow." 

"It was such an interesting talk. Thank you so much for coming," said Miranda.

"My pleasure. And remember. Any little thing you can do will help. Probably much more than you could imagine." She nodded as she looked at Miranda.

A cool gust of wind that came through the open door made Dreyfus shiver.

"I've just had a thought," said Miranda. "Could you help with just one last thing?"

Dreyfus was only too happy to stay in the warm for a little longer. "My pleasure, my lady."

"Here's the thing." She led him back into the main part of the library. She pointed to the sofa. "All yours for the night, if you want it. You can even make yourself a cuppa in the morning if you like. And help yourself to biscuits. Just make sure the place looks tidy by the time I get in. I'm going to be opening up, so I can let you out without anyone knowing you've even been here. I won't tell if you don't."

Dreyfus slept well that night. He took some time first, though, before he settled down, to take in his surroundings and to read a bit of Linda's book. And to figure out that life might be about to change for the better. There you see. His old mum had always been right; libraries really were good places.      

April 30, 2021 08:43

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