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Coming of Age Romance Sad

Despite our best efforts, Emily and I were no nearer starting a family or finding a replacement to manage the Library. She was eager for stability, and my unwillingness to commit and guarantee a departure date was a source of contention. Emily refused to believe that I couldn’t just serve my notice and leave.

‘It’s not like you’re saving lives, Jim,’ she’d say. ‘You’re a librarian, for God’s sake.’

#

I’d accepted the post a year before meeting Emily and adored my work. The first time she appeared, I recall being on the granite steps outside the entrance. It was a summer’s day, and she had a knee-length frock and shoulder length hair that drifted on the breeze. I was about to enjoy my lunch in the garden after locking the front door. 

‘Hey, buddy!’ she said. ‘Who’s in charge round here?’

‘What? Oh, that’s me,’ I said, blinking as I turned to face her. ‘How can I---’

‘I’m looking for a local map and guidebook.’

‘We’re not that sort of library,’ I said, shrugging my shoulders.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Frowning, she pursed her lips.

‘We’re closed for lunch,’ I said, and she snorted. ‘Would you care for a sandwich?’

She accepted my offer with a perfunctory nod and followed me into the communal garden. Sitting down at a wooden bench, I told her it wasn’t a typical lending library; I was curating a collection of unpublished books. Emily arched a defined eyebrow and munched on her egg and mayo roll. 

‘We have books of local interest,’ I said, biting my lip. ‘But they’re not really guides.’

I clarified my role in the library as an earnest young girl and her mother approached. They paused nearby and a gentle hand steered the youngster towards me. 

‘Mr Barker, this is Clea.’

‘Hello, Clea,’ I said, greeting her with a smile. ‘Do you have something for me?’

‘Yes, Mr Barker.’ She handed me a padded envelope. ‘It’s my cat book.’

‘Cats, you say?’ I extracted a twenty-page document. ‘You made this yourself?’

‘Yes, and it’s about the cats in my street,’ she said, furrowing her brow. ‘I’ve described them all and drawn their portraits, too.’

‘You have been busy,’ I said, examining the work as Emily nudged up next to me. 

‘It’s taken me twelve weeks and I want everyone to know about it.’

‘We’ll have to find a special place where people can see it.’ I glanced at Emily and caught a glint in her eye. ‘Would you like to choose a shelf, Clea?’

#

I registered the Clea’s book on the library management system and we found a perfect spot for it, between a ‘The Compendium of Small Mammals’ and ‘A Guide to Household Pets.’ After Clea and her mother departed, I caught Emily’s attention by clearing my throat. 

‘You know what?’ I said. ‘The best way to see this collection is by the light of a full moon.’

‘Oh, yeah?’ she said, chuckling. ‘When’s the next waxing gibbous?’

‘Well, as it happens---’

‘Funny that, isn’t it?’ 

#

I got some groceries delivered and prepared a romantic meal for two. Afterwards, I gave her a tour of the library by candlelight. She couldn’t stop smiling all night and we talked until the eastern hills were ablaze. 

Emily didn’t stay the first night and parted bleary eyed after we said farewell by rubbing our noses together. After two more dreamlike episodes, she agreed to join me on my mission. Emily gave her landlady a month’s notice and we’ve been cohabiting here ever since. 

For a year we couldn’t have been happier. She continued with her research work at the University and I assumed everything was fine. However, the library’s architect hadn’t designed the compact living quarters for a couple and it proved to be an issue. It didn’t fit into Emily’s life plan for a start.

After two years, she’d had enough. Emily wanted us to have our own home. I explained it wasn’t that simple. I had agreed to be available twenty-four hours a day. It was in the library’s job description. It was obligatory.

#

Emily despised the heavy brass bell clanging at all hours of the night. She couldn’t understand why the gentle trickle of wannabe authors couldn’t deposit their creations during normal office hours. I agree that their chaotic appearances disjointed our private life. It was as if we were waiting for trains that never came. 

‘For God’s sake, Jim,’ she’d say, shaking her head. ‘Who’s in charge here?’ 

‘They’ve always done it like this, love.’ I’d sigh, reaching out to her.

‘It all needs bringing up to date, Jim.’ 

‘It’s just the way it is, love.’ 

‘They’re in another world.’

#

The previous librarians employed neither the Dewey Decimal nor a basic K-12 system. For decades, they’d kept a series of hand written ledgers to record new admissions. I’d bluffed my way through the interview, but they offered the post with immediate effect when they discovered I had IT qualifications. My employers recognised they had antediluvian records and tasked me with modernising the operation. They had lofty ambitions that involved creating a website, advertising the library’s service and promoting it with a daily blog, too.

As good as I was with computers, I’d little experience managing a library or maintaining a sizable garden. However, I’d hated my two years of crowded commuter trains and the live-in role suited me. Working from home had always appealed to me. 

I agreed to a month’s probation and signed a vague contract of undefined length.

They handed me the literary baton and entrusted me to designate a replacement should I resign. Like an endless relay race, they employed me with no end in sight.

The day of the annual library picnic coincided with my third work anniversary and two years since Emily moved into the Library. I’d designed posters and posted invitations in advance. We had a sense of expectation and excitement as we received confirmations and offers of help. It promised to be a joyful experience for all who attended the event. Emily organised all the food, and I erected the trestle tables, set up chairs and strung up fairy lights between the apple trees. 

We had a half a dozen regular contributors and expected them before midday, pitching in to help wherever necessary. Robby Feldman was the first to arrive and provided a supply of homemade cider in two large oak barrels. He was a grizzled old stoner who visited us every fortnight with a new chapter of his unwieldy autobiography and a set of recollections. In between times, he’d find a quiet corner and snooze his way through the day. If Robby’s snoring got unbearable, we’d suggest the meeting room’s sofa next to the coffee machine. He knew his way around a Gaggia and helped dispense espressos and lattés upon request, accompanied by sage advice from simpler times.

Emily’s favourite old lady was the esteemed Agatha Hunter who’d transcribed her lifetime’s recipes into a series of beautiful books that contained exquisite pen and ink illustrations of exotic ingredients and step-by-step guides to culinary techniques. They’d often while away an afternoon chatting about household management and Agatha would regale Emily with tales about her life in the big West End hotels and restaurants.

The younger crowd included the two Robinson lads, who were sports fanatics. They appeared twice a month and handed over their artwork for soccer kits. Their books were often grubby and required cleaning before reaching the shelves. There were one or two poets like Bobby Nutbeam, who was serious beyond his years, and the inimitable Tom Brewster, who produced volumes of monster pictures and zombie handbooks. We expected a crowd of kindergarten children who created illustrated family albums and inventories of wild flowers; young Sandy Scott preferred insect collections, and David Rosser produced inventories of hoof and paw prints, as if he was a survivalist or wild animal tracker. 

#

Emily welcomed everyone as they arrived with their picnic blankets and deck chairs. She loved entertaining the children and as I wandered round talking to our guests and offering them drinks, I noticed her reading picture books to a group of toddlers. 

I know longed for her own children and a family; not endless feasting with friends. The clock was ticking, and I ignored its chimes. My time was running out.

I didn’t get the hints or maybe ignored them; the constant baking, shelf dusting and nest building went over my head. I allowed time to ooze past as I dawdled in my Ciceronian paradise; content in my library and garden. While Emily organised her stitchin’ n bitchin’ sessions and lady’s library nights, I scanned and catalogued the contents of the library and tended to the surrounding garden, oblivious to time and tide. 

#

The final crunch came when Robby Feldman stood up at the picnic and raised a glass to salute the librarian and his girlfriend. He was never shy about speaking his mind.

‘Let’s thank our esteemed hosts, everyone!’ He roared over the assembled cacophony. ‘Here’s to Jim and Emily and to a feast of friends.’

‘To a feast of friends!’ Everyone cheered.

‘Better than a giant family!’ Robby roared again, catching Emily’s sober eye.

I raised my glass as everyone cheered.

‘For God’s sake,’ she said, turning to face me. ‘Grow up, why don’t you?’ 

By the time the party was over and everyone had left for home, Emily had gone. She’d packed and disappeared whilst I was entertaining our guests and propping up Robby. There was no letter, explanation or forwarding address. It wasn’t until much later that I found the discarded white plastic stick under her pillow. Its fading blue cross winked at me like the flashing light of an ambulance disappearing into the night.

#

Our living library was a carnival of souls where one could leave an indelible mark and register one’s existence. It was a hangover from an innocent time before idealism succumbed to materialism’s foul stain. After it closed down, I felt as if we’d been swept out to sea in the wake of an oceanic behemoth that had vanished forever beneath the brine.


The End


-


April 23, 2022 03:51

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29 comments

Moon Lion
04:53 Apr 24, 2022

The ending lines were nothing short of poetic, and awesome. The story itself was kind of sad, but also very sweet and magical. I admire Jim's loyalty and commitment to the library and the whole concept was very cool. Kind of reminds me of Inkheart (with the themes of loving books and their power, as well as the magic behind libraries).

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Howard Halsall
05:08 Apr 24, 2022

Hello Moon, Thank you for reading my story and leaving your positive feedback. I’m pleased you enjoyed it and understood precisely what I was trying to convey. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if such a library existed for real? Just think what a rich resource it would be; an archive of pure human experience contained on its bookshelves; so many ideas and observations of life created with love and preserved with selfless dedication. Take care HH

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Moon Lion
05:19 Apr 24, 2022

It would be amazing for sure, and I'm glad people like Jim exist to bring those things to life (even fictionally).

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Howard Halsall
05:20 Apr 24, 2022

It’s always possible… :)

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07:08 Apr 23, 2022

The title of this piece caught my attention as it's similar to a title for one of my own library stories, but the two could not be further from each other 😅 A really lovely read, even with the sad ending. I like the concept a lot, collecting things that mean something to people, very touching. As an ex librarian I'm reluctant to read a lot of this week's stories for fear of getting annoyed with inaccuracies, but this was charming. The only thing I caught was the "registration software" known, in the UK at least, as a Library Management Sys...

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Howard Halsall
08:55 Apr 23, 2022

Hello Katharine, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. I’m pleased you enjoyed my tangled yarn and I’m happy it passed the ultimate test; an ex-librarian’s eagle eye was a timely happenstance. FYI, I’ve made your suggested edit, so thank you for the tip. I’ve just finished an endless night, so when I return to the land of the living I look forward to reading your submission. I’m intrigued as to its content, given your brief description, and more than happy to offer an opinion if you approve…. Take care HH

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09:24 Apr 23, 2022

Thanks Howard, I'd love to hear your thoughts on my story if you have time. It is somewhat darker than yours. I hope that's ok.

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Vadasz Sara
17:01 May 07, 2022

What a wonderful concept of a library and garden, for any ciceronian semi-introvert! Then, perfection doesn't exist. Great story, thanks.

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Howard Halsall
19:09 May 07, 2022

Hello Sara, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts; I appreciate it. Take care HH

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Craig Westmore
18:29 Apr 29, 2022

Howard, a very charming idea for a library. I could see how Emily fell in love with him through his work and lose patience with him as the lifestyle grew cramped with time.

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Howard Halsall
18:48 Apr 29, 2022

Hello Craig, I’m sure he was an infuriating man to live with and I can understand her frustration. It was such a perfect set up, but there was always the pressure of the real world. There’s no escaping reality and time ticking away somewhere in the background… Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts; they’re much appreciated. Take care HH

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Craig Westmore
20:46 Apr 29, 2022

This one has a similar theme to your other story "The Feeling for Rain." In that one, I felt there was no hope for the couple because he was obsessed with staying on the farm. In this one, I was wondering why he decided to stay. Couldn't they have worked something out?

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Howard Halsall
21:03 Apr 29, 2022

Hmm…. Good point. It’s possible her disappearance was a warning shot and she might have made contact later on. It was a hasty departure after all, even if it was heartfelt. So maybe there is hope in the end?

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Laura Jarosz
16:04 Apr 29, 2022

Howard, I love the idea of a library like this, and I'm furious with your main character, which seems a clear sign that this is very well done! Your prose is so lovely, as well. Thank you for putting the idea out into the world of a library where everyone gets a spot on the shelf. I'm crushed that the ending lines confirm it didn't last.

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Howard Halsall
17:54 Apr 29, 2022

Hello Laura, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. I’m pleased you enjoyed it and hope the idea lingers a while in your mind. It would be a great idea to start a library like the one I describe. I imagine a lot of people would enjoy using it and find it empowering too. Take care HH

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Annalisa D.
01:02 Apr 29, 2022

This library is a cool concept and I love the community it built.

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Howard Halsall
01:05 Apr 29, 2022

Hello Annalisa, Thanks for reading my story and sharing your thoughts; it’s much appreciated. Take care HH

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Niveditha S
06:39 Apr 28, 2022

The library had a beautiful aura around it. Like that familiar feeling of family. They all worked together and wrote books. Jim just thought the world of the library. That's amazing...It would have been amazing if such libraries existed in reality...

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Howard Halsall
08:39 Apr 28, 2022

Hello Niveditha, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. I agree with you. It would be marvellous to have access to such a library. Just imagine what impact it would have on future generations…. Take care HH

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Shea West
00:50 Apr 27, 2022

What I observed above everything is that the syrupy sweetness of this life in a library etc., was definitely a facade for what lay under the surface. Communication can be portrayed in so many ways can't it? I think you demonstrated this here with all of the actions of each character. Sad end, and also way to go to Emily!

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Howard Halsall
02:22 Apr 27, 2022

Hello Shea, Thanks for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. I reckon your analysis is spot on and you’ve sensed exactly what I was aiming for with this. Take care HH

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Ashley Cullen
22:40 Apr 26, 2022

Howard, I really loved this story so much! Who wouldn't want to live at the library! Your characters were really well formed and I liked them a lot. Such a creative way to use that prompt.

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Howard Halsall
00:35 Apr 27, 2022

Hello Ashley, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. I’m pleased you enjoyed it and agree about living in the library; it sounds too good to be true and lots of fun. Take care HH

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16:02 Apr 26, 2022

I adore the way you write as well as the idea behind these characters. You have made them as real as possible with the way you've created them and I applaud you for it. What's most remarkable about this is the lesson we get from the story. I'm thinking that communication is key to a lasting and successful relationship. So, I won't say she did well by leaving without so much as a word. But then again, I feel like a part of her had been conflicted. She wouldn't just up and leave. I believe she had spent most of her time thinking and darin...

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Howard Halsall
00:30 Apr 27, 2022

Hello Abigail, Thank you for reading my story and leaving such a positive response. I’m pleased you picked up on my main themes and I hope the idea continues to linger a while… Yes, I agree, good communication is key to all successful relationships at any level, shape or from. However, sometimes actions speak louder than words and occasionally it’s a more effective strategy for everyone’s peace of mind. In other words, enough is enough. Take care HH

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Michał Przywara
20:42 Apr 25, 2022

I love the idea of a library like this (though maybe with less draconian working conditions for the staff). It seems like it could be a great community building service, and it could get more people being creative. The story itself is sad, for a number of reasons. It seems like the couple were quite in love, but they had some insurmountable communication issues. He completely ignored her needs to grow and she completely hid her pregnancy. Rough as it is, it's probably for the best they parted ways earlier than later. Of course that's not g...

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Howard Halsall
00:04 Apr 26, 2022

Hello Michal, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your observations. Yes, I agree, a library providing such a service could be a marvellous community building opportunity. I guess that anything’s possible; it’s just a question of time, money and motivation. However, it’s difficult to justify a non-profit venture in a world obsessed with money and defined outcomes. HH

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Graham Kinross
10:58 Apr 24, 2022

I feel sorry that the guy a bit. If he could have negotiated the terms of his work and shortened the opening hours that might have made a difference to quality of life. Also, if she didn’t tell him she thought she was pregnant then that’s a big communication issue. I feel bad for the kids who might potentially grow up without him in their lives because they didn’t talk enough.

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Howard Halsall
07:12 Apr 25, 2022

Fair points, Graham, Alas, the world is full of missed opportunities and misunderstandings. I wonder how many relationships fall apart due to misplaced loyalties and words left unsaid. That work life balance is always difficult to achieve. Thank you for reading my story and taking the time to comment; it’s much appreciated. I see you’ve entered two stories this week… Take care HH

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