My Favourite Volume Is Silence

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

19 comments

Contemporary Friendship Inspirational

It was the quietest she’d ever known the place.

“Perhaps I ought to volunteer to do stocktake more often,” Shannon thought to herself, thumbing the stubby antennae of her radio as she surveyed the non-fiction area. By day, the place was filled with the chatter of foreign language students on phone calls, lost children playing parkour with the local history section and the rattle of the lift going up and down. On the rare occasions it was fixed.

She looked at the post it note on which she’d scribbled her first zone for the night: ‘sports section’. She and the others – mostly strained looking early 20s-somethings with multiple side hustles and bored 50s singletons – had to scan all the barcodes with the readers they’d been handed. They had to do as much as they could in two hours (the council didn’t have the budget to pay the past 8pm rate).

Shannon was relieved. Sports section meant no backache from carting home a pile of books she wanted to borrow. She went to stuff her note back in her pocket and noticed a pair of hairy hands heading for her waist.

“GOTCHA! AHAHAHA!”

Shannon squealed and squirmed away from the ‘tickling’. A ‘Kirk Special’ as the bloated red-nosed library officer liked to call it. He prided himself on having close relationships with the staff he trained after they’d finished their induction with him. In their toilet breaks, female staff liked to tell each other how they’d prefer Kirk to keep a distance – preferably in another building entirely.

“Oh, don’t look so peeved, Shazza,” Kirk chuckled. “Good to get the adrenaline racing. God knows you’ll need some after you’ve done the first shelf, believe me.”

Shannon watched him wander off to find another victim to prank and saw another man get out of the lift. Gael.

“Christ,” she muttered, making the most of cussing before he came within earshot.

“Hi,” Shannon said brightly. “On sports with me, yeah? Reckon you’re a…team player?”

She laughed nervously. And alone. Gael’s response was an infinitesimal incline of his head in her direction and to get his headphones out of his canvas bag, which bore his band’s name. He was no doubt listening to Jam on Toast too.

When Shannon had applied for the role – a dream job working at the city’s prestigious library – she had, quite reasonably, expected to meet people that wanted to talk about books. When she spoke about her love of them in her interview, she was encouraged, if slightly surprised by how the manager responded so positively. Surely someone would be sick of hearing about Jane Austen after 20 years of helping people find the ‘A’ section, she thought.

After six months or so, Shannon had done enough shifts at different times on different days to safely feel she had met all the other workers. There was Aleesha, the perfect 10 who often asked to switch shifts with people as she was expecting a call back from an audition. There was the genteel Trish, who planned to start up a dog grooming company in an old van she’d bought. She was often sitting on a footstool fanning herself with a Mills and Boon, complaining of too many hot flushes and not enough visits from her grown up children. Wayne, looking like he’d not long left the womb himself, was developing an app for something Shannon couldn’t understand but it involved bicycles. Corrine spent a lot of the day telling customers about her upcoming art shows and handing out her colourful business cards. Plus countless others.

It would’ve been easier for Shannon if these were just quirks of otherwise book-worshipping personalities, but they weren’t just quirks. They were passions, and Shannon had the feeling they would eventually be very profitable for their owners. So Shannon began to burble about the novels on her bedside table less and less, feeling that a hobby that couldn’t be monetarised wasn’t worth talking about in such entrepreneurial company.

Once, when security’s door had been left unlocked, she’d spotted the guard Alan reading the back of a Lee Child thriller instead of watching the CCTV, and felt oddly comforted.

Then there were the customers. In the weeks leading up to her start date, Shannon would dream of romantic dalliances with Heathcliffs roaming the stacks and making bosom friends out of many Annes. She browsed the bestseller lists so she could be well-informed when those lost in a sea of literature came to her for guidance.

The most common question ended up being, “where’s the toilet?”

Runners up were:

·        What time is Boogie with Babies?

·        How come this DVD didn’t work?

·        I’ve forgotten my library card – what’s my account number/PIN/date of birth/name?

·        Which one of these picture things do I click on to check my email?

·        Did anyone hand in a scarf/wallet/scooter/child?

·        How do I apply for a job?

·        Why do I owe a fine and can you make it go away?

The repetitive nature of the stocktake had made a zombie out of Shannon, leaving her ruminating, not even hearing the bleeps of her device anymore. Wayne, tasked with the special collection, broke the spell with an almighty sneeze.

Shannon blinked and looked at the label on the shelf to remind herself what section she was doing.

[SCIENCE FICTION], the label declared.

“Yessss,” whispered Shannon, causing Etienne, the newb studying for his Masters in Political Journalism to look up sharply from where he very much looked like he was wanting to handle kids’ books with kid gloves.

She hadn’t been able to connect with anyone about books. But who cared, when there so many connections to be made between the covers of these magical objects? Who could feel alone when there were so many stories to read? Unpacking and cataloguing the new arrivals, in the backroom by herself, was one of Shannon’s favourite jobs. All the fresh conversations just waiting for someone to join them.

Shannon set aside the Ursula Le Guin to check out to herself later and smiled at Etienne, who scowled and looked at something on his phone. She looked at the rows and rows of books, soldiers of all colours and shapes waiting to be chosen to perform their duty.

She felt in command of her loneliness, at long last. 

April 30, 2021 18:16

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19 comments

Jade Young
20:30 May 01, 2021

This is a powerfully written story that perfectly portrays how sometimes books can be our only companions/a source of escapism from our own loneliness. I loved how even though Shannon didnt speak about her love for books anymore, because of the people around her not taking too kindly to books, the passion for reading never left her and only seemed to grow in the library. Anyone who's ever read a novel and found an escape within it can relate to this story, and you wrote it in such a way that your story perfectly captures this message. Keep u...

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Karen Mc Dermott
12:04 May 02, 2021

Thanks so much for the comment and the encouragement :)

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Thom Brodkin
13:39 May 15, 2021

I love your ability to create so many characters in such a short story. You have the ability to give them depth and soul. I also love how you took the prompt and made it your own. It was one that screamed for horror or the supernatural but you made it completely real and as always your writing is fantastic. I really enjoyed it. If you have a moment I've posted a story called "Thirteen Roses." I'd love to know what you think.

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Karen Mc Dermott
10:26 May 19, 2021

You're too kind Thom, thank you so much. I'll be over shortly :)

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Sam Ackman
03:05 May 09, 2021

This is a sweet story with such a great premise. I love how you framed the ending nice and quickly and in a way that it is ok to be lonely. Great story :)

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Karen Mc Dermott
18:12 May 09, 2021

So kind of you to say :) thank you

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Oscar Rodriguez
05:07 May 04, 2021

I like this story. It shows that as long as you are surrounded by what you enjoy, it won’t matter what might come with it. Because at the end of the day, the one thing that brought her to that job will stay in that job. That one thing being her passion for books and reading.

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Karen Mc Dermott
20:03 May 05, 2021

Thank you for reading my story, Oscar.

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Jaquelin N
18:26 May 03, 2021

Wonderful story! You took Shannon's love for books and turned it into something so vivid, just like a friendship there are ups and downs. One thing I would suggest is that you give Shannon more of a backstory. Is there a reason Shannon loves books so much?

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Karen Mc Dermott
20:05 May 05, 2021

Thank you! And yes, that would be an interesting part of her story to tell. Maybe another prompt will inspire me to show it.

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17:17 May 01, 2021

Loved all the characters you created in this piece!

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Karen Mc Dermott
12:04 May 02, 2021

Thank you!

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Marie Bishop
16:45 May 01, 2021

Beautiful. I am perhaps of an older generation who spent a lot of time in Libraries doing exactly this!! I am sure the librarians thought I never read the books I took home at least three times a week, but I did and your story took me back to many nights when books were my only friends. Thank you.

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Karen Mc Dermott
12:05 May 02, 2021

Thanks Marie. Books will never let us down :)

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Marie Bishop
14:06 May 02, 2021

Absolutely!

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Ryan Lm Colli
14:21 May 11, 2021

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Rheo Graham
01:29 May 06, 2021

Interesting take on capturing a lot of social colour and a lot of personalities 😊

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Karen Mc Dermott
12:13 May 06, 2021

Thanks Rheo!

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Cianna Fahmy
03:49 May 04, 2021

This is a good written story she got the job she wanted working in the library because she likes reading books however she was hoping she could connect with her coworkers but one of her coworkers were interested in something other than books and made her feel uncomfortable.

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