It was on the tip of my tongue; it began with
a vowel, to do with
being very happy, but more so
. No it
wouldnt come, something that was happening more and more; it must be old
age. Not that I was feeling happy anyway or whatever the word was - as I
drove to the only library left in the city.
Garish posters advertising cars and
politicians looked down on me as I chugged along in my Mini, overwhelming me
with colour. I had been ignoring it all, thinking of when I was a student
in Glasgow in the nineties; Moira, Laura and I had caught a train to Oban and
stayed for the weekend. Oh the beauty of the mountains and the peace; taking
our minds off our coursework and the madness going on all around us.
We had climbed Ben Nevis, or some of it and
then exhausted and cold - we hugged looking down into the depths, and
for the first time I felt loved, and something else; something greater, but I
cannot find the word. And so I continued to drive, my mind searching.
I asked my colleague Jonathan, it was the
first thing I said to him, but we had been working together for several years
and he knew me well, and so forgave my lack of ceremony.
Oh yes, its
. and then
he looked puzzled too, I am sure I had it. It will come to me.
Never mind I told him, words
keep disappearing, I think that I must be getting old.
We both are.
I smiled, knowing that he would always be five
years older than me, although he didnt look it. In an ever-changing world
Jonathan was one of the few constants in my life, and I loved him dearly.
Where are the Raymond Chandler books? I
am sure they were here last night, I remember flicking through The Big
Sleep, so that we could use it for our Movie display.
God knows muttered Jonathan,
the Committee were here last night, perhaps they took it, they were
looking at our books again, but they did not want me to stay. I think there are
a few more gaps, they always are when they visit.
I sighed, remembering the days when we
received new books, rather than have them taken away from us, although that had
been only for a few heady months when I first joined, soon afterwards the
restrictions began, both in our library and in our private lives.
They were looking in our religion
section as well, probably worth checking, if there is anything left to
check. Jonathan said looking cross.
I shrugged and wandered over but there was
just two empty shelves, where are books on religion used to be, there was not
even a Bible.
So what did the Committee talk
about? I asked as we drank our Nescafe.
They are talking of closing us down
They always say that, we are the only
one left, they arent going to do that. And we hardly cost them
Jonathan sighed, maybe, but if they can
close all the other ones, then they can close ours too. They talked about our
Even though we havent had a raise
in three years
. I interrupted.
They didnt mention that funnily
enough, and then they talked about the building, how it could be used for other
sold to Carpetworld or Walmart.
I sighed and drank some more Nescafe, the
Cravendale seemed slightly off, I would have to buy some more at lunchtime.
Seriously now, you might want to think
of getting another job.
Do you want me to leave
No of course I dont, but I think
they will close us down soon and I would hate to see you without a job and all
I shuddered, a friend of mine from University
had lost his job a year or two ago in a school, and had ended up in an
Unemployment Hostel (now known as Work Hostels) in Norfolk and the
two letters he had managed to send me had been horrendous, although his
subsequent silence was even worse.
But if I go they wont replace me,
and then we will definitely close.
It is only a matter of time, so you
should jump. And we would still be friends; whether you like it or
We stood up of one accord and held each other;
I could feel his slightly plump body against mine; his smell of Old Spice, his
warmth. We kissed briefly and then disengaged and I got on with my work. I knew
that he was right, that I would have to find another job and leave all this
That evening Carl came round and we made love.
I think I love you he told me.
Love, what is love? I love WholeEarth
and the Highlands of Scotland. Are there no other words.
You know what love is he said, and
kissed me, before throwing away his Durex.
It does not mean anything anymore.
I told him, deliberately being cross; I wanted him to go so that I could read a
bit before going to sleep, but I did not trust him enough to show him my secret
stash of books. Not even Jonathan knew about it, although he probably realised
I had one, as I am sure that he had one too.
Unfortunately I could not persuade Carl to
leave, which meant we spent the evening watching some tedious thriller on the
Hitachi, and then the next morning I drove him to work into the city. He turned
the Pioneer on as I drove, finding Radio Pop Music.
This is an old one I said, as a
tune I recognised came on, and I got ready to sing along, but the words never
came, this must be an instrumental version I said after a
I dont remember there being any
words, I think it has always just been music. I love it, very
There you go again; love;
what does it mean; you love me, you love this song.
He laughed, well I do love it
The song continued to play
Really Carl, this used to be on the
radio all the time, it is a classic. Something about lonely people,
and a bit about a priest and an old woman, keeping her face in a jar, whatever
He looked at me puzzled, sounds a bit
weird, I definitely would have remembered a song like that.
But it is famous, I am sure it
The tune is.
I asked Jonathan, do you know that song,
something about lonely people and a vicar, no-one was
Err, no. I listen to classical
I know you do, but this one is famous,
even you would know it.
Most pop music I hear is just cheesy
tunes with la-laing along. I hate it. Give me Mozart any day.
His operas are good.
Operas? He didnt write
operas, did he? He wrote symphonies and piano concerti.
I thought he did, one about a marriage,
and one about someone selling his soul to the government
but you are the
I thought that I was.
He walked away looking puzzled, and then I saw
him reading something in our musical section; sadly depleted to just two
books. Clearly neither of them gave him what he wanted, and he wandered
off to see what else was missing, humming a horn concerto as he did so.
That church has gone, St.
Lukes, near where I live.
I looked up from sipping my Twinings
Thats a pity; I love the gothic
look of it.
Gothic? Whats that? he
Come on, you are an educated
He looked puzzled, I think that I used
to know. All these words disappearing. I dont know.
We still have churches; not many, and those we
do, like St. Lukes often disappear; hauled down in the night. I went to
one with Carl once, when I still thought that the relationship was more than
just a means of stress relief. But it was just music and incense; no Bible, no
preaching; just pictures and noise. Synagogues had been the first to go; for
Jews words are Holy and without the Torah what is there? And then Mosques and
Temples, now just the occasional tired looking church, almost as endangered as
After work I went into the last Waterstones to
buy A Bible, just out of curiosity, but the assistant looked at me blankly.
Well have you got a religious
We used to she admitted, but
it stopped being used
I looked round the shops but there were only
DIY, cookery and childcare books, and these consisted of pictures and diagrams.
There were fewer books even than in the library.
Didnt this shop used to be
bigger? I asked an old lady, who had walked in behind me, with more
But who needs books? I have a
computer at home, I just come in for the Costa. I used to go in with my husband
but now that he has gone, it is somewhere to go in the afternoon.
The next morning not only were there fewer
books in the library just one shelf, and that not even full, but even
the library sign had been taken down and the handful of posters that we had
The Committee were here last night
again, with hammers and a skip; they have only just gone.
Jonathan looked old and tired; just sitting in
his office staring out in front of him, god knows what he could see.
I held back my tears as I walked round the
empty buildings, remembering the shelves full of books; novels, art
oh the how I loved our poetry section, and our rare
books in our basement; the hours I spent down there looking at the beautiful
illustrations and breathing in the smell of old books. And there were our
users; the rich and poor, young and old. Some just wanting somewhere warm to
stay, others doing research or keeping up with news. Even our local writer; who
used to come in to use our photocopier and look through our books. He had long
gone; sent to a Work Camp and never heard of again. And Heather; who
became my friend, but also disappeared, or perhaps she was just scared of being
seen in a library.
The building seemed cold and desolate, as if
it had always been empty, and that the past was just a false memory; something
that I had read or seen on the Hitachi. I found Jonathan, who was tidying up
the mess left by the Committee. We did not say anything, we just held each
other for a moment, and then we kissed, kissed as if that was all there was
left in the world. After I while I gently released myself and walked out of the
building. I could not cry.
We looked like convicts, as we walked by the
side of the road with our bin bags, our orange uniforms and our guard. In fact
he was our supervisor and he was friendly enough, but he watched us
all the time and did not pick litter, so clearly he was our guard, and I did
not trust him, not one bit.
I had gone to the Job Agency the next morning.
There was a long queue of people; most of whom looked old and weary, and I
imagined that I would struggle to find something. But to my surprise I was
offered this job immediately; the young man who served me seemed surprised at
my enthusiasm, but I had assumed that I would not get anything and would be
sent to one of the Work Hostels in a month.
At least it will be outdoors and help me
lose some weight.
He smirked slightly before giving me the
details of the job; there was no interview or test, I was in.
And I enjoyed it; yes there was not much
brainwork, but I got out and met people and my team was a good one, and
incredibly I was better paid than I had been as a librarian, admittedly that
was not much. I was able to live the same lifestyle as previously. I did miss
the library and Jonathan
. Jonathan more than anything.
Carl had also decided to leave me. I went to
see him in the toyshop, after I left the library and told him what had
happened. Perhaps I just wanted love, or sex. Hoped that he would take the rest
of the day off and take me home.
Thats worrying he said, as
he stood, watching a couple of children looking at Lego models. It
wasnt much I suppose, but it was a job.
Not much? It was my life.
It is a bit dodgy. Hopefully you will
find something better.
It was clear that he wanted me to go, that I
was embarrassing him, so after a moment I left, wondering why I had spent so
much time with somebody I had so little in common with. I did try and ring him
a couple of times after that but he did not answer and I found that I did not
care, not one bit.
And then Jonathan disappeared. He had rung me
a few times after I left and we talked for hours most evenings. And sometimes
we met for a Nescafe at Costa. He was still being kept on for the time being in
the library, but just sat and drew and listened to music on the Hitachi that he
had brought in.
I know that I should go, but so long as
I am there, well there is still hope.
But you wanted me to go.
He looked at me sadly, I didnt
want you to go, but there was no point both of us being in danger.
Dont worry, I am just being
But I knew that he was worried. Were libraries
so important? Presumably they would just let him go if they no longer needed
And that was the last time that I saw him. Two
days later when I tried to ring him his telephone appeared to be disconnected,
no sound at all, except perhaps the quietest of humming. On the next three
evenings the same thing happened, and there was no message from him, I was
worried particularly after our last conversation. But also I missed him; I
realised that for years I had never gone a couple of days without speaking to
him and that he was my only friend.
I had never visited Jonathan at his home, but
I knew his address; like me he lived in a flat, although at the other end of
the city. I walked there one Saturday but I could not get into the building. I
rang his buzzer and there was no answer and then I tried the five buzzers below
his, but nobody replied to any of them either.
It was a hot day but I suddenly felt cold and
had the feeling that this was desolate and the whole building was empty, just
Carpetworld and Dulux. Working it out I guessed that Jonathans flat was
at the back of the building, on the second floor and so I walked around to the
rear and looked up at what must have been his window, but I could see nothing,
just the sun reflecting back at me. After trying all the buzzers again, without
luck I went home.
The following Saturday I tried again; although
I was not optimistic. But when I rang Jonathans bell, after a moment
there was a noise and to my surprise and relief somebody did answer.
No came a voice, distorted by
electronics and height.
I have come to enquire about my friend
The intercom went silent and I stood there for
a good few minutes and nothing happened. I was just about to try again when an
old man opened the front door.
Sorry love, I am the caretaker, I am not
supposed to let anybody in.
He looked to be in his seventies and was
Oh, I am just looking for my friend
Jonathan, I told him, he has disappeared, and none of his
neighbours seem to answer when I ring.
No they wouldnt he said and
then beckoned me in and led me into one of the flats which was empty.
How do you have your Twinings?
We drank surprisingly good Twinings, sitting
together companionably on the floor.
I am not sure where your friend has
gone, he told me, I only started here a couple of days ago. Most of
the flats are empty, and I have been sent to tidy them up, send all the
What happened to his books.
I realised I was trusting him by asking him
this, but he had let me in and seemed kind.
He looked embarrassed, we dont
talk of books, but they will have been burnt.
I sighed, but where will he have
I dont know. If he cares, and he
can, he will try to contact you I am sure.
I finished off my drink and he helped me to my
If you hear anything
. And I
gave him my number, but I knew that he wouldnt hear anything, that
Jonathan would not be back. But at least I could pretend to have done
something, however little
I saw it wedged between the wall and a
waterpipe; a sheet of paper, light blue and incredibly it appeared to have
writing on. I discretely picked it up; the writing was in pen even more
unusual and it looked difficult to read. I walked by the side of a
building pretending I was trying to get some rubbish from a grid, and tried to
decipher the message.
I have eaten
the plums that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
I looked at it and wonder what it meant and
why the words were shaped so strangely? I repeated it over to myself,
until I realised that somebody was standing behind me. John, our
What is that?
And he tore it from me before I had time to
reply. He seemed to shiver when he realised that it had writing on. He hastily
ripped it up into four, and then put it in his blue bag that he kept for
You have been here long enough; you know
Sorry I muttered.
This is serious, you should have handed
it straight to me.
I know, I was just about to
honestly and I stroked his jacket and what I hoped was a seductive sort
of way, I know.
He shrugged and walked away and I got on with
my work, wondering if I would be reported and sacked or worse.
Throughout the day I repeated the words on the
paper in an attempt to remember them, and when I got home I wrote them down on
the inside of a shopping bag which I hid with my small collection of books.
I was not sure if I had written it down
correctly, nor was I sure why it haunted me so much, it was almost poetic or
was it just nonsense. I had vague memories of the poetry that I used to read,
but they were gone now, all I had was this strange squib. But it was
something. If only Jonathan was there to talk to about it, and to hold me
and make me laugh, but there was nobody, so I cooked some Richmonds and then
gazed out of my window onto the soulless world below.
That Sunday, on an impulse, I drove to the
library; perhaps Jonathan would be there, sitting at his desk, or reading
something which had just arrived, and we would hug and kiss like we used to do,
and he would tell me about his book, or something he had listened to on his
Philips, last night.
I had not been sacked from my job as litter
picker, but I knew that my days were numbered, that I would still be gone. But
instead of feeling sad and frightened I did not care; as if the world had
become silly and nothing could hurt me anymore, and perhaps I would be taken to
where Jonathan was, and if he was there it could not be too bad. Anyway I had
nothing left here.
As I reached the building, I noticed that the
car park was almost full, something I had never seen, even just after I started
at the library and we had regular borrowers. Eventually someone left the car
park, and I drove into their space. As I walked inside the building that I had
once known so well, I could smell rubber and nylon and everywhere were carpets
of every different colour.
Can I help you? said a young man,
what kind of carpet are you looking for?
Im not I told him, I
used to work here
. when it was a library. I just thought I would look at
what had happened to the building, and to see if there were any books
He looked at me as if I had said something
rude, but before he had time to think of what to say, and to ask my name, I had
There was a park nearby where I used to have
my lunch when it was hot. I walked through the grass watching children running
about and parents listening to music on their headphones or gazing blankly
about them. I wanted to describe what I could see about me, but I did not have
the words and so I continued to walk humming to myself a tune that probably
once meant something to someone.
And then the word came to me that I had
forgotten so long ago, it was ecstasy, but I no longer knew what it
meant, or what it describe. And so I continued to walk.