The Lady of the Library (v1)
Shelves of leather-bound books rimmed the interior walls of the library, the golden writing engraved on their spines indecipherable. A circle of bean-bags lay in a far-off corner. The lady of the library stopped to deposit the book into the empty returns bin, which sat behind the door waiting to devour items dropped through its slot. A weight lifted from my shoulders as the book clattered noisily to the bottom of the bin.
The lady began delving deeper into the library. “Follow me,” she beckoned.
We walked silently to the bean-bags and sat down. I chose a bag of dirty orange corduroy, laying limp and defenceless alongside its firmer, fancier companions. I settled down upon it and sank deeply, my head falling below the level of my awkwardly bended knees. I felt exposed and vulnerable, but made no attempt to adjust my position. The lady sat straight and graceful in front of me, her legs discreetly crossed, a file laying open on her lap.
“I’m Angela,” she began, reaching down to me to shake me by the hand. I introduced myself in return. She smiled kindly.
“Welcome, Jay. Now then, what is this about a princess?” she prompted.
“I must rescue her. I have seen it in a dream. I saw the…”
“…the poster? The one on the window outside? Of course!”
“My problem,” I interrupted, “is that I haven’t told a story before. I just wouldn’t know where to begin.”
She frowned slightly and wrote something down in her file, then looked at me with a puzzled expression. “Story?” she asked quizzically.
I looked at her hopefully, not knowing what to say.
“Oh, you want to tell me your story? Well, you’ve come to the right place.”
I nodded uncertainly.
“Why don’t you begin by describing your day? I find it’s a great way to get things started. Do you think you could manage that?”
I nodded again. That seemed easy; my day had been eventful and strange. I told Angela about it freely, omitting nothing. I spoke of the strange dream that had awoken me, in which she herself had appeared. Of the phone call. Of being released from my duties at the factory. Of beginning my quest to return the princess to her palace. Angela wrote all of this down in her notebook, gently prompting me to continue whenever I paused in thought.
“This is wonderful! You have a lot of material waiting to burst out!”
“But I don’t know where to begin. I mean, I know where I need to get to, because that’s right here and now. I just have trouble remembering what happened to me earlier. Before today.”
Angela nodded encouragingly. “That’s where writing can help,” she said. “If you just sit down and write, putting one word in front of the other, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. Don’t worry about making mistakes; don’t worry about where your tale is going. Just push on, make steady progress, and eventually you’ll find yourself on the pathway that leads to a satisfying resolution.”
“But what should I write about? Should I invent something?”
“Write about what you know. Tell your own story! Bring it to me tomorrow, and we’ll discuss what you’ve written.”
Angela rose elegantly, signifying that our meeting had come to an end. I attempted to do the same, but was unable to move from my sunken position at her feet. Instead, I rolled sideways out of the bean-bag, landing on the carpeted floor on all fours. Angela offered me her hand, which I refused, and so she looped her arm under mine and raised me to my feet before escorting me back to the entrance, her soft hand pressed into the small of my back.
She pulled the door open and held it for me.
“Here, you’ll need this,” she said as I moved to step past her. She held out a thick pad of writing paper, each page ruled faintly and emblazoned across the top with what looked like the library’s logo and address. I took it from her and embraced it against my chest, the thin paper rustling as I did so.
“See you tomorrow, Jay,” she smiled as I stepped out into the dazzling sunlight of a brand new day.
I meandered home, lost in thought. How would I manage to write my story down? I remembered so few details of what had transpired in my past to lead me to my present situation; I was concerned that I would not be able to find the words to describe it in sufficient detail if all I had to go on was jumbled mess of half-memories. I felt hopelessly lost.
The world rushed and buzzed around me, countless others going about their daily lives, oblivious to my troubles. I watched them, suddenly curious. Did they have their own goals and desires, or were they nothing more than a mere backdrop to my solipsistic existence?
The thought confused me. I had no idea why it had crossed my mind, and wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. But, having entertained it, I grew more and more convinced that the others around me were less real than myself.
Stopping on a street corner, I studied the milling crowd for a long while. I watched an old man sidle up to a shopkeeper to begin an animated conversation, I watched a woman in a flowing floral dress enter a salon with confident ambition, I watched a schoolgirl walking slowly down the street, pigtails beneath a straw hat, a heavy bag on her back, nose buried in a book. Everyone and everything seemed innocuous and mundane. Every soul I observed was obviously intelligent and self-directed. Yet boringly so; they lead a simple existence, devoid of surprise.
Surprise. The wellspring of change. The key to aping intelligent behaviour. These and other strange thoughts bubbled and brewed within me, vying for my attention. With an inward shrug I moved on.
I entered a small shop on a whim, browsing its aisles in a daydream, filling a basket with foodstuffs, and found myself standing still before a stationery display. Angela had advised me not to worry about making mistakes; to steam ahead without editing or revision. I selected a box of blue biros, adding it to my basket.
Exiting the shop, I resumed my journey home, carrying two heavy bags of supplies, putting one foot in front of the other. The walk was exhausting, but I knew that if I could muster the strength to maintain a steady pace I would soon be standing at my front door. And so it came to be.
I entered my apartment and put the bags down on the kitchen bench, beside stacks of dirty dishes and plates of half-eaten food. I was certain that I hadn’t written anything resembling English prose since I was a child, and this filled me with worry and doubt.
Placing the blank writing pad from the library and the unopened packet of ballpoint pens on the small kitchen table, I began to unpack the rest of the shopping, putting items away methodically.
Once that was done, I put on a pot of coffee, toasted a bagel, and thought about how to begin writing my story. I was pretty sure I’d once read about an author who simply pushed a character into a world and then waited to see whether anything interesting happens, trusting that it almost certainly would. But I couldn’t think of a character or a world or anything else beyond my own experience, and I felt myself unable to write about my past in a way that would be anything but dull and empty to the reader.
When the bagel was golden brown I spread it thickly with cream cheese, sandwiching the sliced halves together until its molten innards oozed from the seam. I poured myself a coffee and moved into the front room of my apartment, relaxing into the sofa. Switching on the television, I started to flick through the recordings as I munched on the bagel, relishing its chewy crunchiness, procrastinating while telling myself I was searching for ideas.
Dejected, I returned to the kitchen to leave the dirty mug and plate with the other unwashed dishes. The writing pad regarded me blankly.
Sitting at the kitchen table I opened the packet of pens, drew out one of the plastic tubes from amongst its brethren, removed its cap, and wrote.
“I really have no clue where to begin,” I started, “but Angela said that I should just put pen to paper and start writing about something, so here it goes. And I don’t want to write it in first person… this isn’t a diary. I’ll write as if I’m an anthropologist taking notes, observing my past self.”
I chewed the pen and stared off into space. Not a great start, but at least the page was filling up. I wrote some more.
“Jay sat at his desk in the dormitory, playing with a sequence of numbers, rearranging them to find a pattern that would lead from one to the next, and from there onward to other numbers that must also be members of the sequence, assuming that the entropy were to remain constant.”
That seemed too dry and boring. A dreadful mixture of glossing over the important facts while giving far too much detail, if such a combination were even possible. I had cringed when I wrote my own name; referring to myself in the third person was awkward and unfamiliar. I needed to come up with a memorable moniker. Breathing deeply, I tried to write once more.
“Lloyd cycled through the campus, passing through the shadowed archways between the austere buildings, a satchel on his back. He manoeuvred around the throngs of undergraduate students on their way between classes, making his way to the lab.”
That had some promise, but the page, now full, moved awkwardly between self-analysis and disjointed descriptions of myself at different stages of life, and under different names. And, to be honest, I didn’t think that I had ever ridden a bicycle around campus while studying at the university.
Angry at my lack of progress, I ripped the topmost page out of the writing pad, scrunching it up into a ball and throwing it at the overflowing bin in the corner of the kitchen. It missed, rebounding and rolling away to hide shamefully behind the fridge.
I paced the room, I exercised, I showered. I even tidied my bedroom, finding a few things that belonged to a girl that had once lived there, putting them neatly away in the wardrobe, which was heartbreakingly half-full.
I returned to my writing desk in the kitchen, admitting to myself that I had been wasting time, determined now to forge ahead as the lady of the library had suggested. I picked up the pen, deciding to begin by describing a day in the life of my alter-ego, in boring, excruciating detail if need be.
Only by telling his story could I hope to find and follow the pathway to a satisfying resolution, as someone had once told me. I began to write.