A few minutes later, she returned. “That was the worst selection of trashy Romance I’ve ever seen.” She stood almost aggressively, her small stature doing nothing to soften her gaze. “Pride and Prejudice? That’s practically one of the least trashy romance novels in existence.” Marcus smiled, and raised his eyes to meet hers. “Really?” He mused, placing his book pages-down on the table and leaning back in his chair. “You’re a real connoisseur of trash then Miss…?” “Burton,” she finished, throwing her hair back out of her face with a small jerky motion, refusing to unfold her arms, “and yes, you could say that. Is there a problem with that?”
“Of course not,” Marcus replied, his eyes gleaming at the challenge, “I was just commenting on how regardless of the quality of the people interested in trash, it is still trash.”
“Well, one man’s trash is another’s inspiration.”
“To do what, exactly? Open a publishing house to rival Mills and Boon?”
She scoffed, unfolding her arms and adjusting the strap of her satchel. “It’s always nice to know that there are writers who’re worse than yourself.”
“Ah, so you’re a novelist?”
“I wouldn’t say that…”
“What would you say?”
“That I’ve a passion for words and their uses.”
“But you’re not a storyteller?”
“Well then speak up, Miss Burton. Society is nothing without its neat labels placed upon everything. If you’re not a novelist, or a storyteller, what are you?”
She paused a moment, her eyebrows furrowed in thought. “I’m a connoisseur of trashy romance novels and ethnographer.”
Marcus snorted softly, removing his glasses and let them hang on their string around his neck. “Well then I’m sorry to disappoint you Miss Burton. My library is notoriously well stocked in everything worth reading, it is not a storage place for the dreams of little girls.”
Burton said nothing, and instead opened her satchel and rummaged until she withdrew a battered paperback novel. “Here,” she said, tossing it so it slid across the table and came to a halt in front of Marcus, “read it. I’ll be back in a week to hear your verdict.”
“What makes you think I’ll be here in a week?” Marcus responded, not bothering to even read the title of the book in front of him.
“You’ll have an overwhelming urge to tell me how great it is, and will have to wait patiently for my return, obviously.” She replied, shifting her bag back on to her shoulder and tucking her hands in to the pockets of her black hoody.
Marcus could feel the corners of his mouth twitching, threatening a smile. He held his face in its neutral setting with some effort. “Well I certainly hope it’s as inspirational as you’re making it out to be.”
“It is.” She responded, a smirk upon her face. “I’ll see you next week then,” she spoke over her shoulder, as she turned abruptly and started for the door.
“I look forward to it.” Marcus responded, finally looking down at the book she’d left. “Ah, Christ,” he muttered after hearing the door close, “I thought I had every copy of this crap.” He pushed it away in disgust; nobody wants to read their own work, after all.
“You know, every book and pamphlet and signpost you’ve ever read has been made up of the same 26 letters.”
“The alphabet, dingus.”
“What about it?”
“Everything you’ve read has been some combination of the same 26 letters.”
“Not if I’m reading, like, Finnish or Russian or something.”
“Psh. Since when could you read Finnish?”
“I can’t, but that’s beside the point.”
“You’re really detracting from my epiphany here.”
“Sorry. You’re detracting from my enjoyment of this here novel, if it’s any consolation.”
A few moments passed.
“…Do you ever think about languages dying out?”
“Languages dying out.”
“What about it?” “Do you ever think about it? Like, right now there’s probably only a handful of people who speak some obscure mountain tribe language. Don’t you think that’s upsetting?”
“No. Why would I?”
“Because when those people die, if they don’t pass it on then the last person to speak it won’t have anyone to talk to who can understand them!”
“Why would I be upset by that? They can always learn another language.”
“Or everyone could learn /their/ language!”
“What if they won’t teach us? Outsiders or… something.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to learn!”
“Honestly, I don’t think it really matters.”
The crinkle of a page being turned punctuated the silence.
“How can you say that?!”
“What?! It’s true. Everyone speaks either English, Chinese or… Spanish or something.”
“You’re a pleb.”
“What’s a pleb?”
“Look it up in your Oxford English Dictionary.”
The chair made a piercing shriek as it was dragged back across the hard floor, followed by the sound of footsteps retreating back through the vast library. Somewhere in the distance a door slammed shut and the echo reverberated through the building.
Marcus wondered what he’d said to upset them now. There was always something he said wrong that usually ended in someone performing the theatrics he’d just witnessed. He turned back to his book, slouching back in his chair and folding his free arm over his chest. Why was everything he said so… controversial? He wondered for a moment whether his years of devouring book after book had left him arrogant of his own infallible correctness before dismissing the thought as one he’d read last night in whatever his current bedtime reading material was. He barely bothered trying to keep track of the titles, much less their authors. When you read such a wide range of genres, titles become irrelevant. You could recite a sentence completely devoid of context and he’d have a fairly good idea of the genre, year of publication, and when he read it. One of the many perks of living in a library.
He’d bought the cavernous building on a whim when the locals kicked up a fuss about it being “A staple of the community” and how demolition would “be a huge blow to the reading public.” Of course, once he’d rescued the place, things calmed down a lot. He was lucky if he saw 3 of his dozen or so “regulars” in a week, and saw the odd straggler here and there, but otherwise it was pretty much empty on a day to day basis. He didn’t mind, of course. He didn’t buy the place to demonstrate his selfless duty to his fellow man, he did it because it came complete with the furnishings, books and all. It seemed a pretty good deal.
Of course, Marcus had needed to spruce the place up a bit – fix some weary shelves here and there, give it a lick of paint. He fashioned an entirely new cataloguing system and stored the whereabouts of every book in his possession in his keen mind. He knew what was on loan, when it was due back, who had it and what colour their top was when they checked it out – no need for technology. Not even a want for technology either. Bloody machines were taking over, he thought, and books were the last stand to be made against the rising tide of instant social media buzzwords, a new one of which would find its way inside his cranium on a nigh-daily basis. This annoyed him to no end.
“Hello? Uh… Are you the librarian?” A nervous looking young lady, maybe 15 or 16 years old had approached Marcus silently while he was lost in thought, and made him jump a little as he regained focus.
“Hm? Oh. Yes. Yeah, that’s me. How can I help?” He replied, his gruff voice weak from infrequent use.
“I was just wondering if you had any trashy romance novels?” She inquired, her face set in to a picture of nonchalance. He looked at her for a moment, almost impressed with her lack of apology for her unpopular choice of book.
“Oh yeah,” he replied, nodding at the bookshelf behind her, “just head through the caution tape over there, I lumped it all in together,see?”
She followed his gaze for a moment, nodding in reply to his question. “Do you cordon off all your genres?” She inquired, cocking an eyebrow.
“Only the ones I’ve exhausted my capacity to read. You’re welcome to keep any of the books you find there, as long as you let me know what you’ve got.” He turned back to his hardback, adjusting his glasses a little and only chancing a look over the cover when he heard the rustle of the thin plastic as she ducked under the barrier.
I couldn’t believe she’d done this, again. That fucking dog of hers was always chewing shit up or hiding stuff. I’d told her a thousand times to take him to a dog trainer or better yet to have it put down. "Liv!" I yelled up the stairs, "Where the fuck are my keys? I’m gonna be late." No response. I ran up the stairs and in to her room. “Liv,” I said, crossing to the heap of blankets on the bed and nudging it, “Liv wake up.” "Mrrrmmph, what?" Came the muffled reply. "Your fucking dog’s taken my keys and took off again." "Uuuugh not again," she turned over and swept the hair out of her face, "are you sure he’s not behind the telly?" "Yes, and you left the garden gate open again." "Fucks sake," she grumbled, tossing back the duvet and rolling out of bed, "I swear if you’ve left them in the kitchen again I’m going to…" she paused, rubbing her eyes, "do something." We made our way downstairs and she made a beeline to the kitchen, pouring the last cup of coffee from the pot and sighing as she turned round, keys in hand. “What’s this? Scotch mist?” I sighed, snatching the keys out of her hand. “Well the dog’s still missing.” "He’ll come back." She waved her hand dismissively and sipped her drink. "You say that now, but if he’s been hit by a car you’ll be the first to blame me." I shot back, "Seriously Liv you’ve gotta keep a fucking eye on him. You got him and promised me he’d be under control but I don’t know if you’ve noticed the fact that everything is chewed to shit!" I paused, twirling my keys around my finger before catching them. "Have you even seen the remote? It’s unusable!" She sighed, leaning against the counter and looking pointedly at the clock. “You’re so late.” I followed her gaze. 9:30. “Fuck. Okay I’ll see you later but I’m not fucking joking. If that rat ruins anything else I’m having him put down.” I stormed out of the kitchen and out the front door, slamming it shut before heading over to my car, unlocking it and climbing in to the drivers seat. “Fucking dog,” I muttered, turning the key in the ignition and backing out of the driveway, “he’ll be the death of me.”
The sun was blazing in a cloudless Nevada sky. We sat on a rock and looked from each other to the dust trail steadily making its way towards the horizon. "I can’t believe that just fuckin’ happened." I muttered, raising one hand to my forehead and shielding my eyes from the unrelenting brightness. Terry laughed, turning to look at me. “I can’t believe you just fuckin’ swore,” he replied, “all this shit and only now do I finally rub off on you?” "Shut up," I said, "I’ll swear if I want to." "What the fuck, man?" He shot back, "all of this shit. All of this fucking shit and only now when there’s not a soul for miles do you fuckin’ swear. What’s with that?" "Shut up Terry," I rubbed my temples with my thumb and index finger, trying to find a way out of this, "I’m thinking." "Right yeah, you’re thinking. You’re always fucking thinking." He paused, "you know for someone who claims to think so hard all the time, none of your ideas are ever any fucking good." I said nothing. I could easily have blamed this failure on his loud mouth, but what good would it have done? We were in the desert for fuck’s sake, getting pissy at him wouldn’t help. "If we’d only have just taken the money, man. Can you imagine? We could be in the fuckin’ Caribbean right now, being served ice cold cocktails by bitches in bikinis." "Terry," I lowered my hand and turned to glare at him, cutting off his trail of thought, "shut. Up." "Alright, alright. I’m just sayin’!" He replied, resting his elbows on his knees and cradling his head in his hands. I sighed, turning to look back down the road where the dusty trail had mostly settled when something caught my eye. “Hey,” I nudged Terry and pointed, “is that what I think it is?” Terry looked up, following my gaze to a point some way away down the road. He squinted. “I think it might be,” he grinned, turning back to look at me. I laughed quietly, dropping my hand down again now we both knew not only what but who was coming for us. "Son of a bitch," Terry laughed, "I cannot fucking believe that son of a fucking bitch." We soon ran out of expressions of incredulity, and a black saloon car soon pulled up, windows down. "You boys need a ride?" The driver asked, his face completely devoid of emotion. "You motherfucker," Terry got to his feet and took a few slow paces towards the car, "I cannot fucking believe you." "Hey," The driver shot back, "do you want a ride or not, you foul mouthed brat?" A smile crept across his face as he spoke. Terry and I both laughed and made our way over to the car. “Sure, Dad,” I replied.
We argued over who got to ride shotgun until Dad told Terry that if it weren’t for me we’d be walking home, and relegated him to the back seat. Soon, we were on the road back to Las Vegas. "I gotta tell you boys," Dad started, pausing to light a cigarette, "you make a pretty fuckin’ good team." He glanced over at me, and I grinned. "Well y’know," Terry piped up from the back, "we did learn from the best." "Right," Dad’s smile faded a little, "your uncle Frank could teach you both a thing or two about improvisation." "We know, Dad." We both replied in tandem, having heard nothing but stories of Uncle Frank’s improvisational skill growing up together. The car was silent save for the gentle purring of the engine and the occasional hiss of Dad inhaling his cigarette. The road stretched out in front of us and the sun grew weary, but Dad kept driving homeward in silence. "Now, you boys," he started suddenly, inclining his head towards us both, "how about another drink? I’m thirsty as hell."
The soft light burbled through the open window, falling on her skin and melting like sherbet on your tongue. She stirred gently, her strawberry singsong hair slowly moving across the pillow the way the smell freshly mown grass creeps up in to your brain to let you know that it’s a nice day outside. The hands of the clock ran slowly like honey down its face and I marvelled at the sweet pale blue hue the room adopted.
I know there are days when the bright light of the sun is more of a murky haze to navigate blindly. Arms outstretched for a companion, a friend, hell even an enemy would do. But the space stretches further than your small arms can reach and you flounder.
I know there are days when you can’t find your feet and they’re smirking, laughing loudly until your fist and their face meet. You didn’t mean to I know, but they’ll fight back with threats, notes on your car, locker, phone calls texts they’ll follow you.
Sometimes I think I’m invisible. Literally invisible. Like a ghost but with more life and less groaning. I suppose that’s one of the plus sides to living in such a big city – nobody is paying attention to anyone else. You can be invisible, or at least anonymous. There are obvious perks to this – for example you can make stupid faces while walking around casually, you can fart or pick your nose in public.
But there are subtle advantages as well – when you make eye contact with a stranger with one finger up your nose fishing for another juicy glob, and they smile and do the same. When they recognise that you are never going to see each other again and that it doesn’t matter what you do in front of each other. It’s one of those profoundly meaningful things that keeps you grounded and paying attention to everything that’s going on in a place where it’s easy to just slip in to the cocoon of your own thoughts.
But being invisible has its down sides as well. The cute guy will never acknowledge my existence, but the ticket machine will. The head hunter will never stop and ask if I want a job, but the pigeons will always shit on me. It’s not complete invisibility, it’s just that nobody takes any notice. They’ll see you and just carry on, like you are not another human in need of interaction with other humans. I’m not sure being a ghost wouldn’t be more interesting – at least then when someone sees you they pay attention. You might even get to change some of their fundamental beliefs, which would be fun.
That sounds like something a tough guy would say to the sobbing widow of a soldier, but it’s true. As I type away here, people are dying. People have just died. People are going to die very soon.
It seems like something you have to just deal with, people dying. It’s not going to stop happening, so you might as well get used to it, right? No, you’ll never get used to it. When it hits you that with every breath you take, one was taken from someone else. A baby girl who died of hypothermia after being left on a doorstep somewhere, maybe. A man who was pushed off a cliff by a murderous mistress. These people stopped breathing and you haven’t.
The cracks in the pavement were both deep and numerous. I trudged along, avoiding the deep puddles, from the bus stop towards the city centre - the bronze statue of some lord on a horse in the centre of the square was the only meeting point everyone was sure to know.
A good crowd was grouped around the statue, all dressed in black jeans, band shirts or hoodies. Not your average gang of youths to be found in the city centre on a saturday afternoon. These were my friends, and as I approached they ran to greet me with hugs that would knock the wind out of me every time I saw them.
That was every saturday for me - a 45 minute bus journey in to the city centre, rib-crushing hugs, and a passion for mooching. We were pros. We hung out on the church steps, lay in the sun of the park, browsed HMV and sat on the base of that statue smoking rollups before having to leave and return home on the last bus home at 6 o’clock.