There was no hiding in that place. Not really. Yet it was all about hiding. Escaping. However briefly. Once through the brittle plastic doors, there was a muffled dustiness within the solid walls and low ceilings which was comforting. Dry and dusty, the place felt dampened, with a faint hint of spice. Noises were occasionally discernible, and could have been either footfalls or books being taken out or replaced. Who knew? In the barn, there was a tacit agreement to remain silent. To leave oneanother to their own proclivities. Here was paradise for the bookworm, as it appeared to each and every devotee.
Yet though arid and Xeric, there was something almost aquatic about the sandy-shelved, blue-carpeted depths of the building. To dart behind the first row of shelves nestled behind the front desk was to delve, or dive, in to another world. Somewhere more dense and immersive than real life. Between the bursting shelves were rivulets, streams, oceans of books. Everybody visiting became temporarily lost, and enamoured of something they had never expected to find. Throughout the heat and chill of discovery, readers passed eachother like ships in the night.
Frequenters navigated the rows as they would if they were Sea Life in ocean currents: slowly drifting, eyes wide in the murk, snagging on titles and becoming driftwood. Stationary. Then either the slow drift to the next row, or a sharp turn, curving in to an eddying bay of interest. A flash of light in the dark. Sitting in the cushion-strewn cafè and sipping at a coffee, that is precisely what Harry observed, and ironically felt envious of. Rubbing at his wiry stubble, he grimaced at the slanting, torrential July rain slashing past the foyer and drained his mug, stretching his lean frame as he rose. Hungover, he was hoping to end his own deep-sea dive by trawling up a treasure. Something precious and valuable that would distract him from the drudgery of what his working, living life had become. The life he had forged for himself. What a dreadful thought. He batted it away. Fuck it. Fuck you, reality. Deep breath…
He surged forward, lingeringly running the fingertips of his left hand against hard shelves as he walked, only to make a sharp left turn where he always did, time after time. The poetry section. He remarked to himself, not for the first time, that it was a miracle there wasn’t a groove in the carpet from his truly well-trodden, swerving path. Rubbing his bloodshot eyes, Harry raised his head and sought out changes that had occurred from his last visit. Ah. A new volume of Wordsworth’s poetry. Sod that. “Our Glorious Isle, by Quentin Dimbleby- Moncrief”. Oh dear. Strike two. Despairingly, he reached out for a thin, sage green volume entitled Waiting Game, and hastily withdrew his hand as a new set of footfalls entered the aisle. He felt oddly violated, as if somebody was burgling his home. Feigning ignorance of the interruption he retreated to the safety of the battered green armchair wedged between the narrow rows and in the shadows; hastily grabbing a desolate-looking Auden anthology as he slumped. He was not used to this.
The foot-falls suddenly stopped. Entirely. Leaving an eerie, expectant silence. Followed by a haunting sound that Harry had not heard for over fifteen years, but recognised instantly. A slow, deliberate tapping of an index finger on metal bookends. Was it possible? Had the café staff spiked his coffee? He looked up, wandering wildly whether he was hallucinating or not. No. In a low, heavily-accented Hispanic voice she confirmed it. “You always loved the miserable shit, you English lump”. He could not breathe. For over one and one half decades he had pondered where Isabella might be, and suddenly here she was. Large as life, with those dark eyes. In the middle of nowhere. When he was at his lowest ebb. Harry’s parched throat managed a puny
” Hello”. He flicked his eyes upwards, and saw a fringe that had never been there, in his time. It seemed to magnify her Obsidian gaze.
© Tom Tide 2016