The library was always empty in Oatlands. From 9 in the morning till 5 in the afternoon, I sat on the old leather chair, tapping my pen and watching the clock, perched on the back wall. Waiting.
A tall, chestnut haired woman entered slowly, peeking her head through the door.
‘Hello?’ I grinned, waving my arm from behind the large desk. Audrey Sprouse, a tall tulip amongst the cotton thistles that were Oatlands’ residents.
‘We’re closing up soon, but come in Audrey.’ She smiled and disappeared behind the tall shelves in the fiction aisle. She ran her fingers along every book spine in the C- D section, repeating the name ‘Camus’.
‘Ahh here.’ She grinned as she pulled a black book from the shelf, opening it, smoothening its pages and inhaling its scent.
I snorted in amusement and quickly covered my mouth. Audrey looked up at me, smiling.
She approached the desk, placing the black book before me. ‘The Stranger’, the title read.
‘What’s it about then?’ I watched Audrey’s content smile as she continued to smooth her hands over its cover.
‘Why don’t you read it and find out, Nancy?’
‘Oh, well.’ I pushed my glasses up as they stubbornly slid down my nose. ‘I…don’t really read.’ She stopped fiddling with the pages, and looked up at me in polite confusion. Nobody really read in Oatlands, except Audrey of course. With its already meagre job offers, the local library, parched from its painful lack of customers, was the only decent place left.
Audrey slid the book under my fingers.
‘I’ll borrow this, after you have read it.’ And with that, she smiled and left.
I sat and stared at the book, thick and complicated in all its glory. She was expecting me to read this? I flicked through the book, its meaningful words yearning to be read and understood. I closed the store up and turned my little desk lamp on.
Over several hours, I had devoured pages of what I finally concluded to be, “a terrible sort of beauty”. I re read the same phrase over, and over again. ‘There is not love of life without despair about life.’ The following morning, the book was still contently nestled in my hand. A night, a book, and the reasoning behind everything I’d ever done was doubted. The clock menacingly stared down at me, ticking impatiently unlike anything else in this slow town.
I opened the blinds and unlocked the door, hissing quietly as the natural light seeped in. The cool morning air filled the library, and for a moment, it looked beautiful. I stepped outside and watched the mill begin to turn. The familiar smell of maple syrup and crepes wafted out of the café kitchen across the road.
Everything seemed smaller today.
I wondered what went on behind the grey eyes of the little old lady that sat on the bench beside the library every morning, sipping the same strong scented black coffee. Was she happy? I looked at my chewed fingers, raw and unsightly. Was I happy?
I searched through every aisle, looking for another book to read. After a half hour of skimming through blurbs I decided to settle with ‘Northern Lights’, a fantasy novel that had enticed me with its blue and vibrant colours, yearning to be read.
Audrey returned to the library that day, smiling as she eyed the new book in my hand.
‘Philip Pullman?’ she asked. I nodded and held the book up.
‘Look who decided to come early today.’ I watched as she searched for another book, this time she had found herself in the F to G aisle.
‘Just wanted to make sure you’d read the book is all.’ She winked and continued running her fingers along the spines.
I’d read the book. Whether I was happy about this, I wasn’t sure just yet.
After I’d closed up, I sat on the old lady’s bench, staring into the dimmed sky. The only grocery store was a ten-minute walk away, the pizza shop was two stores down, the and my house was just down the road. The lights of the caravan park lit up from behind the information centre and I thought of Darcy and Belle, the twins who live with their parents in one of those dilapidated vans. I smiled as I remembered the boy who worked at the pizza shop, constantly needing to be reminded of how to spell pepperoni. Not a car passed by, for the entire night, as I sat on my own, staring at the mill’s silhouette slowly disappear.
On Tuesday, I packed all my clothing and personal possessions into a single suitcase, and tossed it into the boot of my old Beetle. My life in one boot.
I sat on the spinning chair in the library, staring at the clock, Audrey was later than usual.
The little old woman sat herself on the bench again. She gazed into nothingness for at least half an hour. Her coffee grew cold. This town was caught in a time capsule that I just couldn’t squeeze out of.
Five minutes before close up time, she opened the door.
‘Audrey.’ I put on my coat and hurried to her. ‘I was worried you wouldn’t turn up.’
‘Everything okay?’ I cupped her hands in mine. It was difficult. Difficult to explain, that I had outgrown this little town.
‘I need to get away from this place.’ I said hurriedly.
Audrey struggled to find words. After all, I would never have thought to leave a day ago. I looked behind her, the mill slowly turning, the old lady still sitting on that retched bench, and the library. Still empty.
‘I’m wasting everything here Audrey. I realise that now.’ I lived in an undisturbed story without climax, hidden from change. I kissed her on the cheek and slid the first book I read into her tote bag. She squeezed my hands tightly and nodded.
‘Maybe I’ll see you again.’
I sat in my car, hands resting on the steering wheel. I looked ahead at the seemingly endless road.
I turned the ignition on and left the library, the old lady, the maple syrup and crepes, and Audrey.
As I drove away I could feel the town collapsing in on itself. And now, I was off to find a new book, and make myself a story worth telling. Nothing would allow me to forget the library, and how goddamn empty it was.