(Moby Dick Inspired)
Her sleep was disturbed; her dreams raced with visions of a grail and harpoons thrust in the sky. The power went out sometime during the night. Her digital alarm clock had reset itself. She woke up with five minutes to get prepared for the day. She sat up in bed; her lungs split from the cold air.
It was raining, too, and clap of thunder jolted her from the bed. Kara picked up the clothes strewn across the bedroom floor and slipped them on as she made her way to the living area. She grabbed the umbrella from its hook behind the front door of her apartment and rushed out, down the apartment building’s staircase, and into the street. No sooner after she opened her umbrella, before she could make it flare, a passing taxi-carriage sprayed the muddy water of the street onto her tan raincoat. She stood frozen on the kerb as she tried to process the disaster and how to resolve it.
She looked around at nothing in particular. The life-sized terracotta statues turned dark brown and blended into the gray-brown hue of the city’s buildings and streets. The high-rise towers of apartments did little to shield the freezing wind that bit deep into her bones. She sighed and hoisted her umbrella above her head. It was pointless to do so after letting herself get soaked. She forced one foot in front of the other to prevent them from backing into the apartment’s foyer.
Kara didn’t want to be at home but didn’t want to go to work either. Right there, at that spot, was where she felt she could stay, comfortable in her discomfort. She raised her left arm and looked at the ticking face on her wrist: she was late. The Library was only a block away, fortunately, and she arrived shortly after the doors opened. She shook out her umbrella and coat in the foyer then stepped into the ambience of the paper cavern. She was more at home here than anywhere; it was her sanctuary. The spot on the kerb was dreadful in hindsight.
She made her rounds through the labyrinth of aisles that reached high into the heavens, and spent the day breaking her back, placing returned books in their order; the usual routine of her adult life. She recalled the shards of a dream from the eve before, confusion and distress riddled through her feelings about it. As she turned the corner at the top of the staircase, a strange and alluring aroma hooked her nose. She trailed along its path as it led her to a far corner at the back of the Library. A single, dusty window was the only source of light, and from there, a ray of sunshine invaded the dark. It illuminated the figure of him in front of her.
The shadows danced around his spine. The body cast a dominating presence over the old books in that corner. His highlighted angles presented his strong, square features. There, high up above the ground and seemingly buried in the surrounding books, he stood tall and graceful. Her eyes fixed onto his crooked brow. She walked up to the wall of shelves with her gaze steady upon him. He reached out to her and she stretched her arm to meet him, but he was too high up.
“Just… a little… further…” she huffed a mutter to herself with her teeth clenched and her jaw flexed. It seemed she’d never reach him, although he was within her grasp. She balanced a creaking, old wood chair on two of its ivory-painted legs, and propelled her weight against the hard, warm body that rose into the ovens. She stretched her arm further in hopes of finding a more firm grip. Her fingers brushed up and down his spine, and she navigated them with her eyes closed. The thick atmosphere seduced her away from reality; the dreary colours in the late midday sunlight blurred her vision.
Her hand finally wrapped perfectly along his back, and she gripped firmly with a gentle caress. Kara pulled him closer with all her strength, she eased him to her. He slid nearer, slowly; teasing her. She sighed a breath of extra strength and pulled on him once more. He gave in and slid right into her chest as she wrapped her arms around him. The force of his release sent her falling backwards; time slowed down. Her right arm reached out to the body, hoping to catch herself and stop her fall.
Alas, the very shelf she caught onto came loose on one end, and the chair’s oars cracked beneath her. She fell hard on her bottom, and raised her arms to cover her head as the stream of hard-cover books came down on her. The dust settled and she lowered her arms to look at him in her hand. On his face were large white letters against a navy, textured background that glimmered in the fog light: Reader’s Consume. It wasn’t him! She looked up to the heavens. He was perched atop a fixed shelf, mocking her height in the warm and dusty midday sunlight.
“Moby Dick,” she said to herself with a sigh, “my white whale.” She sat in defeat on the murky carpet, long neglected, and rubbed the right side of her hip to comfort the ache. The scene was eerily similar to her first day of school. She only ever experienced deja-vu twice throughout her life, and both times left her with the feeling of ill unease. It was no different. Her stomach turned when she remembered the embarrassment of her first year of primary school. She was clumsy, all throughout her childhood.
Her mother mentioned something about her bones that were weak, not that it helped as an excuse; ridicule yet followed when she stepped up to the podium to announce herself to the rest of the school. She took a deep breath and rubbed her face in an attempt to wipe away the memory. She propped herself up on her knees and collected the fallen books.
It infuriated her how unkempt the library was, and for it to be one of the great libraries of the world was an utter shame. She was embarrassed to be associated with such chaos and filth. Did her predecessor not know how damaging dust could be for books, particularly ancient ones from the Old World and humanity’s early literature?! Kara swept off the thick, sticky layer of dust and dirt that clad each of the books’ covers and page trims. These were precious commodities; unique items of their culture, their society. They were relics of the foundation of everything they knew and held on to.
With the fallen sacred objects dusted off as much as she could without her cleaning kit, and stacked in a small tower against the surrounding shelves, she climbed up on the step-ladder she retrieved from the next aisle over. The nails that once held the weight of their history, were rusted to the point of a near-brittle state. They were doomed to fail.
She wondered how moisture accumulated there; had some fool opened and left the window, allowing rain to pour in and wash away the rare items? Some Librarians didn’t care for their paths, but that was no excuse to vandalise the property they swore to maintain. Librarians were scarce, and not everybody could do it, but rather a shortage than malevolent neglect! Kara had to leave the corner as it was until the next day when she could bring the proper tools and equipment needed to restore the area to its former glory.
She hated the idea of leaving the corner in that condition. Although no one would probably go there, it still irked her. Its discovery in that state turned Kara’s generally pleasant mood sour. She couldn’t stand the thought of other libraries with areas, or even entire floors abandoned like it. If that was what a great library in the city had, how worse off were the smaller, rural libraries?!
She growled in frustration at the atrocity. She had to do something about it and take matters into her own hands. Of course, she had to wait until her apprenticeship was complete; so for that time, she would do her best for the library. Kara vowed, to herself and to every book printed, she would see them rebound and kept to the proper standard that she, and every librarian before and after her, swore to uphold.
She looked up at the great clock that hung against the face of the gallery’s foundation above: 6:30. The library was silent. She shrugged and figured it was probably some public holiday that she, once again, forgot about. She sat at the computer then remembered what the day was scheduled for. Her shoulders sank and a heavy breath forced itself out of her nose; it was National Children’s Authors’ Day. A children’s book author was set to make an appearance at lunch, complete with music, and many, many loud children. Kara cursed the day musical books were invented.
Lunch was upon her. She huffed as she pushed herself away from the desk. She continued her usual affair of keeping the Library neat, organised, and clean while she waited for the dreaded event to encroach. She decided to tackle Ahab’s corner during the commotion that would flood the once-quiet building. It seemed Kara wasn’t the only one who felt the way she did about the musical books. The library cleared of the few people once the author arrived. One by one, they checked their books and swept out the entrance door.
As the last people left, a troop of children poured into the library. The laughing, fighting, and moaning with their high-pitched voices caused her to jump and cringe. She hustled them to calm and catered to the author, then hurried in retreat to the dusty corner with her cleaning kit in hand. She stood facing the shelves of forgotten books. She had a ladder set up under the window. She rubbed her bottom remembering the last time she was there.
Her hip usually pained, ever since the bone-marrow biopsy in her childhood, but the fall aggravated it. She climbed up the ladder and wiped the window clean: the sunlight pierced through and straight into her eyes. She fumbled, and the ladder wobbled against the shelving. She placed her hand to keep the books that shifted out from falling. Her heart raced up into her throat at the expectation of another fall.
She wouldn’t chance it and climbed down as quickly as possible with the last batch in the hook of her arm. She unpacked the books into neat piles, ascended from largest, on the floor, and wiped down the dusty shelves. She made a mental note to order new shelving; many were bent from the age and weight of the books they supported. She sat on the floor after the shelves were done, and listened as the author spoke and the younglings discussed whatever he said, then wiped down the books with her dust cloths. She brought many with her, in good judgment, she remarked in thought.
Kara picked up the last book of the first pile; the bold letters of Ahab’s story looked up at her. The background noise dimmed out as she opened its front cover. Her head swam. The last she saw were the piles of books as they tipped over. A crack of skull against the carpet-covered wood greeted her into nothingness.
She woke up in a strange place, where the scent of salt hung thick in the air. An ice-cold breeze kissed her cheek. The floor swayed in nauseating rhythm. A winged beast loomed overhead. It glided through the clouds above and bellowed a deep siren. How she longed to see flying whales! A cloud passed through over her as she stood up. She expected to see the deep green sea all around the ship as the flying whale dived gracefully down and under her horizon. She walked to the balcony and peered over. Not a drop of water in sight. Instead, a white ocean of fluff hovered under.
An airship! Of course, she was on an airship; the whales never flew close to the surface. The bass singing of the whale that enchanted her was broken by the static and screech of a speaker turned on in the distance. As the first few notes of the song came through the radio, she transported back. The piles of books and shelves faded slowly into sight. Kara looked around to her right at the library’s dome; the musical book played its melody and the children sang along to the story. She sat up and sighed, then closed the book.
She had to prepare the library for the next day, and clean up the food and child-mess that always proceeded to occur with such events. It was not the most pleasant aspect of her job, but someone had to do it. She wouldn’t be comfortable with anyone else doing it, nor would she risk the books being contaminated with Hell-knows-what.
The children’s’ parents collected them, thankfully, in a smooth and ordered fashion, and left the library empty and still. She loved moments where she was alone with the books. Her domain was free of the contaminant of people and their neglectful habits. She moved to the desk after setting the cleaning kit under it and sat down to look at the calendar again. The primary school year was coming to an end that week. She sighed in hopelessness, then pushed herself to stand up with her hands against the smooth wood.
She picked up the cleaning kit, gathered her coat, and started for home. Yet another day passed, excited only by her own vivid fantasies. Her ability to see whatever she read as though it were real, helped much in the struggle against boredom. She tried to appreciate her life while she was there. She wouldn’t be for much longer. Her Learning was to end after the examinations have passed. If she only knew back then how much her life would change.