by Anne Goodwin
When she saw the mess they’d made of the flat, the woman posing as a social worker was quick to act. A glance at the figurines in fragments in the fireplace, the disembowelled television, the trail of blood-red ink across the floor, and she’d whipped out her phone. “Go and pack a bag,” she said. “I’m taking you to a place of safety.”
I could see they’d sent a smart one. No need to explain how they tried to drug me. She cottoned on to the seriousness of the situation right away.
I take a Tesco’s bag-for-life to the bedroom. I pull open my underwear drawer and shove some bras and knickers into the bag. Long time since they were white.
I snatch my hairbrush from the dressing-table; select a half-empty bottle of eau-de-toilette. My ID badge frowns at me from among the clutter. Won’t be needing that at my place of safety.
I don’t mind leaving my name behind. I can easily get another. And that photo won’t be any use once I get my new disguise. But my job? That’s quite a wrench.
I loved working at the library: pushing my trolley across the wrinkly carpet; stamping books; collecting fines. I used to blend in so well among the lowered eyes and voices, the battalions of shelves, the musty smell of books stained by greasy thumbs and coffee cups.
They called me a dinosaur, but did I protest?
They threw out half the books and brought in music and films. Cassettes, CDs, videos, then DVDs, all demanding a different kind of shelving, waist level, opening up the room to scrutiny.
I kept my head down and went about my work.
They retired the pink cardex and put the catalogue onto microfiche. They replaced the carousel of tickets with barcodes and scanners. The new system wasn’t easy to learn, but I moved with the times.
Relations shifted between staff and public. They were customers now. So what were we? Shop assistants?
I turn away and slip a cotton blouse from its hanger. I lay it on the bed and start to fold it, sleeves tucked in to the back. Then I realise it’s only going to get crumpled in my bag-for-life and throw it in.
The customers wanted computers, and chatter. And the internet. All the information you’d ever want at the click of a mouse; they said it was a librarian’s dream. Instant connections with people from Aachen to Zwedru; shrinking the world while expanding our minds.
“Did I startle you?” The woman posing as a social worker hovers in the doorway. “I was wondering if you were ready.”
I wait for my breathing to return to normal. If I can’t trust her, who can I trust?
I let her take the bag. I let her lead me out to her car. There’s no one around to jeer and spit as she drives me down the terrace and onto the high street. Past Tesco’s. Past the Post Office. Approaching the library I’m hyperventilating again.
I was fine when it was only books, but the internet leaves no place to hide.
The woman posing as a social worker takes the turn-off to the hospital. I’d expected something more elaborate. Perhaps a plane journey, a blindfolded drive through forests to the hideout. This is almost on my doorstep. Ingenious!
We park outside a low-rise building. I recognise this place. I remember its cosy library: a few hundred paperbacks in a reclaimed linen-cupboard. I remember the pills to help you sleep.
My breathing slows. I could be safe here.