be thou my ally hannes-ty12g9ocWg4-unspl

Be Thou my Ally

Katie Isham

Someone’s coming. 

The light flickers on. 

The stark strip light glares overhead, illuminating the stacks. The lights work on a sensor meaning we hardly ever see the light. Few come this way. We’re tucked in a corner so there’s no through route, and the ancient verses of Greek poetry aren’t exactly top of anyone’s wish list. 

But the sensor foretells a visitor. 

My spine aches with enduring abandonment. I don’t move very often so there is no opportunity to flex and flow like I was written to do. I’ve been dormant here for so long that I’ve forgotten when I arrived. I used to be near the front, with the classics. But they relegated me to the back some time ago. When does classic become just old? 

Back when I was at the front, when I could see daylight, my peers would leave on adventures. I never went out, even then. The others would be whisked away and later reappear with tales of the outside world. They’d travel in bags and in boxes, in cars and on trains, to parks and benches and leather armchairs, and to candlelit baths and taken to breakfast in crisp, white linen layered beds. 

They’d be handled, and smoothed, and opened, and talked about. 

And then they’d be read. 

And loved, in rare auspicious moments.

On their return, they’d regale us with tales of desperate eyes searching every inch of them, scholars pulling off their jackets, caresses of their spines, fingers rifling through to their depths. I couldn’t stop myself blushing. Now, the only colours I show are the time-tinged bruises of aging around my sepia edges. 

The longer I sit here, the more I realise that I’ll stay forever. Become part of the shelf. My identity blurred into my surroundings. Swallowed into the darkness. 

Footsteps, and the triggers of the light stop at our shelf. Who are they here for? Anticipation ripples through all our pages. No one comes here to browse; they must be looking for something specific. 

‘The computer says it should be here, but I can’t remember seeing it for years,’ 

‘I hope it’s right – I really need this.’

‘Well the computer only tells half the story. Books disappear. They get put on the wrong shelf, fall down the back of the case, get wedged somewhere. They get lost in the library all the time. Sometimes it’s like the books have a life of their own.’

‘Goodness. I didn’t realise finding a book might be so fraught.’

‘Don’t worry. It’s more likely a case of “Out of sight: out of mind!” – even I don’t come to this section very often.’

The librarian peers closer at our shelves. We all have the same thoughts. We all wonder if it’s our chance. 

She runs her index finger along our lower curves, counting the numbers, higher and higher, further and further. Until… 

‘Ah! Here it is! Here all along!’ 

The finger rests on me and I think I’ll burst. 

Then she grabs me. My dusty cover is fragile and yet she swoops me off the shelf with little regard. I’m not sure this is enjoyable. I’m scared. Maybe loneliness is safer. 

But I’m passed from the functional grasp of the librarian to her companion. And it’s completely different. She turns me gently in her careful hands. I feel pulses of hope. My words are aching to be read, to be spoken aloud by someone who understands me. 

She smooths my cover, her tender touch running over my title. I feel seen. 

“This is it!” 

She beams down at me as she flicks through my pages. Air rushes between each sheet and I can breathe once more. 

I have stories and memories and dreams and voices to share with the world. 

This is what I exist for. 

I have secrets and adventures and fears and passions and loves and losses to announce to the world. 

This is what I dreamed of all those years on the shelf. 

I heave with lyrics longing to be liberated from the page with tongues.  

She binds me together with her hands in prayer, and then she clasps me to her heart. 

I have a reader. 

My reader. 

I am found. 

Katie Isham is a writer, teacher, drummer and mild adventurer from the UK. Her words can be found in The Cabinet of Heed, The Daily Drunk, Dear Damsels and Funny Pearls. She also writes a travel blog that seems somewhat archaic in the present climate. www.vintagegnome.blogspot.co.uk