The Library Boys is a sequel to English and History. For Chris and Ally, crises of identity and sexuality cause conflict and isolation. The power of the written word shines a light at the end of the tunnel.
Please help me, I don’t know my name. If I knew my name, I’d know where to be. I’d be classified by my Dewey number, and I’d slot in beside the other cherished spines. I think they did the right thing when they left me here. Nothing bad could ever happen to a wee boy in a library. The carpet is rough and worn, I sleep on rustling bean bags in faded primary colours. The silent air smells of pages. At night, the pipes groan and the radiators thump, but in the serene darkness there is no other noise but my heartbeat and the turn of a page.
During the bright day, people come and go, smile at a boy reading quietly on his own. I eat Dahl and drink Morpurgo. I breathe Lewis and sweat Tolkien. They sustain me but I am lonely. There are no other library boys. I know this because I’ve looked. I try to feel around in the darkness, under the book stacks, behind the counter. I finger the inky stamp that kisses each willing flyleaf. I look through the gaps in the sparser shelves, but there’s no one. I’m alone.
So instead I migrate from cover to cover foraging for what I need. I never find out what my name is. As I grow, so does the pool of black ink inside me. When I open my mouth, my tongue is black, my fingertips bleed it. Times passes and I walk ankle-deep in it, the shiftless ooze forming a moat between me and the world. When I speak, I can hear my own voice resounding inside myself. There is always someone to hear me, but no one ever listens.
Yes, I go outside. Of course, I do. I crawl out from between the dust jackets and I leave the library. I have a house, I have a family, I go to school five days a week. They classify me, but there is never a name. At school my classifications are INTROVERT, EXCEPTIONAL, ABOVE AVERAGE. At home my label has worn and faded and fluttered away and my family are too lost themselves to look for it. My mother’s voice is stolen by sadness, my father’s by whisky, my tiny brother hasn’t found his yet. I’m lonely.
I have a voice, but it doesn’t sound like theirs. I’m not sure of it, so I prefer the voices of others. I still don’t have a name.
The Library is amazing, it only expands. The bean bags in primary colours and the bright boxes of board books grow up, and I go with them. Roll is called and I don’t recognise my name, gradually they change my classifications: VULNERABLE, CONFLICTED, GIFTED.
I’m dogeared and creased, I smell of neglect and my parent’s silence. Filed incorrectly, no one will ever find me, because no one will ever know where to look.
I stay up every night experimenting with the Young Adult shelf. Each wistful title is like a bad trip. I retreat and seek the reassurance of Holden Caulfield, and Boo Radley. I’m not a magician, a vampire, a werewolf, not any kind of shape-shifter. Perhaps I’m not a young adult? Perhaps I was born old? I don’t have a shape to shift, and I just don’t believe them.
The first time I see him he’s walking and reading, reading and walking. In both worlds at once, but not a shape-shifter. I let him walk past me, his feet are leading, his eyes are following the type-face. It was a Steinbeck. I saw the crowded vowels.
I waited for so long, beside S for Steinbeck, checked the catalogue numbers and waited, waited. I thought I might find him in there, so I started with The Red Pony, Of Mice and Men, Tortilla Flat, I went as far as The Grapes of Wrath, before I saw him again. He was reading Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith, and I followed him through The Last Summer and almost lost myself In the Middle of the Wood. That was where he told me his name. In that wood by the inky river, in the harsh shadows of trees that only hid us with a grudge.
His name only had one syllable, but they had classified him already. There was ink, pure and dark, in the whorls of his fingertips. Charcoal too. Who are you? He asked me.
We borrowed a name together. It was all we could do. Come this way, he said.
Who are you? He asked me. I couldn’t tell him.
Where did you come from? He asked me. I took him straight from 1984 to The Wasp Factory instead. He showed me the shelves where I’d never been, where I didn’t fit.
I let him into the Library at night. We listened to the pipes and smelled the shimmering dust. The genres were our familiar and undiscovered continents, Adventure, History, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Romance. Who are you? He asked me again. I couldn’t tell him. I told him about the ink inside of me. He wasn’t shocked. He said, me too, and then I knew he had my name.
Who am I? I asked him. How did you find me? He made my heart burst open, and my blood run red, but he wouldn’t give me my name.
I think he couldn’t say it; it was like Voldemort’s, or Macbeth’s. I didn’t ask any more.