Lord of the Dance
Clutching her list, Liberty pushed open the library door and skidded across the floor to a startled young man behind a mahogany desk. She waved her list and asked where she should look. He pointed to the top floor where people were drifting among the shelves. There was no obvious way up, so she asked, “How do I get there?”
The young man jerked his head towards a wooden ramp then turned back to the red leather ledger he was writing in.
“Isn’t that a bit austere?” she persisted, watching a group of people struggling then repeatedly sliding to the bottom.
He peered over the top of his glasses and blinked at the ramp. “The problem is, of course, lack of funds.”
Liberty saw a famous novelist in jeans scale the ramp and as he neared the end a dozen arms reached out to pull him onto the top floor, clapping him on the back and congratulating him. Liberty took a deep breath and began the climb up the slope, clinging to the handrail at the side. She got halfway without much difficulty until the ramp rose so steeply it was almost vertical.
“How am I supposed to get up that?” she asked.
The people who’d completed the climb were absorbed in reading titles on the shelves and seemed not to hear her. A couple of pairs of hands from below shoved her up an inch or two. A voice called, “We’ll push and when you get to the top you can return the favour.”
“It’ll take forever,” she called over her shoulder and slid to the bottom again. At the end of the corridor she found a door, pushed it open and walked through a connecting set of offices, all cluttered from floor to ceiling with books and papers and empty boxes. In the fourth office an outraged librarian looked up from her knitting and stared at Liberty. “You’ve got a liberty!” she hissed.
“I know,” agreed Liberty.
Kindly remove yourself from these premises and climb the ramp like everyone else,” ordered the librarian.
“I’m not everyone else and it isn’t the right route for me, so I’m looking for an alternative.”
The librarian adjusted her pink angora cardigan which she had knitted in only three weeks following her promotion as assistant to the deputy assistant. “This is very trying,” she sniffed. “If everyone did this we’d get no work done.” She got to her feet. “Follow me.”
Through the door, down a dim passage to the foot of a spiral metal staircase. The librarian folded her arms over her pink angora bosom. “You do realise we close in ten minutes? Are you sure you can find what you want in the time available?”
Liberty nodded, thanked her politely for her trouble and climbed the stairs. On the second floor she went straight to the catalogue cabinet and searched through the cards until she found the books she wanted, jotting down their classification numbers. Slipping between the tightly packed shelves she ran her finger along the spines of the books, pulling out six, one after the other as she identified them. She needed one more. A bell clanged. Liberty scanned the top shelves, then the middle ones and then began on the bottom row. People hurried past her and down the spiral stairs. The book she wanted was the last one on the bottom shelf. She pulled it out and tucked it under her arm with the others.
The top floor was deserted. Banging and clanking on the second floor and ground floor, and then silence. Liberty realised she was the only one left in the building. She hurried over to the check-out desk and stamped the books herself and then over to the spiral stairway which was blocked by a locked iron gate. She ran over to the ramp and found a heavy grill over it. She peered over the railing to the ground floor and considered jumping. Then she saw a trapdoor flapping in the opposite wall.
Opening the trapdoor she could see a chute. “What fun!” she shouted, squeezing through and whizzing down to the bottom. She landed on the pavement where several librarians were waiting at the bus stop to go home. Some of them smiled at her, others inhaled sharply through pinched nostrils. Pink cardigan polished her glasses and muttered, “The nerve of people who don’t know their place.”
But Liberty didn’t care. She had her books. She strode along the pavement holding them close to her nose, smelling the musty dusty scent of old lives and dreaming of the treat ahead when she would read the night away.
She was almost home when she passed a theatre where a poetry reading was being held according to the poster plastered over the wall by the ticket office. She searched in her bag for her purse. She had just enough money, so she bought a ticket and entered the small crowded auditorium where the usher showed her to a seat near the back. The lights dimmed and the performance began. A young woman read from the lectern then invited the audience to respond to her verse. Before anyone could comment a man in the front row started singing in deep baritone voice: “Dance, dance, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance, said he and I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.”
The man stood up and faced the audience. Liberty recognised him as the famous novelist she’d seen at the top of the ramp. The spotlight shifted from the young poet, leaving her in shadow, and illuminated the famous novelist. He spread his arms on either side of him like wings. The audience began clapping and cheering. Liberty gathered up her books and under cover of darkness she pushed her way past the rows of knees to the exit.
Sandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. Her work appears in numerous journals and anthologies, most recently in Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (Canterbury University Press, NZ, 2018), The Drabble, Blue Five Notebook, X-Ray Literary Magazine and Fewer than 500. She is the author of five books, her new novel Ash (Mākaro Press, NZ) and her first flash fiction collection Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK) forthcoming in 2019. She is a guest editor for Meniscus: Literary Journal of the Australasian Association of Writing programs.