We knew Keith had finally lost it when he turned up to work, wearing only glitter and a smile,and announced that he was going to teach the afternoon’s OAP computer skills class. The biggest shock of this announcement was debatable, as Keith had never shown any inclination towards teaching, and rarely used a computer if he could avoid it. The glitter and nudity were startling, but I did wonder if Beryl’s expression had more to do with the trail of glitter he was leaving behind him than the amount of, well, flesh on display.
I didn’t know him particularly well. I’d only just started working at the library three weeks previously, and while I felt able to generally read my co-workers’ likes and dislikes by now, I’d certainly had no indication that anything like this was on the cards. From the expressions on everyone’s faces, this wasn’t something they’d been expecting either. Danny spoke first: “uh yeah, if you want to take the class for me, no worries. You might want to wear something more formal though, mate. Reputation to maintain and all that?” To his credit, he barely cracked a smile.
Keith looked nonplussed for a moment and then looked even happier. He opened his hand to reveal a crumpled bow tie. “That’s okay, I thought of that.” We all looked, a shared moment of horrified joy, at the red with white polka dot material. I was, suddenly, speechless but filled with perverse admiration.
Linda had been just as quiet as the rest of us, but perhaps her experience of raising unruly teenagers grounded her more quickly. “No! Get him a- a towel or something – anyone! Get him out the back before some kids come in or something!”
I looked round. We were lucky it was first thing. He’d missed the initial rush of people who were using the library computers to job search and log into various schemes and emails. For now, his shimmering and naked body was only on show to us, an elderly couple laboriously checking some audio books back in, and a couple of members of the Women’s Institute. They were probably here to pick up books for their reading group, but at least one of them had a mischievous grin on their face.
I didn’t think they’d seen his face, despite some quiet manoeuvring. I think they were slightly distracted by something else. I have to admit I was impressed that the cool air conditioning hadn’t caused any appreciable, uh, shrinkage. I grabbed an abandoned cardigan from its resting place on the back of one of the chairs and draped it over his head like a teen wizard’s magic cloak.
My sudden movements seemed to jar everyone else into action. Behind me I heard Danny address the WI ladies, smoothly asking how he could help them. I heard one of them say they’d quite like ‘that gentleman’s phone number’ before I’d hauled Keith out of sight into the workroom, which was round the back of the newspaper area. “A bow tie?” I asked, breath hissing between my teeth. “Just what the hell?”
“Bow ties are cool!” he said. “And I didn’t have a fez anywhere to hand.”
“Thank heaven for small mercies.” I closed the door once we were through. My last sight of my colleagues consisted of Beryl handing a dustpan and brush to Linda. This was probably as much to distract her as anything else, as Linda looked likely to explode at any moment. I had a mental image of her being about to spin like a top and then explode.
When I turned back from the door, Keith had removed the cardigan and dropped it over a pile of display materials. A small pile of glitter had already pooled by his feet. He was engrossed in some of the deleted from stock books we had stacked on the shelves out there.
“Keith, could you at least tie the cardigan round your waist? Aren’t you cold?” For some reason I couldn’t say what I, and everyone else, was thinking: why the hell are you naked?
“No, I’m fine thanks – it’s so hot out there today that this cool is rather refreshing.” There really didn’t seem to be any signs of awareness in either his expression or body language that there was anything out of the ordinary going on. He made no effort to hide any part of his body. He was round-shouldered in his usual amiable way, and there was definitely no attempt to draw in the slight paunch. Even his genitals looked relaxed – which was no mean feat, given he was standing barefoot on vinyl floor tiles, and surrounded by craft materials that included many odd-shaped blades. I decided I had better things to be doing than focusing on the obvious.
“Okay – stop – before this gets any more ridiculous. What the hell are you up to? Why aren’t you wearing any clothes?” I picked up the cardigan and threw it at him. It hit his multicoloured chest and slid to the floor.
“I don’t know what you’re upset about. It’s hot out there, so I thought it better to be comfortable – and I know you’ve all been wishing I’d get more involved with the classes, so why not start today?” He beamed happily, appearing content in his position and logic. I groaned and looked around the room for something else. This really wasn’t fair – I wasn’t even the manager here. I was hoping Beryl would rescue me, but a sinking feeling in my gut was starting to set in.
“You don’t even know the first thing about the course – it’s all a bit last minute isn’t it?”
“Oh, I’ve watched Danny – it’s all based off those web sites isn’t it? You just walk up and down and read the instructions over their shoulders. Looks easy as you like. Thought you’d all welcome the break!” There was a tone that I chose to interpret as mild reproach in his voice.
“There’s a bit more to it than that, but – “ I began.
“Not much more. If the machine freezes, you just switch it off, count to ten, and then turn it back on again!” He was grinning.
“Fine, fine – but why the glitter?”
“Well, got to make a good impression – bit of showmanship never hurts does it?” I think my jaw did actually drop a little.
“Oh yes,” he said, and he began to drift towards the door.
“Oh no.” I said, a little firmly. I blocked his way and held my hands up, hoping he would back off. To my great relief, he halted. He frowned.
“Now come on, it’s only quarter of an hour until the lesson is due to start and it’s fully booked – I need to make sure the room is all set up.”
“No, Danny needs to go and do that. You need to put some clothes on.” He blinked, looked surprised, and at that moment the door cracked open behind me. I risked a quick glance and saw Beryl there at last. It had probably only been a minute alone with Keith, but it suddenly felt like an age has passed.
“I’ll take over now. Could you go and help Danny set up please?” Grateful for the escape route, I edged past her into the relative calm of the library. Beryl closed the door behind her. I glanced around. Danny was nowhere to be seen, so was probably upstairs already. Linda was hovering by the desk, looking about as calm as a squirrel on coffee, and the WI ladies were on their way to the self-service machines with a stack of novels in each of their arms.
I sighed and went upstairs. Danny was straightening chairs and checking he had enough pens and papers. He waved to me and I hurried over. He looked like he had everything pretty much in hand, so I wondered what use I was going to be.
“Nice interception down there.” He said. “Did he have anything else to wear?”
“Nothing apart from that bow tie in his hand – at least I hope that’s where he produced it from.”
“Hah, never goes without trying to crowbar a reference in.” He shook his head. “Get used to it – he does something like this about once a month. First time you’ve seen it right?” He ticked something off his checklist and looked satisfied.
“Yeah – uh, what? Excuse me?”
“Oh yes – he’s been trying to pull Beryl for years, and once a month does something that means she has to take him to one side for a private chat. The nudity’s a new one, mind you.”
“Oh he’s totally besotted, but she’ll never do anything while she’s his manager. Can’t wait to hear her excuse for him this time.” He grinned, and I felt my cheeks redden.
“You mean she won’t fire him or even, I don’t know, call Occupational Health?”
“Oh no, likes him too much. It’s Linda I feel sorry for though. She’s carried a torch for him about as long, and he won’t even give her a second glance.”
“Wow.” I didn’t know what to say. “Has no one complained?”
“No – everyone seems to enjoy the floor show so far – though I think he’s pushed it a bit far this time.”
“I used to think working in libraries was a quiet job with no surprises – that it might even be a bit boring.”
“Have you ever actually had a conversation with a librarian?” He looked genuinely surprised. “All this knowledge and close proximity to the public’s a potent combination. We’re all weird here, you know.”
“Oh, you’re too kind – but I really don’t think you’ve looked very closely.” He smiled, shook out his enormous wings, and I started wondering if it was too late to apply for a shelf stacking job at the local supermarket. At least they only had the weekly demonic invasion to contend with there.