Few places are as simultaneously comforting and intimidating at once as a good library – or indeed an evil one, come to think of it. The shelves of books are an immovable presence radiating both the call of old friends, and the uncertain promise of new people met at a rather sedate party. Either way you’re not entirely certain as to what will happen next.
The bustle of libraries, full of children, has been firmly quenched in these covid lockdown days, and more’s the pity. Instead we have a return to the deep silence that has always underpinned these places. Despite the faint traffic noise that sometimes murmurs and hisses in the background there is now a quiet and stillness that some find unnerving.
Those who remark on it sometimes say that the silence is expectant, and it makes them want to fill that awful void in an otherwise frenetic soundscape. I think that tells us as much about how uncomfortable they are with their thoughts in the quiet as any statement by the librarians; even if that statement is a simple “Shhhhhh!”
I’ve lost track of the times that I’ve made people jump in surprise when I’ve walked into a room and spoken to people who haven’t realised that I was there. Its been a source of constant amusement for me and the occasional scream by family, friends, and co-workers for years.
And so, after years of people threatening to put a bell on me, I’ve gone and put one on my keys. It started as an in-joke with Lady S, who I’ve been calling ‘kitten’ as a pet name – but then people started to be warned enough of my presence that they stopped jumping, so I kept it attached.
Last week my mischevious streak came out to play, so I removed the bell while I was at work. WIthin ten minutes I had one person audibly yelp, another jump, and another drop the books they were carrying. That was just the staff. So, I’ve started wearing the bell again – but it perhaps says a lot about me that I’ve now noticed myself walking even more softly and smoothly so as to reduce the chiming of the bell. I do wonder how long it will be before someone jumps when I appear despite the warning chimes.