Lights in the Library by Clare Fisher

You never know when it will come to you. For me, it was in the library. It was a dull November afternoon, and I’d spent every other afternoon – and evening and morning – in that same seat for as long as I could remember. So who knows why, on that particular afternoon, I found myself mesmerised by this girl a few rows in front of me.

I was certain she’d lit a fire on her desk. The cheeky grin came from the pleasure of knowing she’d broken the number one rule: no lighting fires in the library. I had looked at that faded type-written sign many times and laughed out loud: none of us geeks would dare! So how had she done it? I was so curious I tiptoed over to her, but –

‘Oh!’ I couldn’t help it: there was no fire. There was only her phone and its snot-yellow light, and whatever message she was massaging into its rubber chest, and then – and then nothing. She put down the phone on the desk and twisted her shoulders so that her face which was now the colour of the twilight slump, saw mine. Somewhere else, someone else was glowing with her light. I could have stood there for hours wondering who it was and what they were doing with it, had she not said: ‘have I got a book you want or something?’

‘Err… no.’ Her face was strained with irritation so I made up an excuse: ‘I’m sorry, I thought you were someone else.’

‘Oh!’ Her face mutated into a biscuit-cutter crescent of a smile. Then she returned to her pile of unopened books.

‘I don’t want to read any more books,’ I said to her back. She jerked open a book and leant so close to it there was no way she could have seen the words.

Sighing, I wandered back to my seat. I picked up my pen, intending to thicken the already obese pile of notes I’d made that week. Then:

‘Beep! Beep!’ came from behind me. I swivelled around. She had the light again, and she was giggling – giggling and stuffing her pens and paper into her embroidered shoulder bag and skipping towards the exit, to that someone else.

I tried to read more but the words were popping in and out of view, as if the white of the page was a curtain they could hide behind whenever they felt like it. Yet I did not move: I used my phone to tell the time, and that was all. I had no idea how to conjure up the simple, everyday magic that enabled one person to connect with another. Very occasionally, it allowed me to glimpse it, and I’d find a squiggle on the page that no human eye had seen before. But now even that was beyond me. So when the librarian turned off the lights, I didn’t cram my notes into my bag in fear of being told to hurry up. I took out my lighter and I watched as the flame gobbled up my week’s work, turning it to a brown crisp with a brightness and an energy and a terrible, terrifying, fascinating hunger. There were gasps and heavy footsteps behind me but I didn’t care: the girl’s sickly light was nothing compared to this, nothing.

The librarian was spraying foam out of an extinguisher and I cried out in sympathy for the suffocation of that beautifully destructive energy. And then he looked at me, a half-hearted disruption in the darkness, and said: ‘we don’t have to tell anyone about this.’ I nodded, and, slowly, reluctantly, I left.

And as soon as I was outside, I knew: I may never know the joy of being with another person but this – this spark of madness – it would stay with me forever. No one would ever know it, and because of that, no one could ever take it away from me: I had lost my week’s work, but I had, for the first time in my life, something that was entirely and unquestionably my own

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