The sounds of laughter drifted into Daphne’s office; she got up and shut the door. It was like fingernails down a chalkboard. Lunchtime was the most hated part of her day. It was when marauding gangs of children egged each other on to screech louder and louder. Before and after lunch each classroom was mostly kept under control by its designated teacher. But there was no one calling the shots at lunch or recess for that matter. But lunch was worse. It was when the collective energy of five hundred usually well-behaved children exploded into a riot of noise.
Daphne took three deep breaths. At least she was safe here cocooned in her office within the library. If she closed her eyes the whole messy, uncontrollable cacophony dissipated and she felt a wave of calm envelope her body. Sadly if she opened her eyes it was harder to maintain this equilibrium. The glass walls of her office gave her an uninterrupted view of the library from where any transgression could be detected but if she looked beyond her domain through the large library windows the yard outside came into focus. And although she couldn’t hear what was going on, the blur of bodies darting helter skelter confirmed her worst fears; unsupervised anarchy. Her body shuddered involuntarily.
Unfortunately, Daphne’s efforts to close the library at lunchtime had been constantly rejected, so she was unable to completely protect herself from the rabble as she liked to call the students. It was beyond belief that they should be allowed inside when all they wanted to do was talk. The SILENCE signs she’d blue-tacked to the wall kept mysteriously disappearing, which deepened Daphne’s already dark mood. Well, at least there was a supervising teacher on duty in the library during lunch and recess so Daphne could stay in her peaceful office and avoid any unpleasantness.
Her eyes opened and she searched the library. Where was the supervising teacher? Late as usual. Daphne studied every inch of the library as she chewed her cheese sandwich. Finally, she spied him in one of the small offices. What was he doing in there? He was meant to be on duty! He was meant to be protecting the books and keeping the peace, not doing his own work. Oh, this really was too much. Daphne sat bolt upright in her chair. No, no! This simply was a dereliction of duty.
A sense of panic took hold of Daphne and she pushed her unfinished cheese sandwich to one side. The frown etched into her brow deepened as she scrutinised the library for infringements. A group of boys were sitting on the bean bags looking at a large picture book and laughing. Daphne couldn’t hear the sound but their gaping mouths and missing teeth almost caused her to gag. Three girls were huddled around a table where they were drawing with textas. Why they were allowed to draw in the library Daphne couldn’t fathom; she wouldn’t put it past one of the little rotters to scribble in one of her precious books.
Movement at the borrowing desk alerted her to another issue. Daphne stared disbelievingly as she watched a boy scan his library card and then a book. What did he think he was doing? This was a serious breach of protocol that had Daphne leaping to her feet. It was that boy Luke; the one who came into the library every lunchtime with his friends to draw comics and talk.
Daphne always looked disdainfully at them through her glass office in the hopes of driving them out. Didn’t they know comics were filth? Didn’t they know that this was no place for a comic? It was beyond belief that they even wanted to come into her sanctuary. Shouldn’t they be outside playing some disgusting roughhouse game away from the library? And now here he was borrowing a book at lunchtime. Ever since Daphne had become the custodian of the library the rule against borrowing books at recess and lunch had become enshrined. Well, she would soon put a stop to this nonsense.
‘There’s no borrowing at lunchtime!’ Daphne bellowed as she flung open her office door.
A startled Luke looked up from the desk where he’d just finished borrowing a thick book on cats by the RSPCA. He clutched it to his chest like one might a shield. His mouth dropped open.
‘I said – there’s no borrowing books at lunchtime.’
The library had become uncomfortably silent. Luke, who was a regular visitor and had been borrowing books at lunchtime since reception, gulped.
‘Ok,’ he said and still clutching the offending article, scuttled from the library.
Daphne was incensed. Where was he going? Hadn’t he listened? She looked around and spotted the oblivious teacher. ‘Chase! He’s taking that book. He’s not allowed,’ she yelled.
Chase Grayson looked up from his work and scowled. Now what? Couldn’t she see he was busy? The distorted look of anger on Daphne’s face made Chase leap hurriedly to his feet. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked leaving the small office.
‘That boy took a book. He’s not allowed,’ Daphne wailed.
‘Ok. I’ll get him,’ Chase said assuming a heroic commando pose and rushing from the library in pursuit. Moments later he returned with a dejected Luke. ‘Right young man – I think you’ve been very rude to Daphne. I heard her tell you not to borrow a book from the library. So you just stole this one, did you? That’s not on. I’m going to have to call your parents and talk to your form teacher. You’re suspended from the library for two weeks. Very disappointing, very disappointing. Well, hand over the book and let’s go find your teacher.’
Daphne watched in appreciation as the condemned boy, who looked as wretched and despondent as deserved, was led away. Thankfully order had been returned and with the added bonus of a two-week ban. The frown on Daphne’s forehead receded slightly as she attempted a smile. As the bell heralded an end to lunch, Daphne took the cute book on cats and placed it in her desk drawer just in case that boy snuck in later on to claim it.
The next day Daphne sat chewing her egg salad sandwich watching the library with an eagle eye. There were a few children browsing, some were doing a jigsaw and a couple were lying on the bean bags reading. No one was doing any craft and no one was making any comic books. The librarian took in a deep breath and checked to see what the duty teacher was doing – patrolling the shelves and chatting with the odd student. Good. All was serene. All was well.
‘Excuse me,’ a small voice said. ‘Where are the fairytales?’
Daphne almost choked on her sandwich. A tiny girl with blonde pigtails, dressed in a school uniform, stood by her desk. Where had she come from?
‘What? What do you want? ’ Daphne managed to swallow her mouthful and speak without choking.
‘I was just wondering where all the fairytale books are? I couldn’t find any on the shelves.’
‘It’s my lunchtime. Go look yourself. I’m sure you’ve had classes here before. You all know where the books are.’
‘I’m new,’ the small girl said. ‘I don’t know how to find anything.’ The girl looked up at Daphne with such wide innocent eyes and longing that something deep inside the librarian stirred.
‘Oh – alright,’ Daphne said and put her sandwich back on the desk. ‘Come this way.’
The little girl gleefully clapped her hands and followed Daphne to the shelves at the back of the library. ‘Here they are. Help yourself,’ Daphne said looking at her watch. There was still twenty minutes of lunch left.
‘But what do you recommend?’ the little girl asked before Daphne could leave.
‘I don’t know. Choose whatever you like.’ Irritation wrinkled Daphne’s nose. Who cared what she read?
‘But what are they about?’
‘You said you wanted fairytales. Well, that’s what they are. Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. Just take your pick.’
‘But I don’t know what I like. I’ve never read one before. I just heard some girls in my class talking about them.’ The little girl twirled one of her piggy tail bunches and looked expectantly at Daphne.
‘Well – I don’t know what you want from me? I’ve shown you where the books are. If you don’t like them go and play outside, but stop bothering me. And make sure your hands are clean. I don’t want any dirty smudges on those books.’ Daphne turned and marched back to her office. That was enough time spent with the rabble.
Daphne was just about to take a bite of her sandwich when an irritatingly familiar voice said, ‘Well, I think this one looks quite good. Could you read it to me?’
‘What! I told you I’m on my lunch break. I’m trying to eat. You’re interrupting me.’ Daphne was astounded. No one ever dared bother her during lunch.
‘But I’d like this one. I think it’s about dragons and fighting. I don’t know if there’s a princess in it – oh, I do hope there’s a princess. But I don’t want her to be the type of princess that needs rescuing. No! I want her to be a fighting princess. I’d like her to rescue someone – it doesn’t have to be a prince. It could be…a rabbit. I like rabbits. And I just bet the fire-breathing dragon would love to eat a rabbit. Oh! That would be horrible. I do hope there’s no blood and guts in this book. I just really want a fire-breathing dragon and a princess? What do you think?’
Daphne’s mouth had dropped open.
The little girl flicked through the pages and looked up at Daphne. Her body quivered in excited anticipation and once again she looked expectantly at the librarian. A strange feeling started building inside Daphne and for some reason, she looked at the book the child was holding. Was it…was it glowing? Daphne blinked hard and refocused on the book. No, it was definitely not glowing. What was the matter with her?
‘I don’t read out loud,’ Daphne said and crossed her arms.
‘Isn’t that your job?’ The little girl did not make it sound at all accusatory.
‘Impertinent! But if you must know – the teachers prefer to read to their own classes and have for some time.’ Daphne sniffed.
‘Oh. Well, that’s a shame for you. But I’m here to make it all better. Now you can read to me.’ The smile she gave Daphne made the librarian feel as if someone had fed her warm, syrupy, delicious treacle. And she wanted more.
‘If I must.’ Daphne’s voice was stiff and formal but that wasn’t how she felt at all. ‘Give me the book then.’
The little girl handed the book to Daphne.
‘Well, get yourself a chair. You’re certainly not sitting on my lap if that’s what you thought.’
A frown fluttered across the small girl’s face and Daphne felt stung. ‘That’s it. Pull it closer,’ she said softening her voice. ‘Ok. Are you ready?’
The little girl nodded her head and drew in a breath. Daphne felt the air change too. An excited tension filled the room as Daphne opened the book and ran her hand along the crisp page of the flyleaf and cleared her throat, ‘On an inky, black stained night a princess looked out of her bedroom window. Her voice was soft and sweet. ‘I’m so bored. I wish something…’
‘You’re not doing her voice right,’ the little girl said.
‘It says her voice was soft and sweet. You’ve got to do the voices. It’s so much better when you do the voices.’
‘I’m not doing the voices,’ Daphne said and closed the book.
‘Please. Please do the voices.’
‘I’ll sound silly.’
‘No you won’t. You’ll sound great. You’ve got a nice voice.’
‘No I haven’t.’
‘You have when you don’t yell.’
Daphne stared at the little girl and forgot to be mad. ‘Do I?’
‘Yes. You really do.’
‘Well. If you think the story really needs voices…’
‘I really do.’
Daphne cleared her throat again and in her softest, sweetest voice continued as the princess. And for some reason, she felt a little bit princessy and a little bit braver and maybe even a little bit like a dragon slayer.
The bell rang as Daphne finished reading and the little girl clapped her hands. ‘Thank you,’ she said as she moved the chair back to its rightful place took the book and left the office.
Daphne was still sitting at her desk when her colleague returned from the staff room and said, ‘Not hungry then?’
Daphne looked down at her unfinished sandwich. ‘I don’t remember.’
‘Are you ok?’ her colleague asked with concern.
‘I’m ok, thank you, Belinda. I’m fine.’ Daphne shook her head and wrapped her sandwich back up. ‘I’m fine.’ But she didn’t feel quite like her old self. Daphne went out into the library and started tidying away the books which had been abandoned as soon as the bell rang. Instead of feeling annoyed and checking each one for damage Daphne sat down and read them. Each and every book that had been left lying around reminded her of the student who’d been reading it.
As she closed the last book and put it away Daphne felt as if each story was calling out from the library shelves asking her to read it. Her breathing became deeper and she let her eyes stray to the outside world where she saw Luke walk slowly by. He was looking earnestly her way and when his eyes met hers he turned immediately and scurried back the way he’d come, alarm apparent in his body language. And instead of feeling smug and glad he’d been banned for two weeks, Daphne felt something entirely different. Before she could even identify what it was she turned and hurriedly walked to her desk where she pulled open the bottom drawer. Her hands felt the smooth plastic covered surface of the cat book as she took it out and placed it under her arm. No one saw as she put it carefully back on the shelf, but Daphne could have sworn the library felt more welcome.