An unusual short story.
Distraught, that’s what she was. Distraught at the very sight of this, these wicked piles of utter disorder. What had happened to cause it, this chaos?
But whatever it was, it wasn’t her business to worry of causes. Hers was to rectify the effect. The effect . . . an entire library – her life’s work – destroyed. She wanted to crumple upon the floor amidst the tossed and tumbled, broken and shredded papers and pages, flyleaves and covers, vellums and bindings, jackets and rare illustrations. But to stand there and stare at this heart-rending destruction was only to prolong the situation. Somehow she must bring order back into the library, to restore the system that had been broken. And that would take hours, weeks, months of oil-burning work.
She set about it.
First, to pull from the piles of otherwise fragments what remained recognisable of the encyclopaedias and glossaries, the manuscripts and breviaries, the scholarly tomes, the classics and popular pulps, the papers, extracts and excerpts, the pamphlets and booklets, digests and journals, dictionaries, manuals, directories and almanacs, the biographies, gazetteers, casebooks and herbals, the field guides and cookbooks well-thumbed. These, the spines and covers, some with lone pages lingering, she stacked on the shelves in their relevant places – and turned back to the chaos strewn over the floor.
She cleared a space amongst the scraps and oddments that once had made sense but now, disconnected, said nothing. She thought, if she could arrange them into their main subject areas . . . but how to know the subjects when all that remained were nonsensical fragments. Yet from these snippets she guessed at their context and assigned them accordingly to the spine–packed shelves. Inevitably, one shelf soon bore a mountain of scraps while the others remained, like the sore socket of an extracted tooth, gaping, hollow and wanting. She again sorted through them.
Meanwhile, with the shelves again neatly stacked, though hollow, the enquiries resumed. And oh, the anguish, that to answer those queries she must delve into the depth of disorder that lay like heaps of hell upon the floor. She despaired that she’d ever make headway, and with each new request that despair grew deeper.
The disorder was none of her doing. Yet she felt her inability to retrieve the required book or paper as a public revelation of her disability. Where once she had responded with pride and a willing smile, she now was unable to look squarely at the enquirer, convinced they would judge her adversely. She wanted to tell them she was doing her best. Yet she turned her head lest they saw her distress.
Though the shelves now bore a resemblance to how they once were the damage wasn’t so easily amended. Vital pages were missing, ripped from their books, torn into fragments, buried deep in the pile that remained on the floor. And that was the problem: the pieces were there, but how to find them.
She gathered them up and spread them out upon a long table. Then book by broken book, she looked for their missing pieces. At the first attempt she found quite a lot. She pasted them into their proper places and stood the repaired book back on its shelf. And slowly, so very slowly, in this way she completed the final stage of the work, repairing every last pamphlet, manuscript, illustration and book until not a solitary piece of paper remained, not even a tiny triangular corner. But to her mind what had been perfection now was at best a bodge.
Yet she had repaired what had seemed irreparable. Again, the shelves groaned under the weight of a life-time’s experience, learning and thought. The next day her colleagues threw her a party to celebrate her full recovery from the ‘partial brain damage’.
~ ~ ~
I do not often write a short story, and this one I thought I had lost, destroyed when the motherboard of the computer I’d used to write it expired. I thought I’d saved it to disk, I’m usually so thorough. So when the computer repairman asked if there was anything on the hard-drive I wanted retrieved, I said no, only later to find . . . Then just this last week, while re-stacking files and folders and papers . . . . Lo! I found it.
I’ll leave those who know of my history to guess at its occasion.