Esme was a pretty little thing, if a wan complexion, thin mousy hair and a skeletal frame were the measures. She worked in a local library and to the outside world seemed a harmless sort. To a great degree she was. She kept her head down and read volumes daily. She got the job after she turned eighteen when the local librarian deemed her bookish enough. It also was pertinent that he once, briefly, dated her mother, an experience which culminated in a fumbling coalition behind the modern classics section after the last bookworm had left for the evening. Although he could never recall anything near penetration the damnable woman had appeared again with news that he, a pillar of the local choral society, was unhappy to hear. In fact, it was several weeks before he sang a note again.
The months went by and the girl never approached him. When he finally got back to singing he caught a glimpse of her behind the columns at the end of the church. Sometimes, he would see her pause outside the library, feel his pulse quicken, but she would walk on. She never appeared pregnant. She didn’t make any demands of him. He began to rest easy and stopped thinking about it. Pretty soon he was back in full sonorous voice. He was singing to his hearts joy one Sunday morning, his baritone booming from the choir’s balcony when he saw a slight figure below him at the head of the church. Kneeling before the altar with one hand rocking a pram she received communion. She pushed the pram slowly back up the centre aisle of the church. She didn’t look up. The note stuck in his throat and he began to cough violently, so much so that the choir was silenced momentarily, until they recovered composure and launched merrily into O Come All Ye Faithful. The priest’s bushy eyebrows raised at this unseasonal rendering but it covered the noise of the librarian being carried out the rear entrance where they left him on the steps coughing as though his lungs were making a break for freedom.
As she wheeled the pram away she knew she had won. He never sang again. She was always in close proximity. The wheels of the pram made a squeaking sound like a mouse in a trap. He would never know but she put grit on the axle for this very effect. When he went walking he would hear the sound behind him and when he stopped and turned she would be there, but she would stop too.
When he was at work he would hear the pram wheels grinding before he saw her pass the window. He never had the courage to approach her. The librarian sat at home and tried to read, since the day in the church he had stopped going to choir practice and soon he didn’t sing again. Each evening he would hear the infernal noise at least three times before he slept, sometimes he would wake up during the night to it and draw back the net curtains to see her slight figure push the pram down the street. He began to take a drink before bed to calm his nerves and soon he was taking more than one drink. This made for a temporary improvement, until he awoke to hear the damned noise, jumped to the curtains and there was nothing on the street.
Months passed before he came up with a solution. He found out where she lived, a small bedsit in a converted city house, once grand, now the jewel in the crown of a landlord’s portfolio. The librarian went to the door and waited until it opened, squeezed past the tenant who was leaving, muttering something about visiting a friend and then he was in the hallway. There it stood in front of him. The pram was outside the third door along a hall covered with smoke stained wallpaper and floored with cracked lino. The place had a faint whiff of vomit. He crept to the pram. He stood away from it for a few seconds afraid to look in. He was shaken from his torpor by a noise from upstairs and he looked. The pram was empty. The door to the bedsit was open a crack. Silently he placed an envelope with half of his wages under the pillow, crept back down the hall and left.
Inside she sat with her two month old at her breast. The bedsit was bare except for a single bed, a table and one chair, and a two ringed cooker. She smiled as she pulled the pram into the room and greased the wheels.
“We can sleep now little one.” She said as she tucked the miniaturised version of herself into the pram.
The librarian also slept soundly that night and for the next five. Then the noise followed him again as he was on his way home from work. He didn’t even look around this time. He went straight into a bar and downed several whiskeys until he couldn’t see straight. He heard nothing that night although later he would wish he had. Instead he dreamt. He was in a hospital ward and a nurse rushed to him to congratulate him. Her smile beamed from ear to ear.
“You will have your hands full, a boy and a girl, two for the price of one.”
He walked through a ward of new mothers and new fathers. The mothers had that look of exuberant exhaustion while the fathers held babies as though they were rose petals. He came to a curtain and drew it back and there she was in a bed. She was asleep. He looked at her gaunt sleeping face and as he brushed a strand of hair from her brow her eyes opened. They burned red.
“Your runts are here.” She spat it at him through clenched teeth.
He walked around the bed to see two beautiful newborns, both asleep, a healthy pink on their cheeks.
“Take a good look.”
He put a bouquet of flowers beside her. She turned her back on the children and began snapping the heads off the flowers while he cooed over the babies. He was just about to pick one of them up when she pressed a button and a nurse appeared.
“Nurse, I’m tired, get this man to leave.”
The nurse ushered him out to an empty waiting room. He made his way to the car park and looking back he saw her shape in the second floor window. He turned and began to run back as she dangled a baby from each hand. His legs refused to work as though he was running in quicksand but he struggled and was almost there when they hit the pavement headfirst with the noise of cracking eggs. He looked up as she dove headlong from the window towards him.
The librarian woke up in a pool of sweat. The covers had been kicked from the bed and his head was thumping. As he splashed cold water on his face, the first rays of sun filtered through the bubbled glass on the bathroom window. He heard a familiar sound.
That evening he put all of his wages into an envelope and went to her house. The pram was expecting him in the corridor. As he placed his parcel under the pillow he felt something. He took an envelope away with him. At home his hands shook as he opened it. A lock of hair fell from it and into wisps on the floor. A photograph fell to the table. A beautiful healthy looking baby. He smiled and cried at the same time as he looked on it. He turned it over. A few lines written in a neat pernickety hand took his heart and shredded it.
This is your son. He died aged three days. There was not enough for two. Your daughter waits for your help every day. It’s been six days. She can’t wait forever.
From then on he pushed almost all he earned into an envelope each week and left it under the pram pillow. He did this long after a pram was no longer necessary. He moved into a small flat and sold his house. When it was time for her to go to school he increased what he put in the envelope. He never saw her mother again. Sometimes he stood outside the school and saw a small girl with a wan complexion and mousy hair stand apart from the others. She usually had books under her arm.
When it was nearly time for her to finish school he was making his weekly delivery and he found another note. By now his hair had turned to grey wisps which he slathered with spit from left to right over his bald pate on days when he could be bothered to do so. He had long since stopped caring for his appearance. His hands trembled as he opened the note in his shoebox flat. The writing was similar but not the same.
“Your daughter will need work. She is patient. She likes books. Her name is Esme”
The following week he included a note with his weekly payment. The door, as always, was open a sliver.
Vacancy for Library Assistant. Interview Monday 10am.
Esme had just turned eighteen and if anything was even more pale than her mother before her. At least she normally was. Her own mother was looking a bit peculiar for the last few months. She was propped on the single bed with a straw in her mouth. Her hands were skeletal and her cheekbones were visible through paper thin skin. The blanket that covered her seemed to hold her into the bed. Her breathing made the sound of rats in an attic.
“It’s alright mother, you sleep now, everything is going to be alright.”
She had waited for a long time for this. Her mother had only ever let her leave the bedsit to go to school and with a strict instruction that she talk to nobody. She had a weekly shopping list from which she couldn’t vary. When she came home she would sit. Whenever she asked her mother what they were doing she would say “We’re waiting.”
She never asked for what. Now as she pulled the door behind her, glad to leave the smell of death the other side of it, she pushed the bundle of money deep into the pocket of her gabardine overcoat, she realised what she was waiting for. She had waited for her mother to die and finally her waiting was over. It didn’t really matter that in the last few months she had sped up the process by cutting back on what her mother ate until the portions were not enough to sustain a sparrow, or that when she began to be too weak to get out of bed she would tuck her in even tighter so that her breath came in rasps and she would whisper in her ear.
“This will keep you warm mother.”
None of that mattered. What mattered was that they had waited and finally her wait was over.
She went to the interview that morning. She expected to meet the librarian and was prepared to impress him with her literary knowledge. She had even researched the filing systems of the great libraries. As it happened he was off sick that day, a regular Monday occurrence, so the interview was conducted by the junior librarian, an oversized young man with bifocal glasses which clung to the end of his nose. He mopped his brow constantly throughout the interview and didn’t ask her any questions she could not answer. She was offered the job on the spot. As she left she gave him her best smile and he blushed, patting a handkerchief across the folds of his neck. She remembered him from school, he was a few years ahead of her, but she knew the names he was called and that he stood by the bicycle shed with biscuits in his pocket while the others played football.
She took her stash of cash and found a neat little bedsit close to her work. In this way Esme began her new life. There was a comfortable single bed in her place, a table and a single chair and a two ring gas cooker. There were also books, lots of books. She loved to read. In particular she loved to read about science and sometimes she would entertain herself reading about crime.
In the library she rarely crossed paths with the librarian, he made a habit of avoiding all of the staff but in particular her. The only one who visited his office regularly was his junior assistant. Each day the fat young man brought coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. During her second week Esme was in the tiny canteen where he boiled water in a battered kettle, without speaking she began to help him, putting out the cup and saucer on the tray and wiping the spoon. He nodded his appreciation. She could see the sweat marks grow where his upper arms rubbed against his flabby breasts under his polyester shirt. This became a twice a day ritual. The only thing they ever talked about was books. He had an interest in ornithology or rather in reading about bird watching, because he never went and actually did it he just read about it. She sat there while he talked about birds he would never see and looked into his eyes. She learned from a very early age how to feign interest. For his part he was amazed that she wanted to listen and to spend time with him, it was the first time anyone of the opposite sex had ever actually listened to what he had to say.
Esme’s work contract had a six month probation clause. As these months went by she learned her job assiduously, and helped in the preparation of tea and coffee and generally spent her days among the aisles of books getting paid to do not very much. At the end of the six month contract she got a letter signed by the librarian himself confirming her status as a full time permanent employee of the library. This also turned out to be a watershed day for her on the home front. When she arrived at her bedsit and put her stash of books on her table she found a letter on the tawny carpet. She beamed as broadly as her face would allow when she read that she had been accepted as a prison visitor. After reading so much about crime and criminals she thrilled at the prospect of meeting one face to face even if it was only for one half hour one Saturday each month and even if it was because no one else would visit them.
The following week the librarian lifted his teacup to find a small lock of hair in the saucer. He looked at it for a long time and deep down in his heart in the place that nobody wants anyone else to know of, he knew it had started again. He looked out of his office window at the old bridge which spanned the black water of the river. The library teetered on the high bank of the river in the shadow of the bridge. Just below the bridge the current quickened as the river swirled its way to the weir wall built to control the flooding in the fields below the town. The librarian’s office was on the second floor. The local church was built in the image of a much greater church where the bridge kissed the riverbank. Many times the church had resounded to the rich deep voice of the librarian in full song. It was a long time since he had sung. He closed the blinds on his office and went home for the evening. From between the rows of modern romance Esme watched and waited.
She arrived at the gates of the prison at ten thirty. She knocked on the door which was part of a much larger gate. A sliding sound revealed a single eye shortly followed by unlocking of bolts. Once past this she was ushered along a walkway edged by fencing topped with razor wire by a warden wielding a baton. She glanced either side to see prisoners exercising, for all the world like magnified children in a schoolyard. She wondered how long the fat library assistant would last among these school kids. She was brought to a waiting room where she sat on a bench alongside four other women. Each of them looked a little bit desperate, she wondered did she look the same while knowing she didn‘t. This was the closest she had been to happy since she pulled the door on her mother in her wake. The only thing that broke the silence was the clicking of knitting needles one of the women had pulled along with a half finished scarf from her bag.
“It’s for him you know, I’m going to see if he likes it before I go any farther.” She announced to nobody in particular.
They were brought down a corridor at the end of which they had to go through a security check. They had to remove their coats and leave their bags and belongings outside. The scarf remained along with the needles in the care of a bored looking warder despite the shrill protestations of the knitter.
Esme was shown to a room with a long table in the centre and two chairs, one either side. She was told to sit by a warder who left the room. She thought she could sense derision in the man’s voice but forced herself to ignore it. A few minutes later he was led in, his hands cuffed and he was seated across from her, the warden left.
“Half an hour, if you want to leave earlier just rap on the door, and you…”
He pointed his baton at the prisoner.
“We’re watching from just outside.”
The prisoner nodded.
He was wearing an orange jumpsuit. She thought it looked vaguely ridiculous on such a small man and wondered where they got one to fit him. He was bald apart from tufts of hair which clung to the back and sides of his head like bush on a cliff. He sat on the chair and she had to look down to make eye contact with him. It was all she could do to conceal her disappointment. She had asked for a particular type of prisoner to visit and in her night time thoughts this was a long way from how she pictured the kind of man who had done what he was convicted of. His eyes were a little too close together and he focused a beady stare at her breasts. She was glad now she had worn the blouse which buttoned up to the neck. She knew the second he walked in she would not be opening the top few buttons as she had planned on the bus trip there. That is until he spoke.
“My My what have we here?”
His voice had a chocolate quality. She shifted in her seat as his gaze strayed from her breasts to her eyes but straight back again.
“Now why would a Sunday school teacher or a bookseller like yourself want to talk to little old me? Specially on a nice Saturday when you could be doing important things with your time.”
“Everybody needs a friend sometime.” She tried to keep the quaver from her voice.
He burst into laughter, a rich deep sound she thought strange from such a small body.
“A friend? Don’t think I’ve ever had me one of those before.”
“Just to talk.”
“What you want to talk about, what could you and me possibly talk about? You sure don’t want to hear about what I did or how I pass my days in here, so what is it that you’re looking for?”
Esme stared at him and opened the top button of her blouse.
“Maybe it’s not you who needs a friend but me.” She said
He sat back.
“Well how about that, a bookseller in need of a friend, well I never.”
She shook her head.
“Not a bookseller then but something close, librarian I bet.” He was staring straight at her now.
“Hah got it in one.” His smug smile showed tobacco stained teeth.
“Fifteen minutes.” The warder called from outside.
“So you bring me anything to help me be your friend?”
She shook her head.
“Well, guess I’m wasting my time here, Warder?”
Esme quickly put up her hands to silence him.
“What kind of thing would you like me to bring?”
“ I think I’ll leave it to a well read lady like yourself to figure that out for next time. I’m sure you can work out what kind of things I like, for now why don’t you just open another button or two there, I’d sure like to see some milky skin”
She did so.
For the next ten minutes they sat in near silence. He didn’t look at her face, he focussed his eyes on what he could see from her neck down and kept his hands under that table. She looked straight at him as his pupils slowly got larger, his breathing became frayed. His face contorted into a mask of rage and desire and just as he was on the brink she buttoned up quickly and moved her chair back.
She rapped on the door and left the prison smiling. He would certainly want her back and she looked forward to twenty eight days time. She didn’t think she would need to bring anything in to convince him to be her friend in future. She decided to write to him once a week, keeping it plain and innocent. She began to enjoy being a puppeteer. On her way home she passed a building site where she usually walked and as usual there were no catcalls for the skinny girl in the heavy wool coat but this time she didn’t care a jot.
A week later the librarian opened a new volume and tucked inside the dust cover he found a black and white photograph of a baby boy in a pram. His hands trembled as he turned it over. The inscription on the back read.
My brother. RIP
He worked late that night and kept himself going by sipping from a hip flask he kept buried in his desk. He wrote long notes of instruction to the library staff, detailed guidance on where things were kept and the right way to do things. He finished his work as the lights on the bridge overshadowing the library were going out while the dawn sun rose over the river. At that time of day everything was at peace. He opened the blinds so that newborn sunlight flooded into his office glinting off the water. His desk was clear. He sat in his well worn office chair and laid his head on the green leather inlay of the oak desk. It felt cool. He hummed a hymn he had not had the courage to sing in many years.
Esme prepared the teacup and saucer as was her wont the next morning at ten thirty am, leaving the library assistant to pant his way up the stairs to the librarian’s office. She waited at the bottom of the stairs. She heard the floorboards creak under his bulk and the hinges grind as the door swung open as always. Then she heard the tray and contents crash to the floor and looked up to see the fat man lumber to the top of the stairs.
“He..He..” he burst into tears before he could say more and she walked up the stairs and past him into the office.
The librarian had used an envelope scissors to gouge his wrists and being a neat man had placed a mat of newspapers on the desk and around his feet. The papers were a deep red and his calculations were almost if not quite correct. A small pool of blood rested on the wooden floor but, that apart, the office could be cleaned and ready for its new occupant within a few minutes. On a table in the corner there was a note. She looked at it prepared to dispose of it if necessary but found it was a thirty five page handwritten instruction booklet for his successor on the correct running of the library. He came to the door again as she stifled a laugh with her back to him.
She picked up the phone and called the police and a doctor.
The fat man was still in tears as she ushered him downstairs and gave him a cup of tea. She even patted his sweaty hand to console him, a gesture he would never forget.
A month later he was appointed head librarian and a further month passed before Esme was appointed library assistant. She brought him his tea daily and forced herself to be nice to him and to listen to his chatter about birds. They were married that Spring. Each month Esme continued her visits to the prison where she played puck with the emotions of the small man in the orange suit. She said nothing for the duration of each visit and he said little apart from an occasional grunt and groan. Esme never told her husband where she went each Saturday preferring instead to say she was visiting her mother’s grave, although she didn’t know where it was.
When Esme married the fat man she made very clear who was in charge. Up until that time he had lived with his parents and his mother had cooked for him, cleaned up after him and fed him. Esme now had someone to cook for her to clean up after her and to feed her. In return for these services she agreed to allow him to have sex once monthly. She insisted she lie on top as the bulk of him would be too much for her to bear and she never removed her blouse, keeping it firmly buttoned to the neck, she reserved this part of herself for her prisoner. Still the fat man knew no better and did not complain. When he once tried to he found himself waking to her standing over him with a poker red from the fire an inch from his left eye.
Two years passed this way and Esme had her world the way she wanted it. The monthly visits seemed too spread out, but for her much of the pleasure was in waiting. She knew she was waiting for something she just was not sure what. In the meantime she used the Fat Man for her entertainment. She enjoyed watching him squirm, delighted in thinking up ways to make him suffer. They had moved into a three bedroom house when they wed and he was allowed to have the small bedroom. She banned television, his favourite entertainment and gave him what he said he had always wanted. Before they married he told her he would be a happy man forever if only he had a room full of ornithology books, so as her wedding present to him she gave him exactly that and she made him spend every non working minute of his life there only letting him out when she had need of him.
She loved to see the look of discomfort on his face from the little things like forcing him to wear shoes a size too small or sinking a burning cigarette into the flesh in the crook of his arm while he slept and then ordering him to get her a drink when he awoke in fright. She liked to open fine slits in his skin with a razor and then to dress them, sometimes with a sprinkle of salt under the band aid. She told him all librarians got paper cuts and these were signs of how she felt about him so he should be glad. In truth the Fat Man was dead but he didn’t know it yet, only Esme knew when he would breathe his last and if she was anything she was patient.
A few months after their wedding she had told the Fat Man what she did the last Saturday of each month. Thereafter every Saturday night her eyes would glint and her mouth water while she described in detail what she did that day and how her prisoner had responded. A real man she said, as she ran the razor blade millimetre by millimetre along his arm easing it along until the skin barely broke. She didn’t like the messiness of blood so just did enough to let the air under the skin. When she allowed the Fat Man into the living room, the place where she sat and waited in her armchair he was forced to sit on a wooden chair. Except on the last Saturday of each month when she gave him the treat of use of the armchair while she went on her visit. She liked to sit him there and tell him what she was going to do with her prisoner when he was released.
One Friday in November she took the Fat Man’s wage packet as she always did and she bought herself some clothes, the kind of things she thought a mistress would wear. When she got home she told the Fat Man she was going to give her prisoner a special treat the following day as it was the third anniversary of her first visit to him. That chilly Saturday she made the Fat Man sit in the armchair and she went to her room. When she returned she was wearing her long black woollen coat but she looked taller to him. She thrilled in showing him the patent black stilletos with buckles smaller than teeth she had spent half of his wages on. “It’s for him, today we’re going all the way.”
It was the first time he ever saw her wear makeup. The crescent lipstick smudged around her pencil thin lips, black eye shadow gave her pale face a ghostly look. The Fat Man didn’t respond, didn’t move, he found it hard to do much of either these days, he took himself to work and sat in his office, then took himself back to this each day. The wood in his office floor would always have a dark spot just beside the desk drawer. The Fat Man was still heavy but could no longer be thought of as fat, his flesh hung loose in all the wrong places, it draped from his cheeks like worn out curtains.
Esme left the house with a spring in her step that Saturday. As she teetered past the building site she fancied she heard a wolf whistle and turned only to hear the wind howl through scaffolding on the deserted site. Even this didn’t stop her feeling that today was going to be special. She got to the prison early and stood in the waiting room while the others sat. She was unable to sit still in the meeting room, her coat buttoned to the neck while she waited for him to be led through.
The door opened and the warder was followed into the room by a hulking teenage boy with a tattoo of Jesus on his neck who strained the plastic chair as he slouched into it.
“Where is..” she began to ask but the warder was gone.
“What the fuck do you want you old bat?”
The boy glared at her from under a Neanderthal brow, she stood up and rapped on the door and left.
That night she took the Fat Man from his room, tied his hands and feet with cable ties. He blubbered as she doodled with her scalpel on his back but as always she found it relaxing. She drew blood initially and scolded him for this.
A week later she was passing the vacant building site when she thought she heard a whistle from the scaffolding. She peered through the plastic netting between the scaffold poles. It was the time of day when the sun has just set but it is not yet dark. A light mist was falling bringing the smell of cement dust into the air. She began to walk on until something landed at her feet thrown from above. She picked up the ball of paper and unravelled it.
Come on in Librarian, I need a friend.
She walked into the building site as darkness fell.
“Over here.” Her heart raced to hear his chocolate covered voice again.
She walked into a half built apartment. The only light was an orange glow from the street lights outside. She sensed him before she saw him. Then he was upon her. He had waited a long time for this. He didn’t know it, but so had she. He came at her from behind grabbing her hair with one hand until her neck jerked back, knocking the glasses from her face, the other fumbled with the giant buttons on her coat. It was only a split second until he tore at them like a rat in a trap. He gnawed on her neck as she took deep breaths of his tobacco breath. He ripped her coat open. She felt him stiffen against her arse as his left hand plunged under the coat and grabbled at her blouse. She stood there with her back to him and didn’t struggle. She moved her hips gently to increase his excitement. His breathing laboured as his fingers tried to force their way into her. She moved her feet apart to allow it, felt the damp warmth she had never felt with the Fat Man. His erection pushed against her, he released his hand from her hair allowing her to turn toward him, her blouse half open and his hand still in her pants, groping and pawing. As she turned she reached down to his trousers. She tugged at the zip but she saw in his eyes it was already too late. His look changed from excitement to shame as a damp patch appeared on his corduroy slacks. He looked down and tried to pull back but she pushed herself onto his fingers and said.
“It’s alright my love, we have lots of time.”
He stood there with his head down while she ground herself on his hand until she jolted still, pushed him away, quickly fixed her clothes and buttoned her coat. He leaned against the bare brick wall while she retrieved her glasses and fixed them on her face. Then she smiled at him and kissed him on the lips, linked his arm.
“Darling I have someone who’s just dying to meet you.”
Esme moved the prisoner into one of the rooms and from then on she used both men as she wished, for what she wished and whenever she wished. The prisoner was a man with unorthodox leanings and she never tried to curb this simply allowing him to go out to sate them and relishing hearing of them when he came back. Sometimes he brought souvenirs. They both forced the Fat Man to listen to the stories before making him watch while they had what Esme liked to refer to as “make up sex” to atone for the prisoner’s unfaithful ramblings.
It was during one of these sessions that her son was conceived.