The Library

They are not supposed to have favourites. Most of them simply lay back and watch people wander in and out of the doors. Oh, the humans and their clockwork paths. They watch the same pairs of hands fiddle with the same rusty old locks, the same heads bump against the same railings after a night spent sleeping on the stairs. Nobody thinks to choose.

Granted, there are no rules for this sort of thing, but it cannot help but feel a twinge in its stony foundation for watching one more than any other, for creating an imbalance when it loves all life equally.

The girl comes in on weekdays after school. Placing her bag on the pigeonhole by the children’s section, she wanders off from the storytelling circles and pastel-tiled flooring to tread the creaky floorboards in one of the dustier sections of its body. It worries sometimes about that dust. What is no good for breathing is no good for life.

Having the girl walk through the back-aisle tickles a forgotten crook of its body, sends a gentle pulse through an untouched nerve. Her arms barely wrap around her tome of choice. It is a book on Empires and their Wonders, the sort with ripped pages and no bibliography to speak of: a favourite of curious children and disillusioned adults straying too far from their finals papers. The plastic table creaks under its weight when she sets the volume down.

Reading to this one comes easy as breathing. It does not see prodigies very often, but when it does, it is cautious. Humans like her are very much like the ancient land of Rome they love to read about. They grow quickly, conquering territory after territory; perhaps they make it big in business or write one of the bestsellers that come and go from its shelves. They construct wonders, dye cultures with their own hue, forcibly scratch their mark upon history . . .

One day the girl takes the bus out-of-town. She is going to build her empire, it thinks. Though it cannot wave goodbye, and cannot brood in longing, the curtains sway just a little out of sync with the wind, and in the second-floor bathroom, a bulb flickers and dies.

Still, life goes on. It must, even if the air sinks heavier without its favourite. Both life and non-life proceed harmoniously inside of it. The librarian grows grey hairs, her black strands falling unnoticed to the cushy swivel chair that is slowly losing its mobility. Students graduate and are replaced with more students – and they seem to lose more hair per capita with each passing generation. It loves them all, all but for the treacherous dust that cakes the ripped books in the back aisle.

(Seasons later, it hears a sickening splat on the pavement outside the School, hears the sirens blaring, and it knows: Rome has fallen.)

The other buildings like to ask why it stays. Many of them simply fall apart after their generation grows old and wrinkled. Many others choose to leave even if their bodies are intact: these are the skeleton-like abandoned warehouses and prisons. Sometimes life is not worth sustaining, so the non-living leave. This is not a bad concept, for things like them. It is just that: a concept.

But the Library loves life.

Light filters in through the stained windows, lending the loft a tint the colour of fresh peaches. A cast remains around the sleeping girl’s leg, but that is all that is left of a painful battle from long, long ago. They call her a woman now, it knows, but it likes to imagine that all who read retain some part of their child self within them.

Papers lie strewn around her exhausted form. Scribbles fill each: ideas and plans and hopes, dreams, wishes – the things that never die. They have not allowed her to, either. There is something good about the human’s desire for repetition; the musing comes to it as the grandfather clock strikes a resounding eight in the morning.

There is always time for a new empire.

Fern Tan

Fern Tan

I'm an amateur writer with too much to say. My poems are cross-posted on

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