This could just as well be a history lesson. This library, an ancient relic. A museum. A mausoleum of brittle pages.
Such are the thoughts of David Thompson, the school’s librarian as he gathers himself to address the class. He turns on the slide projector. The one he keeps in the cupboard. Part of his private war against “new technology”. When, forty years ago, he’d raised funds to bring the machine to the school (with its fifty-slide capacity carousel and its remote control) he was deemed an innovator. Now the children (and staff, behind closed doors) mock this dinosaur in their midst. This ancient wizened man who bans Smart Phones and IPads from the library. Who allows books to pile up on shelves. Out of order. The Principal, a kindly, not unsympathetic man, has indulged Thompson’s war of the words. But soon the librarian will be gone. Retired. Canute with no more tides to push against. To be replaced by a media resources officer. Where a love of books will not be an essential qualification for the position.
‘Settle, children,’ he says as he turns out the light.
The carousel rotates and clicks at his bidding. A picture appears on the screen. Amplified.
He waits. The hum of the projector, the darkened room, the single beam and singular image quietening the class.
‘What do you see?’ he asks.
‘… … …’
‘… … …’
‘Celia … tells us what you see?’
Celia is a sensitive twelve year-old, whose mother is a potter and bright spark in the idling engine of this small Midwest town.
‘A woman … in a bookshop. Looking for something … in the book she’s holding.’
‘… … …’
‘Maybe it’s the wrong book,’ says Raymond, whose father, now unemployed, was the manager of the town’s only bookshop until it closed nine months ago.
Charlie Howson (who never speaks), who wishes he’d a different name, who wishes he didn’t have pimples, who wishes he didn’t have to hide behind his fringe, who wishes his father wasn’t a drunk, who wishes his brother wasn’t in juvenile detention, hears the sounds of the teacher, the murmurings of his classmates. But it’s the voice in his head that commands his attention.
I’d be tall and handsome. I’d be sitting at the table sorting through the jumble of books. I’d own the bookshop. I’d ask the woman what she was looking for. In her fine coat. Her straight blond hair. She’d look at me. She’d say the name of a book. I’d know it, for this is my bookshop. She’d be impressed by me. I’d find the book she is looking for. She’d smile. She’d be happy. She’d let me hold her hand. She’d let me love her.
David Thompson turns off the projector. Switches on the light. He looks out at the class of faces. His life’s work nearly over. And, like in every classroom, he thinks the thoughts of every teacher. Have I ever made a difference? Ever touched a heart? The buzzer sounds. The children stir, waiting to be dismissed.