They sit around the table, ten women, their years stretched between fifty-five and eighty-three. They take a mug of tea and a shortbread biscuit between their stiff fingers and they wait a while.
It’s quiet in the library. Not so quiet that they can’t detect the sound of life outside the building – cars rolling past, young mothers with toddlers in buggies pushing forward to the shops, people going back to work from their lunch break. Life that these women don’t live anymore, life that is in their past. They used to have jobs and babies and places to go, now they spend their mornings struggling with the small things and their afternoons being busy with their minds.
A high window is open and one of the women shivers and says she’s cold. The window is closed and they shuffle the pages in front of them on the table and sip the tea.
The first one to speak says she can’t stay long, she has to dash. So she’ll take her turn first.
“I’ve only read a few pages,” she says. “But I do like it.”
The one in the red cardigan leans forward. “Is it a thriller?” she asked. “I don’t like thrillers.”
Next the one in the white jumper talks about how much she loved this book, how she felt about the characters and how she never wanted it to end.
“But I just didn’t find it believable,” the one in the red cardigan says. “He wouldn’t have been able to do that in his position.”
The one in the white jumper curls her lip and sets her eyes. “Well, it is fiction,” she says.
“I know you like crime novels,” the one in red cardigan says, and she dismisses it with a wave of her hand. “I’m sorry, but I’ll probably hate it. You know I only like books set in the country or in other countries, you know I don’t like books set in cities.”
Two of the women look around them. The city creeps into the library sometimes, though they try to avoid its transforming middle and stay around its edges only.
“I think it’s important to read these things,” a woman in thick rimmed glasses says. “Even if you don’t like them.”
A murmur flutters around the table. Two of the woman smile awkwardly and the one in the white jumper adjusts her chair. “It’s not all green and pleasant land, you know, it’s not all rose gardens.”
The one in the red cardigan sits up straight and tilts her head in defiance.
“Here,” another woman says, her arm reaching out like a knotted brittle branch. “You might like this one.”
“Is it set in the country?”
“Almost, but it does have some moorland in it, and they talk about their gardens a lot.”
The one in the red cardigan takes the book and feels its weight in her hands. She leafs a few pages, then sits back with a satisfied warmth inside her.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and Orange Balloon (2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
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