She felt the accusation of the books all around her. We’ve never been read, they seemed to shout. We’re trapped here behind these glass doors. Surely you can understand that? We want somebody to free us, dust us off, see what’s inside. There are wonders in here, if only someone would look.
She didn’t know why she kept coming back to the library. Maybe because it was the only part of the house where she could still feel her mother. In this room, she still raged silently at her, just as she had when mum was alive. Mum, who had shackled her here, even more so now that she was gone. Mum, who had wanted everyone to see that she owned this house, this library, and these books. Reading them wasn’t the point. Appearance was what mattered, not what was on the inside.
The fuchsia tapped on the window, stirred by the rising wind. She should do something about that. But she daren’t tackle it herself, and there was no money to hire a gardener. The overgrown garden meant that the room was dark even on the sunniest of days. She should clean the windows, as well – that would help. She snorted. Help with what? Having a clear view of the world outside that she was never going to be a part of? Even the journey to the gate to collect the post was an ordeal.
The bookshelves dominated the room. Their mahogany did nothing to lighten the atmosphere, being a serious, oppressive kind of wood. Of course, it had been chosen because it was expensive. It was too dark for the room, even when the windows had been clean and unobstructed by branches. Now, the unpolished cabinets just added to the gloom.
She sat down in the old chair by the fire (unlit, of course), and stared at the shelves. The ones nearest to her held travel books. She was staring at faraway places, journeys by land and sea, unusual foods and exotic drinks. Dare she slide back the glass doors; take out a volume and read of these things? Would she sense her prison even more keenly? Or would she be transported to another world in the only way she could, feeling sand between her toes, smelling spices, hearing snatches of conversation in a foreign tongue and trying to work out what was being said? She imagined her mother, checking that the staff had dusted and polished, that the glass doors were clean so everyone who visited was able to read the titles. She had never seen her mum read a book in her life. What a waste of time, when there were neighbours to impress, social gatherings to attend, and her less-than-perfect daughter to worry about.
She threw back the door, freed the first book she put her hand on, and sat back in the chair, trembling. On an impulse, she jumped back up, opened every case, and took a title from each one. She left the doors open. Curling up in the chair, she piled the books on the table beside her, and set the first one on her knee. ‘Travels in Egypt’, the cover said, above a symbol of an eye surrounded by curly lines and strange markings.
She opened the book and began to read.