Vincent was a believer. He believed in wonder and science, in magic and fairy tales. He believed in coincidence and fate, he believed, without really knowing it, in love.
When he was a child every school holiday was spent with his grandfather (or his gransh as he used to call him) as both his parents worked. His father was an insurance salesman and his mother worked for the council. Once in a while he would have to spend the day at work with one of them and he had never known boredom like it.
But he loved spending time with his gransh in that old house filled with happy memories and the odd smell combination of toffee apples and wet dog. Vincent’s gransh was a great storyteller and revelled in it. Young Vincent would listen for hours and when the story was over, pester for more. Vincent’s favourite story was the one about how his gransh met his nan.
His gransh was in the local library for no other reason than to keep out of the rain. Although he was a wonderful storyteller Vincent had never actually seen him reading a book. The way he told the tale was that he was drying off in the fantasy and science fiction aisle when he saw Vincent’s nan. She too had been caught in the rain, her long red hair wet. Unlike him, she was there to read. She loved to read.
Vincent’s gransh was transfixed. He made his way over to her. He followed her though the arts, aviation and biography aisles until he finally got the nerve to talk to her. They struck up a conversation and got along famously as they would until the day she died. Heart attack. Vincent’s gransh said that her heart grew so big with love it was eventually too much for her body to take.
Back to the story… as they talked, Vincent’s gransh casually picked a book up from the shelf and upon doing so… Clunk, a grinding of long forsaken gears and the bookshelf moved to reveal a downward staircase.
Together, holding hands, his Grandfather and Grandmother descended.
The stories that Vincent held so dear were of that wonderful world of innocent joy and simple happiness that took place at the bottom of those stairs. Incredible tales that to the day he died, his gransh swore to be true.
The day he died was six months ago. He was seventy-seven years old. Vincent and his gransh remained close till the very end. Once and only once did Vincent ask specifically about the book… Which book? Where is it? With a faraway glint in his eye his gransh smiled and told him…
“When the time is right, you’ll find what you are looking for.”
Every day since then, Vincent, now aged thirty-five, has visited that library looking for that book. Meticulously, tirelessly. Believing that he will find the same book his gransh did amongst the thousands upon thousands that are spread over the two floors and hundreds of shelves.
When he arrived at the library today it was pouring with rain, which was strange for the month but not strange for the country he lived in. Vincent shook the rain out of his umbrella and placed it in the bucket that the librarians had helpful left out. He swiped some of the rain out his side parted hair and removed his steamed up glasses, gave them a wipe on his sweater and put them back to his face. He looked around the library and with nod went to the ‘Fiction – F to G aisle’.
Systematically, Vincent started where he finished yesterday; working from left to right he removed each and every book fully from the shelf. If no magical staircase appeared he would place the book back and move onto the next one.
After three hours, he had finished the bookshelf and decided it was time for some lunch. He walked over to the tables and chairs, sat down and opened his rucksack for his ham sandwich. As he ate he people watched and tried to guess what type of book they were looking for.
Vincent was well aware of what the people here thought of him. They thought him odd, harmless but odd. Once, a librarian made the effort to come over and talk to him. When she enquired as to what he was doing he actually told her the truth. With a smile she backed away. Vincent could see her now behind the desk. When she sometimes looked over he would wave. Sometimes she would wave back. He has never told anyone else.
The weather outside was worsening. The sound of rain hitting the windows echoed around the old building. The loud creak of the main door distracts Vincent. He watches it open and feels the wind as it bursts in, infiltrating every corner of the room. The soaked figure of a woman struggling against the wind pushes the door closed. She stands motionless for a few seconds before removing her coat and revealing shoulder length hair of the reddest red.
Vincent’s sandwich hovers motionless by his mouth as he sits transfixed by this woman. The red head looks around the library with a smile on her face and rain still dripping down from her hair. She pulls her hair into her hand and wrings it into the umbrella bucket with a dripdripdrip drip. With her coat under her arm she heads over to, as Vincent well knows by now, is the ‘Fantasy and Science Fiction’ aisle.
After lunch Vincent goes back to his search. Every once in a while he steals a glance at the red head, currently examining the works of Isaac Asimov. Vincent looks at the shelf that he’s been working on and realises that he has lost his way. He doesn’t remember which book is next. He’ll have to start the section over. He sighs. He looks over again to the red head but she’s gone.
Abandoning the search, he wanders the aisles looking for her. Up the ‘non fiction’ aisle and down the ‘astronomy’ aisle. Vincent turns into the ‘natural world’ aisle and walks straight into the Red Head knocking her book to the ground. Without hesitation Vincent apologises profusely and picks up the book for her.
The Red Head smiles and tells Vincent not to worry. Vincent looks at the orange cover ‘Artemis Fowl’. She explains that the book is about a megalomaniacal child who captures a fairy and uses it to attempt to take over the fairy world. She tells of gnomes and dwarves and elves with a dreamy smile. Vincent can’t help but smile too as he hands the book back to her.
She asks Vincent if he was looking for a book in particular. Vincent chuckles. With a smile she asks him what’s so funny? To his complete surprise Vincent begins tell her everything. About his Grandfather, about what he’s been doing at the library for the last six months and do you know what? She doesn’t think him odd. She thinks it a great adventure, a wonderful tale.
Vincent smiles and thinks back to when his Grandfather too smiled and said…
“When the time is right, you’ll find what you are looking for.”
Vincent thought of these words and realised what he meant. He looked at the Red Head who still spoke of the wonder of his quest and loved and missed his Grandfather so much more. This is what he spoke of. This is the adventure. It wasn’t about a book. It was about her. The Red Head.
Finally Vincent offers his hand and introduces himself. She takes it tells him that her name is Ren. Short for Serendipity. Vincent laughs at the appropriateness. As he laughs he steadies himself on one of the books with an elbow. The book tips forward causing Vincent to stumble into Ren’s arms. With an awkward smile he thanks her. Vincent turns back to the shelf to see a gravity defying book hanging halfway off the shelf.
He squints and approaches it cautiously. He tilts his head and reads the spine. ‘Gateways Into The World’. Vincent gulps. He looks at Ren whose mouth is making a wide ‘O’. Vincent places his hand on the book. Looks at Ren one more time. She nods with a small smile and a giggle. Vincent pulls the book down with a ‘clunk’.
They hear the whirl of those old cogs straining with age as the bookshelf opens and reveals a dark tunnel with a downward spiral staircase. Vincent and Ren look from the tunnel to each other and back to the tunnel. Instinctively they hold hands and enter the tunnel and walk down the spiral staircase to the world his Grandfather described as full of innocent joy and simple happiness.
Library image taken from http://www.st-hughs.ox.ac.uk/library