On the first Friday of every month, the Australian Writers Centre reveals a new set of story prompts. Writers have 55 hours to submit their best 500-word (or fewer) story.
It had shrunk. Insipid, beige shelves stood in place of warm, wooden bookcases. A row of desktop computers jutted out near the circulation desk.
It was probably over 40 years since Sarah had set foot in this particular library. Even so, she still walked to the big window overlooking the carpark and railway station, expecting to see a long, low bench next to the children’s section. Instead, she saw a JP busily stamping and signing, and a queue of bored individuals waiting.
Sarah moved to the other end of the window and looked out. She heard a train, but the jacarandas now obscured the view. There were no wide, boxy cars in the carpark, only small hatchbacks or SUVs. The library itself had obviously undergone renovations in the intervening years – technology, lighting, furniture - but the paint was peeling, the carpet was threadbare. The library seemed tired.
“Tired, like me,” she thought, but instantly regretted it. There was a reason she had returned. There was no place for self-pity here.
Tucked in a corner was a display of ‘classic children’s books’. Time-honoured favourites: The Tiger Who Came to Tea, The Richard Scarry Collection, First Poems. Old friends – welcoming, comforting, familiar. She grabbed a pile and sat back at the window.
Sarah couldn’t believe Caps for Sale was still in print after all these years. It was a shiny, new, untouched edition, a sharp contrast to her hands that turned the pages – split nails, veins, beginning bumps of arthritis. “I’m not old,” she reminded herself, “I’m just not new.”
It wasn’t the right book. As a child, the idea of mischievous monkeys grabbing caps was funny. But Sarah felt too much empathy for the poor old peddler. The monkeys were annoying and wrecking his career.
“Breathe. Just breathe.”
She tried another one. Harry the dirty dog. Again, Sarah struggled. Who has time to chase a filthy dog?
She had no time. There was no time. Her time was running out.
Sarah tried to quiet the rising panic. She’d come here deliberately. No one knew her here. This was a place of purely happy memories, of timelessness.
She looked again at Harry and wondered if she was a black dog with white spots or a white dog with black spots. She only knew that the dark spot shown to her that afternoon couldn’t be scrubbed clean. A doctor would need to operate to remove it.
“Stupid nostalgia. This was a bad idea.”
She started to leave, but spotted Max. He was on the cover of the scariest book of her childhood. It was an old copy…how many children it had haunted?
She read it. Slowly. Her wild rumpus was just beginning. She realised she knew where the Wild Things were. They were in her fears of surgery, fears for her family, fears for her future. The Wild Things would roar terrible roars, gnash terrible teeth, but Sarah would look them in their yellow eyes
She soaked in the timelessness, glad she’d come.
Grateful to the Australian Writers Centre for sparking creativity each month with the Furious Fiction competition.