It was my first visit to the University Library and I was nervous as I’d heard so much about the place being huge and how easy it was to get lost in it.
Well it was certainly big. I checked my project requirements and headed off in the direction of the literature section, 800 in the Dewey Decimal System.
My work involved researching the work of Augustus Snide an English writer of some ill repute whose work was rather controversial in its day.
The lady at the desk suggested I try 822 – English Drama through to 827 English Satire and Humour.
It was a great start to have narrowed it down like I had but when I arrived it was a section that contained more books than I ever imagined.
So, I started looking at 822 hoping to find a reference to Snide.
I was startled when I heard a voice: “ Not a lot of luck, eh?”
Looking around I couldn’t see anyone. Thinking I was dreaming I carried on.
“Not a great call for books in this section.”
“It’s a mystery why they are even here.”
This time I turned around but there was no one there.
“Down here,” called a voice.
“Second shelf down,” called another.
Looking down I could see two small worms sitting on a copy of Dickens’ ‘Hard Times’.
“I beg your pardon,” I replied, “did you speak to me.”
“Of course, we did, no one else is about.”
“But how can you be speaking?” I asked.
“We’re bookworms,” stated the one to the right whom I noticed had on rather becoming striped vest.
“Bookworms?” I gasped, “you can’t be real? Can you?”
“You can see us can’t you?” asked the one to the left who was also wearing a vest but his was green.
“Well I can now but I think I might be going mad. Bookworms? What exactly do you do?” I asked.
“Well we hang about in the shelves, read to odd text, write reviews but mostly we keep the mites at bay. You noticed now few mites there are around here?”
“No can’t say I have.” I said looking about in case someone was watching.
“It’s nice to have someone to talk to,” said the one in striped vest.
“It gets lonely you know,” added the green vest.
“You’re the first person to come down here all week.”
“It’s a big library, why don’t you move somewhere else?” I asked.
“OH no couldn’t do that. Not the sort of thing we bookworms do,” stated the striped vest.
“We’ve been in 822 for years we have. Our whole family has been in 822 – 823 you know. My brother George and I have settled here on Dickens’ ‘Hard Times’ as we feel it reflects our lives.”
“Arthur’s right, you know, we used to hang around Emily Dickinson, over in 821 when we were younger and had more sass and spirit but as we aged we went for the more sedate volumes. When we get a bit down you’ll find us hanging out over at the Jane Austin.”
“Well sad to hear that, but look I’m looking for Augustus Snide, I writing a thesis on his work,” I said to them hoping for their help.
“Snide? Snide you say?” asked George.
“Never heard of him. Must be one of those hippy authors over in 827. Never had much time for them,” said Arthur.
“Want a good author, someone you can get your teeth into? Robotham, crime fiction, 822, good Australian author, you can’t go wrong,” said George.
“Yes, he is very good,” I replied, “ but its Augustus Snide I’m after.”
“You could try 828, miscellaneous writings, might have more luck there,” suggested George.
“I might try there then,” I replied.
“Yes, and say hello to Molly, you can’t miss her, a bit of a loud mouth, but more than helpful, if you get my drift,” added Arthur.
It was turning out quite a day, I mean who ever heard of actual bookworms?
It was one of those family reunions where as an aging member, it was becoming more and more difficult to keep track of the ever-growing family.
When I was young, we had these gatherings, and it was my cousins whom I knew, plus their parents, my uncles and aunts. Then in time, each of my cousins married, had kids, those kids grew older and married and had kids, and here I was in the thick of it, family left and right, and most of them I didn’t know who was with who or whose family one came from.
My Aunt Peg, my oldest surviving aunt knew who everyone was. As it was, she had great-grandchildren, and there was a promise of even more to come.
I felt like a fish out of water. Standing there, not recognizing most of the people there save for the occasional cousin who came my way and was grateful to recognize someone.
It can be a long day when your conversation begins with: “And who do you belong to?”
There seemed to be a myriad of small children running about, so it was a relief to finally be in the car heading home. Being in the thick of it can be tiring.
Miss Marble, witch, of 46 Grimace Street had long pondered the difference between a good and wicked witch.
Her own life, she concluded, as long as it had been, had contained elements of the good and bad.
Mostly she thought of herself as a good witch, but it was always , she was aware, a matter of perspective.
Mr Pruit of 32 Grimace Street most likely considered her a wicked witch. It was all, his own fault when he landed on her doorstep, demanding a supply of her garden fertilizer. He was, on a good day an angry man, but his rudeness to Miss Marble was something she took exception to.
When she began advising him about the use of her fertilizer, he had interrupted her telling her he had been gardening for fifty years and knew all there was to know about gardens and fertilizers.
The result for Mr Pruit was he went home with a bottle of fertilizer but, after applying it to his garden, discovered he was only capable of growing half vegetables. His potatoes were chat size, and his carrots only pencil thick. He blamed Miss Marble, of course, telling everyone who would listen what an evil and wicked witch she was.
On the other hand, old Potty Mary from 43 Grimace Street had no problem using the fertilizer.
The one issue Potty had was remembering to apply the fertilizer only to crops growing below ground. On one occasion, she had applied it to a crop of zucchini, and as everyone knows, you have to watch zucchinis, for if you turned your back on them, they’d grow to twice their size. Potty Mary woke one morning with a zucchini up against her back door. It took a dose of Miss Marble’s Reduction Potion to get things back under control and Potty access to her outhouse.
Meanwhile, Mr Pruit continued spreading rumours about Miss Marble and her wicked ways. It got so that Miss Marble needed to pay him a visit.
She asked if they could have a cup of tea and offered to make it.
Mr Pruit was none to happy about Miss Marble being in his house and sat glumly at his kitchen table while Miss Marble boiled the kettle. She slipped a drop of her Anger Reduction Potion into the cup she poured for him.
The result was instantaneous, and before her sat a much happier Mr Pruit. She took the opportunity to explain about applying her fertilizer, which Mr Pruit listened to and thanked her for the advice.
As she left, she left a bottle of her fertilizer on the table and looked forward to seeing the results.
As Mr Pruit tendered his garden, he thought he must be more polite to Miss Marble the next time he needed fertilizer, as she wasn’t such a wicked old witch after all.
Crisp, my aged companion, had been quite pensive of late.
She said, “I’d like lots of colour at my funeral. I want to be remembered for the character I am. Don’t you think that’s a good idea?”
We agreed her funeral notice would request bright and colourful attire.
The conversation for the next hour was about the funeral. It was all a bit depressing, and I hadn’t been prepared for it. Crisp had a list of songs, most from our teenage years though her suggestion of Jim Reeves, ‘He’ll Have To Go’ reworded to ‘I’ll Have To Go’ might have taken some organising.
The one thing we agreed on was flowers. Lots of them, bright as could be, spread all around the funeral chapel.
“You’re not planning of going just yet, I hope?
“No,” she said, “far too much fun still to be had.”
Her name was Alice Marie Jenkins, and the first day she walked into Gino’s café, her flaming red hair immediately had our attention.
We met each afternoon in Gino’s because it was a safe place for us and good for Gino’s business.
We referred to ourselves as the Table Five gang. We sat at the same table and felt we had some ownership of the table.
We weren’t a gang that did anything. We talked a lot, made plans, but none of us was inclined to get off our backsides and carry through with anything.
Carrots changed a lot of that.
She seemed a timid girl at first, but once we got to know her, she was anything but.
That first day she stood at the counter placing an order of chips and a potato scallop.
She ignored Hugo’s call of “Hey Carrots.” She went and sat at the far table well away from us. It was Josie who made the first move. Before long, Josie had convinced her we weren’t the ratbags we appeared and invited her to join us.
Her family has just moved to the south side of town. We knew it to be a poor area, but Carrots was a girl who didn’t seem like the usual south side kids, rude, defensive and generally unlikeable.
She was going to the State School, and we were all Catholic kids. It didn’t matter as we’d taken an immediate liking to her.
She joined in our chatter, but once her phone rang, she said she had to go. We said we were here most afternoons, and she was welcome to join us.
We didn’t see her for a week or so, and she came in wearing a beanie over her hair and looking unhappy. She ordered and was in two minds to join us, but once Josie had called to her, she came over.
She said she’d been busy, getting settled in, the new school, and she had a little brother who needed looking after most afternoons.
She was just munching into her chips when her phone rang.
“I have to go,” she said, stuffing the phone into her bag. She got up and left, and we watched her leave.
The next day the news around town was of a drug bust on the south side. That afternoon we met at Gino’s and wondered if Carrots was caught up in the bust. The word was that the cops had raided Smith Street and arrested a number of people.
The next time we saw Carrots, we were keen to hear all the gossip about the raid. She turned up on the Friday.
We had questions. Carrots was sheepish about saying anything until we discovered it was her dad who had been busted.
It wasn’t the first time. Drugs were the reason they’d moved here to get away from their last situation. She said her dad couldn’t help himself, he had debts but someone had dobbed him in.
She said they’d probably move again. She was sad about that as we were the first friends she’d ever had.
Josie invited her to stay over at her house. Josie was like that, and that was how the red hair girl came into our lives, and we liked that she had.
Archie Lapsitter was a tall bald guy who loved his job of catching bad guys.
Like many tall guys, he was a lot shorter when he sat down.
Around town, he was known as “whodunit” Archie.
The mystery of who killed Alice Hudson had consumed the community. It was not concern for Alice but rather a fascination for who had killed her.
Archie was on the job straight away. They had found her body stashed into a garbage bin in the alley beside the courthouse.
As Archie gathered evidence, it was clear that he had no immediate answers, as Alice was one of those people who had a lot of enemies. Each suspect claimed their innocence but expressed their disappointment it wasn’t them who had done the deed, as they believed she had it coming to her.
Archie admitted to being flummoxed.
But he knew a shred of evidence would soon appear and from there more evidence until he had a case.
And that’s how it happened.
Fingers started to point towards Judge Parker, who had a reputation of being seen in seedy places, with seedy people at seedy times.
Archie found fingerprints, DNA, rumour, and gossip abounded, and before long, it was as plain as the nose on his face that the Judge was a man who had questions to answer.
Archie loved the questioning part. Bright lights, a bare room, with just a table and chairs, and getting into the defendants face.
It took some hours, but soon Archie had the Judge talking. He spilled his guts, he admitted his wrong doing, he said Alice had it coming as she had a bad habit of talking about her clients in McNally’s Bar and if there was one thing the Judge had insisted on was discretion. To Alice, the word ‘discretion’ was just another big word she heard from people who thought they were smarted than she was.
Archie’s investigation revealed Alice liked to brag about who her clients were. Her clients were never happy about anyone knowing they knew Alice. Archie could see it was a matter of time before someone silenced her.
The Judge showed no remorse; in fact, he argued he had done the community a favour.
Archie was relieved when he was found guilty and sentenced to life in the rock quarry.
The case over, he went back to sitting in his office, smoking cigars and generally basking in his success.
Just as he was getting comfortable, his door burst open. The butcher announced his wife had gone missing, he was distraught, he burst into tears, Archie made notes, another case had presented itself.
Archie smiled as he knew just where the butcher’s wife was.