short story
Richard de Nooy

Rojstni Dan | Slovenia

(This story previously appeared in Dutch on De Revisor.)

1. You’re a librarian at the Mestna Knjižnica in Ljubljana. 

2. You’ve worked there too long. 

3. That’s a fact. 

4. You’d like to include a short passage here, describing your longstanding connection with the library. 

5. But you are unable to write that passage yourself. 

6. You love reading, but don’t write very often. 

7. You do know that you shouldn’t start every sentence with “you”. 

8. You don’t have to be a good writer to become a librarian. 

9. You do need to know a lot about writers. And about books, of course. 

10. Which is hardly surprising. 

11. All the books are classified, numbered and ordered. 

12. The same cannot be said of the facts. 

13. Apart from the bible, there are very few stories in which the facts are numbered. 

14. You find this a drawback, mainly because it's almost impossible to refer back to earlier facts . (See Nos. 3 and 10.) 

15. Some people prefer to read the last sentence of a book before starting at the beginning. 

16. You know this from experience. 

17. This story ends with No. 3. 

18. Other readers want to know whether they’ll enjoy a particular book. 

19. That’s never easy to predict. 

20. You need to know their past preferences. 

21. These readers keep fishing in the same pond. 

22. You prefer to direct readers to less familiar waters. 

23. But only if they are open to this. (See Nos. 19 and 3.) 

24. Books open up easily, but the same cannot be said of people. (See No. 16.) 

25. People are not only hard to fathom, but also fickle. 

26. This is confirmed by a certain writer who frequents the library.

27. He enjoys working in the library, because it keeps him in close proximity to the books, as well as the heating and cooling systems, depending on the time of year. 

28. Most writers have a shortage of money, but this one’s first book was a bestseller, which meant he could fully devote himself to his second.

29. That’s like winning a hundred thousand euros in a lottery, he once explained. But if that’s all you earn, you have to win the lottery again three or four years later. 

30. And that rarely happens. (See No. 16.) 

31. You read his highly successful collection of short stories ten years ago. 

32. You were impressed. 

33. It included a story about a writer who meets a woman in a library. 

34. You saw that relationship developing in real life. 

35. There were rumours that the writer stole the story from his lover, who had an extraordinary occupation. 

36. The story is about her occupation. But also about writing. 

37. The writer and his lover split up long ago, but they still see each other once a year in the library, on his birthday. (See title.) 

38. They are together again today.

39. They are engaged in hushed conversation. They keep glancing at you and smiling. They are talking about you. And about his fantasy. Of this you are sure.

40. The writer once confided that he fantasised about you. It was an erotic fantasy, in which the two of you engaged in various sexual acts amid the books. You listened closely as he described these acts. And soon they also became your fantasies. 

41. Whenever you saw him, you blushed and felt aroused. 

42. Eventually, you had no other choice than to enact your shared fantasies. You lured him into the secure basement of the library by promising to show him the extraordinary books kept there. 

43. You would like to give an account of what happened there. (See No. 5.) 

44. The writer was disappointed with the experience and said that reality lay like a dry turd in the shadow of fantasy. 

45. You felt insulted and said the writer would probably steal your story for his next anthology.

46. The writer laughed and said it was sometimes permissible to steal a story, on condition that it percolated onto the page through the filter of one’s own fantasy. 

47. You disagreed with him, saying that writers have a duty to report their sources. 

48. This presents an ideal opportunity to admit that the numbered format of this story is borrowed from The Great Rebellion at the Stuln Nazi Camp by David Albahari, which you read in an anthology of Serbian stories titled The Prince of Fire.

49. You would be more than willing to give the ISBN, but you are starting to realise how facts can hamper the narrative and therefore decide to return to the story as quickly as possible. 

50. You see the writer and his former lover leaving the library to further shape their shared story. 

51. You would like to follow them, but you cannot leave the library. 

52. You are restricted by reality, as well as the bounds of your fantasy. 

53. You love stories that end with a moral.

54. (See Nos. 22 and 23.)