Speechless by William King

A library brings together two boys, reveals some secrets, and leaves them speechless.


A modern building of concrete and glass dominated the plaza. Sturdy old plane trees spread their broad canopy of leaves over the wide pavement. Raised flower beds and bench seats filled the middle of the open space. This was a stark contrast to the Victorian Town Hall which dominated the approach from the bustling town centre. It was a bold architectural statement, but was nevertheless tucked away behind that other much older building.

It was one of those sombre days that threatened rain, the sky was filled with rolling grey clouds. Even during summer in England you could never count on a warm sunny day. Jack thought that was odd, he always remembered long baking hot days right through July and August, but that was when he was younger. Since then they no longer got eight weeks holiday, just six and maybe a few days. That was okay with Jack, he used to get bored during the long summer holidays. He didn't even mind the weather, he had his bike and as none of his friends were around, he decided to ignore the cloudy sky and head for the library.

Whenever he found himself with nothing to do he'd get his bike out and think of somewhere to go. It would have been nice to have his friend Kevin with him, but well, he was used to going off on his own, so no big deal.

Deciding to head for the library was a good plan, it was a place with plenty of space, comfy chairs, and you could be sure to be left alone, and dry of course, if it decided to rain. Jack often hung out there with his mate Kevin, it was Kevin who first brought him there. They'd spent nearly a whole afternoon aimlessly looking at books, then sitting next to each other in two of those comfy chairs, talking about everything and nothing.

It was Kevin who told Jack all the time to be quiet. "Keep your voice down," he would say leaning over and whispering with his hand half covering his mouth. Jack's response was, "Why? Aren't you allowed to talk in here?" Then Kevin would smile and Jack would start giggling. More often than not they would have to get up quickly and leave, trying to hold their breath, cover their mouths and retain the giggles. Once outside they'd let go and burst out laughing, sometimes so much Jack would have tears in his eyes.

He'd tell Kevin to stop, but his friend would only reply saying, "You started it." Jack liked Kevin a lot, he wasn't sure why, he was good fun to be with, they were exactly the same age, one month separated them, but it was more than that. Jack just felt good with Kevin.

He attached his bike to the cycle rack outside the entrance, stuffed the key in his pocket and went through the huge glass front doors. There was practically no one around, he saw a librarian behind the counter off to the right with the hanging sign that read 'Enquiries'. She had her back to him and was occupied with loading books onto a trolley.

Jack climbed the wide stairs two at a time on his way to the reference section on the first floor. It was here you found the comfy chairs, because the reference library books could not be taken out on loan, only read in place.

****

Like some kind of 'rite of passage' Kevin's mother had taken him and his older brother to join the children's library. An example of Victorian philanthropy, libraries were an intrinsic part of any urban municipality, like schools, swimming pools, parks and sports grounds.

It was impressive for a seven year old. The polished wooden counter as you entered, the endless shelves of books, but most of all you could only whisper. That was like entering some magical hallowed kingdom, inhabited by books that each held secret doorways, passages into other realms. Plus those books held all the knowledge of the whole wide world. Yes indeed, in such a place you must tread on tip toe and try not to make a sound.

It was the world of Thomas the Tank Engine, Aesop’s Fables, books of all different sizes, thick books, tiny books, books with pictures, books with dragons and witches and who knows what other magical creatures.

Like any place run by adults you had to learn and follow the rules. You could choose three books to take home with you, each had a sheaf of paper glued inside the front cover onto which the due date for return would be stamped. That was the ritual when you left. Kevin would carefully hand his chosen books along with his blue library tickets to the librarian. Those tickets were precious, they had his name and his address on them.

He often wondered if the lady behind the counter was standing on a platform. She seemed to tower over him, he was always looking upwards even though he could see over the counter top, just. He once rested his chin on the counter to see how high it was, he twisted his head sideways as he slid his books along.

When the lady picked them up to stamp the date, he gave her one of his crooked smiles. He only did that once, when his mother had been distracted saying hello to someone she knew.

Yes, he only did it the one time, because when his mother turned around she saw him pulling faces and she wasn't best pleased. No, she pulled his arm saying, "Stop that Kevin, stand up straight."

Which he was forced to do by her tugging on his arm, worst of all though was after she had carefully placed the books in her bag, she pulled Kevin around in front of her and smacked him hard on the bottom.

When he looked up he saw the librarian looking in his direction as she gave a little nod of approval towards his mother. He was then led out, down the steps and onto the street, his mother still firmly holding his hand. "If I ever catch you behaving like that again," she told him sternly and pulled his arm again. "You will get more than a smack. Do you hear me?"

Kevin nodded as he wiped his eyes with his scrunched up little fists. His mother was cross with him and he knew he deserved the smack, he'd been a bit naughty making faces.

*****

It must have been a year after that incident in the library when Kevin first met Jack. Kevin had asked his dad if he knew how to play chess and could he teach him. His father told him he was sorry but he didn't have the time, which was very disappointing, but not unexpected.

Kevin hardly ever asked his dad anything, because he knew his dad had no time to give to his two sons. He knew his dad wasn't interested, even on special occasions like birthdays or Christmas, his dad often wasn't there. If he really had to do something like taking his sons and the dog out to the park on a Sunday morning, Kevin could feel the resentment. That's why he never said anything to his dad, because he knew the response before asking.

His mum told Kevin not to worry, that they would find a book with the rules of chess and she would help him teach himself. That cheered him up and he was looking forward to searching the library shelves in his quest. And that is how he met Jack, in the library.

Jack played chess and Kevin saw him with a book about the game, he was behind him at the counter. Now Kevin was not an extrovert, the exact opposite, he was very shy. The complete contrast to Jack, who you might label an exhibitionist.

The odd thing is that standing there behind Jack waiting for his books to get stamped out, and for the first time in his young life, he reached out his arm and tapped the slightly taller boy on the shoulder. The librarian was being kept busy for the moment checking books in, so they were both left standing there, waiting for her to finish.

The tap on the shoulder was so light a touch it could almost have gone unnoticed, but not by Jack, who turned to look back over his shoulder and said, " Yeah, yeah hold on I'm waiting too!" Not the reply Kevin expected. Actually, he wasn't sure what he expected, or even why he'd dared to do it. Only because he was focused on the chess book and for an instant completely forgot everything else.

As Jack glared at him, out of a need for self-protection Kevin grasped his one and only book tight to his chest. It was like a shield to stop the deadly rays from Jack's eyes. For his part Jack took stock of the situation in an instant, his vision caught the other boy's eyes, he saw he was scared of him, so no threat. He was a bit smaller anyway. Jack had read the cover of Kevin's book, his face softened and he said, "You learning to play?"

Kevin managed to nod, still clutching his shield ever so tightly. At that moment the librarian lady was back, Jack's books were stamped and Kevin handed over his. He watched Jack leave the library and thought to himself, 'he must think I'm a real scaredy cat.'

He was still lost in his reflections about his inability to say anything as he walked down the steps onto the street. That's why he nearly jumped out of his skin when a voice said, "Do you live round here?"

Jack didn't miss much and he didn't miss the other boy's startled reaction. "Sorry," he added. "Didn't mean to scare you. I just thought, well if you like chess and you live round hereā€¦" He trailed off what he was saying, suddenly struck by something about this other boy, something he just couldn't put words to, but something made him stop talking. Jack was never usually lost for words.

"Yes and yes," Kevin replied, recovering his composure and so excited that the bigger boy had waited for him. Kevin didn't make friends easily. He knew his brother's mates, occasionally he would hang out with them. Mostly they were nice to him, but he knew he had no real place there. It's like when he copied the hobbies his big brother did, model planes, boats, and stuff. His brother was really good at it, obviously, that's why he chose it. Kevin was crap, he knew it, he never finished any model of his own and hated himself for wasting his pocket money.

"I'm Jack," Kevin heard him say. "I live just round the corner, over one of the shops."

"Oh, I live a bit further away," Kevin replied like he was apologising.

Jack smiled and put his arm around Kevin's shoulder, he wasn't sure why he did that or if Kevin would think he was weird, maybe get freaked, run off. Too late, he'd done it.

"What do I call you?" Jack asked.

"Oh, sorry, I'm Kevin."

"Okay Kev, you got time to come back home with me? We can get started on the chess."

Kevin liked the arm around his shoulder, he liked being called Kev. "If it would be alright with your mum and dad?" He asked.

"They're not home. Only maybe, my little brother."

"Oh, okay then, I suppose."

Kevin looked at Jack properly, eyes to eyes, he wondered what he'd got himself into, but it couldn't be bad, he liked Jack. He thought that maybe they could be friends.

Jack ignored Kevin's half hearted response, he really wanted someone to play chess with, maybe to do stuff together, become friends. Maybe he's just very shy Jack thought, perhaps he really needs a friend too.

"Come on then," Jack led the way down the street and around the corner to his front door, which was between two shops.

*****

Just like he'd done countless times with Kevin, Jack ambled aimlessly amongst the shelves of books, looking at the section labels on the shelves and titles on some of the spines.

Jack ended up walking slowly down the isle labelled 'Psychology', between the two rows of bookshelves, one on either side. He wasn't paying much attention, only vaguely looking at the different sub-section labels, then suddenly it hit him, the title of the book grabbed his attention, drawn to it like the irresistible attraction of a magnet.

'Some Boys' by Michel Davidson. Jack felt his heart beat faster as he excitedly removed it from it's resting place hidden amongst all the other books, and flipped open the front cover to read the summary.

'This is the history of a lover of boys...' He felt the blood rushing to his cheeks, he knew he was blushing bright red. Furtively he looked in all directions and was relieved to find that there was no one there to see him.

Quickly he closed the cover, tucked the book under his arm, and headed towards the large glass windows at the front of library. He sat down relaxing in the first single chair he found.

Opening the book at the index Jack saw that each chapter was a place in a different country. He looked down the list, 'Hampstead Heath, London' immediately caught his attention because he knew the place. How many times had he been there, loads, he knew it very well, it was not so far from where he lived.

Jack flipped through the pages to the chapter and started reading. The events the author related were in the past, years ago, but the place had not changed. The more he read about the encounter the author was describing, the stronger his heart beat, he could almost hear it thumping. His body took on a mind of its own and unusual feelings passed all over him, but focused in one particular area, down there.

He looked to make certain no one else was nearby, because they would surely see how excited he was and that would be really embarrassing. It wasn't that it hadn't happened before, but when it did, there was no proper reason. Now was different, it was happening as he was reading about the two boys. The sensation was so, so nice, he couldn't stop reading. When he got to the end of the chapter he rested the book in his lap although it hid nothing if anyone were to pass by.

He took deep breaths and waited, trying his best to get his thoughts away from what he had read. That was not easy because it was incredibly difficult to put aside such a fantastic discovery. Then just as his body seemed to be returning to its normal state, Kevin appeared.

Jack watched him approach from the far end, he'd been keeping an eye open in case. In case anyone was around, he never expected to see Kev! His surprise was immediately replaced with angst, because his heart was pumping again and his body was reacting. Kevin was standing in front of him, he couldn't fail to notice, but he gave no hint.

“What you reading?”

There was no hiding, he held up the book, then quickly put it down again. Kevin's eyes scanned the title and followed the book down. Jack saw him blush. ‘What now’, he thought.

“Shall we go?” Kevin was asking like nothing had happened, as if he’d noticed nothing at all. For the second time since he’d met this boy Jack was speechless. “Before it rains,” Kevin added.

The End



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