I’ve heard a silence described as “smothering”, a kind of dense and enveloping silence that crushes not just sound but even the thought that you could make a sound. I was quite fond of that figure of speech, until I started working at Elm Park Library.
At Elm Park Library, the silence is smothering. And once in a while, we find the bodies; asphyxiated as if smothered by some cloth that is never left behind.
It’s always the loudest patrons, those who don’t afford the library the respect it deserves. They’ll make too much noise, then they’ll grow quieter and we’ll go about our business assuming some other patron has just asked them to keep it down. Then the closing time bell will ring, and all bar one will head for the exit. One who sits, eyes open, not breathing, gaze locked on whatever book was in their hands when the silence came and smothered them.
They closed us down every time, of course. Police and forensics scoured the scene, but it was always the same. Asphyxiation, no prints, no DNA, no fibres, and the library re-opened until the next time.
The final straw came in the Autumn one year, when they knocked down the theatre opposite us. Demolition balls and pneumatic drills, hammers and shovels banged and crashed at all hours, and my once-peaceful library was peaceful no more. Fewer patrons came each day, leaving me alone with that awful noise, until again the smothering silence came. One day at noon, it struck. Builders, plumbers, electricians, twenty-seven in all, their last breaths taken in harmony as they fell to the ground.
That was the end of Elm Park Library, then, though of course they could prove nothing. The doors were battened shut, books left on shelves since no-one dared enter to take them. Perhaps the silence itself reads them as it drifts through the deserted aisles, finally at peace.
Between musty hardbacks and settling dust, Elm Park Library has nothing now but silence, a smothering silence, a dense and enveloping silence.