Rhonda, the branch librarian was extremely agitated. The reason for her disquiet had nothing to do with the fact that a serial borrower was threatening violence on her incompetent young assistant, Candice. Rhonda had little interest in threats of this kind which were commonly made when the subject of fines for overdue books was brought up. Her thoughts were occupied with the horse that lay dead in one of the aisles; the travel section to be precise.
A couple of children from Tobin Street flats had ridden in on the horse, taking advantage of the fact that Fred, the porter was nowhere to be seen. The horse had reared, either in fright or in resistance to being in a library and then dropped dead. The dead horse presented more of a problem than it might ordinarily have done, in light of the impending visit by the Chief Librarian, the formidable Dr Beatrice Ashe.
Dr Ashe was known to have a morbid fear of horses, having been kicked in the head by a stallion many years ago. She also had little tolerance for untidy libraries. Rhonda quite rightly felt that a dead horse would indeed be considered a sign of slovenly housekeeping. Rhonda was keen to impress Dr Ashe who would soon be interviewing her for a more senior position.
“What possessed you to bring a horse into the library?” she raged at the children who were distraught at the sight of the dead animal and could only wail in response.
“Oh, David,” cried one little girl.
“Who on God’s earth is David?” demanded Rhonda.
“The horse, missis.” said a little boy. “That’s his name.”
“I think that’s a good name for a horse,” said Candice. “What made you call him David?”
“That’s hardly an issue at this point in time.” Rhonda screeched at her. “We have to get it out of here before Dr Ashe arrives. She’ll be here any minute.”
“It’s just that a name like that gives an animal more...you know, kudos,” continued Candice who’d just recently come across the word kudos for the first time. “Like, if I had a dog, I’d call him John. Or Betty if it’s a girl.”
“THE HORSE HAS TO BE GOT OUT!” Rhonda was beside herself now.
Candice contemplated the horse, considering ways in which it might be removed, given its considerable weight and girth. At the moment it was jammed tight between two shelves of books. She pointed out to Rhonda that its right foreleg was pressed against a book with the title, A Thousand Places To Visit Before You Die.
“That horse is psychic,” she pronounced.
“Where’s Fred when we need him?” Rhonda demanded.
It was a ridiculous question, given that Fred, the library attendant, was never anywhere to be found when he was needed. Fred rarely turned up for work before noon, and reeked of alcohol for the rest of the day.
Rhondajabbed at her mobile phone, but Fred’s number rang out.
“He’s in de pub Missis. Passed ou’,” said the little boy. “We seen him through the winda.”
“Well go and get him,” ordered Rhonda.
More people had come in, and now there was quite a gathering, all craning their necks to see the dead horse.
“Is that a horse?” said one woman.
“He’s dead,” Candice replied.
“De-ad? De-ad? shrieked the woman, throwing her hands to her face, and knocking off her glasses.
A dead horse. The words echoed around the library, repeated several times by disbelieving borrowers.
“We have to find a way of getting him out,” said Candice. “We’re due an inspection any minute.”
The borrowers rallied round, offering tips for removing the horse.
“Drag him out,” said one man. “A few of us will be able to sort him. I’ll put his forelegs round me waist and you lift him up be the arse,” he suggested to another man.
The men squeezed into the aisle, but the horse could not be dragged any considerable distance.
“Chop him up.” said the man who’d earlier threatened Candice.
Candice gave him a baleful look.
“Don’t ya get venison from horses?” asked a woman, who was obviously planning the evening meal.
“Corned beef,” said Candice.
“Is that not in a tin?” the woman asked.
“Give him a drop of brandy,” boomed a voice from the door. It was Fred, flushed from alcohol and self-importance at being summoned to such a challenging task. “That oul horse isn’t dead at all,” said Fred, taking a flask of brandy from his pocket. “Let me in to him.”
He pushed his way in, and emptied some of the brandy into the mouth of the horse. “He’ll be right as rain in a few minutes,” he said.
They waited. The horse didn’t move. Fred booted him roughly. Still nothing.
“He’s not moving,” said the woman, who’d finally managed to retrieve her glasses. “ I tink he’s dead.”
“She’s here,” hissed Rhonda who was standing on tiptoe to see into the car park. “Dr Ashe is here.” She turned to Candice. “I’m going to take her straight into the kitchen for a cup of tea before she gets a chance to look around. Make sure that horse is gone before we come out.”
Candice fancied herself a poet, and was more interested in the idealisation of horses, in particular white horses, than the more pedestrian spectacle that lay before her. As Rhonda went to meet Dr Ashe, she was already composing in her mind, stanzas of lyrical beauty about a psychic stallion whose final journey was as much figurative as literal.
The borrowers began to move away, bored now, and defeated. Candice and Fred were left standing in the aisle, Fred burping brandy and swaying slightly.
“Youse are all bloody geniuses,” declared Fred. “Did none of youse tink of loadin’ the horse onto the books trolley. Tha’ way we could wheelhim ou’.
“That’s a good idea in theory,” said one borrower who’d overheard Fred. “But I don’t think we’d be able to lift him onto the trolley.”
“We won’t know ‘til we try,” said Fred
A book trolley was wheeled in, and after several attempts, the men managed to get the horse’s body onto the trolley. They had just reached the desk inside the front door when the trolley crashed to the ground, dislodging the horse. The men looked at each other in despair.
Just then, the door to the Staff section opened, and Rhonda poked her head out. She glared at Candice when she saw the horse still there. Candice shrugged. Dr Ashe appeared behind Rhonda and the two women began walking towards the dead horse. A silence fell on the room, broken only by a loud gasp from Dr Ashe.
“What in Heaven’s name?” she exclaimed.
“Dr Ashe, you have to understand this is none of my doing,” Rhonda defended herself. This is all the fault of my useless assistant. I assure you, I will have her duly reprimanded.”
Dr Ashe studied the dead horse in surprise, her head on one side. When her hair fell away, Candice could see the scar left by the stallion’s hoof. She held her breath. Dr Ashe noticed her staring, and smiled.
“I was kicked by a horse, once,” she said. “It left its mark in more ways than one.”
Candice gulped, not knowing what to say. “I’m sorry”, she said eventually.
“Oh don’t be,” Dr Ashe replied. “Actually this is a rather timely encounter as I’m in the process of being desensitised. What a clever idea to have a horse present on my arrival. It’s hugely helpful.”
She smiled at Candice. “I must commend you on the exemplary nature of your work. As an employee of this establishment, you deserve to be richly rewarded. As you know, I will shortly be conducting interviews for a senior position in the library. See to it, that you put your name forward.”
Candice grinned at Rhonda who had turned a most deathly shade of pale.
Dr Ashe continued to gaze at the horse. “You know I always wanted to be a jockey,” she said.
The horse stirred, and opened its eyes. It looked up at Dr Ashe, and slowly closed one eye in what could only have been interpreted as a wink.
As a gasp of astonishment rose from those gathered nearby, Dr Ashe leaped astride the horse.
“What on earth are you doing, Dr Ashe?” cried Rhonda who was extremely discomfited by the sight of her boss mounting a horse inside the library.
But there was no answer.
All that could be heard was the distant whinnying of Dr Ashe’s laugh as the horse galloped away.
Cathy Conlon ©