With these words…

Duke Humfrey’s Library, the oldest reading room of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford   Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

She hadn’t realised the consequences of taking down that old book and reading from it aloud. Nobody had warned her.

She’d always loved books; especially old books. Battered and bruised, but still adorable. Like a comfortable old armchair. The feel of the paper, pages yellowed at the edges, curled like parchment, worn down by the gaze of its readers. The smell: a little musty; a little dusty. And words which have been read and re-read; taken in, digested.

She’d been permitted to browse this ancient library. To scale the heights of the upper shelves and plumb the depths of the bottom-most archives. To swim in an ocean of promised words.

Finally, she made her choice, a heavy tome and rather old. The pages were discoloured, their edges torn, and the leather binding scuffed and stained. But the drawings of flowers and birds it contained were still colourful. There were passages of script held within the pages, although the language and spelling were archaic and hard to follow.

She took her prize to a remote desk and opened it carefully. She pored over it; savouring it. The illustrations were remarkable; tinted drawings so precise that they could have been photographs: two young girls dressed in pinafores, chanting a hand clapping game. Over the next page, a robust woman in a heavy woollen dress shouting straight out of the page at her, brows knitted with concern, arms open in appeal. A little further on, a poem was it? To be read aloud; of course.

And as she whispered the words, the world grew very bright for a moment, and then the lights went out.

Come, gentle reader, open the book! Look, she’s waving at you; page 229.

©2018 Chris Hall

The Clapping Song


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