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Fifteen Book Limit

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The Holton Library is not exactly serving a buzzing metropolis, but head librarian Agatha loves it anyway. They fought the council, and won, that time that wanted to shut it down, and there’s a small, but loyal and active group of users who Agatha knows mostly by name.

The council keeps trying to suggest that it’s time Agatha retires, but she loves her job, and her loveable oddballs, and of them all, young Alison must be one of the oddest.

It’s a rainy Thursday when Alison first comes in, peering around like she’s never seen a library before.

“Hello, dear,” Agatha says. “Can I help you?”

“Oh. Yes. Um. I’d like to join please.”

Alison speaks like she has half her mind on something else, and her eyes keep flickering nervously to the far end of the main room, but when Agatha looks, there’s nothing there. The young woman is just anxious. Well, Agatha understands that well enough.

“Lovely,” Agatha says, waving her hand towards the desk. “Pop over here and we can get you signed up.”

The computer used to be a lot more difficult to use, but Agatha is a bit of an expert now, and it doesn’t take her long. Alison seems more at ease facing away from the door, and she turns out to be a lovely young person.

And she is from Button House, which makes her particularly interesting. But Agatha is a professional and she’ll hold off on the eager questions.

“I wasn’t sure how big this place would be,” Alison says, accepting her temporary cardboard membership card. “You’ve got a lot of stuff.”

“We’re the largest library left in the area,” Agatha says proudly. “When they closed down some of the smaller ones, we saved what we could.”

“Great. That’s really – great. Um, can I have a look around then?”
“Of course. You can borrow up to fifteen books at a time and up to five CDs, DVDs, vinyls or video cassettes.”

Alison’s face lights up.

“You’ve got vinyls and videos?”

“Oh yes. There’s a bit of demand for classic formats these days.”

Alison looks as though all her Christmases have come at once.


She turns out to be one of Agatha’s most frequent visitors, and the one with probably the widest taste.

“Morning!” Alison says, hurrying through the door as soon as Agatha has opened up. She’s wearing her uniform, which usually means she doesn’t have time to chat.

Her Tesco bag of books is dumped on the desk and she takes a crumpled list from her pocket.

“I know it’s cheeky but –”

“Say no more,” Agatha cuts her off and takes the list. “I’ll see you later.”

“You are literally the best,” Alison grins, and rushes out with a wave. Agatha chuckled and reaches for her glasses. She doesn’t begrudge being a personal book picker for someone as lovely as Alison, especially when the poor girl seems to be running herself ragged.

First, Agatha unpacks the returned items. A brightly coloured alphabet book. Two Regency romances. A biography of Mary, Queen of Scots. Three video cassettes with football games from the 1985 first division. A Happy Mondays vinyl, and an illustrated guide to the D-Day landings.

Such interesting variety.

Then Agatha picks up the list and tries to decipher Alison’s scrawl. Does the girl do everything in a hurry?

1) Alphabet book with animals?
2) Do they do number books like the alphabet ones???
3) 2 x romances – 1 set on a ship and 1 with a stable boy or a jockey (???) if something like that exists
4) Spandau Ballet vinyl, especially 1 with gold or true on it
5) Dusty Springfield vinyl
6) Whatever you have on the 1986 world cup (England games better but any r good)
7) A book about James I or maybe the gunpowder thing if u don’t have that????
8) Sumthing else about tanks (But NOT a kid’s book again plz)

It’s a typical Alison list, wide on the scope and lacking in the grammar department, and Agatha just chuckles as she goes to make her first coffee of the day. The romance novels might give her five minutes of trouble, and she is almost certain that Alison has already borrowed everything about tanks, but she’ll take a look anyway.

When Alison rolls up again at five o’clock, she has her husband in tow. He’s a nice boy, but Agatha somehow doubts he’s the reader of any of the books that pass through Alison’s hands. He doesn’t seem the type.

“Here we are,” Agatha says, hauling the Tesco bag onto the desk.

“It’s like magic. Thank you, thank you.”

“It turns out there is a whole series of romances set in and around horse stables, so I’ve given you the one I have and ordered in a few more,” Agatha explains. “And I’m afraid there’s nothing more on tanks for now but I’ve put in a request for one or two I found online. So for now, there’s a book on Lawrence of Arabia, which might be of interest.”

“Ah. Mike-?”

“That’ll do,” Mike says, from where he’s looking at the shelves of DVDs. “He’ll like that.”

“Okay. Great.”

They both do this sometimes, mention a nameless person here or there who seem to be the recipients of the books and videos. Agatha has considered telling them that they could sign up these mysterious people for their own cards, but somehow she has a feeling that it wouldn’t fly. As long as Alison brings everything back in one piece, Agatha doesn’t mind who is enjoying them.

“As for everything else, it’s all in there. I have a lot more on the World Cup, when you’re done with those.”

“Thanks, Agatha. Oh, I got you this.”

Alison produces a slightly squashed chocolate chip shortbread from her coat pocket. She pulls a face at the state it is in, but Agatha has always been grateful for small kindnesses, and Alison and Mike are so sweet.

“Thank you, Enjoy your books, and your football.”

“We will,” Alison promises, and Mike comes over to haul the bag over his shoulder.

Agatha follows them and locks the door. One day, she hopes, she will find out who Alison is referring to when she says ‘we’.