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Relative Humidity

Meg went to the rare book stack. Dehumidifiers controlled the situation there and she didn’t want humidity before the leaving do.

They could have offered her a permanent position. Only two nights earlier she’d seen the Bursar at his bus stop dissolving like papier-mâché in the rain. That was probably connected to their decision.

At first, she’d found the humidity difficult. Sometimes she got home drenched. Hanging up her clothes she would find tidemarks in the fabric. Colours leached. Water collected in her shoes.

The Assistant hated her but was now off sick. A professor’s wife, she thought Meg was her assistant, not the other way around. Issues with water on the knee now confined her to the house.

Covers of antiquarian editions soothed Meg. Gold-tooled and blind-tooled leather. Even the deathly grey vellum had attractions. It warped outwards in stiff curves, books begging, “Read me! Read me!” She would have obliged if they’d asked her to stay.

Perhaps it was when the Bursar groped her. That was in the cramped bike store and he was pretending to hold the door open as she passed with her Raleigh. She made a complaint. But the Bursar was on the complaints panel.

Dustless air tickled her nose. A faint tinge of tannin from iron gall ink. Ancient paper held its breath, longing to become mould.

Why had the woman not wanted longer with her baby? That was the question. Originally the maternity cover was to be six months. Meg pictured the offspring of a perverted liaison between the Librarian and her books. A Minotaur-thing lurked in the shadows, half human, half sodden book, water and ink dripping from pudgy nappies.

She was perspiring. Shivering. Perspiring. But it was not her problem now.

She sighed. Time to face it. A glass or two of Prosecco. A card, of course. The relative humidity would come down after she was back at the agency. She locked the door for the last time and squelched along the corridor passing books that were beginning to float in the water.

Flash Fiction by Jeremy Hinchliff
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Published in Winter 2017


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