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The Darkness of Moths

There are some days when being a short, middle-aged Northern woman does not cut it. At certain times, a stressful hour, a strained moment, you need to take action to save yourself.

I shape shift. I wish I meant that literally, that I had been taught, by Merlin himself, to soar above Findhorn bay as an osprey but sadly, no. This is instead a small self-help software system I have installed in my head.

I am not alone in suffering occasional panic attacks. I tried the whole ‘tell it to stop’ scenario and found it didn’t always listen. On a couple of heart-battering occasions the mental effort of reaching for the word ‘STOP’ was too much and instead I became a mouse. I shrank down into small bones, brown fur and curled myself into the cast and angled edge of a steel railway sleeper as the vast and steaming Panic Express thundered over my head. It was a moment of mental magic, it took not a thought, but a breath. Go. Here. Be safe. Whiskers. Beady eyes reflecting clouds scudding over the sky and the great bellowing steam train of dread rattled on its way. Now, if I feel the panic might be leaving the station I sprout mental whiskers and The Panic Express finds it is cancelled and replaced by a bus heading in the opposite direction.

Other situations require different transformations. I have, on occasion, worked as a relief assistant in the library service. This means I fill in for absence. Things have been a little slack on the stacks front recently as my local council struggle to regroup and keep free books and community spaces going. They are, currently, rootling about down the back of the sofa for any spare change or a Minto that might assist in this. An unfortunate aspect of this line of Information Services work is the verbal abuse that you are sometimes subject to.

A couple of months ago I got a blasting from a man who was frustrated with the library computer, its protocols and, I feel I can surmise, life’s general unfairness. This man decided he had had enough. In his view, and these are the words I can print, I was stupid, old, cruel and mean, incompetent, technologically retarded and an idiot.

I was also a moth. Brindled. Bronzed. Soft winged and fluttering towards the light to get away from the darkness this man had brought. There are sometimes people like this and they are drawn to the library space because it is quiet and does not demand anything of them. They come through the door and you can see the darkness dragging along behind them.  Your heart wants you to hide under the counter in the lost property shoe box or lock yourself in the workroom but you must not. These kinds of people have, quite literally, nowhere else to take their darkness. The library, with its collection of beanbags, grubby crime books and dodgy automatic doors is their place of last resort. You slap on a smile, ask ‘Can I help you?’ and then the lights go out.

This is the moment when you open out your moth wings so that the darkness spatters against them and the black bile of it makes the patterns upon them that bit more speckled and intriguing. Up, up you go to the tiny skylight in your head and you are glad to flutter there because at least you have that skylight.

A few bleak words, some flashing blades of nastiness and with the slam of a coffee table cookery book the darkness is whisked away to lick its greasy fur behind the stacks. You flutter back to the counter and to stop your hands shaking, because shape-shifting will do that to you, you opt to trot over to the trolley and lose yourself in the alphabetising of books.

Later, much later, you will be allowed ten minutes to reach for a restorative cup of tea.

 
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‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge

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