You want to know how to get to the nearest library? Are you from out of town? You are? Well, it’s always nice when someone new comes to visit. Have you seen the town yet? You haven’t? Shame… Oh yes yes, the library. Take a left at the bottom of my steps… Say, why are you even interested in the dusty old library anyway? Hardly anyone goes there anymore. You’re researchin’? About your family? The Tuthams you say! My, a direct descendent you say! Oh how exciting! Oh, I still remember when the Tuthams were the talk of the town! I was still a little girl back then, oh, can you imagine a time like that?
Sorry? Directions? Oh! Yes yes, directions, I remember. Forgive my old brain, it’s all scattered all the time. The Tutham family, hmm… And a fine healthy chap like you… Well, get your pen and paper out. What, did you expect it to be easy navigating through a tiny old town like ours? Oi, there’s a chatty boy– Do you want them directions or not? Now listen up – have you got your paper? Good. There’s only one way to that old library, and it’s going to be fun.
Take a left at the bottom of my steps. Keep walking until you reach the intersection then take another left. Keep walking until you see an alleyway on your left. Walk into it. Don’t question me, who’s the wise old lady in this conversation? Good. In that alley, there’s a doorway, just a hole in the wall. A literal hole in the wall. It’s Mr Magorium’s toy shop. Dunno why he built it there. It’s too dangerous for the little children to go to freely and he only sells sturdy, wooden toys from like when I was a child, so there’s not much interest in it anyway. He calls it ‘niche’. Well it sure is ain’t it, being in a nook and cranny and all! Ah…
Well anyway. Go in there. The only way to the library is through his backdoor – which really should be his front, seeing how it leads onto the street and all, I’ll have a talk to him about that – anyway, you’ll have to ask his permission to use that door. He’ll most probably call you a mutant at first, seeing how you’re dressed. But I promise you, he is honestly a very nice man. A bit whimsical, eh, but pleasant nonetheless. He grew up with the Tuthams you know… How? What a ridiculous question, of course it’s possible! Don’t you know Mr Magorium– Well of course you don’t– Mr Magorium’s MAGIC!
Ask him anything you like about the Tuthams, anything at all. He’ll tell you magnificent stories; about how they climbed those giant apple trees that near sunk to the ground with the weight of the fruits in the spring, how they preferred the overflowing fields to the stuffy house because they daddy was always smoking in it, how he used to love Mildred Tutham, Master Tutham’s youngest sister, before Mildred Tutham loved someone else, how he was the one Master Tutham confided in while he was courting the future Mistress Tutham, how they pranced during those gay summer seasons, how the three were inseparable from the start, how he-
Well that’s enough now. Directions, isn’t it? Right. Go to Mr Magorium and say, “It’s not just a door.” What? Don’t what me, say “It’s not just a door.” Mr Magorium will smile, and wink, and I tell you boy, what happens next will take your breath away.
The store will unfold right before your eyes. The toys will come alive. There will be colour on the walls, a swirling in the air, tinny nursery rhymes playing cheerfully in the background… But the toys Mutant, the toys! Oh what a joy what a wonder! Mary Bo Peep with a trail of sheep behind her, then the Piped Piper and his march of children, wooden airplanes zipping pass in a blur, the reds, blues and yellows of the kites as they soar up into the ceiling into skies unknown. And the door. The door that you wish. It will be there. Tell it, “You are not just a door.” Walk through it.
You will find yourself on a street. A single cobble-stoned street, lined on either side by scarlet red roses, blue-eyed forget-me-nots, purple orchids, beautiful flowers of every kind. It leads to a long, low stone shelter. Ivy climbs its walls and yellow morning glories, drunk on its own scent, drape low down the sides of the roof. Those were Mistress Tutham’s favourite flowers, you know. The whole town knew. Down every roof, over every fence, each household would at least have a sprinkling of yellow morning glories growing in the garden. That stone shelter was also the place Master Tutham first met the young lady who would be his wife. Oh the larks they had! Look at me, talking about it as if I knew them, well. I knew the stories. They courted there too, their love, I swear, spilling out over the fields and infecting our town like a rhythm for there was never a happier town than ours. He proposed to her there. And it was there he took her when things took a turn…
Where was I? Directions, right directions. Enough now, stop looking at those etchings on the stone walls. Those were made by lovers for lovers to see. Exit out the southern arch onto another cobble-stoned street. Take a right on the next right now. The stone-cobbled ground will make way for old-fashioned dirt. There will be no more flower bushes – just plain green fields. And a long, green wall. It will hit you like a brick when you see it. Truthfully. This is where your youth will come in handy – you will have to scale it.
I’m not talking nonsense boy, oi, come back over here! You want to know why the library is old and dusty? Well here’s your reason. There’s a huge wall in the way of us old folk who want to get to it, and those young folk who can get to it, just cannot be bothered to. There’s life right there for you.
So let me finish my directions and you can do what you will with them. Scale those walls. They are thick, strong ivy and you look like you have lively English blood in you – those walls will be a cake. Drop yourself down nice and easy. This field is trim and dotted with wildflowers. You will see a magnificent, red-stoned chateau. It is red because Master Tutham insisted it. It is – was – the Tutham Manor. And I believe, your family home.
The library is inside. Knock on the back door three times. Quickly. Shortly. Hannah will come for you. The Tuthams were like celebrities you know. And even when… They left, the town refused to let their home to time. So there’s always been a group of people staying there, living there, up-keeping things. Hannah’s the house maid.
You tell her “Give me the tour.” And she will. You will start at the drawing rooms. Mistress Tutham loved to sing, even though she couldn’t very well, and Master Tutham loved to hear her stumble, then laugh, although he always got berated for it. She would be bashful about it, but only for a moment, because she knew he would only think her less if she wasn’t being herself. And in the drawing rooms they created melodies, with the piano or the harp, writing lullabies for children they could never have.
Hannah will lead you up the stairs. She would sweep her hands and say, “These are the rooms for the children they could never have.” Because no matter what they did, no matter what she did, the child she carried always flowed out too early, and in the end, they stopped trying because the conclusion was inevitable. It hurt too much to love a child before it knew how to love back, and have that child slip away before it could ever feel that love.
You will be walked down the corridor, forced to look at each room still kept the way each owner left it when the Tuthams left. “The Tuthams still had children,” Hannah will say, “Filled those rooms up like Jo’s boys; ragamuffins of every kind they took off the streets and loved like their own. But after that day… None of those boys have been back here since.”
She will lead you down a corridor to Master and Mistress Tutham’s room. Everything is in order. Except for one thing. There will be a mess of letters, scraps, crumpled up paper on the paper. This is where Master Tutham retired to, after the thing happened. Read it. Read it and ease your burning questions. Master Tutham is the only one who knows what truly happened. And I’d like to believe, Master Tutham never lies.
You will be given all the time you need. Many like you have come before. You are one of “Jo’s boys’” boys. Or shall I say, Mistress Tutham’s boys’, boys. You have come to find out what truly happened to your great-grandmother at that stone shelter by the lake. Well read on my boy. And when you have done, write your name in the big book by the table. There will be other names on it too. Brush your hand in time through history, because these are the ones like you. These are your brothers, your uncles, your great-uncles. The lost boys, coming to find family.
Walk down the steps; Hannah will be waiting for you at the bottom. Stay for tea if you like – some of your brothers did. Then, say thank you, and goodbye. Walk out the front door. Close it. You will be on a street that leads straight to the town center. Walk it.
For there never was a library is this tiny town, but all you have ever sought – kinship, knowledge, closure – have all been granted on this journey back home.
I’m so proud of this I could cry,