Sidney Lambert’s alarm woke him at the stroke of 6.30am every day.
He stared for about three minutes at the crack in the ceiling which had been there since 1972, then sat up.
Sidney pulled back the floral duvet – a favourite of his late wife, Miriam – and slowly swung his feet to the floor. The movement prompted his customary early morning coughing fit, a souvenir of his days down the pit.
Once the rattle in his chest subsided, he shuffled to the bathroom and grunted as the pain in his prostate refused to relieve him of more than a few drops. Even pissing was an effort these days.
By 7am he was at the dining table. His hands trembled slightly as he picked up his toast – wholemeal with a scraping of Utterly Butterly – and drank a mug of milky tea with two sugars.
The table was set for four but Sidney couldn’t remember the last time that many occupants had sat around it. Sometimes Doris from next door popped around for a butty and a chat, but the days when the house bustled with family were long gone.
He methodically washed his breakfast things and placed them carefully in the drying rack, before shuffling out to the garden to prune a few weeds. Miriam had loved her gardenias and he liked to keep her tradition alive.
Locking up the semi-detached house he had shared with his wife for almost 50 years, he slowly ambled to the bus stop.
Since retiring from his job as a miner, he’d volunteered at the local library two days a week. After Miriam’s death he looked forward to those few hours on a Monday and Tuesday. It was only a short ride away on the 68 bus and it gave him an excuse to get out of the house.
Arriving dead on 9am, he mumbled a hello to his supervisor, Karen, and hurried as fast as his 71-year-old legs could carry him toward the staff room. He didn’t much care for Karen. She’d worked for the council for 20 years and regularly liked to remind him of that fact while complaining about the speed at which he served customers.
To that end, he was often on filing duties. Because he couldn’t push a heavy cart around, he had to make frequent trips back and forth between the returns shelf and the stacks, and that suited him quite well because it meant he always looked busy.
It was this particular task which filled his Monday quite nicely. He liked the quiet of the library and had a soft spot for organisation. Sometimes, in the process of returning a book to a shelf, he would take a minute to read the first few pages if the title piqued his interest. As a consequence, he had read a lot of introductions and prologues in his time but never knew the outcome of anything he’d started.
He preferred working in the fiction section, which was where he found himself that day. There were a lot of returns to get through – Monday had become a busy session in recent weeks after the Saturday girl told Karen to ‘Go fuck herself’ and quit in response to being asked to take her lip piercing out. Sidney didn’t really understand why the Saturday girl wanted to have bits of metal in her face but he respected her for giving Karen a piece of her mind.
He was mulling this thought over when he realised he needed a step to reach the top shelf of a stack. Humming quietly to himself, he shuffled to the stock room and felt his knees creak as he reached down to pick up the stool.
On his way back to the stack, he glanced over at the counter just in time to witness Karen pull a wedgie out of her arse. He exhaled disapprovingly and retreated to the safety of the bookshelves.
“Where was I,” he mumbled, dithering a little as he tried to remember which book he was supposed to put back on the shelf. “Oh yes,” he said, picking up a hardback copy of Les Misérables.
He steadied himself by reaching for a shelf at shoulder height and hoisted himself up onto the step. Sidney wobbled slightly as he tried to move the novel from under his left arm into his right hand. The ‘H’ section was on a particularly high shelf slightly out of his reach, and so with some effort he reached up onto his tip-toes and edged the book onto the shelf by its spine.
He only looked down for a fraction of a second, but that was all it took for a touch of vertigo to send Sidney Lambert off balance.
His fingers lost their grip on the book and as he twisted awkwardly and toppled from the step, Victor Hugo’s 1,488-page tome followed – the corner crashing into Sidney’s temple with such force that the coroner ruled it killed him instantly.
The headline in the tabloid press the following week read: ‘Library tragedy: Volunteer’s ‘Misérable’ demise’.