Rosemary Goes

When I first started working in the university library the professors would often ask me special questions as I stamped their books. For instance, they’d ask me how they could obtain the original dust jacket for a book that had already been to the bookbinders. I was happy to help them. This was back in the days when an educated gentleman could say, ‘a girl like you is far too pretty to be wasting her life as a librarian,’ without worrying that he’d be up on a sexual harassment charge. Forgive me when I say that. I don’t mean it. But I think you understand how things were different back then.
Now, thirty years later it’s a different story. As a young woman starting out I thought that it would only be a matter of time before some charming man or other swept me off my feet. I knew I was a good catch. It turns out now, apparently, that I was too fussy. There was always something not quite right about the man in question. He was just a little too short and I felt ridiculous walking down the street alongside him, or his bad breath would become something unacceptably neanderthal to me, or his intellectual interests were far too obscure for my generalist-slash-literary tastes and I wouldn’t be able to respect him. Before I had really had time to wake up to what was happening, new men stopped asking me out as much and now of course no one asks me out. At the time though, there was such a Niagara Falls of suitors that I couldn’t have dreamt that anything would ever change.
Not that I’m complaining. I believe there’s something to be said for the single life, and I’m not just talking about the schadenfreude one can feel on hearing about the escalating divorce rate, family violence and statistics proving single women live longer than their married sisters. I’ve managed to make enormous strides in my career. I am the fifth most senior librarian here now and responsible for managing most of the other staff in the day to day running of the place. Most of the time it’s the predictable sort of thing with our management systems providing a reliable routine. I’ve come to appreciate the quiet life. My staff have never given me any trouble.
One day Rosemary walked through the main entrance. She walked in and announced that she was the new junior librarian starting that Monday morning. This was normal enough. I’d heard the same introduction hundreds of times over the last thirty years. Rosemary promptly announced to me that she wanted my job and hoped to have booted me out within the next six months. I smiled at her then, and said, ‘Yes, dear, a little ambition is a very healthy thing’. To myself I thought, you cheeky young upstart, how dare you be so impertinent.
I showed her what was expected of her, our particular rules and policies, and gave her a tour of the library. She complained to me that child care was costing her a fortune and that it was hardly worth her working at all. But she cared about her profession. She told me how she had completed her certificate course at TAFE over the past four years. She had been hired by us through some Centrelink scheme to help give the underprivileged a kick-start in their careers.
My problem is I haven’t had much experience of those less fortunate than myself. I really couldn’t think of a single thing to say to her. I was not interested in any trifling course she may have completed at TAFE. I have been opposed to the devaluation of librarianship qualifications for years. Whenever I have any influence in the matter, I always push to hire those applicants who have the widest possible academic qualifications. I myself completed a bachelor of arts in literature and fine arts before undertaking my librarianship diploma. Don’t get me started on why general degrees are important in breeding an appreciation for the finer things in life, in this case, namely books – once started, I will simply never stop. I felt with Rosemary the most diplomatic thing I could do would be to change the topic.
I asked her what she did before she decided to study librarianship. She told me she was a singer, a barmaid and an occasional topless go-go dancer.
‘And what sort of songs did you sing, dear?’
‘Ballads, mostly. Love songs, but with a new age feel. I was like, you know, on the cutting edge for a while. People loved me.’
After explaining how to operate the book lifts and pointing out where the trolleys were kept, I left Rosemary to begin reshelving stock. I watched her for a while and she seemed to be competent enough.
When I returned after forty minutes I found her in the corrals frantically adding her own comments to the graffiti that already covered every square inch of the desks. I was too shocked to say anything so I walked away before she realised I was there. When she had moved on I returned to see that she had responded to most of the racist, misogynistic and homophobic sprawlings with things like, ‘please see a psychiatrist, you obviously need help’ and ‘the level of sexual hang-ups among the country’s intellectual elite is amazing – these are tomorrow’s leaders?’
There was no way I was going to allow a staff member of mine to get away with this, and yet I respected the spirit of her intentions. I said nothing.
Rosemary soon became friends with most of the other staff members. She had a gift for drawing people out of themselves. The nervous shy types started telling us things about themselves that had been left unsaid for years (I couldn’t help wondering if some of the things they said would’ve been better off left unsaid). Rosemary made people feel good about themselves. Everyone that is, except me. I became a sort of joke to her. She would refer to me to my face as the old bag and started making mocking references to what I may or may not have been doing on the weekends. Everyone had known for years that I seldom did anything special on weekends, but now Rosemary was making sure this became the running joke every Monday morning. I would walk into the staff room and she would see me and shout to the whole room, ‘Well, look who walked in. Hey, ya old bag, did ya get any on the weekend?’ I tried to laugh this off. I know she meant it in good faith. It was her way of getting to know me better. I would say something like, ‘I hardly got anything on the weekend, although I did go to the supermarket Friday night,’ to which she replied with something like, ‘Bullshit, I heard you were gang banged ten times and loved every inch of it.’
No one laughed when she came out with comments like this. But then again, no one spoke up about her vulgarity or ostracised her in any way because of it.
Rosemary involved us all in her personal life in as much as the staff room conversation often simply consisted of her performing monologues from the drama of her own life. Everyone sat there listening with rapt expressions on their faces. I’ve never gotten around to asking people if they were really interested in the various tribulations of her life or if they were merely being polite.
One of Rosemary’s children had severe learning disabilities and had to attend a special school, to which Rosemary had to spend an extra forty five minutes every morning and afternoon driving him to and from. She lived in a bad apartment block in an inner western suburb and her neighbours were constantly having their flats broken into. There was a stream of men through Rosemary’s life. Some of them were violent towards her. I had always imagined that she exaggerated when she told us about the ferocious temper of this one or that one until the day she came to work with a black eye.
Various men around the university seemed to be attracted to Rosemary and she liked talking to them, but ultimately she was drawn to the bad boys. Maybe they satisfied that part of her that needed to rebel against everything that had seemingly oppressed her all her life.
Because her influence on our whole working space was so drastic, because it was no longer our library but Rosemary’s, I began to start thinking about whether I should resign and look for another position elsewhere. I was tired of being the butt of Rosemary’s jokes. I began to feel like a stranger at work, which was something I would not have thought was possible.
Some days Rosemary was on top of the world and other days she would sulk. One day I found her on the ledge of an office window on the fourth floor. She was sitting on it dangling her legs outside.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked.
‘Who wants to know? Maybe it’d be worth it to jump. Maybe it’s what I want… it’d solve a few things.’
‘Rosemary, don’t be so stupid. You know that’s no way to talk.’
‘Yes it is. I’ve had everything good that was ever going to happen to me already happen. There’s nothing else to wait for.’
’Don’t be like that. You have two beautiful children. You have your career as a librarian. You want my job, don’t you?’
’I’m not a librarian. I’m a singer.’
‘Well, sing then.’
‘One night at this open-aired concert everyone surrounded me and out into the night all I could see were the tiny flames from their candles. No one’s lighting matches for me anymore. I’m no one now.’
‘Matches, they’re cheap. They’re a dime a dozen. Sparks, they’re special. You have them.’


Rosemary Goes

Glenn Chapman

Albert Park, Australia

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