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Just Follow the Instructions

by Cornelia 

Posted: 07 June 2011
Word Count: 1004
Summary: Help comes from an unexpected source

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‘It’s simple – just place the books in here and follow the onscreen instructions. If you need further assistance, please don’t hesitate to ask.’ The brisk young librarian's heels clicked as she returned to her desk.

Jean inspected the metal box with the hollow square at its centre. It had appeared since her last visit to the local library.

It looked harmless enough, but Jean remembered a time when library tickets were little brown pockets, not plastic swipe cards. Still, this was no time for nostalgia, and it was best just to get on with it; she took the books from her bag, placed them in the space and crossed her fingers. The titles flashed up on the screen:

Banish Indecision
How to Make Your Mind Up
Grasping the Nettle

No wonder it had taken her so long to get through them; the advice they gave seemed to be so reckless. While she was reading, Jean could hear mother’s voice in her head: ‘Oh, do stop dithering Jean.’ None of the books had been any help, though. Jean had better just accept the fact that she was chronically indecisive.

She still hadn’t decided what to wear at her daughter Natasha’s wedding: the coral pink suit with the beige hat that looked well on her, or something brighter. The groom’s mother had chosen an outfit in sunshine yellow, her daughter had told her, hinting in a not-so-subtle way that it wouldn’t hurt for Jean to be bolder.

Jean sighed as she looked at the button choices on the screen. She pressed Return and then Yes when the screen asked if she wanted a receipt. Having pressed the correct button, she took the receipt, and felt relieved that her ordeal was over.

But what was this! A nasty green arrow began to dance about on the screen. It was pointing downwards. In a panic, Jean glanced at her shoes, than round at the shelves. What on earth was the machine trying to tell her?

‘Excuse me, but I wonder if ....’

When a man at the nearby sports section turned round, she pointed at the screen and raised her eye-brows. He seemed to understand immediately and replied, ‘It’s telling you to put your books on the trolley. I had the same problem understanding when I used it the first time. Here, let me help.’ His grey hair and melodic voice were strangely soothing.

Before lifting out the books, her rescuer placed the two books he was carrying under his arm. Jean saw a picture of mountains on the outer one and a title: ‘Conquering the Peaks’

‘Thank you so much,’ Jean said. ‘I’m afraid these machines get the better of me. It wouldn’t happen to you, I’m sure.’ She smiled and pointed at the books he held. ‘You’d soon conquer them.’

‘What? Oh, take no notice of these! ’ He laughed and held up the books. ‘They’re for my nephew. He’s always trying new hobbies. I’m no mountaineer; even have to think twice about steep hills nowadays.’

‘Well, thanks again,’ said Jean, and headed off to the self-help section.

The books she’d read had made her aware of an inconvenient character trait, a wish to try to please everyone, but otherwise they hadn’t been of much use.

Her gallant helper was still standing near the sports section when she returned. He was browsing through a book on skydiving.

‘I wonder if you could help me again’, said Joan

‘Of course!’ For a moment, Jean had the impression he’d been waiting for her to return.

‘Is it the same procedure for borrowing a book? I’m sorry to ask, but I don’t want to trouble the librarian. You were so kind before’

‘Oh, yes, just the same – put them in –ah, just the one this time, I see – and then follow the instructions that appear on the screen.’ He turned his attention back to the books he’d been looking at, but seemed to hover, as if hoping she’d need further help.

Jean put her book in the box and the title flashed up:

Take Charge of Your life and Move On

This time she clicked on Borrow and a message on the screen asked her to put her library card in a slot indicated by an arrow.

Her helper had walked over to the fiction shelves. She slid her card in the slot then jabbed nervously at the button labelled ‘Borrow’.When she'd completed the process she turned towards the entrance.

'Hm...I'm afraid technology is going too far,' said the voice she now recognised. 'We men are even robbed of the chance to open doors now they're automatic.' She noticed the warmth of his brown eyes as he added, 'But where are my manners? I'm Derek Johnson. I, er... wondered if you had time to come for coffee next door.'

To her surprise, Jean heard herself say, ‘Thank you. That would be lovely’.

Some weeks later, Jean stood in front of the library machine once more. Natasha and James were still on honeymoon and Jean reflected that was glad she’d chosen the pink and beige for the wedding, after all. So much more flattering, her escort had said, than the garish colours some other women had chosen.

Now, if things continued as she hoped, she had a whole new dilemma to consider. After placing the book on the trolley, she hurried off to a section that was new to her.

She soon returned, book in hand, then smiled at the title as it flashed up on the screen:

September Songs: Romance in Later Years.

As she looked around, Derek returned from the sports section, clutching a book on water-skiing. Really, that nephew of his was so indecisive. Maybe she should recommend a book or two about making his mind up.

‘That was quick. Need some help with the machine?’ asked Derek.

Jean smiled and linked her arm through his. ‘Oh, I don’t think so’. She straightened her shoulders. ‘After all, it’s just a matter of following instructions.’

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Comments by other Members

BifferSpice at 12:12 on 07 June 2011  Report this post
Hi Cornelia, this is a nice read. It's difficult for me to comment on it because it's clearly aimed directly at the womag market, and i'm just not in tune with what they like and don't like.

it starts brightly, and i like the picture you create. i'm not so keen on the fact he's blatantly trying to pick her up, by hanging round keeping an eye on her. seems a bit predatory, to be honest. he might try that with loads of vulnerable women! (hmmm, note to self...)

also, really not sure about the message flashing up on screen to follow your instincts, but that's probably the reason you wrote the story. it just really changes the whole tack of the story from a sweet little tale to something else, but i'm not sure what, as it's never mentioned again. it reminds me a bit of the scene in LA Story with the sign on the side of the road. also, if you were going to keep that, i'm not sure you need the following para:

Again, Jean looked around. What on earth could it mean? It almost seemed as if the machine was becoming impatient with her indecision, but that was impossible. Surely all the instructions it gave out were about how to take out or check in books, not how to live her life!

seems completely redundant to me, that bit. surely we know that it's odd that a machine should say that?

if you're going to keep that bit, maybe have another, more approving comment flash up at the end when she's getting the marriage book out. this would make it less of an isolated incident and more of a reason to include it in the first place.

i hope this helps a bit, but like i say, i'm not familiar with your market so may be wide of the mark

Cornelia at 13:43 on 07 June 2011  Report this post
Thank you very much for reading and commenting. Your remarks are very useful.

It hadn't occurred to me that the man was predatory but maybe I need to get her to ask for his help instead of him approaching her.

The explanation after the screen message - I put that in because I note from studying the magazines they do seem to want everything spelled out.

The second message - kind of seal of approval - sounds like a good idea, but I think on th4e whole I might take the first one out - it was an afterthought, really, and probably belongs in a different story.

Thanks again



I've made the changes and I agree it seems to work better.

fluffyduffy at 21:48 on 07 June 2011  Report this post
Hi Sheila,

I remember this story from a while ago and I still think this is a lovely story. You have described the struggles of understanding the new library system as well as her indecisive nature. Also the way romance blossoms in the most unlikely of places. It was all written well and ran smoothly.

That would have to be bought

I don't think you need this, as I had already gathered she would have to buy either the pink suite or a bolder-coloured one.

Jean reflected that was glad she’d chosen the pink and beige for the wedding, after all

I would rephrase this slightly to:

Jean had been glad she had chosen the pink and beige suit for the wedding after all

. You could extend this story a little, by describing her drink with Derek, this would give us an insight into Derek's character and how they get from a brief encounter to a getting married, do you see what I mean? Then maybe when she's getting the book at the end Derek could get a book on hiking, something they could do together - this will also show how she has changed/grown as a person. These are just suggestions so please feel free to ignore them

Apart from that I thought this was lovely.


Cornelia at 22:39 on 07 June 2011  Report this post
Alana, thanks for reading and commenting. These are excellent suggestions which I'll be very glad to take on board.

When I wrote this would have to be bought I meant to imply she didn't have anything bright in her wardrobe, but I agree it's unnecessary.

The reflected/was glad was just a glitch in editing but thanks for spotting it.

Your last paragraph of suggestions seem really creative and I can see how they would work out.


Account Closed at 12:19 on 08 June 2011  Report this post

Hi Sheila, i remember this - an enjoyable read.

I wasn't sure about the book on marriage at the end - it all seems to be happening a bit quickly. Maybe instead it could be called 'romance in later years'.

Jean could her mother’s voice

typo - could hear

the coral pink with matching beige hat

the nitpicker in me wondered why the word matching was here, as beige isn't the same colour as pink - maybe 'complimentary' or 'flattering' instead.

her silent prayer answered,

was answered?

Where are you thinking of subbing it? If to the PF, i'm not sure about the dig at the mother of the groom - dunno, they might not like that, it might make the MC seem a bit mean!

Well done.


Katerina at 16:27 on 08 June 2011  Report this post
Hi Sheila,

yes I remember this from last time too - blimey you are having a good go through your old stories - well done

As a man at the nearby the sports section turned round
extra 'the' not needed.

His hair was greying but he moved quickly towards the machine.
I wondered why you put this sentence in this way - why would grey hair make a difference to the way he moved?

I could understand if you'd said something like - he had a limp, but he moved quickly towards the machine, but what's his hair got to do with it? Ha ha ha, maybe it's so long that he trips over it a lot!

Apart from that I can't think of anything else, I like this, it's another quirky story

Kat x

fiona_j at 17:47 on 08 June 2011  Report this post

I do remember this and think it's a nice, easy going story.

Apart from what others have commented on above (apologies for getting to this so late), you seem to skip over him asking her out for coffee.

As she turned towards the door the helpful man introduced himself as Derek and asked if she had time for a coffee before she headed home.

They had all this lovely, gently flirty dialogue before and we almost miss the important bit of their encounter. I would turn this bit into dialogue.

Maybe, it pad it out a little too, they could be actually at the wedding at the end, talking to each other about the dresses, the library and books. Then she could think, as she smiles at Derek "Well the last book I borrowed is definitely coming in useful - romance in later years."

I do love the encounter in the library, it's rather romantic I think!

Fi x

Cornelia at 22:21 on 08 June 2011  Report this post
Thanks to all for such helpful suggestions. No. I wasn't thinking of PF, because it's far too perky, despite the touches of nostalgia. I might try somewhere else, once I've incorporated the changes and knocked out the typos.

Haha , Kat, I decided he needed a bit of description of the guy, and put the grey hair in at the wrong moment. On the other hand, grey-haied people do move more slowly than those in their forties and fifties... He's already hinted that he doesn't go up hills as quickly as he used to.

Yes, I'm trawling through the old clutter , as I think it needs sending out.

Petal, about the quick romance, it's my impression that older people are more decisive about getting married -let's face it, they haven't got much time left, so long engagements aren't on the cards and living together isn't so acceptable to the elderly. They also feel lonely after a successful first partnership.


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