As he passed his ID card over, their hands touched for a fraction of a second. She registered the perspiration on his palms and held back the urge to immediately pump the hand sanitiser.
“You will need to cloak your backpack,” she said with authority.
The beige bag was passed over the pristine white counter.
“Please tie your hair back. I can provide you with an elastic if you need one.” He didn’t.
“You will need to clean your hands. Did you bring your own gloves?” He shook his head and she sighed audibly. There was a coffee stain on his grubby shirt and this worried her.
He followed her every instruction and eventually, grudgingly, she unlocked the door to The Rare Book Room.
“Medieval manuscripts are located over here. You have two hours as per your appointment card.” She lingered awkwardly. He looked up expectantly and she reluctantly departed, closing the door as she did.
At five o’clock it was time for him to leave. She felt a weight lift as she handed back his card and bag, observing the removal of his gloves with approval. As soon as he left she scurried back to the room. Her pulse quickened as she turned the key and pushed open the ornate door. All was in order. There were no books out of place, the room looked untouched. She returned to the main area and began stacking books in a conspicuous manner, lingering near the remaining visitors. They soon got the idea and began to pack up.
Finally the place was hers. She switched off the main lights, computers and electronic sensors, relishing the anonymity. It was just her and the books. She could feel their words and letters. It was as if they hummed into the silence of the empty building. She withdrew her cotton white gloves and fabric envelope that she had sewn herself. The key to The Rare Book Room was still in her pocket and she entered once more. She walked over to where he had been. She knew which book he had wanted and she hated the idea of his hands, even with the gloves, touching the fine manuscript. She found the text, a delicate hand-painted book on papyrus. Her breathing deepened as she touched its spine and a shiver ran up her own. Then with a deft movement, the book was enclosed within the cotton envelope and within her brown leather satchel.
Back at her home she began preparations. First taking a luxurious shower and then dressing in her grey mulberry-silk pyjamas. Her bed was already meticulously made; 1000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets with an array of silver grey cushions. This time she didn’t put on the cotton gloves. Carefully removing the manuscript from the envelope, she fingered the soft, fragile pages with her naked hands. Laying the text on the pillow next to hers, she dimmed the lights, breathed in the exotic scent and closed her eyes.