by Marian Allen
Assistant Librarian Holly Jahangiri tied a knot in the ends of her purple feather boa to keep them still. The wind was kicking up on the museum’s grounds, and the rows of tents set up on all sides of the building channeled that wind right through the shoppers’ bones.
Although Holly had no interest in the Council City Museum of Water Transport, she needed a present for Head Librarian Devra Langsam’s mother on the anniversary of the head librarian’s birth. She understood that, on the distant and exotic planet Earth, presents were given to the person who had been born, not to the person who had caused that to happen. Aliens were so … alien.
Holly had made the rounds of the vendors once, just to see everything on offer, and found herself drawn back to two tents.
For herself, she bought a small painting of a meadow of flowers, to remind her of Meadow of Flowers Province, her home before she moved to the city.
The second tent was where she would buy Devra Langsam’s mother’s Giving Birth Day present.
The vendor was short and broad, with dark brown hair and muttonchop whiskers and a face set in an apparently permanent snarl. But he had a wonderful collection of necklaces made of semi-precious stones decoratively wrapped in wire, and Devra’s mother could never get enough of those.
She bought half a dozen.
“Do you have a business card, so I can tell other people about you?”
“Do you have a shop, or some other way people can contact you to buy?”
“No.” He bared his teeth. “I’m sleeping in my pedicar. That’s my ‘shop’.”
Holly felt her librarian senses tingle.
“What’s your name?”
“Lad of – Timm Hurrllee.”
It was the old, sad story: Contact with Earth had brought with it a fashion for Earth things, particularly books of that strange planet. Wealthy families hired people to memorize Earth texts and recite them – they were known as Living Books. FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury had been the first, if she recalled her History of Library Science correctly. Even today, wealthy people collected Living Books, paying high salaries to their favorites, dismissing the ones they didn’t care for.
Most of the Books found other employers at lower salaries. Some didn’t. Of those, some went into other work, but some couldn’t imagine a life outside their recitation.
Her policing friend, Constable Pel Darzin, had told her some of the stories: Men who stopped people on the street by force and made them listen to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Women who haunted bars, reciting bits of themselves to anyone who would buy them a drink.
“You’re a Book, aren’t you?”
A spark of life came to the vendor’s face.
Holly was careful not to break eye contact. “Lad of … Sunnybank?”
Color drained from the Book’s cheeks and he whispered, “By Albert Payson Terhune.”
Holly held out a hand and said the words this man had probably been longing to hear: “I’m a librarian.”
Slowly, he extended his own hand and they hooked thumbs.
“Council City Living Library,” Holly said, giving the address. “Can you come for a recitation after the event here closes? If you’re in good shape, there’s a bed in the dormitory for you. We don’t have any Terhune, and Head Librarian Devra Langsam was wishing for one just the other day.”
The Book was transformed. Eyes bright, teeth shining in a dazzling grin, he said, “I’ll be there!”
“Don’t let Parlormaid Tambar Miznalia put you off. Tell her Assistant Librarian Holly Jahangiri sent you.”
“I’ll be there! I’ll be there!” The fierce joy of a Book whose recitation has been unheard for too long shone from him.
As Holly walked away from the tent, she could hear his laughing voice saying, “Lad had absurdly tiny white forepaws, of which he was inordinately proud.”
It was very endearing, but Holly was a cat Book person, herself.
~ * ~
Update: Holly (the real one) informs me that she is not more of a cat Book person, and that she loves Lad. Allow me to point out that the real Holly is not a resident of another planet, either, nor is she a librarian. :p Nevertheless, the point is taken.
MY WRITING PROMPT TODAY: An internet friend and a favorite childhood book.