The Holly Jahangiri stories take place on the planet Llannonn, the setting of my currently out of print comedy sf cop novel, FORCE OF HABIT.
There are 31 days in May, so today isn’t quite halfway there, but tomorrow will be more than halfway there, so I’m calling today halfway. So there.
by Marian Allen
Not Really A Waitress Holly Jahangiri nudged a pale green alley jammer out of way and went from the quiet of the service alley to the chaos of the restaurant’s kitchen.
She had been in Council City nearly half of the year she had given herself, and she still felt as out of place in the metropolis as a pratty in a – well, the old saying was “as out of place as a pratty in a spaceship,” but aliens from various planets had “discovered” Llannonn and had been given pratties as lovely parting gifts, so more pratties had been on spaceships than people – Llannonninn people, that is. Whether or not they felt out of place there, no one could tell.
At any rate, Not Really A Waitress Holly Jahangiri was getting discouraged. She had come to Council City hoping to become a Living Book in the library of the literature of old Earth specializing in English-speaking Earth Era 1066 – 2066. A happy childhood encounter with such a book had begun her devotion to (or, as her mother put it, her weird obsession with) that world-within-a-world. She had chosen English as her foreign language in school and had excelled in it. She had read and memorized as many of the intensely alien Dick-and-Jane books as she could get her hands on, and could recite them in Llannonninn, in English, and in Tudolinguo, the trade language cobbled together by space travelers and formalized by people who enjoyed making workable things difficult.
She could probably have offered herself to the library as a Dick-and-Jane, but her teacher had gently informed her that, due to their simplicity, Dick-and-Janes were a cred a ton (or, as the Earthlings said, a dime a dozen). And Dick-and-Janes had to carry portfolios of illustrations which they had to pay for themselves, so that was out.
She had tried to memorize novels, but she had so many favorites, she couldn’t choose which one to spend her life reciting.
The kitchen was more abuzz than usual. There must be a celebrity reservation.
The restaurant’s owner, a retired fiction-based recipe collection who still used his professional name of The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, snapped his fingers at her and gestured for her to join the huddle of staff around him.
He spread his pudgy hands, each finger an exclamation mark. “We will have with us today Head Librarian Devra Langsam of the Living Library of Old Earth, Council City main branch.” He paused briefly for the excited babble to rise and fall. “I will serve her myself, of course, but everyone must be alert to assure her the perfect dining experience.”
Not just a librarian, but a Head Librarian! What Holly wouldn’t give for the chance to sit down and talk with her for just five minutes! Surely she would have the advice that would show Holly which door to open to her future!
There was no doubt which diner the Head Librarian was. The Nero Wolfe Cookbook greeted her and led her to her table, himself, held her chair, spread the napkin in her lap, and recited the menu.
All the staff stopped what they were doing to watch. None of the other diners complained, since they were watching, too.
Head Librarian Devra Langsam had short, curly dark-brown hair and had her ears pierced, as the Earthlings often did. Bright silver beads dangled from bent wires stuck through the holes, giving her a friendly and festive appearance. Holly felt sure she was approachable.
Apparently, Holly wasn’t the only one.
One of the other waitstaff left his station as soon as The Nero Wolfe Cookbook had passed into the kitchen and walked right up to their most honored guest.
“I’m Not Really A Waiter Bazar Fletchgraff. I’m really A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was …. I’m the abridged version. No, listen, please!”
Holly’s hands trembled. But for her own country-bred reticence, that might be her! Poor boy! Poor Head Librarian! The woman looked as uncomfortable as Would-Be A Tale of Two Cities did, as uncomfortable as Holly felt.
She couldn’t just stand by. The Nero Wolfe Cookbook would be out soon, and might very well press charges against Not Really A Waiter Bazar Fletchgraff for his effrontery. Public Bothering was only a misdemeanor, but nobody in the service industry needed that charge on his record.
She excused herself from her table – the diners were only too happy to see the embarrassing encounter dealt with – and went to lay a comforting hand on the young man’s shoulder.
He shrugged her off. “You don’t understand!”
“This is Dick,” she said. “See Dick. See Dick run. Run, Dick, run!”
“You’re a book, too!” The young man’s eyes lit with the fanatical gleam she had seen so often in her fellow enthusiasts.
She shook her head sadly, suddenly aware. “I love too many of them to ever be only one. It takes more than love to become a book.”
The young man glared at her, jaw working, then dissolved into tears. “But I want to,” he sobbed. “I’ve always, always wanted to!”
“I know,” she said, unshed tears stinging the rims of her own eyes. “Believe me, I know.” She embraced him and patted him on the back. “Now hurry back to your station before you lose the job you have.”
He wiped his eyes, blew his nose, apologized to Head Librarian Devra Langsam and the entire restaurant, and returned to work.
Holly waved to her own table, preparatory to resume taking their order, but was halted by the Head Librarian’s hand on her wrist.
“Thank you,” the Head Librarian said. “That could have gotten ugly. You seem to have a way with books.”
“I understand them,” said Holly sadly. “I wish I could be one.”
“So did I,” said the Head Librarian. “But I couldn’t choose just one.”
“Yes! Yes, exactly!” Holly sighed. “I need to go do my job. I suppose I’m Waitress Holly Jahangiri now, until I finish my two weeks’ notice and go back to the country.”
“Wait, Not Really A Waitress Holly Jahangiri. If you really want to change your salutation, how does Assistant Librarian Holly Jahangiri sound?”
Holly’s mouth popped open. “I beg your pardon?”
“My assistant just left to head a suburban branch. I need an assistant who loves books and understands people. Someone who can deal with the emotional turmoil that’s inevitable in dormitories stocked with literature. The fireworks between Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm alone are enough to turn a Head Librarian prematurely gray. Will you consider it?”
“I don’t have to consider it! I accept!”
“Wonderful! The Nero Wolfe Cookbook can give you directions and a little background. Come and see me after work and you can step into the job as soon as your termination contract here runs out.”
The Nero Wolfe Cookbook bustled up, scowling. “Head Librarian Devra Langsam! I’m so very, very sorry! Is this person bothering you? I shall have her arrested immediately!”
“You’ll do no such thing to my new Assistant Librarian. She needs to get back to her current job, now, but the next time you see me, it’ll be with her as my …. What’s the Earth word you used to use?”
“My amanuensis. She’s an extraordinary person. I almost hate to take her from you. I’m sure the library board would pay an appropriate fee if you let her terminate sooner than two weeks.”
As she went back to her table – for people must eat as well as read – Holly heard The Nero Wolfe Cookbook state his highest approval: “Satisfactory.”
It was true, what the old folks say, she mused. When Fate closes a door, Destiny kicks it in and gives Fate a fat lip.
It was, as her former boss would say, satisfactory.
MY PROMPTS TODAY: not really a waitress, the ongoing backstory of Holly Jahangiri (not the real one)