On Sundays of Story A Day May, I write about Holly Jahangiri (the fictional one, not the real one). The fictional one is in charge of a Living Library, a dormitory for men and women of her planet (Llannonn) who have become so enamoured of English-language books they’ve memorized them and can be checked out by card-holders to recite themselves.
Pel Darzin appeared in my out-of-print-but-to-be-re-released novel, FORCE OF HABIT, and Holly (the fictional one) earned her existence in a contest for naming rights in a promotional short story (to-be-released in a collection of Holly stories). Holly has taken on a life of her own. I even revised FORCE OF HABIT to give her a cameo role.
And now, Holly.
Holly needed advice. Her predecessor had trained her well, and had gradually transferred all library duties onto Holly’s desk. The Assistant Head Librarian only needed to change offices to assume the mantle of Head Librarian of the Council City Main Branch of the Living Library. All the Books were in good health, physical and mental, and none were overdue. No patron was behind on fees. The advice she needed was not of that kind.
She remembered having heard an entertaining self-reading by a Book of advice columns at a Living Library conference, in which the advice was to write a letter, then tear it up. Laughter had been surprised and uproarious, but Holly had dealt with enough 19th-Century Earth fiction to understand that the letter was to be written on paper, not on a computer. It did make a difference.
She rang for Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia. When that haughty domestic appeared, Holly said, “Please bring me The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe’s writing desk. We’re between copies at the moment, so it would be in storage.”
The Parlourmaid sniffed, bobbed a curt curtsey, and left.
Commitment was the subject on which Holly needed help. For commitment had been offered to the Librarian. She had suspected it was coming, had alternately flirted with and chilled it, and now could no longer vacilate.
For Detective Inspector Pel Darzin had proposed a contract, renewable yearly for the first seven years, binding thereafter.
He had stunned her last evening when, over exotic off-world Earth-style beer and pretzels at Jok’rel’s Travelers Inn, he had slid off his chair and onto one knee before her.
“Holly,” he had said, voice trembling, face pale, “we’ve known each other for years. We’ve been through adventures together, we’ve worked well together, we’ve faced danger together. I like to think we’ve become friends.”
She had put her hands on his shoulders, to find they were trembling, as well.
“Good friends,” she had said. “Besties.”
He had smiled, and a bit of color had returned to his cheeks. “Besties,” he had repeated, firmly. “And that’ll never change. But….” He had drawn a long, thin box from his tunic pocket and handed it to her.
She had opened it to find two greenmetal ankle bracelets patterned with spikeflower buds and blooms, one longer than the other.
He held up a hand and said, “You don’t have to answer now. Take some time, if you have to. Maybe you haven’t been thinking of me That Way.”
“I have, though,” she said, for a Librarian is always honest. “But are you sure? Wouldn’t you prefer someone closer to you? Someone in the Policing Force, maybe? You depend on your colleagues every hour of every shift.”
“I depend on you every hour of every day and every night. I depend on you in a different way.” He struck his breast with a closed fist, saying, “I depend on you here.”
Holly had wiped a tear from her own cheek and one from his, mingling the liquid on her fingers. Her meaning was clear.
He had taken the shorter of the bracelets and fastened it around her right ankle, a delicate consideration, signifying that a pledge had been made but a contract had not been signed. He had resumed his seat and raised his own right ankle for her convenience, but Holly had pushed it down and gone to her knees to fasten the longer bracelet around it.
They had spent the rest of the evening gradually recovering their customary ease with one another.
And now she had to decide: To sign, or not to sign? Was it really fair to Pel? He had no rival, but her first commitment must always be to her charges at the Library. They must always have first claim on her loyalty and support.
Surely he understood that about her by now. Surely he was taking that into consideration.
A scratch at the door told her that Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia had returned.
The door latch rattled, the Parlourmaid appearing to struggle to work it. When the door opened, Holly saw why: both of Miznalia’s hands were full, one holding a wooden lap desk tucked under her arm, one gripping a palid bust of Pallas around the neck, the bust being topped by an artificial raven.
Miznalia sniffed a sniff that said such details were beneath her and said, “I suppose one or another of these is a writing desk. I can’t tell them apart, me.”
“They are very like,” said Holly, “but this is the one I want.” She drew the lap desk toward her, lowering her own desk on its hydraulics to bring it to a comfortable work level. “You may leave the other.”
“I fancy I may,” said the Parlourmaid, with an additional sniff. “And I suppose you’ll want tea? And cake, I have no doubt.”
“Fresh tea,” said Holly. “And yesterday’s cake will do.”
Mollified by not having to deal with Cook, the Parlourmaid departed silently.
Now, to whom could she write this letter? To the advice columnist quoted by the Book she had heard at the conference?
No! She remembered having been told, by a visitor from Planet Earth, that there was a fictional librarian who had been offered a commitment. Marian. She would write to her.
Dear Marian, I don’t know what to do. My best friend wants to advance to the next level, and I’m not certain it’s fair to him. I’m not certain it would be honest in me. I must always keep my fullest attention on my Books. What should I do?
She stared at the paper, at the words she had written, at the ink forming the words, and thought of Detective Inspector Pel Darzin. What would he say, if he could read that letter?
And she laughed, knowing the solution to her dilema. She would tell him why she hesitated, and let him answer! She suspected he would understand; she suspected that her devotion to her duty was part of what he valued about her, as his devotion to his duty was part of what she valued about him.
She tore up the letter and dropped it into the waste bin.
They would meet this evening, and she would give him her affirmation. They would change their ankle bracelet from right to left and would sign the contract. For a year, then another year, and, if all went as she expected, for many years to come, (Insert Rank) Holly Jahangiri and (Insert Rank) Pel Darzin would be legal Total Besties, and let anyone or anything who tried to come between them beware the wrath of the law!
Anything but the Law, itself, of course. Or a Book in need.
MY PROMPTS TODAY: A letter to an imaginary friend, dialog