I’m sorry today’s story is a bit long; I don’t have time to make it shorter.
Holly And The Gift Of The Maigret
by Marian Allen
As it turned out, almost everyone went home.
Head Librarian Devra Langsam, director and house mother of Council City’s main living library, lived in Council City, so she had always sent Holly back to Meadow of Flowers Province for the festivities. This year, though, the head librarian had been forced to take compassionate leave for the entire month.
“I hate to do it to you,” she had told Holly. “But my grandmother is filing for Lady Bountiful status, and the whole family has to move in with her for a month and accept her lavish hospitality.”
“I understand,” Holly had said, mindful that her own grandmother had qualified easily, years ago, and without having to stuff the charity box to do it. That was city folk for you.
She had hoped the books would go home, too, so she could close the library and leave in time for the main feast. Some of them did have families to go to, and did leave. Others, especially the ones set during Earth’s anti-hot and/or anti-hot-holiday season, were checked out. Still others had become favorites of families or individuals and were invited to join them with the understanding that they wouldn’t be asked to recite more of themselves than brief excerpts.
But, as they say in the book biz, it takes all kinds to make a library. There were still four volumes in need of care, and of course Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia and The Art of French Cooking (the library chef) had holiday breaks in their contracts.
And now there were five.
The books on hand had drawn names to be one another’s Anonymous Donor, and their gifts crowded under the Tarp of Joy, wrapped and labeled, ready for the Big Reveal on Swag Night.
Holly answered the ring at the library door, ready to either tell a last-minute reader that the library was closed or hand out candy alley-jammers to Anti-Hot-Solemnity carolers. It was neither. It was an elderly man dressed in a three-piece suit, a heavy overcoat, and a hat. In one hand, he held an empty pipe; in the other, a sheaf of papers.
“I am Three Adventures of Inspector Maigret, by Georges Simenon,” he said.
“We weren’t expecting you until after the holidays!” Holly stepped aside to let him in.
He refused to surrender his hat and overcoat, but willingly followed her up to the Head Librarian’s office for a glass of white wine.
“My papers came through today,” he said. “I have no family. I’ve been living in a rented room and can no longer afford it. I spent my last eent on my costume. I couldn’t even afford tobacco for my pipe. I hope that won’t be a problem.”
“We provide our books’ costumes and props,” Holly assured him. “You’ll be reimbursed, as soon as our Head Librarian returns. In the meantime, you’re welcome. Your room is ready for you.”
She rang for Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia, remembered the staff was away, cursed under her breath, and rose. “I’ll show you to your room. Then, if you’ll come downstairs to the library proper, I’ll introduce you to your fellow volumes.”
She left them there chatting, wrapped her signature purple feather boa around her neck, and ducked out of the building.
Nothing. He has nothing. No family, no place but the library, no Anonymous Donor. Holly’s magnificent heart would not allow a book to look on, bereft, while others opened presents.
She found what she was looking for: a shop specializing in items imported from exotic Earth. The register would be closed until after the Solemnities, but perhaps something could be arranged.
She returned to the library with her neck bare, and wrapped and labeled the small package she carried.
When Three Adventures of Inspector Maigret accompanied the other books out on a round of caroling, she tucked her package under the tarp.
At last, it was time for the Big Reveal. The books settled around the Tarp of Joy. All together, the chanted, “One. Two. Three. Four. What????” and Holly whipped the tarp away with a practiced flourish, revealing what were now five packages.
For not only was there a package for Three Adventures of Inspector Maigret, there was one addressed to Assistant Librarian Holly Jahangiri.
The other books tore open their gifts and raced each other to the kitchen for the Post-Reveal treats that waited there.
Three Adventures looked up from the package of pipe tobacco he held, and Holly looked up from the lizard-monster scarf pin in her hand.
“This is from you,” she said.
Three Adventures nodded. “You could have turned me away, but you welcomed me. The other books said you have a purple feather boa and a strange fascination with a giant Earth lizard monster.”
Holly didn’t know whether to chuckle or weep, so she did both.
“I traded my boa for your pipe tobacco,” she said.
“That’s all right,” said Three Adventures. “I traded my pipe for your pin.”