It’s Suuuuuunnndaaaaayyyy. Sundays of Story A Day May, I write stories about the fictional Holly Jahangiri, set on the plannett … er, planet Llannonn, which is the main setting of my currently out-of-print sf-cop-farce, FORCE OF HABIT. As always, I give acknowledgement and thanks to the real Holly Jahangiri, whose winning the right to name a character in two different contests led to the fictional creation.
The Tattered Text
by Marian Allen
On a planet called Llannonn, there’s a metropolis called Council City. In Council City, there are many libraries, one of them a Living Library specialized in housing Living Books of old Earth, specifically those written in the Earth language English. It’s monitored and administered by Head Librarian Holly Jahangiri, but only under constant challenge for supremacy by Parlormaid Tambar Miznalia.
Parlormaid Tambar Miznalia was a woman who had developed an extensive vocabulary of disdainful sniffs. If disdain were marketable, Parlormaid Tambar Miznalia could hand it out in great, dripping fistfuls and still be the richest woman in the universe.
So, when Head Librarian Holly Jahangiri called, “Come in,” to Parlormaid Tambar Miznalia’s scratch at the office door, she was not surprised to see Miznalia’s face in its characteristic high-nosed, pucker-mouthed grimace.
Holly grimaced a bit, herself, at the Parlormaid’s expression and at the scent of Bowlder’s All-Purpose Soap scent that wafted in with her.
As Parlormaid, Tambar Miznalia didn’t do much of the heavy-duty cleaning, but she had her own particular standards and self-appointed tasks. Someone else built and spray-painted the hovercars, as it were, and Tambar Miznalia did the detailing. Her vinyl gloves clung to her hands like … well, like vinyl gloves, shining with a soapy glaze.
“I’m sorry to say,” said the Parlormaid, “there’s a man out back who claims he’s a Book. He wants to donate his services to us. Meaning he wants room and board for nothing.”
“Hardly for nothing.” Holly carefully kept the sharpness from her disagreement, for courtesy was both the law and the custom on Llannonn.
Books in a Living Library were housed and fed, it’s true, but they were on call at all times, except for their days off and vacations. Patrons could check them out, and the Books delivered themselves, recited themselves at their patrons’ requests, and returned themselves before their return-by dates.
“Nobody’s going to want this one in a decent home,” the Parlormaid said, with one of her more contemptuous nasal stylings.
“What is he?”
“I didn’t ask.”
Holly sighed. “He’s in the kitchen?”
“Outside, I said.”
“In the mudroom?”
“Out. Side. On the exterior of the building.”
Holly glanced out the window of her second-story office. A cold rain was bucketing down.
“He’ll catch his death!”
The Parlormaid’s sniff communicated her indifference to the prospect.
Miznalia nodded, reluctantly confessing thereby that she had allowed him to shelter under the metal awning that protected the paved area where the Books sometimes relaxed in good weather.
The man sat huddled against the Library wall, hands curled around a mug of what was sure to be Cook’s hot sugared clover tea.
When Holly stepped out, wrapped in a pratty-wool coat, throat shielded against the damp by her signature purple feather boa, he struggled to his feet.
“I’m Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell, at your service.” He stuck out a hand so grubby and partially wrapped in so bedraggled a glove, Holly felt no courtesy court in the land would expect her to take it. He didn’t seem to expect it, either, no doubt having extended it from old habit.
“You seem to have fallen on hard times.”
He raised an eyebrow, along with his voice. “I’m DOWN AND OUT IN PARIS AND LONDON, by George Orwell!”
“I heard you the first time, Down and Out in Paris and London. We have an English translation of Love in the Time of Cholera, but he isn’t dying.”
The book’s look of contempt was a faint echo of Tambar Miznalia’s best. “I’m a method man. How can I convincingly deliver my message, unless I live it?”
Many of the Library’s Books identified, to a greater or lesser degree, with their contents. Three Men in a Boat fancied himself in red (though his friends thought it didn’t suit him). The Anarchists’ Convention and Other Stories tended to ignore rules. Fight Club aways had a black eye or a split lip. On the other hand, Little Lord Fauntleroy was fine and good. This stranger’s identification with his text, though, was going rather a bit too far.
Holly stepped upwind. “What brings you to us?”
The Book gestured at the rain with his empty mug. “I’m getting too old to slog about in this stuff. The Anti-Hot season is coming up, and I just can’t face it at my age.”
“Well, come in and wash up. We’ll get you some fresh clothes – a new costume, if you prefer to work in costume – and give you a tryout. I’ll just go in and unlock the door to the Donations washroom.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I’m not washing.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I’m not washing.”
Holly could do this all day. “I beg your pardon?”
The Book indicated his person with a sweep of his straggle-nailed hand. “It’s taken me decades to get the look just the way I want it. I’m not about to go spoiling it because I’m not ‘clean’ enough for you.”
“You’ll be sleeping in a dormitory. The other men deserve – ”
“And what about me, eh? What about my craft? What about my dedication? What’s the Union going to say about this, eh?”
The Living Books union was new, usually reasonable, but occasionally looking for a publicity-worthy scrap. It was barely but undismissably possible that they would champion him.
Holly grasped her politesse and held it before her like a shield. “Living Book Down and Out in Paris and London, I would be happy to admit you to the washroom, where you can wash or not, by your own choice.”
He grunted in agreement.
The Donations washroom was through a door directly off the paved area. Holly led the redolent Book in, locked the door, and let herself into the back hallway, locking that door behind her.
She wasn’t surprised to find Parlormaid Tambar Miznalia waiting for her, bucket, gloves, scrub brush, apron, and all.
“You didn’t let him in,” said the Parlormaid.
“He threatened me with the Union.”
The Parlormaid sniffed disdainfully, having utter scorn for all Unions but the Parlormaids’. “We’ve never had a dirty book in this library, and we’re not having one now.”
A slow smile spread across Holly’s face.
“Perhaps,” she said, “you could step into the washroom and … reason with him. One Union member to another.”
The Parlormaid drew her vinyl gloves up so tightly, they snapped when she released them. “Reason with him?” she said. She picked up her bucket and brush. “I’m going to Bowlderize him.”
Sometimes, Holly mused, as she strolled back to her office, howls, yowls, yelps, and squawks were music. Pure music.
MY PROMPTS TODAY: vinyl gloves, Holly Jahangiri, DOWN AND OUT IN PARIS AND LONDON by George Orwell