For those who don’t know, years and years ago, I wrote a novel (currently out of print) set on Llannonn, a planet where courtesy is literally the law. When I went on a blog book tour for the novel, I ran a contest for naming a character in a short story set in the same world. Fellow writer Holly Jahangiri (the real one) was such a determined contestant, I named a character after her, too. That character commandeered the story, and I’ve been writing about her ever since.
I write a Holly story on the Sundays of Story A Day May.
Holly Jahangiri (the fictional one) becomes, is, and retires as a Librarian at a library for living books. It seems that somebody on Llannonn read Fahrenheit 451 and decided a library of people who recite books they’ve memorized was a great idea. Typically for Llannonn, they officialized it. Becoming a living book is now a respectable career, provided you can get a gig in a library.
Genesis Selinsky (the fictional one) is marginally based on friend and fellow writer Jen Selinsky, a major fan of the English band Genesis. The timeline of her involvement with the library is so inconsistent, I’ve decided to explain it by Sir Terry Pratchett‘s favorite inconsistency explanation: It’s because of quantum.
And now I give you:
Holly Answers the Question
The book seated across the desk from Head Librarian Holly Jahangiri twitched involuntarily.
Holly remembered when the book had entered the library as a fresh young girl, recommended by Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia, who had found the girl an endless source of assistance.
The girl, obsessed by all things Earth and all things immaculate, had, without entirely intending to, memorized How to Clean Everything, by Alma Chesnut Moore.
“I can’t be running over to her house every time one of the books spills … oh, red wine on a white shag carpet,” the parlourmaid had said. “Much more convenient to have her actually here. She’s willing, if she can be for reference only and doesn’t have to go out to other people’s dirty houses.”
“What’s red wine?” Holly had asked. “What’s shag carpet?”
The parlourmaid had responded with the most contemptuous sniff she could muster, which was very contemptuous, indeed.
Holly, armored by years of fielding such insults, was not hurt. She moved on to her actual point. “If this obsessive compulsive young woman joins us,” she said shrewdly, “she’ll no doubt keep any part of the library she lives in and uses clean, sparing you the work.”
“And we might very well win the Cleanest Library on Llannonn award this year.”
There, Miznalia had touched Holly on a sore spot, for the coveted award had gone elsewhere the previous year, when the inspection committee had found gillyflower seeds deep in the weave of Holly’s own purple feather boa, souvenirs of her latest visit home to the Meadow of Flowers.
So the girl had been tested, had passed, and had become part of the library’s permanent collection.
Now, she sat before Holly, twitching, pale, and haunted.
“Please,” she said, “can’t you do something? The questions are driving me mad!”
“…But you’re an answer book,” said Holly, unsure of how to proceed. “Aren’t questions … sort of the point?”
“Ordinary questions in ordinary numbers, yes. But I never bargained for this bombardment. Every day, with Saturday afternoons and Sundays off. I hardly have time for my cleaning. I’m minding my own business, happily removing stubborn grease stains from unpainted cement, and up she pops. ‘Tell me about Plaster of Paris,’ she’ll say. Or, ‘How can you tell a real ruby from a synthetic one?’ It ruins my concentration. Can’t you tell her I’m not to be asked questions unless I’m actually in the reference room?”
“I could,” said Holly, gently, for a librarian is always kind. “But she would only call you to the reference room when she had a question, and that would be even more of an interruption. You are available for public referral during ordinary business hours.”
The problem was not Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia, taking undue advantage of her favorite consultant’s constant availability. The problem was Genesis Selinsky, a neighborhood child with a curiosity that went unsatisfied in her large, economically disadvantaged family.
“I’ll see what I can do,” said Holly.
“Now? Right now? She’s waiting for me downstairs.”
Holly came to a decision, with that quick intellect and stern resolve that are a hallmark of librarians across the multiverse.
“Send her to me.”
Juvenile Genesis Selinsky entered the room talking, and continued talking after she had taken the seat Holly offered her with a gesture.
“You wanted to see me? What’s it about? It’s all right if I come in here a lot, isn’t it? I know I come in here a lot, but I just love libraries, especially this one. Am I in trouble?”
While the questions flowed over her, Holly thought, Why, she isn’t a Juvenile anymore. She’s nearly grown. Another year at most, and she’ll have to choose a profession.
When the girl paused to draw breath, Holly asked, “Are you particularly interested in cleaning?”
“What? No! I mean, I like things to be clean, but no.”
“Why have you attached yourself to How to Clean Everything?”
“I’m curious. Is that all right? I just like to know things. And — I’ll be honest — consulting her gives me an excuse to pop into the library. That’s all right, isn’t it? I hope that’s all right.”
Rather than answer, Holly reached into her bottom right desk drawer, where she kept random volumes of English-language Earth books, the specialty of the library.
“How would you like,” she said, drawing forth the volume, “a book of your own?”
She handed the hard-bound rectangle across the desk to hands eager to receive it.
“What’s this?” the girl asked.
“…It’s a book. These are what living books memorize. The words are written on the pages. Where did you think living books came from?”
“I didn’t know.” The girl stroked the book’s covers and, gingerly, opened it. “I don’t read Earthen,” she said.
“Then you have your work cut out for you,” said Holly. “They give free classes at the Embassy. Apply yourself, and you could have a career of some kind ahead of you.”
“Thank you,” said the girl. “I mean, thank you!” She clutched the book closely to her chest. “I’ll treasure this forever! I’ll never forget this kindness! I’m going to go sign up for classes right this minute!”
That should keep her occupied for a while, thought Holly. I don’t suppose we’ll be seeing much of that young lady from now on.
Little, as some of the Earth books in Holly’s very library would have said, did she know.
A WRITING PROMPT FROM ME TO YOU: What’s your very most favororitest book?