Welcome to the last story of Story A Day May. The snapshot at the end of the story has nothing to do with it, except that it served as a prompt.
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.
And now I give you:
Holly Hits A Wall
There comes a time, even in the life of a Head Librarian — yes, even one as flawless as Holly Jahangiri — when enough of a good thing is too much.
It was Six-Day half-day closing, but there would be no peace for her in the library. Invoices from the kitchen requesting exotic Earth foods like catfish (thank you, Huckleberry Finn) and tinned pineapple (thank you, Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog) would have to be denied. Weird alien clothing sketches from Costuming would have to be discussed — (What on Llannonn was a double-breasted suit, anyway?).
Pausing only to wrap her trademark purple feather boa around her neck, she … not to put too fine a point on it … fled the premesis.
Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia looked up from dusting the whatnots and bricabrac and gave a disapproving sniff as Holly passed. Not even that could halt a librarian in full flight.
Sometimes I wonder how I got into this racket in the first place. She shook her head, to get the bizarre phrase out of it. I picked that up from the Dasheill Hammett omnibus. She had had to listen to the whole volume, so she would know how extreme a Rudeness Warning to give patrons who wanted to borrow him. It turned out to be Very High, Indeed.
Well, as the saying goes, you can take the Librarian out of the Library, but you can’t take the Library out of the Librarian. The burdens of Head Librarianship would not fall from her shoulders, but draped them as surely as but less happily than her purple feather boa.
Holly threaded her way through the Council City streets, unmindful of the presence of anyone else (although, of course, unfailingly courteous by instinct). She passed within a hair’s breadth of an old Wandering Tribeswoman selling colorful ribbons and never even saw her, although many of the ribbons were purple.
She stopped. She had to: She had turned into an alley and come upon a wall.
Walking wasn’t helping, anyway. She leaned forward, resting her throbbing forehead against the wall’s rough surface. She raised her hands, curled into fists, and struck the ungiving surface. Gently, of course; she didn’t want to cause the slightest bit of property damage.
A voice behind her said, in Earth English, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
Holly turned. She was well-acquainted with Earth English, of course. It was one of the trade languages taught in school, and all her Living Books were in English. But she had never heard syntax like that: at once twisted and straight.
Maybe she had heard it wrong. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?”
The speaker, a man in tattered clothing, making him apparently a Wandering Tribesman, stepped into the alley.
“Gladly,” he said. Walking toward her, stopping a double-arm’s-length from her, as a stranger should, he said, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,And spills the upper boulders in the sun; And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”
That was flat fact. Holly had been raised in the provinces, and the man had made a statement so self-evident it was silly to even say it. And yet she felt he had said something that had gone beneath mere fact and into the depth of truth.
“It’s a poem,” he said. “By an Earthling named Robert Frost.”
“What’s a poem?”
“It’s like a chant, but without a purpose.”
“Without a purpose?” She shook her head. “How can a chant be without a purpose?”
“A poem should not mean, but be,” the man said. “Archibald MacLeish.”
Holly extended her hand and they hooked thumbs. “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Wandering Tribesman Archibald MacLeish. I’m Assistant Librarian Holly Jahangiri of the Council City Main Branch Living Library.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” the man said. “But, much as it pains me to contradict you, my name is not Archibald MacLeish. He wrote the poem about … er … a poem. No, I’m Frankdole Hanff, just a man obsessed with Earth poetry. Everything reminds me of one. I quote them all the time. Apparently, it’s irritating.”
“Irritating? I think it’s wonderful!” These words! These rhythms! These vowel and consonant echoes and repetitions! The images they conjured and the thoughts and feelings simple English could inspire!
“What’s the title of the book you’ve memorized?”
He waved a dismissive hand. “No book. I’m just a collection of loose leaves, I suppose. I’ve found and memorized a poem here, a poem there. Nothing so organized as a book. If I had, I would have applied for a place in your very library.” He signed mournfully.
“Have you an occupation?”
“Oh, no, no occupation. There’s no money in poetry.”
“Well,” said Holly decisively, “you have an occupation now, if you want one.” She held out her hand. “You’ll be our Poetry Acquisition Director, if you’ll accept the position.”
Newly-minted Poetry Acquisition Director Frankdole Hanff stammered his thanks.
“Of course,” Holly said, “part of your duties will be to recite random poetry on all possible occasions. Do you think you can handle that?”
Hanff smiled. “As Robert Seymour Bridges put it, ‘My delight and thy delight
Walking, like two angels white, In the gardens of the night.’ In other words, yes.”
A WRITING PROMPT FROM ME TO YOU: Write about a wall.
Mitchell AllenJune 4, 2020 at 9:55am
These vignettes of Llannonn please me greatly. I remember the ribbon lady from the novel!
Marian AllenJune 4, 2020 at 2:48pm
Well, bless your heart! I wondered if anybody would. 🙂
pmlabergeMay 16, 2021 at 9:19pm
Loved it! And the pic is so appropriate. I can see the poet has just gone out of sight! He was walking and reciting!
Marian AllenMay 17, 2021 at 10:08am
There once was a poet from Llannonn
Who shot himself out of a cannon.
When he landed in grass
He got cuts on his exposed skin
And had to go to the emergency room.
— Limericks of Llannonn