|Pub Date: 7-26-22|
Adult - Historical Fiction
There was nothing Ava Harper loved more than the smell of old books. The musty scent of aging paper and stale ink took one on a journey through candlelit rooms of manors set amid verdant hills or ancient castles with turrets that stretched up to the vast, unknown heavens. These were tomes once cradled in the spread palms of forefathers, pored over by scholars, devoured by students with a rapacious appetite for learning. In those fragrant, yellowed pages were stories of the past and eternal knowledge.
It was a fortunate thing indeed she was offered a job in the Rare Book Room at the Library of Congress where the archaic aroma of history was forever present.
She strode through the middle of three arches to where the neat rows of tables ran parallel to one another and carefully gathered a stack of rare books in her arms. They were different sizes and weights, their covers worn and pages uneven at the edges, and yet somehow the pile seemed to fit together like the perfect puzzle. Regardless of the patron who left them after having requested far more than was necessary for an afternoon’s perusal.
Their eyes were bigger than their brains. It was what her brother, Daniel, had once proclaimed after Ava groused about the common phenomena—one she herself had been guilty of—when he was home on leave.
Ever since, the phrase ran through her thoughts on each encounter of an abandoned collection. Not that it was the fault of the patron. The philosophical greats of old wouldn’t be able to glean that much information in an afternoon. But she liked the expression regardless and how it always made her recall Daniel’s laughing gaze as he said it.
They’d both inherited their mother’s moss green eyes, though Ava’s never managed to achieve that same sparkle of mirth so characteristic of her older brother.
A glance at her watch confirmed it was almost noon. A knot tightened in her stomach as she recalled her brief chat with Mr. MacLeish earlier that day. A meeting with the Librarian of Congress was no regular occurrence, especially when it was followed by the scrawl of an address on a slip of paper and the promise of a new opportunity that would suit her.
Whatever it was, she doubted it would fit her better than her position in the Rare Book Room. She absorbed lessons from these ancient texts, which she squeezed out at whim to aid patrons unearth sought-after information. What could possibly appeal to her more?
Ava approached the last table at the right and gently closed La Maison Reglée, the worn leather cover smooth as butter beneath her fingertips. The seventeenth century book was one of the many gastronomic texts donated from the Katherine Golden Bitting collection. She had been a marvel of a woman who utilized her knowledge in her roles at the Department of Agriculture and the American Canners Association.
Every book had a story and Ava was their keeper. To leave her place there would be like abandoning children.
Robert floated in on his pretentious cloud and surveyed the room with a critical eye. She clicked off the light lest she be subjected to the sardonic flattening of her coworker’s lips.
He held out his hand for La Maison Reglée, a look of irritation flickering over his face.
“I’ll put it away.” Ava hugged it to her chest. After all, he didn’t even read French. He couldn’t appreciate it as she did.
She returned the tome to its collection, the family reunited once more, and left the opulence of the library. The crisp spring DC air embraced her as she caught the streetcar toward the address printed in the Librarian of Congress’s own hand.
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