Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Reworked the reworking of my reworking...

New opening to The Alice '65...
The first printing of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is so rare, only twenty-four copies are known to still exist. So for any bibliophile, it would be a dream to be sent to Los Angeles to pick up a newly discovered copy, and Adam Verlain was the epitome of one. Granted, he was not yet thirty, and while trim, he was hardly thin, but he always wore a suit and tie, with hair cut neat and easy, and he had a clean, open face that gave him the look of an inquisitive cat behind pharmacy-bought reading glasses. There was also a vague aura of otherworldliness to him, as if he were always caught in some contemplation that was so deep and intense, the world nearly ceased to exist around him. Had he shown up on the owner's doorstep, they would instantly have pegged him as a person who belonged in a library, or some such career ... with which Adam would agree; for as he often said, books were his life. Meaning, he was the perfect person to make the journey.

But he did not want to go.

To begin with, his job was to archive antiquarian volumes for a private college in London. Also, his area of expertise was incunabula and codices from the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries; it would have made far more sense to send his colleague, Elizabeth, a recent hire set up in in the cubicle next to his and whose focus was 19th and 20th Century works ... and that was not because he rather fancied her; he knew from the first day she was hardly what one would call a book person. At least, not yet. But she was pretty and confident, and would say all of the right things to the book's owner, so she would have made a fine ambassador for the college.

Then there was Vincent, head of their small but growing antiquarian book collection, a role he had occupied for untold decades ... mainly because he had started it and no one was as knowledgeable about manuscripts as he. However, Vincent was at least twice Adam's age and already had the appearance of a Victorian ghost, so the trip would have been difficult for him. That said, he wasn't exactly at death's door and his arrival would have imparted a true sense of the book's importance.

Of course, if one wished to be simplistic, all they really needed was a body that was halfway human to do the job, so their photographer, Jeremy, would have sufficed. Almost. He was young and full of himself and would love a day or two in Southern California. But he was also had tattoos on his tattoos and piercings ... well, God knows where; not quite the image the college would want to project.

So the choice was Adam. But had he known this was how his Monday would turn out, well ... he had a month of sick leave coming to him, and he'd have taken every day of it to avoid being tapped for the journey. However, by the time he realized what was happening, it was too late to change course -- not without quitting a job he loved.

A job he would arrive for at eight-fifty-two, every morning, to be in his cubicle with his computer fired up by nine, sharp. By that point, he would either have chosen a fresh book from the "new arrivals" cart to archive or he would be reminding himself where he let off from a book he was working on, the evening before. Jammed into a corner behind him, a sturdy corner table would hold whatever notes were needed to accompany his work, as well as any other documents, all very easy to spin around in his chair to retrieve and glance over.

He would break for tea at 10:55, lunch at 1pm, a second tea at 3:55 and head for home at 5:30. Well, except for the occasions where he got so caught up in researching a fascinating or unusual volume, he would look up from his computer or notes and realize it was five and he'd had neither lunch nor tea ... or, just often, it was nearly seven, the cleaning crew had arrived, and he was late for his mother's dinner.

That happened twice, last week, with a truly elegant copy of Orlando Furioso. In Latin. It had been presented to King Victor Emmanuel, in 1866, not long before the Third Italian War for Independence, and there were indications the book was first given to Pope Pius IX on his selection to the papacy, twenty years earlier. His focused so tight on trying to confirm it, he got in some difficulty with Vincent.

"We've dozens of other books to archive," the old man had said, in his veddy-veddy-British tone, "and you spend five days on one inconsequential volume?"

Adam had huffed. Granted, the book was re-bound in a plain red Morocco with overdone gold trim and was a bit worn, but it was still in fine condition and the possibility of a pope presenting it to a king at a time of major upheaval was more than worth the effort. So he had responded with, "Sir, I have never believed any book is inconsequential."

Causing Vincent to jolt ramrod straight and bring out the worst of his Oxford attitude as he snarled, "Nor is this one more consequential than any others on the cart! Be done with it! We've dozens more acquisitions to archive and no funds to do it."

That was on Friday, last. Adam had already decided he'd dug as deep as he could, finding nothing but suggestions and hints about the book's history, so he planned to do little more than polish up his provenance and, well, be done with it. Still, since his computer continued to contemplate the possibility of making itself available, he picked the book up from the table and casually read the opening canto aloud, translating from the Latin:

Of loves and ladies, knights and arms, I sing,
Of courtesies, and many a daring feat;
And from those ancient days my story bring,
When Moors from Africa passed in hostile fleet,
And ravaged France, with Agramant, their king,
Flushed with his youthful rage and furious heat;
Who on King Charles’, the Roman Emperor’s head,
Had vowed due vengeance for Troyano dead.

"You're a lovely little book," he sighed to it. "Probably just the right item for a pope to give a king before a war. So don't think I'm giving up on you; I'll unlock the last of your mysteries, eventually."

No comments: