The librarian sets the book down upon two wedges of gray foam, shows me where the weighted strings are if I need to keep a page open, and then takes his leave of me.
I open the tome with a kind of reverence I reserve only for books, the only thing on this earth that I worship more than my wife. And as I leaf through its first pages, searching the index for the evidence of you, I worry that some spirit in this place will find my lack of faith disturbing. I am, after all, sitting beneath the roof of the one true church. Or do they even profess to be that anymore? Perhaps their one true god would be upset by their hubris.
A voice in my head tells me that hubris is a Greek thing, something the Romans didn’t bother to plunder, and urges me to get on with it.
I find you on the fourteenth page. Or, well, that’s where I find the signpost that will lead to you. Your surname is there, and the surname of the woman who will be your wife, and then there is the page number. The place where answers will come.
What I find there is a mix of a dead language and a living one, though neither of them slip gently across my dumb tongue.
I resist the urge to run my finger under each line as I read, not only because Mrs. Gardner would roll over in her grave if she could see me now, forgetting everything she taught me in my more elementary days, but because I don’t want to leave my mark upon these pages. I know what just a little of me might do, a drop of me enough to stain what I hope will stay pure for the next person who needs these pages to guide them home.
For years, all I’ve known of the two of you are your tragic ends — one beaten for a bottle of hooch, the other beaten by memories too cruel — but now, now in a single word I find hope: baptizatam.
Husband born where the mermaids sang us through the darkest hours, wife born on the hilltop where the iron wolf howled, your blood is the stuff of legends I haven’t imagined yet. And I imagine a lot. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I do.
I capture the words and I close the book, headed for the door and the road ahead, the map to what come next laid out by you folks who came before.
In the words of Maria Popova, donating = loving. If you enjoy what you read here at Clarkwoods, please become a patron.