The Iron Writer Challenge #58
2014 Iron Writer Spring Equinox Challenge #8
The only lost book in the world
A pearl brooch
As I walked in I could smell the lemony floor wax from last night’s waxing. The library was extremely crowded for a 4 floor building. Most of the time I was the only one here, besides the staff, whom I rarely saw. It was days like this one that I wanted more than anything to climb into my book and escape this crazy world.
Every day when I come here, I feel more at home than I do at my actual house. You would think it would be lonely or scary being all alone in a huge, empty library but every day I make a new friend. I’m surrounded by friends that will always be there for me on any occasion.
Today, I feel all alone. All the screaming kids make me wish I was actually alone. Clearly my usual spot will not work. I decide to walk around to find the perfect spot.
I rounded the corner to find kids, if you wanted to call them that, crawling all over the castle that separated the kid’s room from the rest of the library. Honestly, the castle made it look more like a playground anyways.
The second floor was no better. Teenagers had made this their make-out central. That was the last think I wanted to hear! Hormonal teenagers are only a small step up from those little screaming things down stairs.
Finally, I decided to forget all this nonsense and go all the way to the top floor. No adults wanted to go up there, it was all archives and legal books, plus the elevator didn’t go that far. Best of all though was there were no kids allowed!
As I topped the stairs a raspy voice echoed “Logan, you are the one chosen to save the book from destruction” from a tall stack of paper that had fallen out of multiple books long ago. A light shone from the stack near the bottom. Curiosity has gotten the best of me so I moved the top papers to see where the mysterious light and voice were coming from.
As I reach the final sheet a golden orange light illuminates the room. I stare at the paper and suddenly a picture appears that shimmers like a moon lit lake. It was a picture of an ancient looking book. In the caption below it read, “The last lost book, said to hold the secrets to all mankind’s problems.”
I’ve never heard of such a book and me of all people should have, I mean I practically live in the library. I proceed to stare at the picture and notice that the picture changes if it is moved ever so slightly. One second I’m looking at a picture of the book next I’m looking and beautiful pearl brooch appears. I’m in awe! At this time I turn the page over to see the beautifully steamy Rotarura hot pools. As I stare deeply into the picture I feel myself being pulled into it.
I guess I’ll figure out more about these strange things and I’ll actually have to leave the library.
The guidebook promised me fascinating Māori culture. It insisted “no visit to New Zealand would be complete without stopping here.” So stop I did, at the behest of my latest employer – a promotional magazine from New Zealand.
I had fallen for the Rotarua Hot Pools hype, like a drunken monkey slipping on a banana peel. Unfortunately, I also managed to crack my skull on the hotel’s freshly waxed floors as I dashed, in my complimentary flip-flops, towards my first dip in the geothermal wonder.
In my hospital haze, I dreamt of a book that uncovered the secrets of the Te Arawa people who had settled the land. It described in detail their customs, explaining their intricate facial tattoos and the stories behind their tribal dances. A haunting melody followed me as I listened to scholars debate the book’s authenticity, then place it in a glass tomb on display in some dusty library basement, where it would be forever lost to their modern ancestors. One of them tried to placate me with expensive jewelry, offering a pearl brooch and a handful of glittering rubies to pacify my resistance.
I woke up shouting something about the world’s only lost book, and four nurses arrived to sedate me. “You’ve bumped your head. Something’s been shaken loose,” one of them murmured as I drifted back into uncomfortable sleep.
When I awoke a second time, I found a visitor waiting patiently at my bedside. It was my husband, looking appropriately concerned.
“Are you all right?” he asked. “They told me you were raving.”
I smiled sheepishly. “It must have been the morphine. I dreamt about a lost manuscript, something about the local people and their culture. Do you recognize this tune?”
I hummed a few bars from the melody that had played repeatedly in my mind throughout the night.
He raised one eyebrow, then the other. “That sounds like the ‘E Karanga e te Iwi e.’ It’s a song of welcome for warriors. Who were you fighting, my love?”
“Historians, I suppose. Museum archivists, shelving living culture away as if it is already dead and buried, entombing our past as if we don’t perpetually live through the same cycles.”
“Did you enjoy the hot springs, at least?”
“Whenever you can bust me out of this joint, I’d like to. I’ve still got two more days of my junket left, don’t I?”
“Absolutely. The doctor says you’re free to go if you’re feeling better, but you’ll have to come back in a week for a checkup.”
“Did he say anything about keeping these slip-proof socks?” I asked, wiggling my toes out from under my hospital sheets.
“No, but under the circumstances, I doubt they’d blame you. Hey, where’d you get this?”
He held up a single pearl earring, which had lain on my nightstand.
“Must have been the previous occupant,” I shrugged.
The warrior melody rose up again as I swung my legs over the side of the bed, ready to return to civilian life.
He hears his mother waxing floors. Cleaning is one of her obsessions now. Just hours before Bridge Club, she squirts wax across the first floor. The machine whirrs. She moves it back and forth across the front hall. So effortless, she smokes with the other hand at the same time. The whole place smells like Marlboros and Mop and Glo.
Her other obsession is to find “the only lost book in the world”, her wedding album. She swears it was in the house after they moved there in 1979. Every few months, she tears the house apart looking for his Dad; on high bookshelves, in trunks beneath wads of old Christmas lights… in other photographs..
Last time she couldn’t find it, she wouldn’t eat for two days.
His Dad once said, “Geologic wonders only make themselves known when they’re good and ready. They can stay hidden for years.” He wants to tell his mom this, wants to make it okay.
On the 13” television in the basement, National Geographic is in New Zealand. A man stands beside the electric green Hot Pool and explains, “Many an explorer lost his life here.”
“Billy?” Mom calls from the top of the stairs.
“Hang on.” Billy says.
“For centuries, natives tossed precious rubies and pearls into these pots for safe keeping. They thought they’d retrieve them in their next life. Early civilizations thought geologic formations were links to the afterlife.” The reporter looked right into the camera. “A devastating earthquake emptied these pots 50 years ago, opening them to anthropologists and treasure seekers. Then, almost as if their presence was sensed by some other-world spirit, they filled again without warning. One American explorer lost his life.” The man’s face was grim. The camera panned the pots.
“Billy!” Mom called.
“Coming Mom.” He turns off the television and runs upstairs.
In the front room, everything is Bridge Club perfect; two tables with four chairs, each holding two stacks of cards and a small bowl of curried pecans. His mother wears her party clothes. A sparkling pearl brooch catches the light, a tiny cauldron of memories pinned to her pink sweater.
“Where’d you get that brooch, Mom?” he asked, wrapping the cord around the handle.
“Your father got it for me.” She perfected her hair in the hall mirror, a gold leaf oval that no one ever looked into unless they were leaving the house or others were coming in.
“In New Zealand?” he asked.
“Yes, you know that.” She smoothed her skirt.
“Mom?” he began.
“Billy, here comes Mrs. Henderson…”
“Dad was on television again.” He said, and watched her compose herself before turning around.
“Billy, your father’s been dead for three years now.” She adjusted the drapery.
“Mom, think you’ll ever find the “only lost book in the world?” He watched her stare at something he could not see.
“One day,” she said.
She pictured the exact box in the attic where the wedding album lay wrapped in his clothes, the last ones he ever wore; the same ones that came with the little brooch and a telegram. The very one she refused to find.
‘Once-upon-a-time a book was written on the Buchannan family history but we can find no trace of it,’ Claire’s client said in a resonant Scottish burr. ‘We figure it must be the only completely lost book in the world.’
‘None,’ the handsome young man said. ‘Dad thinks my Sassenach great-grandmother had them all destroyed.’
‘So I’m to write—?’
‘A family history.’ He handed her a wooden box. ‘Documents and photographs.’ He then extracted a jewellery box from his pocket within which sat an ornate brooch. ‘I’d like you to discover why we’re known as the Black Buchannans. Tradition says this kilt-pin holds the secret.’
Claire touched it, a stylised hook smoothly carved in ivory or bone, outlined in seed pearls, fixed to a heavy silver clasp. She smiled at her client. ‘Is the brooch in any family photos, Mr Buchannan?’
‘A couple.’ He located a curled photograph from the box. ‘This was taken in 1944. My grandfather is the boy in the kilt; the RAF pilot is my great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather, the old man, was a much decorated soldier in the First War. Lots of heroes in the family,’ he said with quiet pride.
Claire noted the strong family resemblance down the generations: the Buchannans were all imposing and broad shouldered, the epitome of “tall, dark and handsome”.
‘Strong genetics,’ she commented.
‘My father thinks we’re the Black Buchannans because of some dastardly deed long in the past. My grandfather thought we were black-hearted soldiers, ruthless, but effective. We’re certainly unlike the main branch of the family, scrawny pen-pushers, the lot of them.’ He shrugged. ‘One of your tasks is to discover why we’ve had such advantages.’
After he’d left, Claire sorted everything, piece by piece, in chronological order. Lots to write about.
Some weeks later as she replaced the documents and photographs into the box, she noticed a scrap of white under the box’s lining. She extracted a sepia-toned photograph labelled, “Wikitoria TeHana, Rotorua, 1878”. Claire could see the beautiful young woman’s Maori ancestry in her strong Polynesian bone structure. She’d been posed sitting on the highly-waxed floor of a cabana with steam artistically swirling about and her bare feet splashing in one of the Rotorua hot pools. With her magnifying glass, Claire peered closer at Wikitoria. Was that the same bone carving on a cord around her neck?
Claire went back to the oldest full-sized photo. On the back she read, “The Rev. Walter and wif—” with “Roto—” below. The reverend was undersized, pallid and puny-looking, formally dressed for, presumably, his wedding. The pendant was now a brooch, the impressive bone and pearl kilt-pin Claire had been shown. He had proudly posed with a possessive hand on the shoulder of his new wife but the image of her face had been since torn away.
Claire suddenly realised the mystery was solved. She stared into the good reverend’s pale eyes, imagining him foretelling the darkly handsome Buchannans he was about to father with this Maori warrior-princess, offspring who would be tall, broad-shouldered and vigorous. The revitalisation of the Buchannan line.
Claire punched the air. Yes!