Rima Jaen hated the month of November. The hours of daylight shrank, giving up their battle against the shadows a few moments earlier with each passing day. And it was a terrible time to be in Seville, with the whole city gearing up for the holiday season and rain just around the corner. The normally erratic driving habits of the city's residents grew worse by the hour.
Rima had been stuck at her desk for weeks. Her boss had decided to clear out the storage rooms in the attic. Last winter the rain had made it through the ancient, cracked roof tiles on top of the decrepit house, and the forecast for the coming months was even worse. There was no money to fix the problem, so the maintenance staff was hauling moldy cardboard boxes down the stairs to make sure that nothing of value was damaged in future storms. Everything else was discreetly gotten rid of in such a way that no potential donors could discover what was afoot.
It was a dirty, deceitful business, but it had to be done, Rima reflected. The library was a small, specialist archive with scant resources. The core of its collections came from a prominent Andalusian family whose members could trace their roots back to the reconquista, when the Christians had taken back the peninsula from the Muslim warriors who had claimed it in the eighth century. Few scholars had reason to poke through the bizarre range of books and objects the Gonçalves had collected over the years. Most researchers were down the street at the Archivo General de Indias, arguing about Columbus. Her fellow Sevillanos wanted their libraries to have the latest thriller, not crumbling Jesuit instruction manuals from the 1700s and women's fashion magazines from the 1800s.
Rima picked up the small volume sitting on the corner of her desk and swung a pair of brightly colored glasses down from the top of her head, where they were holding back her black hair. She'd noticed the book a week ago, when one of the maintenance workers had dropped a wooden crate before her with a grunt of displeasure. Since then she'd entered it into the collection as Gonçalve Manuscript 4890 along with the description "English commonplace book, anonymous, late 16th century." Like most commonplace books, it was mostly blank. Rima had seen one Spanish example owned by a Gonçalve heir sent to the University of Seville in 1628. It had been finely bound, indexed, ruled, and paginated with ornate numbers set in swirls of multicolored ink. There was not a single word in it. Even in the past, people never quite lived up to their aspirations.
Commonplace books like this one were repositories for biblical passages, snatches of poetry, mottoes, and the sayings of classical authors. They typically included doodles and shopping lists as well as lyrics to bawdy songs and accounts of strange and important events. This one was no different, Rima thought as her black eyes darted over the pages. Sadly, someone had ripped out the first page. Once it had probably borne the owner's name. Without it there was virtually no chance of identifying the owner, or any of the other people mentioned only by initials. Historians were far less interested in this sort of nameless, faceless evidence, as though its anonymity somehow made the person behind it less important.
On the remaining pages there was a chart listing all the English coinage in use in the sixteenth century and its relative worth. One page in the back had a hastily scribbled list of clothing: a cloak, two pairs of shoes, a gown trimmed in fur, six smocks, four petticoats, and a pair of gloves. There were a few dated entries that made no sense at all and a headache cure-a caudle, made with milk and wine. Rima smiled and wondered if it would work on her migraines.
She should have returned the little volume to the locked rooms on the third floor where the manuscripts were stored, but something about it made her want to keep it nearby. It was clear that a woman had written it. The round hand was endearingly shaky and uncertain, and the words snaked up and down on pages liberally sprinkled with inkblots. No learned sixteenth-century man wrote like that, unless he was ill or aged. This book's author was neither. There was a curious vibrancy to the entries that was strangely at odds with the tentative handwriting.
She had shown the manuscript to Javier Lopez, the charming yet entirely unqualified person hired by the last of the Gonçalves to transform the family's house and personal effects into a library and museum. His expansive ground-floor office was paneled in fine mahogany and had the only working heaters in the building. During their brief interview, he'd dismissed her suggestion that the book deserved more careful study. He also forbade her to take photographs of it so she could share the images with colleagues in the United Kingdom. As for her belief that the book's owner had been a woman, the director had muttered something about feminists and waved her out of his office.
And so the book remained on her desk. In Seville such a book would always be unwanted and unimportant. Nobody came to Spain to look for English commonplace books. They went to the British Library, or the Folger Shakespeare Library in the United States.
There was that strange man who came by now and again to comb through the collections. He was French, and his appraising stare made Rima uncomfortable. Herbert Cantal-or maybe it was Gerbert Cantal. She couldn't remember. He'd left a card on his last visit and had encouraged her to get in touch if anything interesting turned up. When Rima asked what, exactly, might qualify, the man had said he was interested in everything. It was not the most helpful of responses.
Now something interesting had turned up. Unfortunately, the man's business card had not, though she'd cleaned out her desk in an effort to locate it. Rima would have to wait until he appeared again to share this little book with him. Perhaps he would be more interested in it than her boss was.
Rima flipped through the pages. There was a tiny sprig of lavender and a few crumbling rosemary leaves pressed between two of the pages. She hadn't seen them before and picked them carefully from the crevice of the binding. For a moment there was a trace of scent in the faded bloom, forging a connection between herself and a person who had lived hundreds of years ago. Rima smiled wistfully, thinking about the woman she would never know.
"Mas basura." Daniel from building maintenance was back, his worn gray overalls grimy from transporting boxes from the attic. He slid several more boxes off the beaten-up dolly and onto the floor. In spite of the cool weather, sweat stood out on his forehead, and he wiped it off with his sleeve, leaving a smudge of black dust. "Cafe?"
It was the third time this week he'd asked her out. Rima knew that he found her attractive. Her mother's Berber ancestry appealed to some men-not surprising, since it had bestowed upon her soft curves, warm skin, and almond-shaped eyes. Daniel had been muttering salacious comments, brushing against her backside when she went to the mail room, and ogling her breasts for years. That he was five inches shorter than she and twice her age didn't seem to deter him.
"Estoy muy ocupada," Rima replied. Daniel's grunt was infused with deep skepticism. He glanced back at the boxes as he left. The one on top held a moldering fur muff and a stuffed wren attached to a piece of cedar. Daniel shook his head, astonished that she would prefer to spend her time with dead animals than with him.
"Gracias," Rima murmured as he departed. She closed the book gently and returned it to its place on her desk.
While she transferred the box's contents to a nearby table, Rima's eyes strayed back to the little volume in its simple leather cover. In four hundred years, would the only proof of her existence be a page from her calendar, a shopping list, and a scrap of paper with her grandmother's recipe for alfajores on it, all placed in a file labeled "Anonymous, of no importance" and stored in an archive no one ever visited?
Such dark thoughts were bound to be unlucky. Rima shivered and touched the hand-shaped amulet of the Prophet's daughter, Fatima. It hung around her neck on a leather cord and had been passed down among the women of her family for as long as anyone could remember.
"Khamsa fi ainek," she whispered, hoping her words would ward off any evil spirit she might have unwittingly called.
Sept-Tours and the Village of Saint-Lucien
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