tagLesbian SexMary Weaver: The Bookseller Pt. 01

Mary Weaver: The Bookseller Pt. 01

bydevagy©

I.

Take the afternoon, said Mr Hubert. There was no need for both of them to sit with the girls and be bored to horsehair in Madame Salle's villa all afternoon. Courtesy visits, he added dryly, and didn't she need to do anything? Postcards home, or something. They'd see her in the evening, sometime after supper. Not too late. She could sort something out on her own, of course?

She could. Yes. If he was sure -?

He was sure. He hardly looked forward (sotto voce) to his afternoon himself; he certainly wouldn't wish it on her. No, no, she should sit here and finish her tea at leisure; she needn't behave like she was on a timetable just because they were. He had settled the bill.

Not that she didn't like the girls, she told herself, and Mr Hubert was kindness itself, of course, but six weeks trailing hither and thither across the Continent with them – Myra's asthma, Elspeth's selectively delicate stomach, Mina's wool-gathering, their uncle's overjolly attitude to everything from seasickness to cockroach-infested bedlinens - had rather devalued their currency, and an afternoon off was nothing less than deliverance. She had finally made it to Greece and would not be found dead mouldering among the flies in amongst the stuffed birds and silk flowers of some stifling more-English-than-England old bat's parlour, not for one minute. Or at least not today. She waited until Mr Hubert and the three girls, four straw hats in the back of an elderly Studebaker, disappeared around the last corner of the square, and set off firmly in the opposite direction.

What Mary Weaver, doomed since childhood to be a governess, had no way of knowing was that free time has a way of becoming a duty. Those unused to it find themselves unable to decide what to do with it, but terrified of spending it poorly. Sitting at a café table in the plaza seemed to be a waste of time, as did trawling through the small shops and stalls that lined the narrow streets around it, as she would certainly end up doing it two or three times with the girls. The church held no more attraction, having been the subject of sightseeing and several fairly desiccating lectures on fifteenth-century iconography by Mr Hubert yesterday afternoon. She could not, in good conscience, go back to the pension and kill off the day that way, by sleeping and reading. She could sketch, but the idea bored her. She stood beneath the shade of the thin thorn-tree outside the lunch-rooms doors and cast around, hoping something would catch her attention and draw her that way. White doves sat in the ring of shade cast by the parapet of the fountain in the centre of the square, stupefied by the heat; the fountain coughed up only a thin stream of water through a thin iron pipe. As she stood there waiting, a man burned dark as bark stopped by it and cupped his hands under the dribble, then laved the shallow handful of water down over his neck. Her gaze travelled past him, across the old stone of the church and the cafes and the fire station, into the gap. At the bottom of that street, water glimmered. Of course. That way.

It was further than it looked. She passed down a shadowed cobbled street with a strong smell of drains, through a brilliant band of afternoon light and the flat green hands of palm leaves pressed against the inside of a bay window, down another dark street and a bright cross-street, the houses looking less dejected here, and into a bright square. Church, fountain, doves, rival cafes with scowling headwaiters and spindly outdoor tables. Except this church wasn't streaked with soot, the fountain ran, the doves cooed and bobbed, and the cafes had menus extending beyond ancient cheese and dubious fish. And directly ahead of her, a broad paved waterfront and a small thicket of masts. The light came down hot and pale, a lemony dusty light that brought only blues and whites to the eye; the honey-yellow stone seemed bleached in the sudden blaze. It was warmer here, on the water. No breeze came off the sea at noon. Across the bay, almost hidden by heat-shimmer, a small island studded with cypresses hung like something out of a fairy-tale book, some imprisoned princess's fastness in the middle of the pale-blue bay and sky. The impression of enchanted vastness was a little spoiled by the smoke of the grubby little steamer that plied between the mainland and this arm of the archipelago, but even so: Mary Weaver was suffused with heat and light and the impression of distance.

II.

"No, sit," said a voice somewhere above her. "Just sit for a moment, I think."

It was cool, and dim. There was a hand on her shoulder. Her head swam.

"Don't go anywhere. Back in a tick."

Movement, going away and then coming back. The clang of a bowl being set down and maybe a glass. The trickle of water falling into a shallow dish.

"Here you are."

A glass nudged into her hand. The water was cold, clean, tasteless, quite unlike the tepid chlorinated horror that the pension provided.

"I'm so sorry," she managed, now that her mouth no longer felt like the inside of a hat.

"Not at all. Here." The glass was replaced by a damp cloth. "That'll help."

"I'm so sorry."

"Really, not at all. Would you like more water?"

"No, thank you," she said, through the damp cloth, glorious against her face. "You're very kind."

"The heat can come as a surprise. Of course. You'll want these back."

She took her spectacles out of the outstretched hand, and didn't immediately understand what she was looking at or where she was. The room was vast, longer than it was wide, and low-ceilinged, dim in its recesses and lit by lamps in thick parchment shades. The floor and walls seemed to be covered in some sort of furred richness, gold-flecked and darkly jewelled, disappearing into shadows. She was seated on a leather stool, beside a small table on which sat her empty glass and an enamel bowl. As her brain recognised the smell, she realised where she was: inside a bookshop. The richness was the colour and embossing of several thousand spines, bound in leather and cloth and stamped in gold and silver. Books lined shelves and tables, lined under the windows, stacked on the dense Persian carpets that covered the floor. She smelled old paper, ink, leather, cloth, glue, something dry and fragrant, starch.

"Alright," she said to herself, and made an effort to pull herself together.

"Feeling better?" said the other person, getting to their feet.

"Thank you, yes."

"Don't rush to get up. There's no hurry."

"No, I must – the girls – oh."

The proprietor stood a few feet away, arms folded casually. Mary Weaver's gaze travelled from a pair of soft leather moccasins, up narrow dark trousers, a dark waistcoat with some sort of discreet embroidery, a bright white shirt sharp with starch, open-throated, sleeves rolled above the elbow. The glint of a chain somewhere about the throat, a watch-chain across the narrow midriff. Mary Weaver had spent most of her life among people who were only wealthy but strove to be rich, an accessory to make their prearranged lives run more smoothly; since the war she'd seldom seen a woman in trousers and never one in a waistcoat and watch-chain, or a man's shirt, and certainly never one with her hair cropped close all over her head. The bookshop proprietor stood taller than Mary herself, narrow-framed and long-limbed. She was tanned the colour of tea in a glass, dark-haired, dark-browed, dark-eyed. Foreign, Mary thought, but she couldn't be, of course: her English was unaccented, smooth, idiomatic.

"Where are you from?" she asked, unthinking.

"Well," said the woman. "I live here. This is my shop. Are you feeling somewhat better?"

"Yes. Thank you. You must think me terribly rude –"

"No, no. You very nearly fainted out there, you know. I see it at least once a week during the summer. Visitors step out onto the waterfront and it's tickets. Think nothing of it."

"How many of them do you rescue?"

"Very few," said the woman, and grinned.

"Well, thank you, then. I'm grateful."

"Think nothing of it, Miss -?"

"Weaver. Mary."

"Weavermary?"

"Mary Weaver, rather. I'm sorry."

"Pleased to meet you, Miss Weaver."

They looked at one another.

"I beg your pardon." Mary Weaver shook herself. "And your name -?"

"Alexis Cabot. Just Cabot, really."

"Then, Miss Cabot, thank you." She made as if to stand.

"No trouble, I assure you."

Upright, Mary Weaver swayed a little, put out a hand to steady herself against the wall.

"I'd rest a bit longer, if I was you," said Cabot. "Unless you have some sort of ride back to – where are you staying, if I might ask?"

"Pension Mar Vista."

"That's...off Saint Nicholas's Square, isn't it? Why on earth are you staying there?"

"Are there others?"

"At least three," said Cabot, frowning a little. "All of them are more comfortable."

"I didn't make the bookings, I'm afraid," Weaver said, cool. Her head still swam ever so slightly, and Miss Cabot was beginning to make her uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable, perhaps; edgy. Jittery, maybe. Certainly Cabot's surprise over where she was lodged rankled. She had had no idea that there were other hotels in the town. She wasn't even sure, if she thought about it, whether there were even other towns on the island. "I'm just the chaperone," she added, a little fiercely.

Cabot glanced away, amused or embarrassed; Weaver couldn't tell. When she looked back her face had lapsed back into its expression of casual civility, the smooth neutrality of habitual good manners. One finger toyed with the slack of her watch chain.

"Quite," she said, dipping her head. "Well. It's a bit of a walk back, isn't it?" One hand came up, smoothed back a lick of hair above her forehead. "Most of the way across the town. If you can wait a short while, I'll walk you back."

"That won't be necessary, thank you."

"Are you due to be somewhere?"

"No, not at all, I have the afternoon, I just – I don't require help. At this time. Thank you."

"As you please." Cabot nodded smoothly. "Yes. Well. Feel free to take a look around, see if there's anything that takes your fancy. Every book is for sale. If you need assistance, I'm back there." She gestured towards a desk at the rear of the room, weighted with stacks of books and a great lined ledger nearly as wide as the desk itself. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Miss Weaver."

She stepped forward.

Weaver drew away.

Cabot took the bowl and the glass from the side table and went away from her with them, through an arch in the back of the room. Weaver heard the slosh of water being poured away.

III.

She was bewildered, suddenly; the mood had shifted and she was disconcerted, ashamed of her sudden discourtesy, annoyed that Cabot – a stranger, a chance and indeed unsought acquaintance – had provoked it in her. She would leave, right away. Right now.

Cabot stepped through the arch, dragged a chair away from the high desk, and sat down. Weaver watched from the corner of her eye as she took a book from the top of the nearest stack and noted something in the ledger. Her movements were neat. Weaver, more uncomfortable by the second, studied the wall of books nearest her. They were mostly old, cloth-bound and stamped in dulled metallic letters half worn-away by use. Not all were in English; she puzzled out Italian, Spanish, French, something that was either Greek or Russian, another thing that was either Russian or Greek, yet another that might have been Turkish, still others in languages with extra unfamiliar letters or alphabets she didn't recognise at all. In the corner, Cabot moved books from the left-hand stack to the right-hand stack, her pen nib loud in the quiet. Outside the afternoon drew on, hot and blinding. A teashop across the street hosted a party of British tourists, drooping in the heat, one young man holding forth about the ruins at Delphi. Cabot sipped from a glass of cold tea, thumbed hair away from her eyes, glanced up now and then at the awkward stranger moving from shelf to shelf in a sort of intense haze. In an hour or two the sun would drop behind the church in the second square and the day would finally begin to cool. Cabot, coming to the end of one stack, decided. She stood and gathered the books into her arm, stepping heavily from the weight. A floorboard cracked. Weaver jumped.

"Beg your pardon," Cabot said blandly, offloading the books onto a librarian's trolley. "The floor's temperamental." She dusted her hands, adjusted the roll of a sleeve.

Weaver peeled her gaze away from a shelf of French botanical texts.

"What is the time, please, Miss Cabot?"

She watched as Cabot extracted the watch from the pocket, flipped it open in her lean brown fingers, flipped it shut, put it back. "Ten past three."

"When do you close?"

"Whenever I choose," Cabot replied, walking past her to the door. She stepped out into the street for a moment, looking across, then left, then right. Weaver saw her suddenly sheeted in the spill of bright light, hair flaring red, shirt pure dazzle, the hollows of her eyes and cheekbones stark for a moment, her shadow a pool of ink at her heels. Weaver's throat closed. Then Cabot kicked aside the block of stone propping the great door open, heaved the door shut, and shot the bolts home one by one.

"Are you closing now?" Weaver asked, gripped by something that felt too much like fervour to be real dread.

"For a time, at least," Cabot replied, motionless in the vague light that seeped in through the blinds.

"But why -?"

"As I said, I can close whenever I choose."

"But I'm still in here!"

"Do you wish to leave?" Cabot's voice was close in the gloom, and the smell of her, linen and starch warmed by the body, the tang of ink and old paper, something like cedar and oudh, tea, skin, a faint impression of pulse and vibration, the pressure of fingertips tilting her chin back. She blinked against her throat, tasted the grain of her skin, braced against dizziness and the hot sweet rush of anticipation, lifted her mouth. She felt Cabot shift for balance, catch an arm around her waist, lace the other hand into her hair. This nearness was unfamiliar, unbearably sweet, untold, a thing of half-recalled half-awake moment, things not spoken or thought of in the daytime, buried under tasks and duties and the weariness of long days. Cabot dragged a guilty finger down the back of her neck, stopped. Close to, Weaver saw, her eyes had a ragged flare of green around the pupil.

"Do you wish to leave, now," Cabot said.

"No," she said against Cabot's mouth. "No."

"I –"

IV.

"Hello! Hello! Open up!"

Weaver jerked back, away from Cabot's sudden growl of anger. Whoever was outside rapped on the door again. Cabot looked from Weaver to the door, back to Weaver who stood shaking in the circle of her arm.

"Hello! I say, we know you're there!"

Cabot shut her eyes and let Weaver go.

"Bloody Greeks," the person outside said. "Unreliable –"

"One minute," Cabot called through the door, then turned to Weaver. "Come and see me tonight," she whispered urgently. "If you can get away, come see me tonight. Villa Kinézika. White house, lions on the steps, on Agioy Nicolaos. There's a black iron gate in an arch. I'll leave it unlocked. Tonight. Doesn't matter how late. Just come. Agioy Nicolaos, near the church. White house, lions. Black gate, arch. Alright?"

"I –"

"Excuse me!"

"Try," hissed Cabot.

"I say! In there! Are you going to open this door or not?"

"I – yes –"

Cabot nodded smoothly, shot the bolts, and opened the door. A man stood on the threshold with his cane raised to strike the door again.

"I beg your pardon," Cabot said to him, in tones usually reserved for 'kill'. "Do come in, sir. My apologies. I can't think what went wrong with this door, we could not get it open."

"Damp," supplied Weaver, surprising herself.

"Ah –" said the man, still standing with his cane raised. "You speak English?"

"Indeed yes, sir. Would you mind –?"

"Ah." He lowered the cane. "Are -?"

Weaver squeezed past him and set off down the street. The man watched her go, bewildered.

"Sir?" prompted Cabot, wishing him at the bottom of the sea.

"Are you – ah – are you open?"

Cabot stepped back into the shop. "If you wish to buy, I wish to sell, sir."

Mary Weaver was never sure how she got through the rest of that day. She remembered arriving back at the pension and stepping into the vestibule, addled and sunblind, and making her way up to her room. She remembered lying on the bed and watching the cobwebs on the ceiling waft in the draft from the open window. She ordered tea and bread and butter by rote, drank the rank bitter brew sugarless, smacked her lips against the sourness of her mouth, ate without tasting. She bathed, at some point; changed into clean clothes. The afternoon wound down. Dusk came on purple, the sea darkening to steel and then ink. She lit a lamp and tried to read a book she had picked up in Athens, but the words skipped and slid before her eyes. Her hands were cold. They shook, ever so slightly. She felt as if a great string – the lowest string, say, of a cello, or a viola – had been stretched between her spine and her heels, and bowed slowly back and forth so as to set up a deep hum in her bones. She heard other guests come up, a pair of German men lodged in the room at the end of the hall. At eight she heard the Studebaker draw up outside the pension. The girls' voices drifted up to her window, and with them came certainly like a lid slamming down: she would go back out tonight.

" – and oh, Miss Weaver, she has the most darling little dogs, I don't know what breed –"

" – such a garden –"

" – the most delectable grapes I have ever tasted – "

"Was your afternoon alright, Miss Weaver?" Mr Hubert asked softly, leaning towards her through the drifting chatter.

"Yes, thank you," she replied. She had risen and come downstairs feeling light, lighter, it seemed, than she had ever felt. Light, the hum still vibrating in her. "It sounds as though your afternoon was not quite as dire as you expected."

"Indeed not," Hubert nodded. "The girls were, as you see, most captivated."

" – and did you know, she keeps finches -?" said Mina, fastening on the Weaver's sleeve. "Little finches, dozens of them, in an apiary."

"Aviary," corrected Myra. "An apiary is for apes."

"It's for bees, fathead," said Elspeth.

"Elspeth," chorused Weaver and Hubert.

"Well, nobody keeps apes," insisted Elspeth.

"Dozens and dozens of finches," continued Mina, ignoring her sisters, "and dear little quails."

"We had honey at tea," Myra cut in. "From Paris. She opened it specially."

"Except at the zoo," Elspeth went on, being the sort of child who insists on doggedly following a train of thought to its conclusion whether or not anyone is listening. "Anyway, Myra, we've had Parisian honey before. Papa brought it back when he went over with Uncle Louis. You may not remember, you were a baby. I doubt you were allowed any, in fact. Or you, Mina."

"I would have had it," Mina countered. "If Myra was a baby, I was old enough to have it."

"Quite," said Mary Weaver. "Now, girls, it's high time –"

"Ah, one thing," said Hubert, cutting her off. "I'm sorry, I should have – girls, shall I tell Miss Weaver now, or later?"

"Oh! Now! Now!"

"It's the most exciting thing, Miss Weaver!"

"I can barely contain myself!"

"Nor can I," said Weaver, "and I don't even know what it is you're going to tell me."

"Well," said Hubert, stroking his upper lip. "Well, we, that is to say – Miss de la Salle has very kindly invited us to spend an evening at her villa at Gourniliki tomorrow, since it is Saturday night. She is having a small soiree there, with some English friends. Of course it will mean sleeping over, as the road is rather bad and completely unlit, but it is a truly lovely part of the coast and the girls should really see as much of the island as they can."

Report Story

bydevagy© 3 comments/ 8951 views/ 7 favorites

Share the love

Report a Bug

Next
2 Pages:12

Forgot your password?

Please wait

Change picture

Your current user avatar, all sizes:

Default size User Picture  Medium size User Picture  Small size User Picture  Tiny size User Picture

You have a new user avatar waiting for moderation.

Select new user avatar:

   Cancel