A few minutes later, Chess spotted Sariel walking far ahead of him. She was hurrying down the corridor and she glanced over her shoulder just as he was catching up to her.
Her face brightened as she saw him, making his heart pound. The cloud of spicy perfume that surrounded her was intensely familiar to him now, and her body looked soft and inviting.
“How are they?” she asked eagerly. He watched her eyes flicker over his face and saw her misunderstand his suddenly crestfallen expression. “There was trouble while I was away?”
Chess stared at her, speechless. How are they? she had asked. Finally, he managed to open his mouth. “No. Well… there was one death: an old man.”
“But the children?” she pressed hopefully. “They are well?”
His heart raced faster as he stared down at her… at her partially open lips and her dark eyes that were gazing so intently into his. He longed to touch her. His breathing sped up and he could feel the sweat beginning to drip from the edge of his hairline.
At his slow nod, she turned and began to walk again. “I must see them. But I have little time.”
With a groan of disbelief, he ran after her. “Sariel,” he cried. Grabbing her shoulder, he stopped her abruptly. He watched her spin around toward him, and he bent his head to kiss her.
So many days they had been apart, he thought dreamily, with his eyes half-closed. So many days of waiting for her, of dreaming of her. The thought of having her back in his arms made him sigh audibly – a sound that was cut short as he felt the hard edge of a knife at his throat.
He stopped, and remained motionless for an eternity of moments, staring into her now expressionless face. “I’m sorry,” he gasped, finally. “I… I didn’t mean to…” Terrified, he could feel the blade against his skin, like a sharp itch that he longed to scratch away, but he did not dare. The knife was pressed so close against his artery that he could swear it was being jostled by the blood coursing by. Feeling hurt and abashed, he stopped tensing against it and let his shoulders sag.
“Sariel,” he groaned, “I dream about you all night. You rule my thoughts all day. I wake up sweating, imagining that I was just holding you. I have missed you,” he finished in a whisper.
She looked thoughtful, then. “And I…” she shrugged languidly, tilting her head. “I did not give you all the herbs. Not the complete recipe.” She lowered the knife and backed away a few steps.
Chess inhaled deeply and put one hand up to his throat. There was wetness there, but whether it was blood or just sweat, he was not sure. “Is that a good thing?” he breathed. “Should I be grateful?”
She raised one delicate eyebrow. The knife had disappeared. “What I gave you, it brings desire. What I did not give you, it brings pain. Comparable to the amount of desire,” she explained matter-of-factly. “The pain is of less intensity… but of longer duration.” She shrugged again, now looking pleased with herself. “It is my own addition to the ancient herbal mixture.”
Chess gaped at her. “Is that… what you do to Razor’s men?” he asked hesitantly. In spite of his mental discomfort, he smirked. “No wonder they think you’re trying to kill them. But…” he added, “I don’t understand. They go through that to see the goddess?”
She shook her head. “Once, long ago, that was the purpose of the herbs. But now, men seem to see only their own power, and answer their own questions. And for a few hours, they feel like a god.”
“And then, like the damned for days afterward,” Chess guessed. Razor had called it “roulette.”
Sariel stepped closer to him. “But something different happened to you. I felt it.”
“Yeah…” Tentatively, he reached for her hand and, surprisingly, she gave it to him.
“Do you never feel,” she pressed, “that someone watches over you -- watches all that you do?”
“Yes,” he answered solemnly. Slowly, cautiously, he pulled her toward him and she did not resist. “I do. I always feel like someone is watching me… and laughing.”
She made a sound like amused exasperation, but she did not push away from him. She was soft and warm and vital in his arms. “I have only a few minutes,” she warned him.
“That won’t be a problem,” he answered with a shaky laugh.
Continued next page...
“Now, said Mrs. Dunwiddy, “the devil grass, the St. John the Conqueror root, and the love-lies-bleeding.”
Mrs. Bustamonte rummaged in her shopping bag and took out a small glass jar. “It’s mixed herbs,” she explained. “I thought it would be all right.” …
Mrs. Dunwiddy sighed. “Pour it in,” she said. …
“Now,” said Mrs. Dunwiddy, “The four earths. I hope,” she said, choosing her words with care, “that no one here going to tell me that they could not get the four earths, and now we have to make do with a pebble, a dead jellyfish, a refrigerator magnet, and a bar of soap.”
-Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
Not long ago, someone informed me that I would never find certain books, like those by counterculture writer Alan Watts, in the public library, because the library only stocked books that promote conformity to traditional societal mores. Surprised, I just chuckled and said, “I’m pretty sure you’re wrong about that.” To his credit, he answered, “Well, maybe I am, then. It would be good if I was.” And so it is.
Much like my tenth-grade English teacher, librarians, eighty percent of whom are women, have always risked being pigeonholed as shy, serious, conservative people who keep their noses in books and their heads perpetually down. Instead, I propose that it is that population’s love of reading and of acquiring, storing, and sharing knowledge that make them some of the best and freest thinkers that our world has ever produced.
Over the years, librarians have been a loud collective voice against censorship. And since the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 (That’s an acronym, by the way, like S.H.I.E.L.D. Hail Hydra!), librarians around the country have viewed themselves as perhaps the last line of defense in protecting intellectual freedom. When the FBI began to step up requests to search library records, many librarians resisted providing the activity logs that would allow the FBI to profile their patrons.
Librarian groups have brought lawsuits over this issue in the past, and the American Library Association is actively working to keep libraries from slipping into the category of institutions like Verizon who have handed over data on millions of their customers.
Because I have a pretty good memory for things that I have read, but sometimes a bad memory for where I read them, I was happy to opt for my local library’s offer to keep a running list of the books that I borrowed. When a librarian friend of mine found out about this, she was incredulous. “They’re not supposed to do that!” she protested. “But I asked them to,” I told her. She just sighed deeply, like an English teacher who feels helpless about the depths of my ignorance.
And speaking of achieving some pretty cool things by having a solid background of intellectual study, there is a group that I am always happy to talk about…
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