A risky disclosure at the bookstore allows Nevo to welcome another queer to the underground, but Jeile is more mystery than co-conspirator.
Setting: Two years before the beginning of the war referenced in Their Courts of Crows and Maybe When the Bones Crumble. Different in Other Ways introduces a brand-new set of characters and circumstances; readers don’t need any familiarity with my other works.
Jeile takes place several months before Booksellers Who Know Things, because I refuse to recognise the validity of something called chronological order.
Content Advisory: Casual swearing; references to classism; references to misogyny, allosexism, cissexism, and heterosexism; casual references to sex and sexual attraction; casual references to asexuality; and depictions of anxiety and avoidant personality disorder as shaped by autism.
Length: 3, 351 words.
A quiet day leaves Nevo with a chance to sort, catalogue and price a new lot of books without interruptions from customers. He’ll never admit it, but he finds the work soothing despite its repetition. Take a book, study its condition, check his record books for the prices of similar volumes and notes on rarity, write it in and shelve—preferably, although not always, with other books on the subject. It’s the satisfaction, he supposes, in even small ways of conquering the shop’s tendency to unbridled chaos. He likes cleaning and tidying; he’s never understood, as a son living with his father, why these things are considered unmasculine. What’s unmanly about tolerating unnecessary clutter?
The bell rings as he moves the last of the atlases to their new bottom shelf. Nevo bites back a groan and straightens in time to see a fat person in a plain dress and shawl hesitate just inside the doorway.
“Good mor—noon! Good afternoon. How may I help you?”
Long, straight brown hair falls in a braid down her back; dark eyes rest on scuffed boots peeking out from under the hem of her russet dress and cream petticoats. The dress betrays brighter streaks of red at the bust and side seams where it’s been let out, but it fits her broad chest and heavy arms without bulging or straining, and he sighs in envy. He can darn and patch, salvaging stockings and trousers worn at the knee, but fitting a second-hand shirt large enough for his shoulders without sagging at the waist is a skill beyond him. Is she a seamstress? Something about her looks familiar, but when he thinks back on the tailors, drapers and weavers occupying Devotion Lane, he can’t place her face.
“Good noon.” She doesn’t look up from her boots. Skin midway between olive and sienna darkens at her cheeks and nose, and she clutches a battered leather satchel tight to her side. A braided cord hangs around her neck, damp at the front as though chewed on. Small nose, even teeth, fluttering eyelids, creased brow. Nervous? “I want … I have a list of books. Would you be able to tell me if you have them? Please?”
Her high, stuttering voice sounds a little too clipped for downwall folk, but the clothes are worn by every labouring woman in the Boneyard.
“I can do that, ma’am.” Nevo stays by the shelf, thinking it better if she comes to him, but she flinches as though he moved at her. “I can also take down a list and let you know should we get them in—particularly if you want anything from outside.”
She reaches into the satchel and pulls out a folded, crumpled piece of paper. Only then does she take three steps, moving just far enough that she can extend her hand and let Nevo reach for the sheet, her eyes now fixed on the shelf of atlases. “These ones. Please. It’s for … research. I’m … a student and I’m researching, the, the … the ways of the … their disregard of…”
Nevo takes the list from her fingers, draws his arm back to give her space, unfolds the sheet … and blinks.
Keep reading at Patreon: Jeile