A new series!
“Come on in, come on in. I wasn’t expecting anyone today, was I?”
The woman smiling at Veronika from the other side of the door – which she had not moved out of sufficiently to allow Veronika to, as suggested, come in – looked far too tidy for her confused expression. Her salt-and-pepper hair was confined in an amazingly tidy bun; her vest and skirt fit her perfectly; her glasses were held on a decorative beaded string that coordinated with her outfit, and her make-up was on point.
“I’m not certain,” Veronika admitted. She, herself, was attempting not to feel untidy – she’d put a lot of work into her outfit and thought she was very nicely coordinated, but this woman….! “Eve Dirckx contacted me through the temp agency. She told me to come here, to this side door–” she gestured at the door in question and the little parking lot outside of it “–at 8 a.m. today. Well, the twenty fifth of November at 8 a.m…?” Veronika was beginning to wonder if she’d gotten something awfully wrong. “This is the Bellamy Manor Archival Library and Museum, yes?”
“The twenty-fifth of November – Wednesday?” The woman peered at her over her glasses.
“Monday?” Veronika offered.
“Ah, ah, one moment.” She shut the door in Veronika’s face.
Veronika counted to ten quietly. She was not going to walk away. She needed something and she needed it fast. If she had to do another month of data-entry temping, she was going to go start raving mad, and nothing else seemed to be hiring.
The door opened again. There was the woman, smiling again, looking far less confused and still amazingly put together – except hadn’t her vest and skirt been sort of purple before? They were bright teal now. “Ah, Veronika, yes? Come on in.” This time, she stepped out of the way to allow Veronika to actually enter. “Welcome to the Bellamy Manor Library and Museum. I hear from Eve Dirckx that you’re very keen on a job with a bit of a challenge, yes? Well, I believe this place will be just right for you. Come, now. This way.”
The side door had opened into some sort of narrow entryway, which from there led into a hallway. So far it didn’t seem so much Manor as cheap apartment building, something Veronika was more than a little accustomed to, even if the outside had looked like a sprawling, stately old manor.
“You can call me Mariyam Haas, or Miss Haas. I am the Chief Curator for the Bellamy – I also answer to Chief Curator, in a pinch. I help to keep our stately old place on track, as it were, and I supervise almost all of the staff here.”
“Are there many people who work here, then?” The place was quiet, so much so that Veronika found herself whispering.
“Oh, something like ten, not counting Adele,” the Chief Curator answered far too breezily. “And then there’s you, of course.”
“Of course.” Veronika was already somewhere past confused. Her only hope was that all this confusion would lead to a job that was engrossing, entertaining, and paid enough to handle her bills.
“All right, so the first order of business is your badge. Veronika, right?” Miss Hass took a sudden right turn and then another right through a narrow door into a cramped office that might, at one point, have been a broom closet. Both of them fit in there, but only barely.
“Veronika, yes. Veronika… Bellamy,” she added slowly. Eve Dirckx had made something of a joke of it, but Veronika figured it was nothing but coincidence.
Miss Hass shot her a quick, sharp look. “You don’t say. Interesting. And how did you come by that surname?”
“The… usual way? That is, my father married my mother, my mother took his name, and then, among others, they had me?” She wasn’t sure that the usual way was a safe thing to say in this place, and she wasn’t sure exactly why she’d thought that.
“Mmm, yes, I hear that happens even with names like Bellamy.” The woman clucked as if she disapproved — of marriage or of babies or of last names, Veronika wasn’t certain. “That’s a thing then, I suppose.” She pulled out some sort of mechanism that looked like an embosser and fiddled with a series of dials. “Ver-i-o-n… it’s i-k-a, isn’t it? And then Bellamy spelled the proper way?”
“Yes, ma’am. Exactly.”
She pulled the handle down with excessive force and, a moment later, shook out a small medallion on which Veronika’s name — spelled properly — had been embossed. “And here you go. Wear that at all times when you’re in the Bellamy. Here’s a chain for it,” she added, taking it back from Veronika to thread the thing onto a chain. “Now that the important things are handled, we can go to the front desk and I can tell you a thing or two about the Bellamy. It’s an ancient library, you know, even if parts of our collection and even parts of the building are quite new. But then again, the name is quite old, as I’m sure you know.”
She pressed the medallion back into Veronika’s hand so hard that Veronika was fairly certain she would be embossed.
Veronika, still wanting to make a good impression, draped the chain over her neck and made certain the medallion was showing over her sweater.
“Good, good. This way.”
Miss Hass led quickly through the halls, her heels making no noise on the soft carpets. The went through another bland hallway and another one, and then suddenly they were in a wide corridor, paneled in bright honey-colored wood but lined with so many shelves the paneling was barely visible. Windows they passed were so heavily curtained that there was no proof there was actually a window behind the drapes.
“Sunlight,” Miss Hass clucked. “It’s the enemy of so many things. This hallways is something like a back-rotation area. When items are out of favor or when we don’t need them for a display, they will often come here, where they are still on display and still part of the broader collection, but not out in the main rooms, you see.”
“I see,” Veronika echoed. She thought that, possibly, she might see. She had worked in collections before, in museums and in libraries. That was part of why Eve Dirckx had thought she’d enjoy this job, or at least, that was the impression given behind “I think you’ll be a good fit.”
“And through here is what used to be the main ballroom, when such things were in vogue. Now it’s the central area of our collection, or, as some of the staff like to call it, base camp.” She chuckled lightly. Veronika chuckled along, although she, once again, didn’t quite get the joke.
She had a feeling that was going to be one of the themes of this place.
And then she was staring. There was a central square desk made of some wood she couldn’t identify, its grain rich and beautiful and strange; a single woman stood inside the square of that desk as if attempting to sail a yacht by herself. The far wall stretched up at least two stories and held a huge painting of what she thought must be this manor house flanked by knights on unicorn-back; to either side of the painting were carved wooden statues – to the left, Poseidon, to the right, Hera.
Stretching in all directions were book cases, and an elaborate double staircase curled up behind the desk as if some sort of double tail over an animal.
“Your duties will include stints on the desk. We receive very few visitors these days, but they must all sign in at the desk and sign out when they leave. Everyone. If the Queen of England visits, you must have her sign in. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the same. Everyone. Even the stray dog.”
Veronika started to chuckle this time, then realized that this one wasn’t a joke. “Everyone must sign in,” she repeated dutifully.
“After that, there will be sorting, shelving, intake, upkeep, and finding. We’re going to go in that order, as by the time you get to finding, I do hope you’ll be able to navigate the depths and heights of the Bellamy.” She sounded slightly worried by that matter. Looking around, Veronika felt perhaps that worry was not undue. “But for this morning, why don’t we have you start here with Janine? Oh, and I must remind you, make certain that your medallion is on you at all times when in the Bellamy. That’s quite important.”
“Desk first and then sorting, then shelving, intake and uptake, and then finding. I’m to keep my medallion on my person at all times when in the Bellamy, and everyone must sign in.”
“You have good retention. I’ll take that as a sign.” Miss Haas strode towards the central desk. Veronika followed along behind, trying to keep up. The ballroom was amazingly large when one attempted to cross it. Veronika imagined trying to dance across it, trying to get to the bar where she imagined it might be, somewhere on the other side. She imagined the way it must have seemed, filled with people instead of books, music from a band playing in one corner. She took one curvetting step to the side and caught herself, stealing a look at Miss Haas.
Miss Haas had definitely seen her, but she didn’t look to be the least bit upset by it – if anything, she looked amused. She was, at the very least, smiling.
“If you can hear the music,” she confided, “it makes the space even more lovely. But it takes quite a bit to actually hear it. The dancing is a good sign.” She nodded sharply, as if agreeing with herself.
“I – I’m glad?” Veronika blinked. “I’m glad,” she repeated more firmly. “I already love it here.”
“And that, too, is a good sign. Your family name too, of course.” Miss Haas was practically beaming. “I do believe you’ll work out well here. Of course, you have to survive your first day before we’ll know for sure.”
Veronika chuckled, but Miss Haas was not smiling now. She strode the remaining distance to the desk, Veronika in her wake – it seemed to take only a moment now.
“Ah, Uma. Uma, this is Veronika Bellamy, our new temp. Veronika, this is Uma Issin; she is the chief front desk Librarian and Curator. She’ll be showing you both all of the front desk duties and sorting and intake. That may take up a good portion of your first day. Do not forget to take a lunch.” She said it as firmly as she had explained about the medallion. “To the far side of the ballroom, the small dining room has been turned into a small cafe. There are hand-washing stations to either side of the entrance. Lunch is generally taken at noon.”
Veronika nodded. That, she could understand.
“I will leave you with Uma now. I’ll come pick you up here at some point after lunch and we will move on to upkeep and finding. Do attempt to enjoy your day, but please attempt to take in as much as possible. Uma has been asking for a vacation for some time, and she is not the only one.”
Now Veronika chuckled, and this time it was met with a returned smile from Miss Hass. Uma, however, did not smile at all.
“Learn fast,” she told Veronika, and it sounded nearly like a threat.Want more?