By Rebecca Demarest
Her mother would cry to see what she’d did, but she couldn’t resist when she found those parchments at the flea market. She’d knew what they were immediately, having watched her mother carefully rebinding book after ancient book, but the marketeer had no idea. He thought they were just some fancy papers, not carefully treated and stretched animal hides, hundreds of years old. Even better, they were palimpsests.
She couldn’t tell how many books these sheets had been in, how many different quills had touched the page. The illusion of letters was still etched on them, areas of light and dark, a stroke there that could be the cross brace of a T, a swoop there that could have been the descender of a P. She feigned indifference over them and haggled the man down to just ten dollars. There must have been forty large pages wound into the roll.
Once paid, she forgot him and buried her nose in the pages, reveling in the musk of time-worn chemicals. She could see her mother’s fingers, deft even with arthritis, carefully adhering the end-page to a new leather-bound wooden slab. She hadn’t understood her mother’s obsession with those tomes, how she could prefer to spend hours retooling their delicate spines instead of having tea with her daughter’s stuffed friends.
When she arrived home, she lay the sheets out, carefully, on her living room floor; as much as she wanted to fling them grandly apart, she couldn’t quite bring herself to do it. She scrutinized every page before her, how one insisted on staying curled in a tight roll and another was so over-used that it happily lay flat, soft as linen. That one was scraped onion-skin thin; this one still thick and lush.
She lay on her back, one page in her hands, and examined it against the light streaming in through her windows and she noticed the faintest shadow of words strewn across her arm. The palimpsest rotated against the light and she watched the changing play of thoughts dance across herself.
To hell with her mother.
She scrambled from the floor and grabbed the packing tape. The first strip came off loud, and she laughed at the way it filled the room. She centered the onion-skin piece in the bay window and secured it, top and bottom, before rushing back for the next.
Puzzling them together, she filled the window, making her own word-stained glass. The sun was inching into view in the frame, and as it struck the window full on, she was immersed in words. Words unseen for centuries. She wanted to feel them against her, undiluted, and she stripped, curling into the window seat.
She traced the lines and whorls of love letters and treatises on her skin, and as the sun moved, the words flowed and changed. She watched until the words faded with the evening, and she was left in silent darkness.
About The Author
Rebecca A. Demarest is an award-winning author, book designer, and technical illustrator living in Seattle, WA with her husband. Together, they maintain a household jungle, cater to a dog-like cat named Cat and a Portuguese Water Dog named Teal’c. When she isn’t writing, you can find her at the Bureau of Fearless Ideas teaching the youth of Seattle how to get their ideas onto the page, crocheting, embroidering, and playing lots of Dungeons and Dragons. She is currently working on the sequels for everything, so, before you ask, yes, you’ll find out what happened to Benny, Sophia will keep sticking her nose in dangerous places, and Thea will find the seedy underbelly of Oz.
Rebecca’s website: http://www.