Over her lifetime, Martha has mastered the art of stealing books. Every morning begins in a library. She makes small talk with the librarian, spends an hour reading, and spends an hour meticulously hunting down specific books, tracing the spines as she searches. She is never interrupted and it is always completely silent. She leaves with a smile and nod to the librarian, and walks the seven blocks back to her ancient house.
She hangs up her coat if it’s winter, stows her parasol if it’s summer. She unearths the book from her purse, walks across her modest living room and kitchen, and makes her way down her basement stairs. There is a second door at the bottom, and this one requires Martha to make a sign with her right hand before it opens. Once the lock clicks, she pushes it open, always cautiously. Her cavernous library stretches out before her. She takes a torch from the wall, and walks down the seemingly endless main corridor, passing countless shelves brimming with books until she arrives at the right one. She carefully deposits her book, and then spends the rest of the morning scouring her shelves, looking for another.
Once she has found her book, she makes her slow way back to the stairs, through the kitchen and into her small backyard completely packed with rows of large clay pots. There are bushes and small trees growing out of half of them, and soil in the rest. Clutching her book, she chooses a specific pot, kneels, digs and then places the book in the soil, burying it. She then tends to her other plants, taking very careful stock of each and every one, rubbing their leaves and petting their trunks.
Today one of the trees has produced a large lettuce-like fruit. Martha weighs it in her hands before nodding and pulling it off of the branch. She takes it to her kitchen and peels the first few layers. Inside is a tiny baby, silently staring at her. She feeds him and speaks soothingly to him and then takes him upstairs to a large room filled with cribs. A few of them have other toddlers inside them, silent and thoughtful. On the sides of the room are small beds, where a few older children and young adults sit and chat. She smiles at them as she puts the new child in a crib and quietly closes the door behind herself as she leaves.
Her ledger sits on a night stand by her bed. She opens it to the most recent entry, a list of the guests in the other room. The current list includes Wendy Darling, Iago, Nemo, and a host of lesser-known protagonists and antagonists. She notes their age and their development in a few short phrases before returning to her chores. She then disappears into her library again, lost in books until it’s time for supper.
When she finally heads back upstairs, her sister is waiting for her in the kitchen. She is fire, smoldering always. The two chat as they cook. Martha relates her latest hatchlings, reminding her sister why she chose each one, and what role she hope they will play. Her sister has a job Martha detests, and though it is a necessary balance, she hates hearing about it. But she knows she must. Her sister tells her of the men she’s hunted, how much of a struggle they put up, and how she finally buried each one. Martha pretends to ignore her, but she pays careful attention to each and every man. She knows she will see them in her books, and wants to recognize them when she comes across each one.
Outside, the planet continues on its steady orbit. The grass hums and the wind is still. Everything remains in equilibrium.
Illustration by Travis Nichols