Robbie

Thursday, 14 July, 1898 — Worcester, Massachusetts

“Excuse me,” a woman says behind her.

Arias finishes shelving a book and turns to see a well-dressed woman in her mid-thirties, intelligent, open, and inquisitive.

“If I may ask, are you making a new collection here? I do not recognize the genre.”

Arias, in her guise as the aging librarian, smiles at the woman. Behind her on the ornately carved wooden bookcase she has arranged Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, The Brick Moon, by Edward Everett Hale, everything by Verne that is available in translation, and several works by the new English author Herbert George Wells.

“I believe I will call it Speculative Fantasy, or Speculative Adventures. They are stories of imaginary scientists or explorers of the future, journeys under the sea or to the Moon, creations gone amiss or gone missing. Good morning, ma’am. Edith Woodward.” She extends her had, which the woman accepts.

“Fanny Goddard,” the woman replies. “I am so happy to see such new activity here at the library! My husband Nahum and I lived here long ago, and are just now moving back with our son Robbie, who will be attending the English High School in the autumn. I am sure nothing so interesting was here when we departed sixteen years ago!”

“Ah! And I moved here only in ’89 and started collecting such works. I have always had an interest in them, few though they may be. Do you think your son might be interested in such works? Does he enjoy reading.”

“Oh, entirely too much, according to my husband, who fears that Robbie is bookish to an unhealthy degree. Although he indulges the child in his ‘experiments’ shamelessly.” The woman smiles with memory. Her hair is dark and curled, and of a practical rather than a luxurious length.

“Once,” she says, “when Robbie was only five, Nahum taught him about static electricity. The next day Robbie opened the hood of Nahum’s car and managed to extract the electrodes from the battery! I was quite terrified afterward. I only realized that something was amiss when I spied him jumping from our fence with pieces of metal tied to his feet! I rushed outside fearing the worst, but found him with no damage worse than grass stains. He told me that he thought the electricity in the metal might help him to jump higher!” The woman laughs, covering her mouth. “I told him that he musn’t do such experiments or he might go sailing off into the sky and not see me again!”

“Oh my,” Arias smiles with the woman calmly, as befits an elder—Edith Woodward has an apparent age in her mid-forties—but Arias’s heart pounds. “May I meet Robbie?” she asks. “I have just received a new work from England that I think might interest him.”

As the woman hurries away to find her son, Arias goes to the desk that she keeps near her special collection and withdraws a small package that she received just yesterday afternoon and has not yet opened. Now she knows why.

The woman returns with her son in tow and Arias feels her heart respond.

The young man is only an inch taller than his mother. He will never be a large man, and also looks as though he is not in perfect health. But he has her tightly curled dark hair and intelligent eyes, and something else. When he looks shyly toward Arias she sees that he is a dreamer, but also one who wants to see his dreams come true. He is not, in fact, especially brilliant, and will never proclaim himself or seek great fame. Or rather—perhaps he does have a kind of brilliance, but not in one of the usual ways. As he grows into manhood, this boy will go about life quietly and methodically, solving whatever problems arise with patience and perseverance, until at last he sees his dreams made real.

Arias smiles at the young man. He is perfect.

His mother introduces him, and explains to Robbie that Miss Woodward is collecting books that are fantasies and adventures concerning science and the future, and that she thought that Robbie might be interested in such books. When he merely nods, she prompts him.

“Speak up, Robert. I’m sure Miss Woodward would like to hear your voice.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” the boy blinks. “I would like that.”

“Wonderful,” Arias smiles kindly. This one will need much soft speech and much encouragement, at first. “In fact I have a brand-new book, newly published, that only just arrived yesterday which I think you might like. I haven’t even unwrapped it yet, so you can be the first to see it!”

She hands him a parcel in brown paper, securely fastened with twine and bearing postmarks from across the Atlantic, which he accepts with obvious interest. She smiles when the boy does not pull a knife from his pocket to cut the twine, but instead skillfully picks apart the knots just enough to pull the twine away and open the paper. He also does not carelessly toss aside the paper and string, but sets them both carefully on a clear area of her desk while never taking his intent gaze from the book.

It is a simple cloth cover on a volume of modest thickness:

THE WAR

OF THE WORLDS

H.G.WELLS

“It’s about monsters from the planet Mars invading England,” Arias says quietly.

“Robert,” his mother prompts after a moment as the boy continues to stare at the book as though with sufficient concentration his vision might penetrate its cover.

He looks up convulsively and his young eyes meet Arias’s for the first time.

“Thank you,” he says, and gives her a shy little smile.

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