A librarian who has all the knowledge in the world but hasn’t seen it and a traveler who has seen the entire world talk about their lives.
Svetlana adjusted her lenses and stretched her fingers against the thick frames. On holiday weekends she could work until her hands gave out, or her eyes–whichever came first–without worry of a patron to attend to. She was taking notes on a cosmology book, feeling both inspired and dejected by it. Inspired, because for a book on cosmology it delved so much into the history of famous astronomers it could double as a study on human ingenuity and psychology. Ego clashing with the pursuit of knowledge. It was a book on world exploration, illustrating the need to understand the depths of space to command the sea. Dejected, because she feared she could never write such a worthy book herself and the thought of writing anything less crushed any motivation to try.
Svetlana was not always destined to be bookish. Her mother was a great explorer, in a time when the exploration for women was limited to the house and market. But when she met her father, he urged her to settle down on account of the pregnancy. And the pregnancy after that. And the pregnancy after that. And eventually her mother’s sea traveler legs had gone too long without use. As the first born, Svetlana was the first to hear her mother’s extravagant tales of other worlds and customs. When it hurt her mother too much to speak of her travels, Svetlana relayed the tales to her siblings. But eventually her father forbade even that, lest his daughters fill their head with too many silly ideas that reduced their standing. Her father never said it, but Svetlana could sense his disappointment in being surrounded by the opposite sex, especially all who would have done better had they been born with different parts.
Svetlana wished to please both her parents so as each sister left, either to marriage or other pursuits, she stayed behind. To please her mother, she rented books from the library, and when her father was away, and the chores of the day were complete she and her mother read them to each other. “That’s not at all what it was like when I was there,” sometimes her mother would say, and Svetlana was drawn back to the stories from her childhood. “Never marry,” her mother chastised and so thrust her into the present again.
When her father died, her mother’s legs were not the only thing keeping her from traveling. In a way little changed, but significantly the home was again filled with the sound of fantastical memories. Free to speak again, the mother poured her memories over every activity. “In Ciqikou, they prepare the fish this way to honor Yinglong, a dragon that controls the floods.” She’d cook a meal that had Svetlana’s tongue traveling to the East.
“Where did you travel today?” Her mother always asked when she returned from work.
“To Ancient Greece, to speak with the greats: Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates.”
“Then you have missed your mark. Let me tell you about Diogenes, I heard of him first from a friend while traveling along the Nile.”
Svetlana did not inquire about the friend. Somehow her mother once had had many of them, but they went the way of her travels. In this case, the friend was her father, long before the marriage to her mother. In her mother’s mind there were two versions of him: the friend who was her travel companion, kept her safe but explored with her to her heart’s content, and the husband/father who she preferred not to think of much anymore. “And can you imagine, Svetlana, when caught sifting through garbage, by Alexander the Great no less, his reply was ‘I am looking for bones of your father but cannot distinguish them from the bones of his slaves.’ Svetlana and her mother talked little the rest of that night. Both were consumed with thoughts of their own bones and the stories they would and would not tell.
Eventually Svetlana excelled at her job in the library, as almost anyone with enough experience and willingness can. She updated her mother on changes to the places she had once been. “They trade Dutch salted cod there too now” in reference to places once lacking due to location and knowledge of salt making.
“Soon it will all be the same.” Her mother lamented but asked to hear more. It was then Svetlana began scribbling.
“Write about me,” her mother said, “so we can travel together.”