I had never seen her in the bookshop before, but she looked like she had always been there. I almost didn’t notice her this time, and I thought, maybe I just missed her other times, like a spring flower you never saw before because you weren’t looking close enough. The straining light from the blue glass window glinted against her mousy brown hair, and silhouetted her sharp profile. Receding chin, jutting nose, and pursed lips…she was an introvert, I decided. And she probably doesn’t have any friends.
I didn’t mean that in a mean or debasing way, just an observation. In fact, she would probably grow up to be successful, outgoing, and confident – she had that look about her: in the intelligent stance of her casual legs and the carefree way she clasped her hands behind her back as she leaned in to squint closely at the titles before her.
After a moment – and in that moment I captured her in my mind, locked and sealed away for remembrance, as I occasionally liked to do with fascinating patrons – she swung herself forward, picked up a selection from the shelf, and in the same fluid motion, pulled back and twirled toward me.
She brought only that one book to the counter and I was surprised. Most girls like her would come with their arms laden and overflowing, staggering beneath the weight of centuries of words, fully intending to one day read every book under the sun, and buying as many from me as they could, as if to get a head start. But she had only the single volume.
“Rembrant?” I asked. It was a good choice – one of the best biographies I had ever read, and I told her so.
She was leaning her elbows on the counter, her feet at least four feet away, and her toes on one foot musically tapping the old wooden floorboards. “Mmhm,” was her tiny answer accompanied by a tiny smile. Her eyes were hidden behind dark glasses, and I suspected they weren’t seeing me or anything around her. They were penetrating the leather and cardboard bindings surrounding us, transporting her into worlds and lives beyond our own.
“Have you read it before?”
“No, but he’s my next case study. I do case studies, you know.”
Such an answer was too wonderful and casual not to pursue. I purposefully took my time filling out the paper receipt. I loved not having to mess with ipads and swipers and glitchy apps: my eyes and hands were good enough for me. “What do you mean by that? What do you study?”
“Oh, artists, poets, musicians, politicians, and religions.”
“Wow! And you’re making your way through Rembrandt?”
“He’s the next one, yeah. I just finished Palestrina.”
I blinked. How many young people today knew of Palestrina? “That’s quite a jump, isn’t it?” I asked. “From Palestrina to Rembrandt? About a hundred years, I’d say.”
“Rembrandt was born only twelve years after Palestrina died. Not too big of a gap. I don’t think time and history are as long and disjointed as we like to pretend.”
“A lot can happen in a hundred years.”
“But a lot stays the same, or else just keeps moving in the same direction.” She was still leaning against the counter, but her head was perked up now, and her brown eyes, magnified by her thick lenses, were looking deep into me, as if I was the book cover, hiding deep secrets inside me. “I’ll bet Rembrandt heard Palestrina’s music and was inspired by him. I think we spend too much time thinking about the negative things that influence people. But what about the beautiful things? Those have just as much influence, don’t they?”
Instead of answering, I asked her how old she was as I stuffed the book into one of our custom-made cloth bags.
“Fifteen. How old are you?” she shot back.
I told her I was thirty-four. “But I was asking,” I continued, “because I think you’re going to change the world someday, and I wanted to know when I should start looking for your name in academic circles.” She almost blushed, but instead tossed her long, straight hair over her shoulder with a flick of her head. “By the way,” I said, “I have a magnificent illuminated copy of Rembrandt’s paintings in the back. I’d give it to you for half-price. Or, you know what, you can have it. It deserves to be with someone who will care for it like you will.” Before she could answer, I went to the back and brought out one of my treasures: The Collected Works of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. It was old, heavy, and large, and as she gathered it into her arms, it seemed to swallow her whole. But in a good way, as if Rembrandt’s works, shut up and hidden inside the hard-cover binding, had illuminated her with beauty and truth.
Though she looked nothing like his “Girl at a Window,” she was her in that moment. Innocence, potential, darkness and light, shadow and depth, and for one moment of eternity, I was captivated. This – she – was at once a Madonna and a mortal, a goddess and a girl.
She thanked me with awed breath, and turned to go, and just as she reached the door, and I had returned to my place behind the wooden counter, she looked back, fearless and buoyant, and declared, “My name is Evangeline Nova. And you can look for me in ten years.”
Artwork copyrighted to Casey Childs. Check out her amazing artwork at caseychilds.com