Brasilia looked anxious most of the time these days, but she never said what was worrying her; and after a while, it was clear that she wasn’t well. She was thin and her face was tight, looking inward, and Gifflet thought it seemed like she was in pain. He wished he had the right to help her, to hold her and hear all her troubles . . .
And then what? What could he do? The only thing he could think of was to take more time with Arrietty so that Brasilia could rest.
“Can Arrietty come over?” he’d say, after dinner.
“No, no, Gifflet, you must have your own time. Your guitar practice . . .” But she protested weakly, and when Gifflet insisted, she would give in. Then he’d take Arrietty down to his room where he’d give lessons—despite knowing that he was disturbing Doctor Dolci and Professor Vespers. He didn’t like to do that, but it was more important that Brasilia have quiet.
He was teaching Arrietty to read now. Numbers had become too easy for her. But he needed material, and he’d never come across children’s books in the street trade.
He asked Laura.
“Hmm . . . maybe Mrs. Mockus?—the tea lady.”
“Oh, yes, of course.” Mrs. Mockus had about a dozen children who were always underfoot at the tea stand. Gifflet couldn’t remember any of them reading, but they must surely have some books they’d be willing to trade? He had The Jellyfish Conspiracy, and Julia had given him a book called Cooking in the Rain, and Doctor Dolci had contributed a very serious-looking tome called, simply, Refusal. It was so thick that it barely fitted in Gifflet’s sling pouch. Professor Vespers didn’t have any spare books. And Charming Tom taunted Gifflet, calling him Tiny Teacher with such sarcasm that Doctor Dolci, who was always so placid, barked, “Tom!” and scowled at him deeply. Charming Tom shut up then, but he only shrugged and sauntered off whistling. Brasilia came out of her rooms just then and Gifflet could see, but not hear, Charming Tom say something to her that made her laugh and light up so that the pain was erased momentarily from her face, and Gifflet was filled with a hot regret that he had never been able to do the same.
As Gifflet approached the tea stand, he saw two of Mrs. Mockus’ girls, their faces smeared with white ash, doing a mirror-mime routine. They weren’t half bad.
Mrs. Mockus was very distracted.
“Books for children? I sell tea.”
“No, I mean to trade.”
“You think I have time to read?”
“I thought maybe your children would have books they could trade.”
A head popped up from under the counter. “Whatchya trading?” said the boy. He was the image of Mrs. Mockus, but darker in colour—or maybe it was just that he was so dirty.
Gifflet showed him the books.
“Those aren’t kids’ books.”
“I know, it’s just what I’ve got to trade. It’s kids’ books that I need.”
“I don’t think I’d read any of those.” The boy rifled through them with his filthy hands. “They look dead boring.”
“Well, I can tell you that The Jellyfish Conspiracy is very exciting. I couldn’t go to sleep at night, I was so scared.”
“Hey!” said Mrs. Mockus, wrenching the book from her son and throwing it at Gifflet. “What kind of garbage are you trying to fill my kids with?”
“It’s only a murder mystery,” said Gifflet. “He’s old enough for those.”
“You don’t know nothing about kids, do you?” she said. “He might be old enough, but there are eight younger ones after him. If he reads it, they’ll want to, too!”
“We can’t help you.”
“Oh.” Gifflet turned away, shoving the books back in his bag. Then he heard feet running after him. It was another boy, a copy of the other one, but smaller and even dirtier. “We don’t want this no more, you can have it,” he said, and he smacked a thin book into Gifflet’s belly and ran off. Gifflet caught the book. The spine had split and the pages were coming out and it was sticky all over. Octopus Music, it said. Gifflet smiled. Arrietty loved the sea and everything in it, and they both loved music. It was a start. Thus began Arrietty’s little library.
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