This is third in a series of portraits and mini stories that starts with The Word Smith. I suggest, if you're interested, reading them in order.
Councilwoman Mirschett swept into the store, tinkling the door's tiny bell with a violence that caused Chayman to look up from his reading - the fourth volume of Hesse's Authority on Semantics of the Third Epoch. Councilwoman Mirschett caught his eye and raised both of her sculpted eyebrows in response. Before addressing him, she surveyed the shop, taking in its surprising sense of openness and light, underlined by broad pine floorboards and a thick red carpet, small like a door mat, in front of the long counter. In the corner to the left of the front door lurked a young boy, with a colorful wooden box lashed to his back, pretending to browse in a store that clearly had nothing to browse through.
She pushed back the hood of her yellow overcoat, approaching the counter. The Word Smith, dressed in his daily silk, had returned to his reading and appeared not to notice her. She cleared her voice. Nothing, except the sensation of a faint breeze. Councilwoman Mirschett shrugged and began to speak.
"Word Smith Chayman, I have business with you. Two definitions, or so."
Without looking up he trudged over to the counter.
"Just two this time, Councilwoman?"
"Likely. Do you know what he said to me, Chayman? 'Either we will build the bridge or we will not build the bridge,' he thundered! At the Council, can you imagine? What nonsense."
"Perhaps you mean effrontery, Councilwoman."
She ignored the remark.
"So of course I've come to you, Word Smith, the best in town, no, the entire district, to plumb the precise meaning of both 'build' and 'bridge.' As you might guess, I intend to discover whether I might, in fact, build the bridge without, precisely, building the bridge. Or bridge the build. Or however it comes out. You catch my meaning?" She flicked a piece of dust off her sleeve, and raised an eyebrow in question.
"Mm, perhaps. I'll get about extracting those definitions for you." He turned away from her and then paused, before spinning back. "Hey boy!" He yelled, ten years slipping from his face. "Don't touch anything! If you want help, I'll help you. Youth discount even. Just don't touch a single thing."
His mask fell back over his face and he walked off in search of 'build.' The words were grouped in meadows, where many different types of words might cluster and they all flourish, separated from the next meadow over by a thicket of wooden shelves. Chayman had first wondered why they were not sorted alphabetically, but learned, through unfortunate experience, that grouping them by their accidental letters rather than their essence caused them to dry out, to wither away. Some had even been known to die.
One hand resting on the counter, Councilwoman Mirschett watched him finger the polished word boxes on the shelves, as though divining their identity by the slant or curve of the protruding side. She curled one corner of her mouth upwards as she anticipated her coup, but quickly banished the thought, out of fear of incurring bad luck.
Just then, her hand slipped out from under her, sliding recklessly down the edge of the wooden counter as she fell to her side. The seemingly smooth surface birthed giant splinters, tearing her palm in half. She hit the floor on her hip and cried out in pain. Blood flowed from her hand, and her anxiety spiked as she watched it pump out.
The boy was at her side in an instant, offering a scrap as a bandage.
"You alright, madame? That was quite a fall."
She nodded, silently, trying to stem the blood flow. She stood, careful not to step in the blood smudge below. On the other side of the counter, Chayman waited with her first definition.