Beatrice and the stubborn book

Beatrice peeked through the kitchen-workshop entryway.

“Dante? There aren’t any clients at the moment. I’m closing the shop for an hour while I hop to the library, okay?”

A cloud of flour burst. Dante’s head emerged, his dark skin turned ashy by the white dust.

“Okay! Make sure to lock the door behind you and…”

“… And keep the key around my neck,” Beatrice completed for him. “I know, Dante. See you later!”

She skipped across the shop, glancing on either side to make sure the pastries, cakes and other treats were demurely aligned behind the panes. The bell chimed once when she opened the door, and once when she closed it. After making sure it was locked, Beatrice took the pedestrian street in the direction of the park. It was a slight detour, but she couldn’t resist the pleasure of strolling along the lanes of maple trees whose leaves reddened so quickly.

The librarian welcomed her with a wink that created another million lines on her face already wrinkled like a well-folded croissant.

“Hello Beatrice! I’ve found a gem for you…”

“Thank you Eleanor, but I’m just passing through today! I promise I’ll come back tomorrow after I close the shop.”

“Alright, alright,” Eleanor replied with a tremulous voice, “I’ll keep it warm for you.”

Beatrice headed straight for the stairs twisting upwards next to the librarian’s desk. She had long tamed the cast iron steps, so that they barely grated under her. On the second floor, she pushed with all her strength against the heavy door guarding the “Arts and crafts” section, and the familiar smell of ink and old paper enveloped her as a welcome hug. She waved to the librarian on duty there, who waved back with a smile. Beatrice dashed to the “Culinary arts” bookcases. The volume she was looking for was on the top shelf, but luckily the stepladder hadn’t moved since her last visit. She located the thick tome, bound in a coarse cloth almost as dark as her own skin, and inched it towards her before grabbing it bodily and taking it to a table where a bookrest was waiting.

“So,” she whispered to the book, “where is that recipe for crème diplomate again?”

She leafed through the first pages looking for the table of contents, then the last pages, but these were covered in a continuous text, without the slightest hint of a summary or a page number. Beatrice lifted the cover, checked the title (Nothing Magic About Baking) and browsed through the page as fast as prudence allowed.

“That’s strange,” she said in the same hushed tone. “I was sure I’d checked a recipe in here. I must have mistaken this one with another title.”


The book let out a small cloud of dust when she closed it. She went back to the bookcase where the stepladder was still waiting, hoisted Nothing Magic About Baking up and put it back in its slot. She perused the whole shelf looking for the right volume: Magibaking Through the Ages, Secrets of Magibakers, A Spellbook of Magibakery, etc. Not finding what she was looking for, she took A Thousand and One Cookeries and opened it without stepping down from her perch. She knew this handbook inside and out for having prepared her magibaker’s diploma with it. She let out a squeak which she noticed that there, too, the recipes in well-ordered columns with mouth-watering illustrations had been replaced with lines of endless text in small type without the smallest spacing nor a single weight indication. Beatrice’s gaze travelled the length of the page. She gasped when she realised it was the same sentence over and over again: “There once was a boy called Tristan.” She closed the book a little roughly, shelved it back and took out Nothing Magic About Baking again. She laid its spine against the railing to free one of her hands, and opened the volume. The recipes hadn’t reappeared. Instead, the same sentence ran from the top to the bottom of every page: “There once was a boy called Tristan.”




A dark umbrella, hiding its owner, with a blurry building in the background.

This piece was written following one of Susan Dennard's Story-a-Month-Challenge's prompts for April. I had an idea fluttering in the corners of my mind for a while now, and intended to keep it for NaNoWriMo in November, but the old library ambient sounds Susan provided as a prompt were too perfect to miss. This is a rough version. I intend to change the style quite a bit in the finished project, but I like the idea of archiving a version here for you to enjoy and see the difference when (if) I work some more on it.


© Marie Bretagnolle 2021


Phot