books do furnish a room

The first time she saw it, she actually had to hold onto the gleaming, impersonal white door for support, as shelves upon shelves stretched out into dimness inside and the smell of paper rustled around her.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she gasped.

The Doctor stood behind her, for once not pushing on past her with that nervous proprietorial energy which always put her in mind of a student showing his parents around campus after the first month away from home.

“I thought you’d probably find it for yourself,” he said, diffidently, as though he proffered infinite libraries as careless gifts every day. “You seem to have poked about in every other room in the TARDIS, after all. And in any case, I had a nasty suspicion you’d try to tidy it.”

Evelyn didn’t try to tidy it. She realised, after the first few days of exclamations and complaints and darkly sarcastic comments, that there was no point. Every time her soul rebelled against the disorder, every time she tried to separate the green Penguin paperbacks from the tattered Shakespeare folios from the fifteen rolls of the Blossoms of Etiquette (a masterpiece of classical Drakonian, apparently, each one tied with a delicate green ribbon that shimmered in the dim light like scales), she would come back the next day to find them back in their original places, sloping together conspiratorially.

“What’s the matter with the way they’re organised at the moment?” the Doctor muttered, pointedly not looking up from a learned treatise on Venusian cuisine. “I know where everything is.”

Evelyn looks down at him for a long moment, then wraps her cardigan around herself along with her cloak of dignity, and dives back into the stacks.

She walks for an hour or so, keeping an eye on the incomprehensible shelf-marks, even though she feels sure that there’s no danger of getting lost. She observes the books as she passes, trying to detect patterns. She thinks.

“All right,” she says out loud eventually, stopping beside the complete works of Ysstaroth, which have to be kept chilled so the ink doesn’t evaporate. “If that’s how you want to play it.”

After a month, the little desk she had dragged in from her room is covered with scraps of notepaper and meticulous scribblings, and she has the hang of the fifty square metres nearest the door. Sometimes the Doctor complains about the lengths of pink and blue and orange wool which criss-cross the aisles like spider-webs, but she ignores him.

After three months, the desk and the armchair are hidden under the flurries of paper, and she begins to move more swiftly, noting trends and common tendencies, the similarities amidst the irrelevancies. The wools are knitted up into tea-cosies and shapeless gloves; she doesn’t need their guidance any more.

After six, the Doctor emerges from the stacks dishevelled and scowling, hands jammed into the pockets of his absurd coat. “You haven’t seen Discourses of a Lamp-Post have you? I’m sure I had it only a couple of years ago – “

Evelyn doesn’t look up from her murder mystery. “Start at Fly Fishing by J.R. Hartley, then straight on for twenty yards, first left, third right, second right, first left again, keep going until you find the bust of Napolean, then hard right and it’s on about the fourth shelf. Next to the little silver ball things with the holograms of the flora of Sejanus IV. It’s in need of a little dusting, if I recall correctly.”

When the Doctor doesn’t move, she casts her eyes up over the edge of the book, innocently.

The Doctor looks down at her, suspiciously. “Have you been conspiring with my ship?” he asks.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

She settles herself more comfortably in amongst the cushions of the over-stuffed armchair, and allows herself a very small smile, as the faint background purr of the TARDIS brushes against her mind with the delicacy of a cat, of a laugh.

Once, the first word that would spring to her mind in regard to the Doctor was ‘impossible’. Now, she knows him better.

* * *

A library is thought in cold storage
- Herbert Louis Samuel.