Gemmy grabbed her phone, but whoever was calling hung up before she could click “Answer.” She waited a few seconds to see if they’d leave a voicemail, but no one did. “I guess they’ll call back if it’s important,” she thought, going through the massive doors and then catching her breath as she walked into the Library of Congress, or LoC, as folks in DC government tended to call it.
“This place is gorgeous,” Gemmy thought, “a cathedral to books,” as she idly tucked the white feather into the pocket of her “serious” navy blue suit. She consulted the signs by the door and determined that her workshop was up on the second floor. She turned around, walked a few feet to the bottom of the staircase and then caught her breath. In fact, for just a second or two, Gemmy grabbed her chest just above her heart and could feel her heart stop, beat too quickly, stop, start, and then beat two quickly again. She felt suddenly too icy and sweaty-hot all at once.
“Are you alright?” the young woman asked. She couldn’t be more than 25 and she, too, was dressed in what was likely her one “serious” suit. Her badge identified her as LoC Staff. She took Gemmy’s arm and guided her to a bench. “Are you from out of town? It’s easy to overdo the site-seeing thing and . . . .”
“No, thanks, I’m fine,” Gemmy said. “I live around here. Sorry, just a bit startled by that giant mosaic, but I’m fine now, really. Thanks, ” Gemmy ended, embarrassed and wanting to get on to her workshop.
“She’s lovely, isn’t she?” the young woman asked, oblivious to Gemmy’s embarrassment and haste. “She’s Minerva, an ancient Roman Goddess. I think they associated her with the Greek Athena. See the owl, the shield, and helmet? Those were symbols of Athena, too. The small statue is Nike, an old Goddess of victory. And that scroll that Minerva holds in her hand lists all the important areas of human knowledge, the ones that might save us from war, so she’s perfect for a library, isn’t she? And Minerva was also the Goddess of learning. Again, perfect, don’t you think?
You look better now; more color in your cheeks. Do you want me to get you some water?”
“No, thanks, really, I’m fine,” Gemmy assured herself and the young woman. “I’m here for a workshop on Writing Government History and it’s just up those stairs and to the left, if I’ve read the notice correctly. I’ll head up now, thanks, sorry to worry you, but it’s nothing.”
“No worries,” the woman replied. “And, yes, it’s upstairs, first star on the left and straight on ’till morning.”
Gemmy smiled and walked slowly up the steps. Each step brought her closer and closer to the mosaic of the Goddess.
Now, Gemmy, my most patient darlings, my sweet slices of buttermilk pie, my early-Spring peas, Gemmy was not one of those Witches who had been called to the worship of any particular Goddess or God. Gemmy had been called to priestess chestnut trees and it had always worked for her to invoke simply “The Goddess” or “Mamma Gaia,” or “Mother Earth.” For Gemmy, God was simply the Green Man, Cerrnunos, the Stag Lord, the Woods.
And, living in DC for these past months, Gemmy had almost gotten used to seeing Goddesses everywhere. Whatever today’s Christian right thought, America’s founders had been eager to populate the young republic’s capital with Greek and Roman Goddesses, Gods, and allegories. DC, in fact, took its name from the Goddess Columbia, who stood atop the Capital.
But now Gemmy, having climbed to the top of the stairs, stood directly in front of the mosaic of the Goddess that Gemmy knew, without any doubt, had claimed her. From this day forward, for Gemmy, “the Goddess” would always be this serious young Minerva with reddish-brown hair, a spear, and a scroll. Gemmy stepped forward to read the scroll. “Education, History, Economics, Government, History, Printing, Botany . . . .” Somehow, it mattered deeply to Gemmy that Botany had been so important to the young republic and to this Goddess. She stood there, in front of the mosaic, absorbing and being absorbed. Finally — Gemmy couldn’t have said how long she’d been standing there — a middle-aged man in a sweater vest came up the stairs, huffing and puffing a bit and looking worried.
“Is the history workshop up here?” he asked Gemmy.
“Yes, I’m going there too,” she said, making her feet move. “Its left and then straight on until . . . .” She chuckled, just now getting the Peter Pan reference and causing the sweatered man to give her an odd look. “And then straight on until that wooden door, if I don’t miss my guess,” she said, casting one last glance over her shoulder at a Goddess who cared about botany. “And I know just what bit of DC history I want to write.”
Picture found here.