Susan Bee and Patricia Morningstar

Susan Bee

Reading In
Patricia Morningstar

Words whispered around her like a stiff autumn wind. Imogene felt as though she would stop breathing. Her knees ached, as did her back, and the left side of her body was buried in calf skin; her right, covered in pigment. Sweat glued her palms to an unfurled scroll of words and her one free eye burned from being open so long. She could just catch the light as it fell through leaded windows onto the polished wooden shelves and the frescoed ceiling. If she stretched her sight to the edge, she could see the ancient oaken table on which she had set the book the night before.

Trapped as she was, encircled by the initial “D(omine)” opening the text, she could have been lost in the words. Instead she gazed at a miniature floating above her. Tucked inside a vaulted alcove of pristine marble, the Blessed Virgin knelt as the Angel Gabriel cast a rising scroll of his words, “Blessed art thou among women.”

“Imogene! What’s the Lady Margaret Hours doing on the viewing table?”

“Charles! Thank God!” issued from the right side of her mouth as she felt the whoosh of the page dropping like a pillow over her face.


Imogene was nowhere to be found. Odd. Not like her. As Dr. McCloskey was about to place The Book of Hours in its acid free, tomb-like case, he had second thoughts. Such a lovely “(D)omine,” but he didn’t remember Lady Margaret’s tunic being lavender. Hadn’t it been blue, mirroring the Blessed Lady’s garment? Have some curiosity, Charlie! How about a little of that “reading in” the Medievals spoke of? Imogene recommended it. Said it helped her understand the clerics and saints. Spirit of the age and all that. He objected to it on scholarly grounds but, well, it was a Saturday. What did she say? Rapt contemplation of the text; gazing at the images within? As an academic, he naturally listed toward reverence as he steadied his elbow on the table and opened the binding with his white-gloved hand.

There. But yes. Lavender. The image shimmered.


“My God, woman! What have you done?”

“I was studying the text. I must have fallen in.”

“Rather ‘read in.’ Ha. You look lovely, I must say. The violet sleevings are quite nice. Still, the blue garment did match the Holy Virgin. You shouldn’t have changed it.”

“It wasn’t on purpose, I assure you. Get me out of here.”

“Can’t say as I know how. You are the expert at this sort of thing. What should I do?”

“Cut me out?”

Charles gasped. “And ruin the manuscript? Are you quite out of your mind?”

“It’s already ruined.”

“Still… perhaps a tracing.”

Imogene felt a rustling softness cover her like a fog; a sharp stylus scraped over her edges. Charles removed the paper and shook it. It didn’t move Imogene at all.


The bald professor from the Physics Department slid his glasses up and down his nose, inches away from the parchment, his hot sticky breath mingled with the more subtle dusty whiff of stale urine infusing the calf skin. He focused on the looping ornamentation along the margins.

“No Mobius strips. Can’t see how she slid in. We could draw one here,” he pointed to a flourish of gold leaves, “If it touched her, we might be able to pull her out.”

The intern from the Chemistry Department, still wearing his lab coat and importantly flapping his arms, huffed and puffed his way across the room, took a long look, and suggested a solvent. If they could dissolve the lavender pigment, they might be able to extract her with tweezers.

Dr. McCloskey insisted that both options were quite out of the question due to the value of the manuscript. When it was suggested that these things could be repaired after, he shook his head in horror.

“A candle on the verso perhaps,” suggested the Chairman of the Theology Department. But when the skin started smoking, awakening Medieval smells and darkening the letters behind Imogene, Dr. McCloskey put an end to it.

By afternoon the room was crowded with brilliant minds of every sort, milling anxiously as they competed for theories and solutions. Mutterings drifted about and mingled nervously:

“Higgs Boson and photon instability.”

“Schrodinger’s cat, surely.”

“An ekphrastic trope, I see.”

“Hermeneutic presuppositions.”

“Possibly Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem.”

“Neurological enlargement of the thalamus.”

“Apophatic intervention, without question.”

They circled around each other suspiciously for hours, but in the end, no solution emerged.

Charles whispered, “We will get you out of there very, very soon, my dear. Don’t give up hope.” He placed a lamp (cold light, latest technology) next to the manuscript and walked across the courtyard to find his dinner.


Imogene had almost fallen asleep when she heard a rustling and smelled the acrid neutralizing polish the department had approved for cleaning.

“Mary, are you there?”

“Aye miss. Where are you?

“Here in the book.”

“Mercy, wha’ happen ta ya? Been readin’ in, have ya?”

“Can you get me out?”

Without an answer Mary picked up the book, turned it upside down and shook it by its bindings. Imogene fell to the floor. Her lavender tunic had gone, but she still wore the plain linen undergarment.”

“Ya cold, is it? Lemme ge yar jumper.”

Mary held up a cashmere cardigan while Imogene slipped into it.

“How do you know about reading in?”

“Folks does it all the time i’ church. Readin’ inta the prayer books. We jus’ have ta shake ‘em out, is all.”


Dr. McCloskey found the closed manuscript on the table the next morning. The lamp had been turned off and the curtains drawn. He opened the book to the Annunciation. There, circled by the “D(omine).” was Lady Margaret in blue, an odd pair of alligator heels peeking out from under her tunic.


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