The Velvet Hours

The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman

Book: The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alyson Richman
you’ve brought in something very rare . . . and I suspect quite old.”
    He reached for the larger book, the one that was as heavy as an old Bible, and opened it just as carefully as he had the last one. This book was the one my mother had read from during the last weeks of her illness. Since then, I had looked at it on several occasions, fascinated. I had not been able to remember any of the words she had once sounded out for me, but I spent hours poring over the many illustrations dispersed throughout the book. Animal and bird motifs, all painted in a bright palette of blue, red, and gold, created intricate borders. A few of the pages contained illustrations that depicted people. A man sitting at a table with his family. Another of a figure holding a staff.
    Alex squinted over one of the pages and then turned to study a few more. “This is a very, very old Haggadah, a prayer book used by the Jewish people for Passover.” His voice seemed to drop to almost a whisper. “It’s an amazing example of craftsmanship.” He turnedanother page and looked again at the calligraphic lines. “It’s all inscribed by hand on vellum . . . parchment made from calfskin.”
    He began to study the pages portraying what appeared to be the patriarch of a family telling the story of the slaves in Israel.
    Just as he reached to show me something else hidden within the illustrations, the bell above the store’s door chimed and we heard footsteps walking toward us.
    â€œAlex,” a voice wafted into the back room. “Has Solomon gone for the afternoon?”
    â€œYes, Papa. I’m in the back . . . with a customer.”
    The store was quite small, so within seconds a man who appeared as an older version of Alex was standing at the threshold.
    â€œWhat have I missed in the thirty minutes since I’ve been gone, besides the only pretty girl to walk into our store all day?” Other than his graying hair, the father’s resemblance to Alex was uncanny. They had the same features. The chiseled face, the strong nose, and lively green eyes.
    â€œWell, let’s see . . .” Alex let out a small laugh. “You missed the same beautiful girl walking in with what I believe to be a sixteenth-century copy of the
Zemirot Yisrael
by Najara, and what appears to be a rare example of a fourteenth-century Haggadah under her arms.”
    â€œAre you joking, Alex?”
    â€œNo, Papa. Not at all. Here, come take a look.”
    His father could hardly contain his excitement. He extended his hand for me to shake. “Let me first introduce myself, Bernard Armel, bookseller and Alex’s father . . . and you are?”
    â€œSolange Beaugiron.”
    â€œA beautiful name, for a beautiful girl,” he said as he approached the table where the two books were laid out. Immediately he began examining them with careful hands.
    I watched spellbound as Monsieur Armel made great effort to minimize how much he touched the pages and how he handled thebook delicately, to prevent placing any unnecessary stress on the binding. He squinted as he looked over the mysterious Hebrew writing and made a few grunted sounds, as if he were confirming something to which only he knew the answer.
    He spent only a few minutes looking at the book that was printed in Venice. It was the Haggadah that had evidently captured his interest.
    â€œWhere did you get these two books?” I noticed right away a change in his voice, like a musician’s note that had slipped off-key. It no longer had even the slightest hint of playful flirtation. Rather, a sense of suspicion now threaded through his words.
    â€œThey were my maternal grandfather’s,” I said, and my voice surprised me with its air of defiance. But I suddenly felt on the defensive.
    â€œYour grandfather was Moishe Cohen?”
    He stood silently for a few seconds before I responded.
    â€œYes,”

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