In a world where experience is currency, Rosemary is the owner of a very special library—a library of memory, where scented coins transfer personal experience from one individual to another. When she trades away the sole memory of her grandmother’s final concerto, family opposition, in the form of her daughter Ruth, forces Rosemary to go on a quest to try and recover the lost coin. Yet having to trade away her own memories to get it back, how much of Rosemary will survive the exchange?
by Octavia Cade
Praise for Trading Rosemary
Deciding to buy back her grandmother’s requiem for Ruth launches Rosemary on a journey of self-discovery that takes up the greatest part of the text. In the course of it, we view Rosemary in great depth through her memories of the experiences that have made her what she now is. The descriptions of these are detailed and evocative...—Lois Tilton, Locus Online
Read an Excerpt
Among those who could accurately judge such things, it was generally acknowledged that Rosemary’s library was the finest of its kind in the entire archipelago.
Rosemary was justifiably proud of it. Begun by her great-grandfather, it had passed down through the family, with each generation adding to the collection— at considerable personal expense. She had contributed many exquisite pieces herself, and introduced order and organization into what had been a fine mess. Each coin was now carefully preserved, and suitably labeled according to its age, provenance, and properties. They were boxed in slim rectangular cases with burnished leather covers, and arranged according to catalogue, so that if one particular coin was required it could then be easily plucked from among its thousands of companions without hesitation or mishap.
Rosemary was in the middle of such a plucking: one of her most hated chores. She deeply regretted having to part with several of her choicest specimens, but it couldn’t be helped. An extreme rarity had come to market, the sole example of its kind. Such a coin would be the crowning glory of any collection, but it would not come cheap. To obtain it, Rosemary was prepared to sacrifice some of the lesser pieces. Her family’s library didn’t maintain pre-eminence by their conservative husbanding of coins, and Rosemary had been raised to take advantage of the market whenever a chance came her way. “Rarity will out,” her mother had said, before returning to her history books. “You should know what is available, and make sure that you get it before anyone else.”
There was only one more coin to cull. Stooping to one of the lower shelves, she slid the coin from its resting place, to take her last farewell. It was a polished marble disk, pale with green and rose veins, and chill under her fingers even in the ambient temperature of the library. Smoothing over the surface with her thumb, Rosemary cupped it to her nose, closed her eyes, and breathed in deeply. The smell of the coin coiled through her—the salty tang of the sea cut with the hard dry overtone of a sheer expanse of ice, glittering green in enormous chunky sheets. She remembered the last great southern iceberg, and how it felt to jump from a lower slope into the numbing water; a crazy swim one sunset. The shock of cold sliced through her, brisk and merry.
Icebergs were now a thing of the past, and the memory of a cold climate was seductive in the unending humidity of the archipelago. Luckily, a master coin-caster had managed, before the damage to his aging mind became too great, to record some of his memories of what once was onto a series of marble disks, and thus the experience was not wholly lost.
One memory from the disks was assigned to each coin, and Rosemary had tasted seven of the coin-caster’s eleven, more than anyone of her acquaintance. The heat gave her hives, and she was loath to give this memory away—it was a better remedy than cool springs that warmed quickly in the blistering sun.
It was a complex scent, and Rosemary’s favorite. She would miss it.
“It will soon be lost to me”, thought Rosemary, depressed, but unable to contain a twinge of excitement nonetheless at the thought of her new acquisition. She was confident that she could eventually replace the iceberg coin with another of the series—Rosemary kept a close eye on the other prominent librarians, and two of those coins would soon be on the market. Their owner was aging, with no children and a decided aversion towards having them. Rosemary knew he was planning to donate some of his collection, but assiduous attention on her part had ensured that before this happened, the estate would give her the option to buy the iceberg coins. They would not be exactly the same, of course, but similar enough. She would have her replacement within the decade—although she did not look forward to spending so much time without her favorite.
Reluctantly, she slipped the coin and its case into the cover and stacked it with the rest. She would miss it, yes, but the family holdings would improve. She imagined the gratitude of her grandchildren with satisfaction.
From the library’s large desk she extracted an amount of common currency, containing scents so familiar that they had small value, and were used in everyday transactions. It was an hour until she could pick up the sapflower coin, and there were errands to run in the meantime.
Rosemary headed for the nearest market, and wended her way through the colorful stalls. She stopped first at the bakery, presided over by a fat, lively man who had run the bread stall for decades. When she had been a child, he had sneaked her warm twists of sugar-pastry when her mother’s eyes were elsewhere. Rosemary ordered a large basket of goods, and arranged for the baker’s apprentice to deliver it to her house later that morning. Fumbling in her pouch, she caught up a warm handful of wooden orange-coins. Passing them over she caught their scent, citric and sharp. A barrage of memories flickered though her, fleetingly becoming her own, giving her the specific memories of the original casters. They were hopelessly common—a little boy coaxing a long worm of peel, an old woman pressing cloves into a bright fat globe, several pressings of juice—an orchard of moments in other lives, momentarily hers.
Casting any coin using commercial recorders disrupted the originator’s own memory, removing the specific experience from the mind of its previous owner, so common currency always consisted of memories held in abundance, experiences that could be replaced on a regular basis. Even so, there were often subtle differences, according to the taste and familiarity of the caster. Oranges were popular fruit but few who did not own orchards would try to cast their memories of them. The standards were best maintained in such ways.
Next was the potter, as Rosemary needed to replace a platter that had been recently—and carelessly—broken during an argument with her daughter, when a slamming door had knocked it off its shelf. A range of crockery was on display, and among the three largest plates Rosemary found one that suited her tastes. It was a plain design, simple and strong, but with a vivid, expensive-looking glaze that reminded her of the sea. She handed over a single sandalwood coin, worn thin and shiny from repeated handling. It had a sweet, redolent scent, and around the edge were tiny intricate carvings, faded with age. For a moment she was the artist, working callus-fingered long ago, breathing in the woodwork. As the coin passed from her, so did the memory.
The potter raised the coin to his own nose and smiled gratefully at her. The artist in him appreciated it, and Rosemary often kept such coins to trade with him. He tossed her change to her gracefully, a small wedge of apple wood. It was of so little value that it could not even be exchanged for a real apple, but the potter was always scrupulous about making sure his customers were not cheated. The coin recollected a cottage, wafting with new-baked apple pie, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. Little pastry apples had been pressed into the pie crust, glazed with apple brandy and egg.
Rosemary had always had a secret liking for the apple coins.
She padded swiftly through the dusty streets, and was but a few moments from her appointment when a weaver’s shop caught her eye, a beautifully tinted rug draped over one side of the stall. She stepped closer, fingered the carpet. The craftsmanship was exquisite, and the rug would look perfect in her entrance hall. Rosemary noticed the weaver peering smarmily at her, and grimaced. He was a middle-aged man, with a reputation people whispered about behind their hands. If the rug had not been on display, she would have skirted him and not even considered going into the shop to look at his wares—the island had other weavers, and she tended to frequent those by preference. But none of them had just the right carpet for her hall. Rosemary considered. Even though there were only a few moments until her appointment, she could finish the transaction in that time. The weaver had a reputation of asking more than was acceptable. There was a coin in her pouch, however, that she thought would satisfy him.
It was baked clay, earthy and rich, smelling of sex with a hint of blood acting as an insistent counterpoint. Rosemary had heard of the weaver and his predilection for young girls. She also knew—given his nature—he was rarely able to satisfy himself upon them, for no decent girl could be persuaded to go near him. The gleam in his eye when he lowered the coin from his nose told her that her guess had not been incorrect and the fading memory of the coin ran like water from her mind, leaving a faint odor of distaste. Although the memory was gone, an abstract knowledge of a coin’s contents remained with those who had handled them—this allowed for ease of trade without sharing the memory into worthlessness.
The weaver promised to send the rug to her house that very day, and even gave her some coins in change. She suspected he was trying to sweeten her into coming back, in the hope that she, who was after all a known dealer in coins, would eventually bring him more of the same. Rosemary noted that one of his coins bore the weaver’s own mark. It was clumsily made, but sufficient to be legal tender. She sniffed it gingerly, and found to her surprise that it was not entirely unpleasant. Musty hessian, shot through with cool silk and the feel of fiber under her fingers.