He opened the book and a tongue of flame licked across the leaf.
“Quick – the book!” I said. “It will burn!”
“The book is quick,” he said, “but little worry about the flame. It brings more light than heat.”
It licked again, a lithe lambda giving a warm glow, soft like the fleece of a lamb. A tongue of fire had descended on this volume – no, was ascending from it. It flicked, bent, ambled, melted, bloomed. He handed me the book, open, not hot, in flame but not inflammable. I could see now what the word was that played its tongue on the page so: lambent.
My own tongue and lips engaged: the tongue like a lamprey sliding its tip, the lips meeting softly and then breaking apart, the tongue pressing again to kiss its tip behind the teeth but coming to a hard end. I could see the play in the letters: upward flicks at l, b, t; curls and curves in between at am and en.
“I thought lambent meant a lamp,” I said. “That soft glow or gleam. Or a gladsome radiance. Shed some light on the subject.”
“It’s clear now,” he said. “A clear flame, licking the book. A tongue of fire. Here’s Latin: lambere, ‘lick’.”
“Licks but does not burn,” I said. “Not a flambeau. Just a muse of fire. A tongue that illuminates but does not consume. A mental fire.”
“A tongue and a mind may glow together. They may cut like metal or soothe like balm; they may bring meat to the table for your meal. They brook no blame.”
“This is all in pieces, elements,” I said. “The word in your mouth is coming apart and mixing up.”
“Flame is eminently mutable. Simply let it not be muted. And – ah!” he said, reaching for the volume, which I was about to close. I handed it to him, open. “Let it be,” he said. “If it is lambent, let it be, for you will see softly by its light. If it cannot be –” he waved his finger over the b, momentarily obscuring it – “what is left is a lament in the darkness.”