Occasionally, especially over the summer, the task lists I have at the two jobs I divide my time between take on a life of their own, seeming to yank on my arms and whine in my ears like overly tired, badly behaved children. When the inevitable fatigue follows, I begin to imagine myself tucked away in a small nook with a blanket, a mug of high-quality loose leaf tea, and a book, or I see myself browsing among the dusty cat-offs of a second-hand bookstore.
My favorite second-hand book store is located in the downtown strip of an old river town near my parents’ house. Nestled snuggly between other specialty shops, one might easily miss this bookstore. A faded sign is the only faint whisper of advertisement that the store makes. Nothing lighted at night, no gaudy posters screaming “30% Off!”
A bell above the door tinkles when I walk in. A silent unmanned register is at my left, and the shelves of books and stacks of books crowd in on me from all sides. The books are crammed into narrow aisles, which are labeled discretely: Fiction. History. Science Fiction. Poetry. Classics. I’ve never shared the store with more than one or two other customers at a time, which is fortunate, as there is barely room enough for one person between rows of books, let alone two.
As I make my way to the back of the store, where the light from the window and the more modern fluorescent lights doesn’t reach, I must take responsibility for lighting my search. I reach up to the pull string connected to a bare bulb above my head in each aisle, and I am responsible for extinguishing the light when I am ready to move on.
I am always on the lookout for Hamlet, the portly long-haired tabby cat that haunts the store. As with most cats, Hamlet may or may not make time for me in his meanderings, so I’m delighted when he stops to arch is back against my calf and snakes himself around my ankles.
As I continue my search, floorboards squeak and slope comfortably, evidence of a building old enough to have relaxed and grown comfortable with itself.
The store owners themselves—a man and a woman—are an attraction to the bookstore. The man, thin and balding is friendly but moves silently around the store. He speaks in a whisper when he rings up my purchases, and he remembers me from the last time I visited, even what I purchased. The woman is heavy-set, platinum blonde hair wisping around her face. More boisterous, her words and movements in the shop clash alarmingly with the hushed atmosphere I come expecting.
They’ve put up signs on each aisle in the back of the store, just plain white computer paper signs that have printed on them, “We appreciate your business. All shoplifters will be cursed. Thanks.” Based on the little bit I’ve gotten to know this odd couple, I can’t decide if these signs are a stab at dry humor or if they’re in earnest. Either way, I’ve never had the courage to ask.
My husband and I don’t live by my parents now, and visits home are so crammed with catching up, hiking, and eating, that I haven’t been back to the bookstore in a while. But busy times like these bring it back to my mind’s eye.