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  • Writer's pictureJeff South

Book Excerpt: Day 4


Someone Else’s Books is abnormally busy this afternoon. Typical Fridays are quiet and lonely due to the dearth of customers so I get in some reading of my own or daydream of the land of my eventual retirement, Chicken, Alaska. Today’s crowd doesn’t allow for that. The fog of last night has yet to lift and my fatigued body would prefer to rest in the office chair I got from a retiring dentist. The copy of Guy’s self-published The Rapture of the Follies sits on my desk and taunts me. We all hated his book and I feel a heavy guilt over his disappearance. Where the hell is he? I pick up his novel that makes the Vogon poetry of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy look like Maya Angelou and thumb to where I had left off.


Her voluminous bosom heaved toward him involuntarily like salmon spawning upstream in a torrential downpour of passion which had existed betwixt these tortured, woebegone lovers since the night he sank his inflamed fangs into the nape of her soft neck and sucked her life force into his.


The bell above the front door twinkles alerting me that a potential customer has entered the store. He is a chubby man, round face with a full beard and owlish glasses. He looks familiar but I can’t place him or our possible encounter. He mills about the front room, focusing on the science fiction and fantasy section.


“Let me know if you need anything,” I call to him and he responds with a wave without looking up.


Two more customers enter and I recognize them immediately. They are older ladies, Regina Washburn and Marla Taylor, regular customers who know this store almost as well as I do. Marla, a woman of demure stature in a multi-colored sweater she likely crocheted herself, steps to the counter and places a casserole dish on it next to the register while Regina strolls down the hall.


“Marla Taylor,” I say, approaching the counter. “Is this what I think it is?” I lean down and breathe in the aroma of barbecue sauce wafting from under the aluminum foil.


“I know how much you love my barbecue meatloaf,” she says. “And today is Friday, so I thought I’d come in and get some books for the weekend.”


Marla is a widow in her late sixties who barters books for food in what can only be described as a win-win situation. She brings me pies, casseroles, baked chickens, cakes, lasagnas, and various other offerings in exchange for a stack of books. The deal is she brings back the books once she is finished with them. She fishes in her oversized tote bag and sets a stack of six paperbacks on the counter next to the meatloaf that I’m already uncovering.


“Here are the copies of The Scarlet Pimpernel books you gave me on Tuesday,” she says. “Did you like the tater tot taco pizza?”


“I wanted to marry it,” I say. “Did you enjoy The Scarlet Pimpernel?” I rummage through the second desk drawer on the left and find a plastic fork amongst a collection of paper clips and about eight dollars and forty-seven cents in change. I rush to the meatloaf and stab a hefty bite to savor as she replies.


“The writing is fun,” she says. “I like the language of it all. So proper. I got into the romance even though that is normally not my thing. I would’ve liked more violence.”


“Pretty innovative book for its time,” I say. “Secret identities. A woman doesn’t know her husband is a clandestine hero in a costume. Falls in love with his secret identity. Baroness Orczy basically invented the superhero story.”


“Yes, it was fine,” Marla says with little fanfare. “Got anything saucy in true crime?”


“Marla!” yells Regina from the back. “Quit flirting and hurry up! We have spin class in twenty minutes.”


She wiggles her eyebrows at me, pats my forearm, and disappears down the hall to join Regina in the mystery section.


The chubby fellow with the beard wanders toward the hallway. He sports a Dr. Who t-shirt and a well worn pair of jeans. He stops at the display of The Lizard People Next Door and furrows his brow. The display has been there since what feels like the discovery of fire, but I believe it to be an important book on Herpezoids. Simon Tybalt has offered no opinion about having the book in the store, but Heather F has expressed her misgivings. The man picks up a copy, thumbs through a few pages, and studies the back cover. He rubs his beard and looks at the floor. His expression isn’t one of curiosity, but rather concern. My expression probably matches his because I am still racking my brain trying to remember where I’ve seen this dude. He replaces The Lizard People Next Door on the little stand where he picked it up and shakes his head as he walks down the hall. I step out from behind the counter to follow him. Something is needling me to ask if he needs something. He disappears into the classics section on the right but a figure in my periphery causes me to stop and glance into the side room to the left where I kept the young adult section.


A woman who appears to be in her early 30s stands with her hands in the pocket of her hoodie. She looks unimpressed with the selection before her.


“Need some help?” I stay in the doorway, careful not to invade their space. Customers need to be close to the books, not me. Plus, I need a shower. I meant to after all the shenanigans last night, but ended up collapsing on my twin bed downstairs. I didn’t sleep because I never sleep. I laid and stared at the ceiling until I realized morning had broken and I needed to get the store open. No time to shower or brush my teeth. The stench of the stale moonshine and Chinese food on my breath probably smells like rancid moss on a dying tree. I’m doing this lady a favor by keeping my distance.


“I guess I need a book.” She gestures to the selection before her.


“Anything in particular?” I ask and she shrugs. “The joy of a used bookstore is the hunt, the thrill of finding that special book that has eluded you. That’s what I’ve always believed.”


She still looks unimpressed. “Actually, I’m looking for something fun to read, ya know? I need something to help me unwind after work.”


“Well, if it’s fun you're looking for.” I gesture at a box set displayed on the small oval tea cart I plucked from a dumpster three years ago. “I do have the The Girl in the Houses Trilogy by Stanci Sanderstrom. Very popular series.” “I’ve never heard of those.” Her eyebrows pinch together as she picks up one of the books and studies the back cover. “I don’t usually read these types of books.”


“Three books connected by three girls who live in three different houses in a middle class neighborhood. The first, The Girl in the House Across the Street follows Juniper Lindstrom as she tries to solve the mystery of the murder of a girl who lives across the street from her. In the second, Juniper and the ghost of the girl from the first book work together to solve a murder in The Girl in the House Next Door. Finally, in The Girl in the House One Street Over, they are all brought together to face their greatest fears.”


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