The bell over the door rings. I abandon my figures, and go to the front of the store to greet my customer. When I get to the front, it’s empty. “Hello?” I call, but no one answers.
It’s about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The sun shines through the large windows, but is quickly absorbed by the shelves of books scattered around the shop. I head back to my numbers, the light dimming with each step, until I am in the darkest part of the shop. I tap away at my 10 key, turning the pages of the binder as I finish adding each page. I am about to finish the last page when the bell goes off again. “Hello?” I call again, but no answer. I print my total and rip off my tape. “Can I help you?” still no answer.
I staple the tape to the corner of the paper and put away the binder. I have depressed myself enough for one day. No matter how many times I add up the numbers, I cannot make a bookshop in 2018 profitable. I grab the Windex from under the desk and some paper towels. Maybe people see me cleaning the windows it will draw them into the shop.
I am almost finished with the outside of the windows, when I feel an icy finger glide up my spine. My breath catches in my throat. I lose my grip on the Windex bottle and it falls to the concrete. Blue liquid spills all over it. I turn to see what has touched me, but nothing is there. I hastily pick up the broken bottle and go back inside.
I dump the broken plastic into the trashcan, inside the door and have a seat in one of the chairs beside the window. I pull my legs in the chair with me, tucking them underneath me. My phone starts to vibrate in my back pocket. I nearly jump out of my skin. I yank it out and answer it, before I have a chance to look at who is calling. “Hello?” I snap
“Beth, are you ok?”
“Hey Dad. Yes, I’m fine. Your call just scared the bejesus out of me. What’s going on?” I put a hand on my heart, trying to slow its racing pace.
“Are you at the shop?”
“Yes, I will be here until five today. Did you need something?”
“Oh good, I was wondering if you could-.”
“If I could what?” I ask. After a minute of silence, I pull the phone away from my ear and see that it has gone dead. “Fantastic.” I head to the back of the shop to plug in my phone and call him on the landline. As soon as I sit down at the desk the landline rings. “Beth’s Bookmark, This is Beth” I answer.
“Hey Beth, I think we got disconnected. Hey do you think you could bring a loaf of bread with you when you come over tonight?” My dad asks.
I balance the phone between my shoulder and my ear, while I pull open over stuffed drawers looking for my phone charger. “Sure Dad, that sounds doable. What are we having tonight?”
“I think your mom is making spaghetti tonight. Does that sound ok?”
“Absolutely, I haven’t turned down free food yet, and won’t start today.” The bell above the door rings. “Is that all you needed dad?”
“All I can think of for now kiddo. See you at seven.”
“See you then.” I hang the phone up, and start searching for the charger with both hands. I take most of everything out of the bottom drawer and set it up on the top of the desk. I swear I put it in here earlier.
“Ma’am?” a deep voice calls out.
I have never stood up from a chair faster in my life. When I look up, there is a 20 something year old man standing in front of me, book in hand. I run my hands down my jeans, smoothing invisible wrinkles and extremely visible nerves.
“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to startle you.” He says.
“It’s ok, I heard the bell go off, I just figured the thing was just messed up.” I say, trying to find a regular breathing pattern.
“Business that slow?” he says with a half-smile.
“A book store in a small town, in a time when you can just buy it offline? You cannot imagine how slow it is.” I half heartily joke. I look at the book in his hand. “Is there something you needed help with?”
He hands me his book, “Yeah, I had gotten this book for my birthday, and the person who bought it for me said they got it from here. I was wondering if you guys have the one that comes after this one.”
I flip the book over in my hand, “Um, let me think.. Follow me, I think I know where this one is at.” I walk towards the middle of the shop and weave in and out of the shelves, until I find the one I am looking for. “I think I remember the person I sold this to as well! You must have really liked this book, because it wasn’t that long ago.” His face turns a little red, but he says nothing. “Here it is the last copy I have, ‘The Misgivings’. Would you like to look around a bit more? I can keep this up at the counter if you would like.”
“No thank you, I am actually on a time crunch.”
“Not a problem, follow me.” I lead him back to my desk and check him out. As I put the money away into the register, my phone catches my eye. It is lit up, it reads “One Missed Call.” In the upper right and corner, the battery life reads 99%.