Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Aisle D

Once a week or so I make my way down to the local bookstore. I wish I could say it was a small, quaint, sort of traditional, independent bookseller, but it’s not. Truth is I frequent a mega franchise bookstore, impersonally huge, with a chain-store coffee shop built right in, and annoying check-out clerks who try like hell to get me to sign up for a discount card or some such other gadget I really don't need.

In any case, I love the entire ritual of the bookstore. I love browsing all the titles, the pictures, the covers, new books, big books, classics, sections, topics, bargains, and I love the people watching. Who are the other people in here with me? If I wasn’t so anti-social I might like them because they read.

I read every day, even if it is just a few pages. Often I read books I like over and over. I've had people tell me that might be weird, but I know that is a normal thing among people who like to read and enjoy certain authors. I mean if you like a dead author, for example, and there are many to choose from – actually far more than the live versions – you almost have to read their work over and over. What choice have you got?

I’ll tell you what, it really sucks when they con you into buying something from that dead author you like by marketing it as new, never-released, newly discovered, or whatever, only to find out it’s from a time when that author couldn’t write worth a damn, or worse, it’s just useless correspondence with some old long-dead friend. This money grab is a major exercise in irrelevance, if you ask me. Anyway, a good piece of writing, like a good film, reveals something new each time you experience it.

On this day I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I wondered around, flipped through a few titles, and wasn’t really enjoying any part of the ritual as I normally do. I was about to give up hope when I found myself in the fiction section, aisle “D”.

I stopped and scanned the various titles of the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I knew of him, his name, and even own an old Dell paperback, “A Raw Youth”, that sits on a shelf at home. I must confess though, I had had little success getting through many pages. The book was old when I got it, the pages browning, dark, wordy, and the entire thing was brooding before I ever opened up to one page. So that was my impression, at least twenty years ago, when I first attempted to read him.

I was standing and staring at the titles, kind of with my head tilted to read them, when suddenly a woman’s voice spoke out.

“White Nights,” she said.

I looked up, and there stood a vision. She was simply beautiful, and radiant. A woman about my age, about my height or a little less, wearing tight faded jeans with these sexy pointed heels sticking out from a retro flare, a cute sweater, and very long blonde hair. She was smiling, with kindness pouring out of a big green-blue beacon on her face. It took me a second to realize the beacon was her eye, the other one hidden behind a tremendous wave of hair - like old sexy Hollywood pin-up photos of Veronica Lake - that snaked across her face in a big backwards “S” as it fell lightly down, almost to her waist.

“Excuse me?”
“White Nights. Dostoyevsky. It’s my favorite”, she said with a dimpled smile that I am certain came from heaven.

Ok, so time stopped right there. First of all, a beautiful woman is speaking to me in the bookstore. I have been in there a hundred or two hundred times, and despite fantasizing about this particular moment, it was just that, a fantasy. Women have spoken to me, and I to them, but never was this much beauty placed in front of me, with eyes that spoke so much.

Secondly, she is telling me she has not only read Dostoyevsky, but she has a favorite of his. I quickly looked around to see if maybe I was the center of somebody's idea of a practical joke. There was nobody else around.

I had to say something. The long, stunned stare with my mouth dumbly hanging open wasn’t going to benefit anybody.

“Thank you, I’ll look for it.”
“It’s a wonderful read. He’s my favorite, and that story is my personal favorite.”
“I’ll be sure to give it a read.”
“Here,” she said, “I’ll find it for you.”

She reached across me to flip through a couple of books, looking for the story. Her arm brushed against my chest, briefly, and she came very close to me, inches away. I could smell the scent of her hair as it brushed past my face. I saw her take a very quick peak at me as she moved close. I felt a rush, a charge, shoot through my body. I pulled back quickly.

I stood back and let her take the space. I stepped around her, back to the beginning of the “D” section, clearing a couple of open feet between us.

“Here it is,” she said. Her voice was sexy and sultry.

She handed the book to me. It was “Notes from the Underground” and a collection of other stories, including “White Nights”.

“Thank you,” I said, “that’s very kind of you.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, with a look that would melt even coldest and frozen of hearts.

I smiled and uncomfortably nodded my head, unsure of what to do next. She smiled back at me, and then looked away to the shelf of books directly in front of her.

We stood a few feet a part, browsing the titles in front of us. I saw nothing, couldn’t read a word of anything. She bent over to see some books on the lower shelves. I wanted to look, but averted my eyes. What can I say, my mother made sure I had some gentlemanly qualities. I managed this for all of two whole seconds, then, temptation triumphant, I glanced down. “Oh God” I whispered, partially to myself and partially out loud. It was sort of like a moan, to be honest.

I took a step towards her, not really knowing why or what I was going to do. I couldn’t possibly touch her, for god’s sake, I’m in a bookstore, she’s a beautiful stranger, and that could prove disastrous on many, many levels.

Then as soon as I moved behind her, she stood up, and back, and into me. My heart raced. God, I wanted to touch her. I felt her energies and they were electric. She was right there, inches from me, in fact her hips were in contact with me, right at that certain point where it all starts and ends. I froze. She moved slowly down the aisle, brushing against me, not by accident but by grand and calculated design. She knew exactly what she was doing. It takes two to tango, as they say, and we were now involved in a wondrous dance as old as time.

This went on for fifteen minutes or so, up one aisle and down the other, no words spoken, a give and take, a push and a shove, an epic dance. Her walk was slinky, slow, and deliberate, with lots of sway. I was dying a thousand deaths walking behind her, wanting to climb all over her.

And then, just like that, she was gone. She walked around the corner display and vanished. I looked all over the bookstore, but she wasn't there. I ran out the door to scan the parking lot, and saw nothing. The merchandise alarm was sounding a loud piercing screech behind me. I had carried Dostoyevsky out the door with me. A way-too-artsy clerk with elaborate facial hair chased me down. I looked down at the book she left with me.

“Don’t worry,” I said to the clerk, “I’m not stealing Dostoyevsky.”

I was left with the overwhelming memory of her beauty, her eyes, her hair, her body, her walk. And the electricity that danced between us as we worked the aisles of the mega-bookstore. I never danced like that before and I probably never will again.

(c) A.C. James

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