Wed. Jun 12th, 2024

By Vickey Stamps

It was dusty. It bordered on becoming moldy in scent, and appearance.   Average in size and long in length, it was boring in color.  It was a book without its jacket, other than the worn shreds of it not yet deteriorated.   It had become used to the temperatures within the room that fluctuated with the opening and closing of the doors in this very old book store.  It barely felt the changing of the seasons anymore.  How long ago had it been laid there since a careless hand had browsed its contents, forgetting to put it back from where it had been?  Would that ever happen? It wondered silently.  Well, lonely as it was, there was conversation to be had from the other books, as well as the customers who came looking for information to improve their knowledge, in one way or another.

There was the old woman Beatrice that shuffled in almost every day.  The old book wondered if they might be the same age.  The owner of the store never pushed her to see the newest of the old books upon the shelf, knowing she could ill afford to purchase any.  He had taken a liking to the old woman, and always had a cup of tea for her, waiting till she had found the book for which she sought.  He had found a small bench, placing it in a corner with good light.  It was strong enough for her frail frame with a side table for her drink and a book.  If no other customers made an appearance, they’d talk about what she had learned from the words within its pages.  “Nineteen- seventy- six.  Very fine year, Mr. Potts, wouldn’t you say?   Our country sure has changed a lot!”  She had said one day in his direction.  Sometimes he’d mumble an answer and sometimes he’d shuffle over her way, to share a few words of conversation.

In came young Timothy, with his mother.  She was an artist in the making.  She liked the feel of the old store, and the variety of books upon its shelves.   She brought in sketches from time to time, for Mr. Pott’s to look at, treasuring his opinion.  Once he had made over one so much, she’d given it to him as a birthday gift.   It was framed and hung  up on a wall, in the large room of books. She would bend her knees down to make herself as near her son’s size as possible, letting him share the different pages with her. He listened to her soft voice, watching her face move in a smile, or her eyes in an expression, as she explained the page..  She  made time to find a book just right for the boy, and patiently listened as he explained what it was all about to her.  Her name was Betty and the name seemed to fit her.

Fletcher, wearing coke bottle thick glasses that rested upon a long and slender nose,  today also wore a worn jacket  tightly buttoned against the weather.  He came often loving books himself.  There was a special book he needed for a paper due in a History class.  He was mid-way through attending the near-by college.  He needed something that would give him a taste or comparison of the past he could draw from, and compare to the now.  There were several to pick from, and he remembered one in particular. Where, he wondered out loud, could it have disappeared to.  He hadn’t thought of the old book for a very long time.  Loving books as he did, he must have managed somehow to mislay it.  That wasn’t like him and it worried him to think his memory might be slipping away.  What would come of him if his mind went elsewhere.   He’d been alone for such a very long time. His customers were his only family.

Encylopedia of History, it had been titled. “ Fletcher, you are taller then I.  Could you look up high for me?  Use the stepping stool there if you need to.  Maybe it got put up high by someone  who forgot to put it back?” he spoke.   “Sure, Mr. Pott’s.  Always happy to help.  I’m grateful to think you might have just the book to help me.  I’ve got to keep my grades high or lose my scholarship.  I can’t afford school without it.  I want to  be a professor someday, but of course that’s a long way off for me.”  Having said so, he began his own search.

Betty and Timothy paid for their books, then stopped to pass a word with  the old woman and inquire as to what she was reading, and was it a good book?  Timothy wanted to go to the little restaurant down the block, for an ice cream, and maybe the two of them could have a cup of tea.  She got lonely for adult  company during the day, and would so love it if she’d join them.  Beatrice would be happy to do that.  She reached down to tighten the laces on her worn canvas shoes, and  with a lighter step  to her shuffling, went out the door with them, a smile creasing the wrinkles from her face.

“Mr. Pott’s” called Fletcher.  “Come and see.  I believe this is the missing book.“  With great respect, he lifted the old book from the dusty top of the book shelf,  brushing its dust gently off the surface, holding it with great care and respect against his chest.  Now he opened it.  “Mr. Pott’s,  would  you just look at the copy-right date on this book?.  This book is very old, and have a look at the content and the old illustrations.  This book must be a valuable piece of literature.  I’m sure I could never afford to make it my own!”  Fletcher’s eyes were  downcast now, sad in his thoughts of loss. If this book could become his, what a treasure it would be. He could see himself examining it back in the dorm, then later , when he was successful as an instructor, perhaps having  been able to get the book outfitted with a new leather cover, he would refer to it over and over across the years.  Maybe he’d have a child that would love and respect a book like this by that stage of his life.  “Here, Mr. Pott’s”  I can’t take this book.  It’s far out of my means.  I am glad we found it for you.  Maybe there is another one that could serve me as well.”

The old man looked at the book, the dust still lying in part upon its cover and sides, and again at Fletcher.  “Hey, Fletcher.  I’ll tell you what.  You come in on the week-ends, that you can, and help me out in this old place, and we’ll give you half off that old thing. The rest I’ll get from you with your first real paycheck once you are out of college.”   Oh man, are you serious.  I can have that book.  I can really have that book?  Sure, I’ll come and help.  I’d have been glad to have done that for free, if you’d only let me know my help was needed.  You just don’t know how happy this will make me.  Do you have a damp cloth I could wipe the book off with.  It should not have to be so dusty.  I am glad I was the one to find it.  Surely it was meant to be.”

If the book could have smiled, it surely would have done so.  Books have feelings too, or so the book thought,  sending out to the other books, a fond good-by, wishing them the same  happiness and love in their lives, that would fill his own.  Mr. Potts smiled for him knowing within himself that he had done the right thing.  He’d go home and have a cup of hot chocolate.  There was a book he’d been meaning to read.  Tonight was a good night for both things.  He was a contented man who knew without doubt that……


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