This morning a prepared-looking woman in a leather coat dropped off her dad at the bookstore. I just wanted to let you know, she said, which means I made a decision you might not like but oh well, my job is more important than yours. I just wanted to let you know—that’s my father over by the maps. I need to leave him here for a couple hours while I go to this meeting. He should be okay. I’m sure he will I said, because what else was I supposed to do?
Her dad slept in the chair for about an hour, and when he woke up he started thumbing through the books by his elbow, the ones she left and I was going to have to reshelve. Some were too heavy so then I felt sad, and came by to ask if he needed anything. The man’s voice was a movie star’s, when his body matched it I bet he went out all the time. People probably listened to him. I hoped that lady knew how attractive her father was.
When he looked at me I saw he thought I was a boy. He didn’t wink, or touch my hand, and he seemed like the kind of guy who would do that to a girl. The confusion made me feel safe. It’s easier pretending to be someone else, because you are never wrong if you make it all up. I don’t know, he said, but I’m not getting very many thumps from these. Well sir I said, what gives you thumps? I don’t want to read about people who are different, he said. I want books to help me remember. Books like photographs.
When he said photographs his lip jumped, and I saw blue gums and crumbed-up spit drying there in his mouth. Then I got angry at his daughter, like when people don’t pay attention to their kids during storytime. Books are terrible babysitters. Do you get thumps ever son? he asked, and the boy he thought I was said yes.
Yes, I said, especially when I read about the History of the United States of America. A boy after my own heart he said, it’s good to remember where we came from. Bring me a book like that? Too much poetry in these, too many people thinking they have different ways to say the same thing—and then, to see each other as they really are. It’s a waste.
Ben’s mom would tell this man the real waste is thinking you are the only person in the world. Ignoring difference is selfish, she says. I mean thank god everyone’s not my mess. That’s a blessing. When she said it she was drinking wine the color of a heart.
I’ll be right back I told the man, in the same tone I used for Ben’s mom. I found him two books with glossed brown covers, by white men in suits about white men with ponytails, but when I came back he’d drifted off to sleep again. I put them on the table and left to sweep out Children’s. If he pees on that chair while he’s sleeping in it Charlene will be so mad.
Mairead Case lives in Denver. She wrote this at the Louder Than a Bomb merchtable, watching the cashbox during bouts. Pretty soon it will be in her book See You In the Morning too (featherproof, 2015).