I handed the girl my books and my discount card.  She looked the titles over as she rang them up–a bit too much attention for my taste.  Then, yes, a remark; I was tuned to its inevitability and tightened up a bit.  I don’t remember it exactly:  “I love this one.  Jane Aye–ree.  Have you read it?”  My discomfort was then instantly doubled, and I choked out something like:  “It’s on my daughter’s summer reading list.”  She made another  comment as she handed me my receipt, but I had withdrawn my attention at that point, and her curious speech patterns had garbled it anyway.  I was dizzy with awkwardness.  Was it a response?  Something new?  Taking it further?  I smiled and offered a placating nod as I headed for the door.

O the thoughts I had.  O the comments I formulated.  O the irony I mustered.  And of course it was a chain store, a floating ship of corporate mega-death.  And so on.

It’s been three days and I can’t forget her smile.  It was ceaseless, endless.  It was present, fixed, from the moment I saw her see me approach the counter.  It was, to use the formerly fashionable post-structuralist phrasing, “always already there.”  And it was obscenely authentic.  Not polite.  Not professional.  Joyous.  She seemed happy to be there doing what she was doing.  Happy helping me.  Happy to talk with a stranger about books.

She loved Jane Aye-ree.  I have no way of knowing what reading is for her.  Because, for one thing, I didn’t ask her, even though I had the opportunity.  She spoke of love.  I offered distracting excuses for being there.  Something about her radiated a truth about bookstores and why people read and why reading is a way to love. I’m the one who wanted the corporate exchange:  just give me my empty abstract product and leave me alone.

I told myself she was in some way “special,”  as if I needed to give myself a satisfying and condescending explanation of why I was so uncomfortable.  But, really, with three days to think about it, I now tell myself she was not so much special as memorable.  I can’t forget her smile.  Her profession of love.  Her Jane Aye-ree.  And as my misery wells up I tell myself other things.  I can’t leave it alone.  I know she is too happy with what she does and with her Jane Aye-ree to ever start wars, cheat people out of their money, snub, back-bite, hold a grudge.  A philosopher and sage had the good sense to hire her for that job.  On and on I go with the things I tell myself.  I know I’m still being condescending,  but guilt does that.  Not really fair to her. Truth be told,  all I really know is what she told me:  she loves Jane Aye-ree.  That prompts me to offer one last truth:  I have never actually read Jane Aye-ree.

6 Thoughts on “Bookstore

  1. Is this one of those things where you suddenly realize that the Other is in fact Not You, and that you must in all justice grant the Other a separate existence? Those are really uncomfortable. I’ve found them easier to deal with since working with the Botanist. (I am not being snarky.)

  2. Jeff on June 1, 2010 at 5:36 pm said:

    I need more work with the Botanist. Where has he gotten off to?

  3. marc on June 2, 2010 at 8:25 am said:

    But, really, with three days to think about it, I now tell myself she was not so much special as memorable.

    That sentence is a botched job, I think. Never been wholly happy with it. “special” needs to evoke a faint nod to “special needs” and I don’t know if it does. Trying to set up an opposition with “memorable” is a false construct. Forced copula. Need to stitch the two things differently.

    I meant this to be a treacly sermonette in which an encounter with an “Other” leads to an appreciation of what’s real beyond my normal hyper-reflective and pretentious channels of existence. Not sure if it’s there.

  4. Jeff on June 2, 2010 at 9:36 am said:

    It’s smiles all the way down.

  5. turff on June 2, 2010 at 9:38 am said:

    I just read the second revision. I read this one yesterday, but it was from the iPhone, in a car, and for that reason I postponed my response.

    Now I’m not sure what I should do. Here’s my delimma: I was about to say how much I enjoyed reading this. I was about to say that this is the sort of thing I would read more of, because I like the way that it captures a moment in a way that I identify with. I was about to say that the creation of that identity with another (Marc) is in some way cathartic. Maybe my internal dialog isn’t as unusual as I thought (if somewhat less able to coalesce into something as coherent as this).

    I feel I should not say those things now, however, as I’ve learned that the author was searching to create something that was “treacly” and a “sermonette”, and I’m terrified what it may communicate to my peers that I identify (and find comfort in) something that fits that description.

    On the other hand, perhaps they already know.

  6. marc on June 2, 2010 at 12:23 pm said:

    Turff, I was afraid you were going to say you did not like the revisions. I am content. Treacly and content.

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