Callie has the gift of perceiving an object's stored memories.
"Everything up to 80% off." The wrinkled old lady sadly called at the tinkling of a bell over her shop door. She looked up from applying red stickers over yellow ones on books with still shiny covers to see my familiar face. "Ah, Callie, I was hoping you'd come today."
I gave a polite smile as I passed before ducking into the last aisles. Vivian had been moving her wares forward over the past three months, staying open as long as she could get the bank to hold off collecting on her loans to sell as much as possible. I think she was sleeping here. I suspected they had already foreclosed on her home.
The last aisle held the oldest books, some still covered in dust. The classics were all gone as collectors from the city had driven a hundred miles to grab them the first day they'd heard about her store closing. The books left were a decrepit bunch with old binding and yellow pages: spines all sun-bleached gray but covers bright.
Vivian had taken down the thick curtains that had given the shop a homey feel and moved the comfortable reading chairs for selling. I only just realized they were gone. Sadness swept over me. The store was really closing.
This place had been my home away from home the past 3 years. I could curl up in a chair by the curtained window and dive into any book under Vivian’s watchful, but distant eye. She was like a great aunt to me, even giving me quotes as advice and picking out books for me when I had exhausted all the titles I knew. She was a librarian as well as a saleswoman, and more of a guardian to her treasures and wizened old woman than a mother hen. I was going to miss her.
I ran my fingertip across them unfocusing my eyes from their faded titles. The letters were all worn away, anyway. Dust mites flew in a sunbeam across the shelf from the naked windows. Something flashed before my eyes, a face, a handsome young man, but he looked sad, troubled, and brooding. It was a face that stopped your heart and left you wanting to help him at the same time. Then he was gone. Such a clear image for a millisecond: one that I wanted to see again. Maybe if I retraced my steps. I ran my hand back over the spines again, slowly. I concentrated, my entire being desiring to find him.
There, he turned away from me, his dark hair in high contrast to his pale skin. Odd, how he was in black and white, like an old movie. He wore suspenders like in the shows depicting pioneers or the Amish. My eyes were open and I could still see the books on the shelf through the image which seemed on another plane, somehow projected in the air before me, but with emotion, like a dream. A walking dream. He began to fade. I realized quickly that I was tired. I pulled the book from the shelf with me as I sat on the floor. The vision of the man had gone, my body too exhausted with the effort of seeking it to continue the broadcast.
The book was in a plain brown cover, with only the dates 1878-1903, a twenty five year span. The inside cover was sprawled with faded ink, cursive letters stretched out in an ancient hand. O’Neale.
The first page was dated Apr. 3 1878, ‘Raining. Father’s helping Tulane’s barn.’ Then there was a poem.
Only you can whisper in my ear
The secrets that I know.
I lied to you, the
Redness in your face was such a disgrace.
My lord please
Help my soul.
My heart leapt. It was like reading the diary of my best friend. I felt guilty, but I did not want to leave this treasure in the store.
“Found something good, Callie?” Vivian’s voice startled me, and I clutched the book protectively to my chest, cheeks burning in shame. She chuckled. “Must be really good. Since you are such a good customer, I’ll let you have it for free, as long as you cherish it as any book deserves to be cherished.” She sighed and her eyes wandered over the bare walls. Her face was sad and dreamy at the same time. Tears pooled just inside her eyelids, not coming out. Her body slightly shuddered with an intake of breath.
I loosened my grip on the journal. “Thank you.” After an awkward pause in which I allowed the woman to reminisce, I spoke the truth that she needed to hear. “I’m going to miss you.” She gave a smile that didn’t take away the sadness, but instead forced the waiting tears to roll down her cheeks. Her face went very red as she tried to stop them and her smile wobbled. She opened her arms and I stood to hug her. My nose stung with emotion I didn’t know I held for her. I sniffed to make it stop. She exhaled in a single shudder, thinking we shared the same sadness in our embrace. Her hurt was far worse than mine, and suddenly the hug was awkward. I moved slightly to pull back out of it. She responded, dropping her arms, sniffling and wiping her eyes.
“Are there any other books you’d like to buy?” She assumed her saleswoman visage to clear the awkwardness between us. That’s why I loved her. She knew when enough was enough. I turned down another aisle and grabbed a couple random books that looked like sad romantic stories, which was what I was in the mood for, without even reading the jackets. She bagged them and took my money. In a fit of generosity, I told her to keep the change. She nearly wept again as I made a hasty exit before she triggered my tears.