Round and Round—A Bookish Children’s Fable (Part 3)

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If you haven’t read Parts 1 & 2, here are the links:

Part 1

Part 2

 


 

The day’s newspaper lay on the sidewalk outside the front door. It was rolled tightly and a rubber band kept it that way. The Young Bookseller picked it up, unlocked the door and went inside. He set the paper on the counter and rolled the rubber band off of it. He opened the newspaper and turned it over. He lifted up the last page and the Want Ads appeared. He drew his finger up the center column from the bottom until he got to the Lost & Found section. There was his ad:

“Ring found. If you have lost a ring please send a complete description and the location where you think you might have lost it to Box #17071 ℅ Classifieds Courier Express …”

It was the ad’s first day, so there certainly could not be any results. He decided to wait a couple days before he bothered the woman at the ad department with a call.

He headed back to his office to get the fishing tackle box, so he could get the shop open and start the day’s book work. About halfway back on the floor in the middle of the aisle a thick hardcover book lay gently splayed open.

“Odd…”

He bent and picked it up. It was the first volume of Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples.

“This was not here last night. I would have stepped on it when I left. And History is two aisles over. How did it get here?”

He decided to put it back right away because a broken set of an author’s multivolume work is a sad thing. Once broken, a set rarely comes together again. It can be difficult to find all the exact missing pieces in exactly the same matching condition.

He crossed over two aisles, turned right and went to the book case where a hand lettered paperboard sign at the top of the top shelf read: “Histories of the British Isles.” He knew exactly where the 4 volume Churchill set was shelved. He expected there to be a void, a gap where the volume in his hand belonged. But just to the left of Volume Two of The History of the English Speaking Peoples was filled with an old leather volume of The Poetry and Prose of John Milton!

“I do not recall having a Milton that nice!” A gust of breath rushed out his nose. “Hmphhh!”

He removed the Milton and slipped the Churchill into its proper place.

“I may as well shelve the Milton while I am at it.”

The Literature section was three aisles over and to the left. He walked past Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, John Galsworthy …

“I do not think I have ever had anyone come in to acquire one his books,” he thought.

…Ernest Hemingway, Zora Neale Hurston, Henry James, Andrew Marvell. (There were just two books there. One by him. One about him.)

When he looked at where the Milton books were shelved, there was no space! They were packed tight! Well, not tight. The Young Bookseller had a rule about shelving. He called it the Two Finger Rule.

“If a book cannot be easily taken off a shelf using only a thumb and finger, then you have tried to squeeze too many books on that shelf.”

He had been in bookstores where they tried so hard to get one last book on a shelf that you had to tug and tug and risk tearing the book’s spine to remove a wedged volume. Either that or just give up in frustration and move on to another looser shelf.

He noted that some of the books stuck out too much and others were pushed in too far. He made a mental note to return and “pat” those shelves when time allowed.

It was getting close to the opening hour. The Old Bookseller had impressed upon him:

“You must abide by your store’s posted hours. Your customer has made the effort to come visit you. They may be quite unhappy if you keep them standing on the sidewalk waiting for you to unlock the door. Worse, if they wait too long, they may leave and never come back.”

He hurried back to the office, unlocked the door, switched on the light and paused for a moment to gaze upon the ring upon the wall. He set the beautiful Milton atop the shelf below the ring and went to his desk. He picked up the fishing tackle box and carried it to the front counter. The hands on the clock on the wall above the counter told him it was 9:59. He stepped to the door and turned the sign so the side that read “Open” faced out. He turned the lock with his thumb and forefinger. With a click the store was open. He pushed on the door—just to be sure and peeped out on to the sidewalk.

No one was waiting to come in. Typical. But better safe than sorry.

He went behind the counter and slipped a new Daily Sheet from the supply shelves below. At the top where “Date:” was printed, he filled in the day’s date. The top line of the accounting column read “Starting Cash:” He wrote in $100.00.

“It was one hundred when I left last night. I wonder if I should double check?”

The day went by. Some people bought some books. Some brought in books they wanted the bookstore to have. The Young Bookseller did manage to straighten the rest of the shelves in Literature. He also worked on the History sections.

But he also sensed some kind of disturbance in the shop. Tension…or was it anticipation? Often during the day when he was alone in the shop, he felt there was jostling going on in the next row over. As if the books were bumping shoulders against one another in concerned uneasiness.

That evening when he switched the lights out near the front door and was about to push the door open to leave—he thought he heard whispers. Hundreds of whispers? He turned and cocked his ear toward the darkened rows of books. No. Nothing. Dead silence.

He pushed on the door. The bell jingled for the last time that day. He stepped off the curb and walked across the poorly lit parking lot toward his sad old warhorse of a pickup truck. A finely tooled calf short folio of The Poetry and Prose of John Milton was tucked under his arm. The leather felt warm and alive in hand. His fingers gently curled around the raised bands of the spine.

The next two days were quite the same. He would check the newspaper ad first thing in the morning. Why? He didn’t know. It would be the same every day the newspaper was printed. The shop was its usual self except … well, there was some buzz amongst the stacks. The shelves needed constant patting. In every section it seemed more books stuck out or sat back than usual. There were not that many customers in, so why did it seem every section became jumbled, disarrayed almost as quickly as he had put them in order?

Each night he would close, go back to his office, count the day’s proceeds, make a night deposit on the way home, make a simple dinner, read, sleep and dream.

But, oh, what dreams. They were so vivid. Greens and blues. Trees and fields. Books on shelves. Books on old wooden tables. Forests became books. He dreamed forests of books. Oddly, he had dreams of beautiful books held toward him in graceful female hands. Each time it was a different book seemingly being offered to him. When he awoke, he felt refreshed and was excited and anxious to go to the shop. Even more excited than usual!

He wished he could remember every detail of the dreams. But dreams are fleeting things when the conscious mind awakens. Where they go, no one knows. They can be so real so they must reside somewhere. That would be a secret he would like to learn.

On the fourth day that the Want Ad was printed he decided he would call in and ask if there were any letters in his secret box.

He opened the front door. The bell jingled when he entered. There were a couple books on the floor just inside. He set the newspaper on the sales counter. He bent and picked up the books. He had left a stack of about 17 books on the counter at closing time. They were priced and ready to be shelved. This morning there were only nine still on the counter. Those plus the two in his hand from the floor made eleven. Where were the other six?

Well, he has suspicions. He would not be surprised if he found them on the shelves where they belonged. Or perhaps on shelves where they did NOT belong!

He was not concerned. If anything, he was a bit amused. If he was losing his mind, then it was an interesting way to go.

When the day was started and the Closed sign was flipped to Open, he lifted the telephone receiver off its cradle. He punched in the numbers and called the newspaper Classified Ad department’s number. The same voice answered as he had spoken with 5 days before. He explained the reason for his call and gave her the Secret Box number that was in the ad.

“Let me go check,” she said. He heard her lay her telephone on her desk with a soft clunk.

She was back on in a minute.

“There is a letter here! Would you like us to mail it to you or do you want to pick it up?”

He thought for a moment.

“What time do you close?”

“5 o’clock.”

Darn! The store was open until 6.

He thought for a bit. Maybe he could get Sallie to come watch the store for a bit.

Sallie was a friend and a customer. She had offered to cover an hour or a couple if he ever had an errand that needed to be run during shop hours.

“I’ll see if I can come in today,” he said.

“Well, don’t come between twelve and one. We won’t be here during lunchtime!”

He then called Sallie, and she agreed to come in the afternoon.

“Anytime after one but before 4. They close at 5, and I think it may be the kind of office that will close early if business is slow.”

Sallie came in just after one.

“Anything you want me to do?” she asked.

“Sell books!” he said. That was the rallying cry the Old Bookseller had always used as a valediction whenever he left the Young Bookseller in charge of his own shop.

“If no one comes in, look around for something to read. I will owe you a book or two for covering for me.”

The newspaper office was in the old downtown. The little city had 7 very old churches whose spires rose into the sky above all the other much shorter old brick and stone townhouses and storefronts clustered around them. From a distance they appeared to be a group. A pinnacled skyline. The “Clustered Spires.”

He found a parking spot in which it was not too difficult to parallel park. He walked past the Rescue Mission. It was on the corner of 3rd St and 5th Ave in a 1870s storefront. He was tempted to stop in. They helped raise funds for their mission of feeding and housing the down-and-out by selling donated stuff. Including books! One time he stopped in there and amongst the tattered paperbacks and Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, he found a run of 19 Arkham House First Editions in perfect dust jackets for a quarter apiece! Lovercraft, Ray Bradbury, Robert Howard, Le Fanu, Algernon Blackwood …

He would stop in whenever he could in hopes of another treasure trove. Because of his good fortune, he would often buy books that were of marginal interest. He did this to help them out and also to encourage them to keep accepting books.

But there was no time this day. He did not want to keep Sallie too long. He went into the newspaper building and found the Classified Advertising office. It had an old-fashioned Dutch door.

The top half was open. The lower half had a seven-inch shelf atop it. There was an old-fashioned brass desk bell on the shelf.

He pushed down on the button with his forefinger, and it softly chimed.

A young woman appeared. Her long hair was bound up high atop her head with what appeared to be chopsticks. She had half-frame reading glasses resting low near the tip of her nose. She tilted her head a bit so she could look at the Young Bookseller over the top of the lenses, but he could not really see her eyes.

“May I help you?”

It was the same voice he had spoken to over the phone.

“Yes, I am here about the lost ring.”

“You lost a ring?”

“No, no. The ad I placed about the ring I found!”

“Oh, yes. We’ve had one response so far. I’ll get it for you.”

She went to the wall behind her and withdrew an envelope from one of the built-in cubbyholes and brought it over.

“Here you go.”

He said: “Thank you,” and turned to leave.

“I hope you find the owner!”

“I do too.” But he wasn’t so sure of that. There was something about that ring. Something that made him feel good having it around.

He stepped out onto the sidewalk and walked to his truck. Soon he was back at the store.

“That was quick!” Sallie said. “I barely had time to look around.”

“Did anyone come in?”

“Not a soul. Although I swear I felt like there were others in here.”

“Thank you for watching the place.”

“Glad to. Anytime.”

“Do you want to stay and look around?”

“Nope. I haven’t taken the last batch I bought from you out of the bag yet.”

She came from around the counter and headed for the front door.

“You should be more careful stocking your books. I found two that had fallen to the floor!”

“I know. It has been a problem lately. More than ever before.”

The silver bell above the door jangled as she pushed the door open and left.

The Young Bookseller walked behind the counter and set the letter on the counter. It was addressed in a shaky hand. The same kind of hand his grandmother had on the birthday card envelopes she would send him when he was a child. He took a deep breath and pushed his finger into the upper corner. He slid his finger across the top, and with a soft tearing noise the envelope was opened. He withdrew the letter inside. It was on stationary that had a cluster of little pink flowers printed in the upper right corner.

“Dear Ring Finder,

I lost my class ring nearly twenty years ago. I think it came off in the park downtown when I was playing badminton with my sisters. It is gold and has the high school crest on the front. My initials are engraved inside. GSP. If you have found my ring, I would very much like it back. I am willing to offer a small reward for it. My address is…”

He breathed a sigh of relief and set the letter and envelope into the wastebasket beside him.

He waited a few more days before he called again. Books came and books left. The strange buzz around the bookstore subsided just a little bit. There were still more books out of place than usual. The books on the shelves throughout the store needed more “patting” than usual. Especially the Literature and History sections. He would often find them in disarray in the morning when he felt sure they had looked ok the day before.

It was the seventh day of the ad’s run.

“Why yes, we have two letters in your box.”

“What time do you open tomorrow?”

“Nine.”

“I will come in then.”

The next morning, he left home early enough to get to the newspaper exactly at 9 am.

“The ring finder, right?”

The young woman smiled warmly. Her hair was still up in chopsticks. Her glasses were still at the tip of her nose. She was looking down at some papers on her desk.

How had she known he was there? How had she known it was he?

“Yes.”

She rose, turned and then returned with two envelopes in her hand.

“We’re billing that bookstore for the ad correct?”

“Yes.”

“Is that where you work?”

“Yes. I am the only one there.”

“What kind of books do you have?”

“All kinds. Used books. Some old and some not so old.”

“I like books. Do you have any on myths and mythological creatures?”

“Yes. We always have something.”

“What are your hours?”

He told her the days and times.

“I’ll try to get out there sometime.”

“Oh. Ok.”

Then he turned and left. He had taken three steps down from the newspapers front door when he stopped. There were nine stone steps that descended from the front stoop to the sidewalk.

He grasped the old cast iron handrail and thought: “That would be nice.” Why had he not said that to her?

He had enough time to pop into the Rescue Mission and quickly scan the shelves. It was the usual dreck of old book club novels by forgotten authors and paperback series romance novels. But on the top shelf he espied a thick old cloth tome. It was bound in a dark forest green binding. He reached and plucked it off the top shelf and read the title on the front cover.

The Faeries, Sylphs, Sprites, Nymphs, Naiads, and Dryads of Ireland and British Isles

“I have never heard of this before,” he thought.

It was a beautiful book and so out of character from the rest of the books on the shelves. It was in a publisher’s binding. The lettering and an image of a floating fey female figure in diaphanous flowing robes were embossed upon the cloth. They were finished off in silver and gold.

He looked inside the cover. “$9” was penciled on the endpaper.

Wow. They have never marked any book here that high!

But he wanted it and so walked back to the counter at the rear of the old storefront. Reverend Shell was at the counter explaining to one of the men who helped out there how to strip the rubber off old electric cords so they could sell the copper beneath.

“Why hello! The book guy!”

“Yes. I would like this one.”

“That’s a purty one. I don’t recall seein’ that come in!”

He looked inside for the price. “9 dollars! We never price books that high. How bout three?”

“No. That is not fair.”

Reverend Shell raised his big bushy eyebrows.

“How much is it worth to you?”

“I would like to pay the nine. Consider it a thank you for the good work you do here. You give away a lot of food to people that need it. I was thinking of collecting canned food for you at the shop. Would that be ok?”

“Ok? That would be Wonderful!”

The Young Bookseller counted out 9 one-dollar bills and asked for the receipt so he could reimburse himself from the store’s funds.

He put the thick beautiful green cloth book under his arm and left.

He found his truck and got to the store at 9:55. He turned the Open side of the sign to face outward. He turned on the lights. He set the two letters upon the front counter and hurried back toward his office. He nearly tripped on a book lying in the middle of the aisle. He gently slid it to the side with his right foot.

“I will figure out where you came from later,” he spoke those words aloud to the book as he continued toward his office.

It did not reply.

He unlocked the office door and stepped in and saw the ring’s soft golden glow upon the wall. He switched on the office lights and picked up the battered green metal fishing tackle box and hurried back to the front counter. He filled out the Daily Sheet with the day’s date and the starting cash: $100.00.

He opened both of the letters and both were inquiring about rings that did not match the one he had found.

One was for an engagement ring. It was written in a young woman’s hand: “It is white gold with a tiny diamond inset. I was having a fight with my fiancé and I threw it out the car window on Route 40 near the Mall. We looked and looked and could not find. If you have found it, please return it as I am no longer angry with him.”

The other read: “My little daughter lost the gold Claddagh ring that her Grandma gave her. She thinks maybe it came off while she was playing in the sandbox behind the school on Sunday about a month ago. Please…”

Soon the day came for the final insertion of the “Found Ring” advertisement in the newspaper. The Young Bookseller had been patient and had not called. He sort of wanted to hear the young woman’s voice but felt a bit shy about calling in. He made up his mind he would call at the end of the day today, and if there were any more responses, he would go to the newspaper before the store opened tomorrow.

Around noon a big old pickup truck backed toward the front door. A burley man with ginger colored hair came in and said: “I work at the dump and some guy came in and dropped all these books off. They look too nice to put in the landfill. Can you take them?”

The Young Bookseller followed the man outside. He peered over the tailgate and was surprised to see about 20 boxes with their lids open. Each was filled with tall slipcased books with their spines up. He could tell right away they were all Heritage Press classics.

“Someone was going to throw these all away?”

“Yep. He just set them on the ground to be pushed into the pit, and then he left.”

“I am pretty well stocked on Literature right now. The shelves are stuffed actually. I could offer you 55 for these.”

“How bout 77?”

“66?”

“77.”

“Ok.”

“I will take 5 boxes inside now. The rest I would like to put in my truck across the lot over there.”

“I’ll help you. Where do you want the boxes inside?” the Ginger man asked.

“Right on the counter. I will need to price them in pencil before I can take them out to the shelves. I am afraid most will have to go on the floor until I can work them in,” the Young Bookseller replied.

He thought but did not say: “A lot of books have been on the floor recently anyway.”

And so the day went. He had a little flurry of customers after 4 pm. He wanted to call the newspaper but each time he tried one of the customers came up to him with a question or some books they wanted to buy. It was getting closer and closer to 5. He kept glancing at the clock.

At 449 he saw he had a little break in the workflow. He lifted the old black phone off its cradle and punched in the numbers for the Classified Desk. Was she gone for the day? It rang seven times. Then nine. Then eleven. Then she answered.

“Classified.”

“Hi, I am calling about…”

“The ring! I recognize your voice. I’ll go check.”

She set the phone down with a soft “clunk,” and in a couple moments he heard her footsteps and then the sound of her lifting the phone up.

Silence.

“Hello?” he said

“Hello,” she replied. “There was something in your Secret Box. Ummm… It is very strange. I’m not sure what it is though. I’m heading out your way to let my grandmother’s dog out. Will you be there at 6?”

He was going to say: “I usually close at 6.” But he caught himself and said: “Sure.”

He really wanted to see what the last letter about the Lost and Found ring was all about. And there was something else too.

He continued slipping the Heritage Press classics out of their slipcases. Once the book was out, he would lift the cover and gently pencil a price on the front free endpaper. Most he priced at seven fifty. Those that were by more popular authors or had illustrations by desirable artists he went a little higher on. The last box he had brought inside contained Dante’s Divine Comedy, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Milton’s L’Allegro and Il Penseroso in it. Each of those books had reproductions of William Blake illustrations.

“Imagine throwing these books away! They all look brand new. I bet the guy ordered them through the mail and just put them on his shelves for looks. He could have given them to the Rescue Mission as easily as dumping them. Or sold them to me.”

The Young Bookseller shook his head. He just could not understand how some people treated books.

The customers lingered and lingered. The Young Bookseller would never tell a customer to hurry up; that he was closing soon. The Old Bookseller, his mentor, had taught him:

“If someone has made the effort to come to your store, let them stay as long as you can stay. Especially if you think they might buy some books!”

Plus he was going to stay until the young woman brought the last letter. Would the rightful owner have written him at last?

The last customer meandered up to the counter around 5:50. She was a teenager. She set four books on the counter. They were the four William Blake books he had just priced! He had carried them back and set them atop some of the other Heritage Press books on the floor pressed up against the bookcases in classics.

He had priced each of them in pencil at nine fifty.

“I can’t afford all these right now. Can you put them on hold?”

“I just got these in today. I got a real good deal on them. Someone was going to throw them away.”

“No!!”

“Yes. I think you should have them. Can you take all four for eleven dollars today?”

“Why yes. Yes! I love William Blake and maybe these will inspire me to read these books as well.”

He picked up his pencil and receipt pad and wrote: “4 William Blake Heritage Press Books. $11”

The girl opened her little purse and counted out eleven one-dollar bills.

The Young Bookseller put the books into a bag along with the receipt and a few free bookmarks with the shop’s name, address, phone number and hours printed upon them. In the bottom right-hand corner they read “Books Bought & Sold.”

The girl turned from the counter with a big smile on her face. The bell above the door jangled when she pushed it open.

He glanced up at the round face of the clock on the wall. It was 5:57.

A few moments later when he was bent below the counter gathering the day’s paperwork together and closing up the battered green metal fishing tackle box, he heard the bell above the front door jingle jangle its greeting. He straightened up and struck his head upon the edge of the counter with pretty substantial “knock.”

He heard a little giggle “Hehe” and looked across the counter.

It was the young woman from the newspaper…but it wasn’t. Her hair was down. It was long raven black hair flowing over both shoulders. It flowed over the back and front of her right shoulder. It flowed on the back and front of her left shoulder. Her eyes were the deepest blue-green. He realized their eyes had not met the two times visiting her office. They were the same eyes as the old woman who had visited the day he had found the ring.

She wore no glasses near the very tip of her nose.

She reached into a fold inside the right side of the flowing forest green gown she wore and withdrew a legal-size envelope. She set it upon the counter. There was nothing written on the front of it.

“I have never seen anything like this in all my time at the newspaper.” She gave him a wry smile, and her eyes twinkled merrily as if she was privy to a private joke. “I asked everyone there if they saw who put it in your box. It was not the mailman. I was there when he delivered today. There was nothing for you.”

The Young Bookseller reached for the envelope.

“May I see that book on the shelf behind you?”

“Umm…yes…umm…sure. Which one?”

“The green one with all the silver and gold upon it.”

He turned and saw she meant the book he had found that day at the Rescue Mission. He took it down and handed it across the counter to her. Her hands were ivory white. Her fingers very long graceful and tapered.

“Why had I not noticed her hands before? Or her eyes?” he thought.

“Why this is lovely! How much is it?”

“It was nine dollars,” he stammered.

She reached in the folds on the left side of her gown. She counted nine one-dollar bills on to the counter one at a time.

“Thank you,” he said. And when he looked up her eyes were now emerald green.

“Thank you!” she replied. “Maybe I will see someone fam…uh…something I should learn about in here.”

She tapped her left forefinger on the book three times. He looked down at her hand as she did. When he looked back up her eyes were turquoise!

He took the money and bent to put it in the box. He had closed the metal box in anticipation that the day’s sales were over. He pushed the button then lifted the lid and placed the green paper money atop the others in the bottom of the box.

He straightened and again bumped his head on the edge of the counter. “Knock!” He thought he heard “Hehe,” but the young woman was gone.

“Can I… Will I ever…” he spoke aloud but softly.

He thought he heard, but more he sensed the word “Perhaps.”

It took some moments to compose himself. When his hands stopped shaking, he reached for the envelope she had left. It was not sealed. He lifted the flap and tilted it toward himself. Out slipped a crinkled yellowed bit of paper. It was folded upon it self like an envelope. He picked it up and looked closely. It was vellum. Ancient vellum. He turned it over and saw his name was written upon it. The writing was in dark brown ink. The handwriting was mellifluous but in a medieval kind of script. Had he not recognized his own name, he might have had trouble deciphering it.

He turned it over in his hand a couple more times.

“Should I open it?” he thought. “Now?”

End Part 3.

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