I have always dreamed of owning a bookstore, or at least working in one.
I never actually thought I would, though. It’s hard to make much of a living doing something like that.
So, when the aging and slightly rotund owner of our neighbourhood bookstore suggested I take over the business from him in a few years, I didn’t really take him seriously. It was my first time in there, for one thing. He didn’t know me. It was a nice offer, a nice thing to pretend was real, but that was about it.
“I can see you belong in here,” was his line. It was a good line. I did feel like I belonged there.
It was a great little bookstore, so I kept going back. Partially because of his offer. I started to think that was what he had intentded; maybe he was just marketing his business and I was gullible. Maybe he offered it to all the book lovers who walked through his doors. Maybe that’s why everyone kept coming back. That and the books, of course.
I liked the way he hand-wrote recommendations on cards beside his favourite books. Some of them were the same books you’d find in any bookstore, but many were not. I had looked at our city library and online for some of the nicer ones but hadn’t found them anywhere.
They seemed to be special somehow, as though imbued with some kind of magic.
Of course, they weren’t. But they had a certain remarkable quality. They were beautiful, for one thing. I didn’t always have enough money to buy them, but I liked visiting them, turning them over in my hands, admiring the leather bindings, the golden lettering, the distinct and delicate fly leafs. I would be drawn to a particular one and would stand there, flipping through the pages and getting lost in the words.
Several years passed and I continued to frequent the place. The owner and I would chat, small talk mostly, and I learned he had been an English professor and owning a bookstore had been one of his dreams. But now he was getting close to retiring.
One day, about three years after that first time I walked through the doors, he beckoned to me when he saw me standing in the corner, book in hand.
“I want to show you something,” he said, motioning for me to follow him into the storage area at the back.
Sensing my hesitation, he called over his shoulder, “you’ll need to know about this if you’re going to take over from me.”
I still felt uneasy, but the promise of a future full of books propelled me onward – he probably didn’t say that to all the book loving clients – and I followed him past partially-unpacked boxes, to a doorway that yawned open.
It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. My feet were poised at the top of a spiral iron staircase leading down into a dimly lit basement. Its walls were made of stone, it looked like a catacomb and smelled of old books, must and leather.
As I started down the stairs, long shelves of books, very old books, came into view. They lined the walls on both sides of the room. In the centre of the floor, between the shelves, sat two large oak tables. They were bathed in a soft golden glow emanating from two lamps that stood upon them and they lit what looked to be antique books strewn across the tabletops.
“This is where we bind them,” he said from the far end of the room. I hadn’t noticed him there in the shadows.
“Bind what?” I thought to myself, looking around at what might have been a book lover’s paradise, but also seemed slightly eerie. We?
“Why the books, of course,” he answered, though I hadn’t spoken. “You’ll learn to do it, don’t worry.”
I furrowed my brow and nudged a manuscript of yellowed papers into the light. It seemed old – hundreds of years old. The title, in faint black script, read Categorization of the Vocabulary of our Post-Norman Tongue.
Binding ancient books?
“This is yours now. All of it.” He interrupted my thoughts with a smile I couldn’t quite read.
He crossed the room and went back up the stairs. I thought he went to get something, or maybe to check on the store.
I sat there and waited, but he never came back.
* * *
Word count: 750
Written in response to the Speakeasy at Yeah Write #146. Submissions must be 750 words or less and this week must end with the line “I sat there and waited, but he never came back,” and in some way reference a clip from Blackadder (to see the clip and full instructions, please click on the badge).