Binding Words


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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.

stock photo copyright Diane Rosier

* * *

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).


45 thoughts on “Binding Words

  1. Such a cool story and you could go on and on too. Would love to find out what happens! The story made me think of the Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman, have you read that?? Easy, fun read but around the mystery of old books…

    • Thanks Robin! I did think about continuing it at some point, actually. But I also tried to end it in such a way that I wouldn’t have to.
      I’ve never heard of the Cookbook Collector. I’ll have to check it out. I have read the People of the Book. Have you? Interesting premise but the book itself is a bit overly soap opera-ish. But the parts about book binding are great. Notice the trend!? 🙂

  2. Oh wow locked in a room full with ancient yellow pages to bind…sounds scary 😉 Loved your brought back memories of book reading when we actually used to hold books in our hands to read a story or something,,the smell of books, the feel I love it ! Owning a book store seems like a great idea now ! Beautiful story 🙂

    • Thank you! Glad you liked it. When I was describing the room, I could really see it in my mind.
      Do you know, there was a recent study asking teenagers whether they’d prefer to read electronically or with real books and the majority said real books. There’s still hope!

  3. I love books. When I go to one of them. I always buy two or three books. But book binding might be hard to do. The basement and dim lights made the atmosphere a bit scary.

  4. Oooh that tickled my fancy. I imagined this bookstore I went to one in New Hampshire, because it to had little handwritten recommendations. And then….the mystery of the man disappearing…I got chills! And then i like “book arts” and the beauty of ood books, and have bound books myself…so needless to say, I totally identified with your character. Great job!

    • Thanks! So glad it tugged at your memories and resonated with you. Thank you for sharing your own experiences. I’m actually just learning book binding so that’s how it all fell into place I think.

    • Thanks so much, Suzanne! That is a lovely compliment. I’m glad you like the descriptions.
      I’m just starting to learn how to bind books – nothing like the ones in the story yet, but still so great to be doing.

  5. Cool story! I wasn’t sure if he was going to be locked down there or if the owner would come back at some point. I guess I’m just skeptical because it’s not every day that someone offers their business to you!

    • That part actually happened to me – the offer I mean. Not the rest of it! And I thought “what would happen if I followed that through to a conclusion?” I guess in the story he was just ready to let go and retire.

  6. I’m holding my breath waiting for him to bring back tea and cakes. I really need to know if she ever gets out of that place..Another wonderful edgy moment. well done.

  7. I had the same dream of owning my own bookstore, and it still lurks in the back of my mind. I felt her enjoyment of visiting the bookstore and it reminded me of when I was younger and did the same 😀 Excellently crafted story!

    • Thanks so much! I’m glad it brought back such nice memories. I think so many of us who enjoy writing love books, book stores, book arts and all the other things that go with that.

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