I get to work 20 minutes before my shift. The air is stale and the building is silent. It feels like a mausoleum.
People like to believe that used bookstores are romantic. They impose memories that fill you with nostalgia. But the books are full of dust and mold and after six months, all they do for me is make me sneeze.
A customer comes in the store with his basement packaged in boxes to sell.
You can learn a lot about a person by the books they own. You can piece together their lives. I go through this man’s belongings and find books on fishing, parenting, pregnancy, how to manage unruly teenagers. As I continue the story gets darker. I find books on managing drug addictions. AA manuals with the Twelve Steps. Books on grieving. These books are puzzle pieces that make up one singular story.
Fifteen minutes later I call the man back up to announce his offer of $10.
“What? You’re kidding right? For all these books?” His pulse quickens and the veins in his forehead throb. I can tell it’s still fresh. I try to remain indifferent to the memories he’s throwing away. Every person wants their memories, even their bad ones, to be worth something.
Every customer does exactly what he does in this situation; he stares at me across the other side of the counter and sizes me up, judging whether if he jumped onto my side and tried to fight me how well he’d do. All I want to do is hug him and tell him it’ll all be OK. Instead, I bow my head and hand him his money.
There’s a Zen garden beneath my lamppost
Buddha looking up
Soul stones, beach sand, and bonsai scatter the concrete
Cars rush by, stones are thrown
A gentle chanting is heard from the light
Honking stomps on ritual
Detachment, silence, serenity
A couple fights, glass shatters
Buddha eyes closed, breath deep
A war wages in front of me
But there is peace on my lamppost
Artillery shells land close
Tanks roll down my street
Fighter jets shake the sky
Buddha sits in the sand beneath my lamppost
He ignores my puncture wounds
He shifts the soul stones in his hands
My heart bleeds through bullet holes, my lungs leak air
But there’s a Zen garden beneath my lamppost
And Buddha sits calm
The car came, they sprayed bullets wildly, their targets were picked with blindfolds and coin flips. As the first bullet hit Eden she figured it could’ve happened to anyone. Living in Chicago, shootings happen, accidents happen. She just didn’t think it’d be her. The bullet punched a hole through the sides of her neck, clean. Another bullet hit her shoulder; loose flesh was all that was left.
Eden stood up as the car squealed away. She rubbed her hand on her neck, she felt sore, like she’d been sleeping in a weird position. She stretched her extremities and cracked her neck sending a splash of blood into the air. The gushing blood from her neck was getting mixed into her long dark hair, weighing down her already strained neck.
Eden figured that she should probably get to a hospital. She figured, with shot wounds like these she might die soon. This didn’t scare her. She was sure someone would call 911. She knew an ambulance would come. She approached a mother sitting on a park bench watching her children playing on the slide. The slides and swings had a few bullet holes but none of the kids seemed to mind.
“Excuse me ma’am, can you call me an ambulance?” blood bubbled out of her neck as she talked, spraying the woman when the bubble popped.
The mother turned to look at her, noticing the bullet holes through her neck and her blood soaked clothes. “That looks pretty painful.”
“It’s not too bad, just sore. Feel like I should probably get an ambulance though, y’know the whole…” Eden gestured to her punctured body.
The mother nodded, “Yeah, well, sorry about that,” the mother turned back to watch her kids, ignoring Eden.
Eden got the hint and looked for someone else. She spotted a bald man in a long brown trench coat. “Excuse me sir, I kinda have a hole in my neck. Can you call me an ambulance?”
The man turned to Eden surprised, “Wow,” he bent down to peer at the hole, “So you do.” He pulled down his glasses and stared through the gap in her neck, staring at the kids on the playground, “That’s fascinating, how’d it happen?”
“I was caught in that drive by shooting that just passed by.”
“Hmm, that’s unfortunate, well, good luck to you,” he said as he walked off to expose himself to the kids on the swings.
Eden began to grow tired as she walked away. She found an empty bench and sat down. She took her shirt and dabbed at the blood gushing from her neck. A young man came and sat down next to her.
“Sup,” he asked with a casual nod.
“Eh, not much, I have a hole in my neck.”
“Hmm, yeah, I noticed that.”
“Do you think you could call me an ambulance?” Eden stared at him waiting for an answer.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, no.”
Eden nodded her head in response. “It’s fine, I’m sure an ambulance will come.” Eden relaxed into the bench, the blood curdled and filled puddles in the nooks of her shoulders.
“For sure,” the man nodded.
Eden sat turning the words over in her mind, “The ambulance will come. The ambulance will come.” When she closed her eyes she believed it.
Red coat. That’s the first thing I see when she walks into the elevator. She’s pretty. She sees me there standing between six others in a cramped elevator. We lock eyes. She smiles. I blush. A scent passes my nostrils. Spring time rain. I envision lying in a field in a soft springtime drizzle. I look up and see her. I smile. A loud conversation carries around us, but her and I stay silent.
She reaches to press her floor button, 6. I see mine, 9. Damn. Not enough time. The elevator stops at the third floor. The crowd around us leaves. We make eye contact as the door closes leaving the two of us alone. We both look back down, smiling to ourselves.
Fourth floor. I start to sweat. I check my phone out of habit. The silence is stifling. I gulp nervously.
Fifth floor. Wait what could I do? What can I even do now? Is it too late to start a conversation? No! I need something more direct. This girl must obviously be someone special. She’s even wearing rain-scented perfume, I love the smell of rain!
Sixth floor. She looks at me, smiles nervously. I smile back hesitating. The door opens and she starts to leave. I grab her by her hand and she looks back at me surprised. I smile and pull her in to kiss her. Inches closer and closer. She snaps out of my hand and slaps my face disgusted
“Oh! Sicko!” She yells.
She grabs her bag and guards her body as she strides quickly off the elevator and out of my sight.
“Well I misread that,” I say to no one but myself as the elevator door closes behind her.