Life Among the Never-Winged

Once upon a time I was writing a book called, "Just Another Love Letter", about angels behaving badly. Now I just quietly ask myself each day, "What the hell am I doing?"

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Location: The Rocky Mountain Empire, United States

My friends always knew I was going to hell. My only hope is that God likes good jokes and bad redheads.

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  • Tuesday, October 31, 2006

    But the Most Innnteresting Customers Are the Dead Ones

    The bookstore is in its new home now, the old dust swept out of the former location, the last bits
    and pieces, odds and ends brought into the new. The stature of Avalokateshvera, the clocks, the
    last of the books.

    And the invisible, unwilling patron.
    I'd wondered if he would come along, yet again, to a third location. He didn't really have a reason
    to;his books are all gone, the last one sold over a year ago, to a most fitting buyer. I still have the
    one givento me twelve years ago, which is perhaps why he seems to have followed us from house
    to house, showing up from October to December every year. I can feel him now, and even Sam
    is on edge, pacing and whining for no good reason.

    Last time I wrote about him, to DMG, he restarted the computer. Let's see if anything happens
    this time.

    I have many stories that originate in the bookstore, stories that come in with the books, the people.
    This is one of the first.

    Twelve years ago, I was job hunting, and stopped at the bookstore after an interview. It was about
    5:30and the store closed at six. We (O, and his folks and me) were talking while a couple of late
    customers browsed. At 6 the customers left, and O's dad went through his ritual of going around
    the store and making sure no one was still there (he's actually had to wake people up; some of
    those chairs are really comfortable). Then he turned off most of the lights. We were still talking at
    the front, and I suddenly got the prickly feeling that someone was still in the store. I think I actually
    stopped mid-sentence and said as much.

    We all went back around the store. I turned down an aisle, positive someone was there. No one
    was there
    of course; just a few boxes of newly-arrived books.

    So O and I went home. Home was about 6 blocks away, in a basement apartment. I don't
    remember anything in particular about that evening, it was just routine. We had dinner, read, talked
    and went
    to bed.
    That's when things got weird.
    I had a dream. It was incredibly realistic, even for me. The only reason I know I wasn't sleep-
    walkingwas because O and I were both awakened soon after by the same thing.

    My dream:
    I dreamed that I woke up and heard someone in the living room. I got up and went to see who
    it was. The apartment was dark, I was in my pajamas. As I said, a very realistic dream. There
    were two figures in our living room. I turned to one, and he (it?) gestured for me to forget it, and
    indicated the other figure.
    My mind slid happily away from this figure and tuned to the other – a man sitting on our couch. He
    appeared to be in his thirties, kind of thin, dark hair. He was very upset. He spoke to me, but I
    couldn't understand his words. It was like he was speaking underwater. Everything he said was
    garbled and distant. I told him to slow down, to speak more clearly. He just got angrier, and
    gestured wildly. I told him I didn't know who he was or what he wanted, but that he needed to
    leave. I said something like, "I can't understand you! I can't help you. Please get out of my apartment."
    I told him I was going back to bed and that he'd better leave.

    I turned to go, and he stood up, throwing his arms in the air, like he was totally exasperated with me.
    He walked behind me, but he turned into the kitchen instead of following me to the bedroom. My
    dream-self got to the bedroom door.

    And that's when O and I were awakened by a BANG.
    We both sat bolt-upright in bed. O told me to stay there while he investigated. He turned on the
    hallway light, then the kitchen light.

    "Oh my God," he said in this sort of disbelieving voice.
    "What!?" I sort of half-shouted, half-whimpered back. I was terrified. The dream was still nice
    and fresh in my head.

    "Come out here. To the kitchen."
    "No I don't want to! What is it?"
    "Just come out here. You have to see this."
    So, I did. And I couldn't believe what I saw.

    But first, let me describe the layout of the kitchen. Stepping through the door, the kitchen table and
    four chairs were directly to the left. Behind them, in the corner, were two narrow, homemade
    bookshelves which held some kitchen appliances, including a toaster, blender, food processor,
    cookbooks and couple of tea sets. The floor was covered in linoleum. Your typical apartment-grade

    "Look," said O, pointing to the floor.
    There was my glass blender container, upside down, in the middle of the kitchen floor. It was about
    eight feet away from its place on the shelf. As I said, these shelves were quite narrow, so the blender
    container had been wedged in next to the base. I looked at the shelf where it had been and saw scratch
    marks along the inside, as if someone had forcibly pulled it out.

    "Wow. Look at this." O had gotten on his knees to examine the blender. I went over and bent down.
    The glass container was perfectly unharmed, but it had come down so hard on the floor that the linoleum
    under one corner had split into an L-shape, and the concrete under it was dented in about an eighth of
    an inch.

    There is no possible way this thing had simply fallen. It would have been on the chair in front of the
    shelves, or at least on the table. Even if it had bounced, we would have heard consecutive sounds, not
    just one big bang. Nothing else on the shelves had moved, not even the tea cups. The blender, as
    I said, had been wedged in. It took effort to pull it out. It was like someone had roughly pulled it out,
    leaving marks in the wood, carried it about four steps to the middle of the kitchen floor, and slammed
    it down as hard as they could, denting solid concrete but without shattering the glass. (as a side note,
    I accidentally dropped and broke the container some years later in our kitchen at our first house.
    merely slipped out of my hand, and that was that.)
    So, anyway, my guest now had my full, complete, undivided attention. I told O about the dream.
    Needless to say, he was totally freaked out. I went into the living room, lit a candle and sat down.

    "Ok, I'm awake now, and you've got my attention. What do you want?" I said, and waited.
    Nothing physical happened (thank God), but I got this sort of story in my head, with these images.
    Hard to explain. Anyway, what it boiled down to was that this guy wanted to know what we were
    doing with his books. He also wanted to know where his music was. He was under the impression
    that we had stolen his book and music collection. I kept getting this image of this stony-faced woman,
    too, someone who upset him. He was very depressed, and his only love in life was his books and his
    music. He lived at home.

    I told him he wasn't alive anymore, that if he had tried to commit suicide, he'd succeeded. I told him that
    if he saw a light to go toward it (a la Poltergeist; I was winging it here) and that we owned a bookstore,
    we weren't thieves, and if we had his books, it was because someone had brought them in. I didn't
    know anything about his music. After that, O and I went back to bed. I didn't know if I'd accomplished
    anything, but we weren't disturbed for the rest of the night.

    The next day, O's dad told him about the books he'd bought the day before. Apparently, a woman
    had called the store and asked if we would buy a collection of books from her. O's dad went out to
    house. He described the woman as cold and unfriendly, in her sixties, dark-haired. The books
    weredownstairs in a bedroom in the basement, well cared for, covered in protective jackets, carefully
    He asked her about them.

    "They were my son's," she said.
    "Oh, did he move away?" he asked.
    "No, he's dead," she answered flatly. O's dad gave her his sympathy, and she sort of shrugged it off.
    She was angry and didn't want to talk about it.

    So he boxed up the books. The same boxes that were sitting in the aisle where I thought for sure I'd
    see someone.

    As he was boxing them up, the woman asked if he sold CDs as well. Her son had a magnificent
    collection of classical CDs. O's dad was tempted to buy them from her for himself but ultimately
    passed. There were just too many.

    Then O told his dad about what had happened the night before. He pulled out one of the books and
    told O to give it to me, as a memento. As I said, I still have it. It's a book of Chinese folk-tales.
    There were all sorts of interesting and off-beat books like that in his collection. They are scattered
    now, and I wonder if he visits each in turn, from January to September, before he comes back here.

    Someday, I'll have to ask the woman who bought the last book in his collection, should I ever have
    the fortune to meet her in person. The book though, in all sad likelihood, is damaged beyond repair,
    a victim of Katrina.

    Unless Anne Rice took it with her to San Diego.

    Nothing has happened; Sam is lying next to me now, dozing in the sun. No more sense of someone
    standing in the doorway, no sounds from the other room. I guess I've told he story to his

    Ok, Kelkel; Schmoop just called and said you have some innnnteresting photos of you own.
    Spill 'em, girl.

    *It's not that he scares me so much anymore, beyond the normal uneasiness one is expected to suffer
    in the presence of a ghost. He's developed quite a sense of humor in his pranks, truth be told.

    Friday, October 27, 2006

    I'm Laughing Now, But...

    Ok, so I'm not exactly laughing, but I'm happy to say I didn't shed a tear yesterday.
    What a day. Kinda like Bud's day.

    Here's what happened:

    It snowed. A lot. It was still snowing when I had to leave for the doctor's.
    I looked everywhere for my one pair of winterish shoes. I couldn't find them so I ended up wearing my vintage canvas Chuck Taylors.
    Packed the boyos in the car and turned the ignition. Nothing. Dead car battery.
    Moaned 'Woe is me!' Grabbed my purse and ran back into the house to call O on the cell phone. No answer.
    Briefly considered canceling the appointment. Decided not to -- stupid, stupid me.
    I've got good neighbors. Good neighbors who are generally home during the day. One of them is Andy. I decided to pay him a visit and see if he could lend me a hand. No problem, right?
    Well. There was the snow-felled tree blocking his door. But I saw lights inside, so I climbed over it. I mean, I had to let him know about the tree too, right?
    He was quite surprised to see the change in his landscaping, and pleased that I'd alerted him to it. So, he drove his car over, hooked up the jumper cables, and I was on my way. Yay! My hero #1 of the day.
    Then I couldn't get out of neighborhood. We have a steep hill that had become as slick and treacherous as the side of a pitcher plant. And I was at the bottom of it spinning my wheels, flailing like a fly, as it were.
    So I drove the long way round, and dropped off the boyos at daycare.
    Then I fishtailed like crazy. But, at least I wasn't out walking in the storm, like the Dwarf and his companion, Tall Man in Dark Coat. Such an odd couple, I thought, as my car skidded sideways past them.

    I had no hope of actually slowing down through the school zone where the cop was waiting, so if he pulled me over (good luck catching me) I planned to burst into tears and sob, “The biopsy results are back and my doctor wants to see me RIGHT NOW, so are you going to escort me to her office or not?”
    I made it to the corner of Arapahoe and University, the first one in line at the light. As I contemplated the moral implications of lying to a police officer (not many, I decided) I watched the bus making a left turn in front of me skid, and as it lost control and came at my car broadside, the weaker part of me quivered, while the more detached part noticed and counted eleven geese flying overhead in broken formation. I like geese. The bus stopped about a foot in front of the car.
    I got to the doctor's and realized my purse was back at home. With my checkbook. And my wallet containing my driver's license. And proof of insurance for the car, which had had it's proof of insurance stickers torn off the license plate a few days ago.
    Shrugging, I ran through the parking lot anyway.
    Feet froze through slush, 1st time.
    Quantum time seemed to be on my side at least, as I arrived five minutes early.
    They made me pee in a cup. Why can't one speak to a doctor without peeing in a cup? Do doctors keep cups in their bathrooms at home, for the specific purpose of collecting their guests' pee?
    Then I underwent another pelvic exam. Ouch. Then I underwent a rectal exam. Ouch.
    This was the fun part of the day.
    My doctor, Dr. B., decided after poking and prodding that yes, it probably was indeed endometriosis, but she wanted to be sure there weren't any more surprises in my box of Crackerjacks, so she scheduled an ultrasound for next Thursday. And Dr. S. who did the last laproscopy will probably be doing this one. Best news of the day.

    Dr. B walks on water. When Dr. S. goes for a walk, water says, “Oh, I'm sorry! Let me get out of your way. There. Sorry.”
    Afterwards, I couldn't pay for my appointment. (all my money was at home, remember?)
    Back in the parking lot. Feet froze through slush, 2nd time.
    My car battery was utterly dead. And my cell phone was in my purse. At home.
    Feet froze through slush, 3rd time.
    I used the phone in my Doc's waiting room. I snagged a Reeses from the plastic pumpkin sitting on the counter.
    I called O at the bookstore. He decided to send Gerald down to help me.
    Feet froze through slush 4th time.
    My car didn't have enough juice to lock, but enough juice to think that I had broken into it. The car horn had to die on its own.
    Then I got hit by a brilliant idea for the book. It solved a problem or two, and had wide-spread ramifications for future books as well. But guess where my notebook and pen were? I did have scraps of paper, like the brochure explaining laproscopy, and a pocketknife. I considered my alternatives, but decided the slick nature of the brochure paper just wasn't conducive to holding blood, so I unwrapped the Reeses instead.
    As I consumed chocolaty, peanut-buttery goodness, I got racked with such great pain that I retched the chocolaty, peanut-buttery goodness into the slush outside the car door.
    I closed the door, leaned back and closed my eyes.
    Ka-WHAM! A plow truck came through the parking lot and winged my car. I had no ID or proof of insurance, so I let it go. Nor were there any scratches, due to the snow that had piled up in the plow. He kept on trucking.
    Then Gerald arrived. My hero. My savior.
    Feet froze through slush, 5th time.
    I waited in his truck. Waaaarm. He got the car started.
    Feet froze through slush, 6th time.
    I followed Gerald to an auto parts store, where he bought me a new battery. (No money, remember?)
    The new battery was nearly impossible to change without a socket wrench, which Gerald did not have. He left his tools at home.
    Feet froze in slush 7th and 8th time ( I stood and kept him company for about 1/2 hour, so I'm counting it twice)
    Finally, finally, the battery was changed, the car started. I drove to pick up boyos. Then I remembered I had no money. Which is why I keep reminding you, so that somehow if you get the chance to go back in time, you will remind me.
    I drove home. The garage door didn't work.
    Feet/slush thing, 9th time.
    Getting my keys, I spotted O's new socket wrench set, still in its packaging. Very pretty.
    I picked up the boyos. Couldn't think of the Farsi word for 'Endometriosis', so I pointed at my tummy a lot and said she'd be doing some more babysitting soon.
    I drove home. The car got stuck in snow halfway in the road, and halfway in the driveway. I rocked the car til I smelled burning rubber.
    I pushed the car.
    You know the chorus. 10th time.
    Finally managed to rock the car back out into the street. Turned around in Andy's nicely-shoveled driveway. Thanks again, Andy.
    Then the car got stuck in middle of my driveway.
    Got the boyos into the house. Went back out to shovel, so that my in-laws who were coming over to babysit could actually park somewhere near the house.
    Feet. Cold.
    We ended up dropping the boyos off at the in-laws house instead, to make it easier on them. We went and saw Amadeus – an excellent play. Had the best seats in the house, too. Front row, just off center. Too bad Salieri tended to spit when he spoke.
    No, really. The play was excellent.

    I slept for seven hours straight, and awoke in the same position I'd fallen asleep in.

    Thursday, October 26, 2006

    Six Past Midnight

    I was going to write about my most recent, often-alluded-to-never-elaborated-upon black-edged days, but, neh. Maybe tomorrow. I hate bellyaching anyway.

    And I'm working on that ghost story, honest and for true. It's a true story, and it starts in the bookstore, oh, about 13 years ago now. I promise you, it's a goody. Ask Des Moines Girl. I sent her an account of it last year.

    But right now, I'm thinking about the dr.'s appontment I have in the morning, and how I had to fight to get it moved to tomorrow, since it was going to be rescheduled for Nov. 30th, and I'm in some pain and, well, I don't really want to give this stuff another month to spread. I want it out of me. Now. I got stuff to do.

    I'll let you know when the surgery happens. That's the route I've decided to take. Tomorrow I tell my water-walking doctor, and hope she agrees.

    de nada.

    Sunday, October 22, 2006

    Odd Ends

    This morning:


    What's wrong?

    I'm trying to suppress the desire to claw through the ceiling.

    Why? To gain a new perspective?

    I have no idea.


    Writing's going well, though.


    The bookstore is open. Without any advertising, O made a single, $2,000 sale today. I think the new location's going to work, don't you?


    Tomorrow, a ghost story for October. 'Tomorrow' being blogspeech for 'sometime next week when I get around to it.'


    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    Now to Switch Gears Entirely

    I bring you, The Coolest Meme Ever.
    I'll risk my rep as an excellent blogwriter for this one.
    I love it because it brings together all my favorite things in life -- Music, Story, Synchronicity.

    Stolen from Poppy Z. Brite's site.

    1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
    2. Put it on shuffle
    3. Press play
    4. For every question, type the song that's playing
    5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
    6. Don't lie and try to pretend you're cool

    Opening Credits
    "Up on the Roof” James Taylor

    Waking Up
    "Valotte” Julian Lennon

    First Day at School
    "Hush Now (Stella's Tarantella)” Over the Rhine (They never could get me to stop telling stories)

    Falling in Love
    "Stay (Far Away, So Close!)” U2 (Fitting)

    Fight Song
    "Fire and Rain” James Taylor (Fight song!?!?)

    Breaking Up
    "No More I Love Yous” Annie Lennox

    "Everything You Want” Vertical Horizon

    Life is Good
    "Come Away with Me” Nora Jones

    Mental Breakdown
    "Breakdown” Alan Parson's Project (I swear I didn't cheat)

    "Learning to Fly” Pink Floyd

    "Late in the Evening” Paul Simon

    Getting Back Together
    "Running Out of Angels” Elvis Costello

    "May This Be Love” Emmy Lou Harris

    Paying the Dues
    "Taking My Business Elsewhere” Richard Thompson

    The Night Before the War
    "Uninvited” Alanis Morisette

    Final Battle
    "Wrecking Ball” Emmy Lou Harris

    Moment of Triumph
    "Chasing Cars” Snow Patrol

    Death Scene
    "Michaelangelo” Emmy Lou Harris

    Funeral Song
    "All I want Is You” U2

    End Credits
    "The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes” Elvis Costello *snort*

    Saturday, October 14, 2006

    Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood.

    Not that I'm just a soul whose intentions are good or anything. I won't purposely mislead you.
    Unless you're reading my fiction. Good luck in THAT maze.

    But...I had a comment recently that has been pecking at my tiny brain for a few days, from a lurker (hello, lurker :-) ):

    Cathy said...

    I find your blog incredibly difficult to read. Perhaps it is the spacing of the paragraphs? Or the subject-matter? I don't know. But I keep trying to enjoy it. You seem to have a lot to say. But what, exactly, is it about????

    I'm just wondering if this is a view shared by anyone else. I mean, am I dealing with a fomatting issue, or a content issue? Does anyone else have trouble reading? Do I need to change fonts? Add extra spacing?

    There. That's the easy part out of the way. Now, content. That's tricky. I'm glad that you are TRYING to like it, Cathy. That tells me there must be something captivating about my writing.

    What exactly is it about, you ask? Well, let's see. It used to be about a writer, writing -- thus the blurb. But, I've colored outside those lines, haven't I?

    I think, like just about everybody else's blogs, it's just about me and the thoughts in my head. It's about the things I can't talk about 'in real life' because of the headaches they may cause. And because my usual audience consists of two four-year-olds. Not a lot of life experience there yet. Their advice, thought-provoking as it may be, just isn't practical.

    And, it's a place where I can hone my writing skills and get feedback (lifebread to a feedback whore like myself).

    And meet people. Oh, the people I have met.

    I don't know if this clears anything up. I hope it has. And I hope you're still trying to like it. Thanks for your feedback. All of you.

    (Hee. George Harrison's 'My Sweet Lord' just came on the radio.)

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006


    Monday, October 09, 2006

    Story of Kay, Part 3

    The endo pain is getting worse. There's no denying it. I spent the better part of Saturday night tossing and turning, trying to fnd a comfortable position.
    And then it just goes away. Today has been pain-free.

    I can't stand not knowing when it will come back.

    This wraps up the Kay story for now. She's still helping, and I can continue updating if anyone is still interested.

    Part 1

    Part 2

    All of the things I know about Kay come from O. The more he talks about her, the more I want to meet her myself. Kay is interested in math and science. I want to sit down with her, question her about gravity, the nature of light, the mathematics of fractals.

    And of course I want to ask her all the same questions that you want to ask.

    I arrive at the bookstore Sunday afternoon with the boyos, the girlios, and lil Peewee. Mr. Clowncar comes out, we all say our goodbyes, and the Clowncar-Peewee family heads south to Pueblo.
    Kay is just inside the store. I take her face in quickly – she is thin, her skin is red and looks a little chapped. But her eyes – they are brighter and bluer than any Blue-Eyed Bike Angel's. Her hair is short, brown, and yes, matted. Kay's actually very pretty; she'd probably be lovely under better circumstances. She's not much taller, or older, than I am.
    In an instant I catch Kay's eye and she smiles at me. I smile back. Then my boyos run past me into the store to see their daddy. Playing in the back yard all day, their clothes are dusty; they are the ones who look fresh off the street. Kay looks at them and I see the connection she makes. I watch her face change, watch it close down. She will not look at me now, even though I try to regain eye contact. Kay's wearing her street face and I just don't stand in that middle ground where her eyes rest.

    We make eye contact only once that afternoon. It is after I've loaded up a cart with the rest of Africa and pushed it out of an alcove into the open room where it can be wrapped up tight in cellophane. O calls me to come take a look at the back rooms where the hardback lit, mysteries, poetry, religion, metaphysics and science used to roost. Most of the shelves are bare. Kay has been busy back here.
    Wow. This is amazing, I say, looking right at her.
    She meets my eyes, acknowledges my comment with a small, tight-lipped smile (I wonder about her teeth) and then she's looking in the middle space again as she walks past me through the doorway.


    I try not to form opinions about Kay's condition, let alone her thoughts, but that is nearly impossible to do. She's been friendly to everyone, even warm to O, but she has shut me out. I can't help but speculate.
    Do you think, maybe, she has a crush on you? I ask O later. I hate this question, even as it comes out of my mouth.
    He's taken by surprise.
    I never thought of it. I don't think so. No. Do you think?
    She might.
    What makes you think so?
    Because I would, if I were her.
    And because that is how I'd look, or not look, at The Wife, I think to myself.

    I'm not jealous. Don't even let that cross your mind. And not because of who Kay is, but because of who I know O is.
    It could be that Kay just doesn't like women she doesn't know. I can relate.
    See what I mean? In absence of knowing her thoughts and motives, I attribute my own. I start to think how easily I could become homeless, how I could wander away one black-edged day, never opening my mouth again to speak, find a used bookstore in some far city and accumulate my own pile of science and literature. I'd be clean, too.

    Would I fall in love with the first kind face? Probably.

    I still wish I could ask her about her life. I'm sure it won't be long before O actually does. He's very good at that. He'd make an excellent bartender. Sometimes I think being a bookseller isn't too far from that other confessional occupation.

    Thursday, October 05, 2006

    Her Name Is Kay, Part 2

    Part 1 can be found here, or you can just scroll on down.

    Kay's come back again and again, writing notes for more books, retrieving her held books as she can, the money always washed clean. What she doesn't spend on books she spends on cleansers. One day, she brought O lunch from McDonald's.

    What's in her stack? I ask O. I always ask which books people buy.
    Mathematics, mostly. Some science.
    Her notes ask for more. And they're funny.
    She's scary-smart, O says. Brilliant.

    Kay notices the volunteer sign-up sheet for the move. She writes, asking what time O plans on getting to the store that day. He answers that he'll get in around nine. She hesitates. She comes just shy of volunteering. She asks him the same, slightly re-worded question the next day.

    What will I do if she does volunteer? O asks me.
    Let her, I answer. Do you think she can though? With her hands wrapped up?
    I don't know. And I don't know how she'd do packing up a bunch of dusty books.
    We've speculated on why Kay doesn't talk. O's guess was the worst. Perhaps she's drunk some of her bleach.
    A week later, we have to update the theory.
    It's the weirdest thing, says O. Kay got a ride to the store today. A guy and his kid were in the car. When she got out I swear I heard someone say, 'Thanks for the ride.' I don't think it was the kid.


    The day before the move, Kay finally volunteers. She offers to bring a friend along as well. Now O really isn't sure what to do. Kay's odd, but she's a quantifiable odd. This friend, however...
    He doesn't have to worry. Kay shows up alone and goes right to work, moving rows of hardcover lit onto the rolling bookcases and then swaddling the bookcases in industrial-strength cellophane wrap. O has decided that if any of his other volunteers give her a hard time, he'll take them aside and kindly ask them to cut it out or leave.

    Not that he has to worry about that happening either. His volunteers are a mixed flock of odd birds – a couple of long-time regulars – Aar, a friend from high school who never shuts his mouth – Aar's dad, Tom who is an ex-bomb-squad-cop turned Buddhist beekeeper – Ger, also a talker who's literally known me since before I was born and has been working for O since May – and good Mr. Clowncar who wisely refuses to give into the drug of blogging or would probably be writing this himself.

    When Tom goes into the back of the store he doesn't see Kay but he smells the bleach. Most of the smell is actually coming from a bucket of Kay-cleansed coins soaking in water to remove the excess cleaning fluid.
    When Tom sees it he shouts, Hey, O! What're you doing, laundering money?
    O cringes. He hasn't had the time to debrief anyone.
    Kay steps out from behind a bookshelf. She's smiling. She shrugs, hunches her shoulders a little, and waves one finger back and forth in the air. My fault – the gesture says – but hey, what can I do?
    Tom used to patrol Colfax. He takes Kay in stride, reads her notes and talks to her like he's back on the beat. Everybody else is polite and quiet and busy around her.

    The work goes on, occasionally interrupted by pedestrians wandering in past the 'Store Closing!' and the 'We're Closed' signs to ask if the bookstore is open. One couple looks at the thirty or so packed and wrapped carts in the parking lot and comes in asking if they can browse the store in the middle of all the chaos. Kay is right there, handing them a bookmark with the new address printed on it.
    After they leave, O asks aloud, What is it with people?
    Kay hands him a note:
    Your school tax $ at work.

    O buys everyone lunch from the Philly cheesesteak place next door. They all stop work and eat together, except Kay. She goes outside to drink her bottle of root beer (the Philly place doesn't have the orange juice she requested) and eat her vegetarian wrap. She does not allow her mouth to touch the mouth of the bottle; instead she tips her head far back and lets the liquid pour in. Some falls onto her chin and drips down to her collar, which explains the mess there. After lunch, Kay writes O a note, telling him that she needs to go to the grocery store and will be back in fifteen minutes. He knows exactly what she's going to buy. She comes back and her cart is full of cleaning supplies along with a sack of fresh produce bags to cover her hands.

    Later, O stretches out his arm, wiggling his fingers to ease some of the pain in his hand. Kay watches him and comes over. She motions for him to give her his hand. Kay takes O's hand in hers and moves her thumb over the back of it. Somehow she feels through the layers of rubber and plastic to the tension points and rubs them for a minute. The pain in O's hand disappears. It hasn't felt that good in days, he tells me that night.

    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    Her Name Is Kay

    Thank you, thank you for your kind comments and suggestions about my condition. I've taken it all under advisement, as you'll see in my comments back.

    But this is far more interesting:

    Her Name Is Kay

    Part 1

    O and his brave band of volunteers packed up about two-thirds of the store's books onto rolling carts on Sunday.

    The Great Bookstore Migration is well underway.

    If books were birds, what birds would they be? Perhaps some would be larks and others albatrosses. Perhaps origami cranes.
    The books in used bookstores would be geese in a gypsy circus. Think of all the migrating they've done, starting out shiny and new in excited hands buying a romance, in hassled hands buying a textbook, in curious hands buying a biography. They get passed on to a brother, a daughter, a co-worker. They are refused return by the university bookstore after only a semester. Sometimes they are lifted from a friend's bookshelf with a promise to return, or just nicked away in a suitcase or purse.
    They are read by a half-dozen people, or by one, or by no one – bought with noble intentions and immediately abandoned.

    People need money. People need space. People die and leave behind libraries. Books of all ages, sizes, specialties, books of all languages, subjects, and sometimes perfectly blank books, all find their way to O's used bookstore. They sit side by side on the shelves, tens of thousands of titles that would never accumulate in a new bookstore. Some are beat to hell and worth pennies but hold magnificent stories. Others are pristine and worth thousands of dollars and their content is drier than mummy farts. Each has its own appeal and curiosity, like members of a circus. Each has a history. And they've all done a lot of traveling.

    They draw quite a mixed crowd too, these books. A mutt crowd. The Blue-Eyed Bike Angels, the thrifty home schoolers, politicians, war vets, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, doctors, lawyers, and a couple of Indian chiefs. They come to browse leather-bound sets or to find a good deal.
    O just finished running a contest and some came for that. A few weeks ago, O told me about a couple of customers who entered the contest on the same day.

    The first was a woman. O knew the moment she entered the store, because of the smell. She left a full shopping cart outside on the sidewalk. Her collar was dirty with food, her hair matted.
    She reeked. Of bleach.
    Her hands were gloved in heavy rubber, in turn wrapped in grocery store produce bags. She drew startled looks as she browsed. When she brought a stack of books to the counter, this woman pulled out all the money she had. It wasn't enough, so she sorted through her stack, picked out a few and O put the rest of the books on hold. When he took the money it was damp, scrubbed with cleanser. One bill disintegrated.
    She didn't speak. Instead, she wrote notes, surprisingly adept with a pen despite her sheathed hands. Then she signed up for the contest. Her entry looked like this:

    Name: Kay*
    Address: Denver Couch Tour City: Denver Zip: 802etc.
    Email: Not hardly.

    Outside, a group of young boys had discovered the shopping cart, and were rifling through it, making jokes. O ran them off.
    Kay lingered a while. Her eyes were bright and happy as she left the store.

    Later, a gentleman walked in, an older fellow, well-dressed and groomed. You could smell the money on him, too. He had been in the store a few weeks before, to purchase nineteen boxes of books for a library donation. He asked O to choose and pack them, and now he was back to collect the boxes. This man talked a long time with O. He was in no hurry. When he ran out of things to say, he shook O's hand several times. He thanked him then left the store, got into an expensive car and drove to Vail.

    They were two sides of the same coin. Both lonely as a lost shoe by the side of the road.

    Part two in a couple of days. Kay comes back.

    *Her name is not actually Kay. I originally wrote this using her real name, because so many people never consider that a homeless person does indeed have a real name. But then I thought that I should protect her privacy, as I would any other person, so I changed it to 'Kay.' O also requested that I not use her real name.