The bookstore was the warmest place to be on the coldest November day.
And, her north wall would not endure another, whole year without its large calendar being adequately replaced.
She’d stared across the livingroom at the space between the levelored windows, for the last time, determined never to stare at that wall again for the rest of her life, unless the block calendar with its proverb for each month was within direct sight line from the sofa.
Last year she’d waited too many weeks, and the bookstore’s selection of remaining 2018 samples had come up short of expectations. Settling for some poolside garden setting theme, only to find its color scheme too purple for the room’s palette, she’d just left the previous December, with its simple: “Be Kind And Carry On” as place holder for the entire year.
Now, time was truly of the essence. The second winter storm would be upon them by late morning, bringing freezing rain to crust the waning first snow. And, the bookstore had confirmed: their 2019 shipment was racked, and ready.
This year, the store had chosen to place the large wall variety on a rotating spindle display. After several revolutions, there at last was her proverbial, boldly colored favorite. But, just above it – a stunning series, images of Italy. Though talk of a trip to whomever would listen had been ongoing for at least the past five of a total seven since retiring, she’d likely not soon be getting to Italy. Tucking that one under her arm, she added the flat art favorite, and then spied Ruth Bader-Ginsberg, in cartoon, offering monthly Yoga for the year. No senior woman worth her own salt should be without this vitally hip exercise aid heading into the cusp of the close of yet another decade. Up came Ms. Ginsberg, to join the rest.
Calculating that the Yoga calendar would work near the mirror opposite the railing barre in the loft and the views of Italy would make the music room pop, she wended her way toward the check out, all three securely in hand. Rounding the corner just beyond the recipe books, reading glasses, and Godiva, she could already hear the familiar deep basso resonance of the former radio host turned store clerk addressing the needs of an unseen patron just ahead of both herself and a smiling gent who said nothing.
Peering around him, she could just see to whom the clerk repeatedly spoke. A tiny woman, her tightly pulled grey hair almost white around her head, seated in a rolling cart chair, barely able to see above the counter upon which were placed several, thick hardbound novels.
She could clearly see the books. One John Grisham. Two John Sandfords. No, three. Another, by an unknown woman. Her weight shifted from one faux leather boot to the other. This could be awhile.
No. There was no interest in the stuffed Grinch promotional exclusive. Yes, to a contribution toward the elementary school book drive. Would points to her store membership be welcomed?
She was not processing the content of their exchanges, only watching both, hearing his voice fill the otherwise empty room and hers barely audible above it. The silent gent turned, smiled apologetically, then took an alert on his smartphone.
Another woman approached, from behind, wearing a necklace with roped silver, her outfit its complement. She wondered where the woman might be going after a solitary bookstore visit on this Thursday morning. Two more patrons appeared, behind her. They were a line of six, ahead of the ice storm which would surely glaze upper Peach Street within the hour.
She turned to the woman in the silver necklace, commenting on her outfit. With a gesture toward the counter, she made mention of their mutual future as aging women – including anecdotal references to her own father, nursing homes, and the anticipated final third of life without dependents. Was she also single? No; the woman was a mother of four. Nodding with respectful envy, she bowed her head slightly and resumed her stance facing the counter.
The tiny woman was finally paid in full for her $160 order. Slowly, she stood. The store clerk handed her the plastic sack of hardbound novels. Could she get that? Would she need help? The bag of books settled into its spot on the seat of her rolling cart, as she bent to secure it. Oh, I think I should be fine, in tones of seasoned familiarity.
And so, she spoke. Perhaps he might call for assistance, to help the woman get everything to her car. The booming basso cut into the quiet, summoning available help, as the tiny woman moved away from the check out counter toward the exit.
The space cleared, she was up. He opened with the promotions and the school book drive. Hastily, she added the stuffed toy for her grand niece, thinking of the twin siblings due any day. Having taught public school for 25 years, for her the book drive a no brainer: Clifford, the Big Red Dog. Was she permitted to return any one of the calendars, if unopened? Paid in full, she too moved toward the door.
The tiny woman was still seated, large burden in her lap. There was a soft expression on her face, a faint smile at each corner of her mouth. Her eyes were quietly alert.
In less than a breath, she felt her spirit enter the woman’s body, hover, and return. Approaching, she spoke to the woman. Would she like some help?
They were quickly joined by the bookstore manager, complete with laniard and peeping walkie talkie, who pushed the woman in her cart out thru the door as she held it and over to a blue, four door sedan parked at the front of the store. The walkie talkie’s peep crescendoed and the two women relieved her, chatting already and gathering the car keys which, of course, were manually required to unlock the doors.
Had she been a teacher? No; but she was often asked if she were. This was her reading for the whole winter! Well, who wouldn’t believe it? Folding the rolling chair cart, just able to lift and place it in the backseat, the woman crept down into the driver’s seat and turned, smiling.
What was her name? Colleen. Colleen Ahern. Was there anyone to look in on her? Yes; she lived behind Mount St. Benedict, happily well cared for and won’t you have a lovely Thanksgiving!
You have a wonderful winter! Carefully closing the door, she stepped away.
In a rush of hope she crossed the lot, manually unlocking her own door and settling into her front seat. Tail lights lit, the blue four door sedan sat idling for several minutes. She watched the woman wait until she was sure her engine was sufficiently warmed, then turned to arrange her packages on the passenger seat. When she looked back, the parking spot was empty. The sedan was already moving onto Peach Street, ready to coast all the way to Harborcreek before the storm descended. Before any threat of isolation could lurk. Beyond any doubt or fear, a stack of novels waiting to become her world, one for each month of the year’s end and up and over and across to the new one.
Carry on, Colleen.
© 11/15/18 Ruth Ann Scanzillo All rights those of this author, whose name – not Colleen – appears above this line. Thank you for respecting authentic stories.