David pushed the shop door open. The bell fixed above the door tinkled to announce his arrival. There was no one behind the counter so he decided to browse. He loved used book stores and wandered between the shelves for awhile gazing at the treasures housed thereon. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the way the books were displayed on the shelves. He spotted what appeared to be a first edition of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop dated 1841 in very good condition. It was set, askew, atop a stack of Little Golden Books; including Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood, and Pierre Bear.
Holding on to the Dickens he went back to the front of the shop but the counter was still unmanned.
“Hullo,” he said in a stage whisper.
David cleared his throat, “Hullo,” he called again slightly louder than his normal speaking voice. Bookstores, like libraries, demanded a certain level of decorum and respect. In his opinion, this meant keeping the noise down to a minimum.
But there was still no response. So he wandered towards the back of the shop. He found her there in a back room that had probably begun life as an office, but could now be described as nothing other than a book depository. The desk was piled high with books. Sagging shelves, lining every wall, were filled with books. Books were stacked on the floor. In fact, books were everywhere; with the exception of a path from the door to where she sat, perched on a stool. Her bare feet resting on the upholstered arm of the desk chair, a stack of books were on her lap and her nose was buried in an open tome that must have been three or four inches thick.
She did not acknowledge his presence.
“Excuse me,” David said and she immediately raised one finger in the air while she continued to study the page of the open book in her hands. Finally she slipped a scrap of paper between the pages and closed the book to look at him.
“Oh,” she said – as if somewhat surprised by his very presence. “What can I do for you?”
“Uhm, I’m interested in this copy of The Old Curiosity Shop that I found out front. Can you tell me where the shop assistant is?”
“I don’t have an assistant,” she answered. “It’s just me.”
“Oh, OK then. Well, can you tell me what you want for this book?”
She smiled and her face lit up. “You like first editions, do you?”
“Very much,” he replied.
“I’m afraid I can’t sell that. It’s not worth that much anyway. Maybe 300 or 350, that’s all. But, if you like first editions take a look at this.” She leapt off the stool and set her stack of books on the desk chair. Turning to kneel down she plucked a red volume from a lower shelf behind her. “Look at this; The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, first edition from 1902. It’s in really good condition. Or this, Dashiell Hammet, and here’s a Graham Green. Oh, I just got this in too: Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha, 1855.” She caressed the leather cover of the latter like it was a lover and held it out, somewhat reluctantly, for him to admire.
“It’s beautiful,” he said as he took it from her. “What are you asking for this?”
“I can’t sell that either,” she advised him. “In fact I can’t sell any of these books. I love these books. Selling these books would be like selling my children. It just won’t do.”
“But this is a bookshop,” David said, his confusion evident in his tone of voice.
“I know, isn’t it wonderful?” she held her arms out from her sides and spun around slowly.