Monday, September 28, 2009

Bookstore Mommy: A Fictionette

A few of us spotted her right away, knew her by the barely visible twist at the corner of her lips.

She strode between aisles of books without looking or seeming to see: Science, History, Cooking, Gardening were wasted as she made her way toward her husband, slender cord of man smiling like a martyr at the back of the store.

Two children traveled in her wake, one mewling for a missing bottle, one skipping. For the skipping one, this was an occasion struck with delight--unknown adventure in a store filled with strange books--on an ochre day in November.
The dumb sky held back, gray sheets lowering and rising by minute degrees.

The wife's body swayed in layers of old and new garments, some threadbare, some expensive. Making her steady way she cast a pall, and we turned away as one—book lovers who quarreled with no one—inclining to the latest obsessions in our hands. We flattened against shelves and tried to blend with book spines.

The husband's face only fell for an instant. In an act of will we recognized from paintings of saints, he greeted her. But his eyes wandered over us. In his greeting he seemed to come away from himself. Or that's how he wanted to seem.

"Honey, look what I found..."

But she had come to deposit children and had no time for books. She might have wanted to want, but that was years and children and layers of clothing in the past. Her husband's nasal seeking of approval in front of strangers must have caused the blood to pound in her ears.

The baby mewled as if it had mewled all day. It had no words yet. Its face was drawn into a mask of desires. Its mother was immune to it now. Her face was an implacably closed gate w/ one warning: Keep Out.

The skipping child came to her dancing a jig in his mysterious book-besotted delight, and grazed the checkout stand with his left left. Some highly unbreakable two-dollar toy hit the floor with a plastic crack.

The hand clasping a buttery, giant purse tucked it beneath the opposite arm. The other hand, un-manicured and unkempt, jerked the child to her, mid-step. Her body clutched him like a giant oven mitt and she slapped his body—two, four, five times.

For five seconds all of us were quick, as one—eyes and ears drawn. By scent we agreed that the next camp, huddle of humans down the road, must be roasting meat over an open flame. We sniffed the smoky trails. Alive and dreaming, we dug our fingernails in and drew her into a thousand parts.

Memory lashed every one.

"Go see how much this costs." Pale and ginger-haired, seven and five—we were sent to find the store manager and bargain, as if the Big Apple grocery were an open bazaar.

"Momma wants to know…"

Even pale and foolish in our secondhand summer clothes, we were more social, able, and deft. How slowly she counted change! Every step was an expedition that needed exhaustive planning.

We orbited her billowing rage. Whatever scarred ruins she concealed, we only saw the shape of her shifting in air.

In the bookstore, our nimble fingers sought the dough of a stranger's skin and we prised the woman apart and tasted--flat--bread--salt--darkened underbelly of a dead girl mummified in her winter clothing and still not warm enough.

Shared delusion. Heroics. Book readers. We did nothing.

Stiff as worried cranes in water, waiting to see if the ripple spells danger, we blinked and looked away.

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