It was sunny when you left home, so you didn’t take an umbrella. An hour later, you’re caught in a torrential downpour. You run into the first store you can find — it happens to be a dark, slightly shabby antique store, full of old artifacts, books, and dust. The shop’s ancient proprietor walks out of the back room to greet you. Tell us what happens next!
A small brass bell catching the edge of the door, announcing my arrival. A pungent odor permeates the air. Old books? No, it’s something more, I say to myself. My eyes are adjusting to the dim light when an old man sweeps a curtain aside and enters the store proper. He’s definitely not prepared for customers.
“I was just getting ready to close for the day,” he stammers. “But maybe I can help you find something, a book, an end table,” he suggests, hastily shucking a soiled apron and casting it aside.
I wonder what he’s doing back there? Cooking? Baking? Though I’m actually in here because of the rain, I now feel obligated to buy something, but what?. I can’t think of a solitary thing I could ask for that he won’t have. I glance about. Nearby is an end table with four ugly frogs serving as legs. Further on is a battered roll top desk. A well used calabash pipe is nearby. It’s covered with a layer of dust, like everything else.
“I’m looking an autographed copy of *Blue Highways*, by William Least Heat Moon,” I tell him.
“Let me see, I think we have one of those,” the old man says, pressing a tobacco stained index finger to his chin. He turns and cripples down one of the narrow aisles, and returns in moments. “Here it is,” he states, blowing on the book, sending a cloud of dust boiling into the air. He sneezes three times. “Allergies,” he mumbles.
Opening the book, he shows me a scrawled signature on the title page. “How much are you asking?”
“This one isn’t in pristine condition. I can let it go for fifty.”
“Oh, I think fifty cents is reasonable,” I say, opening my purse.
“No ma’am, fifty dollars.”
“Fifty dollars?” I echo so loudly that he steps back as though he fears I might punch him out.
“Ma’am, it’s the last copy we have. This is a rare book.”
“Ralph, this stuff is going to boil over. Get back in here now,” shouts a male voice from in behind the curtain somewhere.
I see stress come over his face. He clears his throat and shifts his weight. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” he sputters as he cups my elbow and ushers me to the door. He quickly closes it behind me and I hear the dead bolt shoot home. The rain has stopped, so I head for the corner bus stop. I’m nearly there when a swarm of silent police cars appear and a dozen uniformed policemen converge on the bookstore. I turn in time to watch them force the door and charge inside.
Words I don’t understand filter from within. I reflect the odor I’d smelled while in there. I wonder what was about to boil over?