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gorillas in the sunlight by snedapants

16 Jan

Janet felt an immediate sense of betrayal. How DARE he? Her heart started racing. What to do? Say something? See if he’ll pay? She tucked a strand of gray hair behind her right ear, and tried to remember to breathe. It was just a book. Was it worth losing a friend? And one of her only regular customers?

In that moment of pure outrage, she wondered how she’d gotten here. When she was young, opening her own store had been a dream. She’d lie awake at night, inhaling the scent of her mother’s old books, and imagining the way the sunlight would stream through the front window of the store. It would be her safe haven, a place where she could chat with customers about Pride and Prejudice, about Mark Twain, about books they’d loved for years, and wanted to revisit. Janet would be at home there, it would be a warm and welcoming place that she loved to spend time in: her very own store, in the town where she’d spent her whole life.

But reality is never what we want it to be, and Janet realized that earlier than she had ever wanted to. The store was, on the surface, exactly what she wanted. The floor and the shelves were a beautiful golden hardwood that captured the natural light, and made you feel warm. The chime on the door was gentle and soothing, a sound she should have enjoyed hearing. The walls were a light cornflower blue that brought out the colors of every dust jacket and book poster; they accentuating the best of each and every item they surrounded, including Janet’s graying hair and light eyes.  It was, by all accounts, a beautiful store.

But day-to-day, there was nothing beautiful about it. Not for Janet. Since she had opened the front doors, Janet had grown to hate what she was doing. She hated reshelving books people pulled down and left on tables. She hated the people who brought in books covered in coffee stains with ripped pages. She didn’t understand those people. Who could treat books like that, she’d wonder as she inventoried their drop off. No one was ever happy with the prices she quoted, and she was waging a constant battle against bigger, newer bookstores. People didn’t seem to understand that what she offered was different, was special.  She didn’t have the newest Harry Potter, and she was sick of people stopping in to ask about it, and heaving a huge sigh when she said no. Janet wanted to scream every time someone asked her what her website address was. She was tired of keeping track of finances, of realizing how little money she was making; of being in the same sad town she’d always been in, three steps behind the rest of the world. She felt stuck, trapped, and most days, woke up feeling like there was a gorilla on her chest. Janet couldn’t breathe.  She wondered some days if she’d ever known how.

And now this? Really? One of the few customers who did want to talk about books? One of the few people she could tolerate, one of the few people who she thought appreciated it all? She couldn’t take it. She just couldn’t take it anymore.

Janet sighed. And then sighed again. As she stirred her tea, she wondered what she would say to him. How could she work this so that life wasn’t totally unbearable? How could she fix this? She couldn’t afford to lose the book, but she couldn’t afford to lose the customer either. And really, who ever wants to lose a friend? Who ever wants to ruffle feathers, however deserved it may be? So she weighed her words, lost in the motion of stirring the tea leaves and gazing at the pattern the sunbeams made as they burst through her children’s book display in the front window. She wanted to disappear. She wanted to evaporate. She wanted to get in a car and end up somewhere inappropriately warm, and not have to deal with this shit. She wanted anything and everything but this conversation she was about to have.

And then, without even realizing it, she nodded her head and waved goodbye, as he breezed past her with a grin, out the front door and on to the sidewalk, with the stolen book tucked firmly in the warm crook of his arm.

She wondered, just for one millisecond, so quickly that she wasn’t even sure it had happen, what it would have been like to run after him and smack him in the face.  And she smiled, really smiled, for the first time that day.

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