Best Loved Books
Monday, it was raining. Rose stretched and yawned, got out of bed, went into the kitchen and nabbed herself a grapefruit out of the fridge. She didn’t want to put on the galoshes she had; they’d been owned by a rubber-boot fetishist before she got them, and while they had some substance, the imprint was still a little creepy. But it was wet outside, and she needed to protect her sequined sneakers, so on they went. She grimaced a little bit, resolving to look for new galoshes next time she was garage sailing.
The raincoat was a sex thing too; it had belonged for a long time to a flasher. She grinned as she put it on, though; sex was dangerous but the flasher vibe was sort of amusing in a harmless, sad human way. It was poignant, she decided, rather than creepy. It felt of his loneliness and his need and his compulsion and his desperation, but under it all of his hope and his simple trust in the compulsion. Not art exactly, but it expressed who the former owner had been like a sympathetic portrait.
At Morey’s, she took off the coat and galoshes and stashed them on a table in the back, then went out stocking the shelves. All the books Mister Morey had bought on his most recent trip went on the cart. Then the cart went around the store and the books got off in whatever department they were supposed to belong to. Except for a few whose touch Rose found comforting; those went on the shelf right behind her desk. She’d been doing it for a couple of months, and she’d bought a dozen books off that shelf out of each of her last three paychecks.
But today, Mister Morey frowned. “Rose? What are these books here? What department do they belong in?”
Rose smiled apologetically. “They’re just really good books, Mister Morey. I’d been hoping to buy some of them.”
He frowned again. “Too good to sell? Rose, this is a bookstore. We sell books. I appreciate that you take a personal interest in them, but these need to be out on the shelves.”
Rose squirmed. Dammit, she thought. He’s right, but even if we price them double these will sell quick. “Uh, okay, Mister Morey.” She loaded them back onto the cart.
Mister Morey paused, struck by an idea, then said “Don’t split them up by departments. Use that empty shelf we’ve got in the back, and put it next to the register.” He pulled a chunk of card-stock out from behind the register, then wrote on it.
‘$20 Each’, said the sign. The regular price for used hard-backs was $10. Rose winced when she saw it. She hadn’t meant to think about doubled prices and selling quick so near him. Now she wouldn’t even be able to afford as many, even if there were any left by payday.
Rose went and got the little shelf unit and set it up next to the register. The books filled all but the bottom shelf.
“I’m thinking maybe if you like them so much, they could be worth a little extra,” said Mister Morey, putting the sign on the shelving unit. Scanning the titles though, he was perplexed. There were children’s books and college texts. Books on folklore, books on philosophy, books on engineering, classic literature, art books, books on housebuilding, books on mathematics, mysticism and bibles, popular and unpopular fiction. What the devil to call this section? he was thinking, at the same time as he thought, Rose is into EVERYTHING!
Rose grabbed the card-stock and wrote ‘Best-Loved Books’ above the price, put it back onto the shelf, and sat sadly back at her desk, waiting for the inevitable to happen. Best-Loved is exactly what they were, and her fellow freaks would be drawn to that shelf like bees to honey. None of those would be left by payday.
Mister Morey scanned the titles and took the cart around to other parts of the bookstore, grabbing other copies of the same books. Returning to the register he loaded them onto the bottom shelf. It made sense to him that if Rose thought Alternative Housebuilding was worth extra, then his other copy of Alternative Housebuilding especially since it was in better condition, would be worth extra too.
Sonia bought three volumes from the ‘Best-Loved Books’ shelf when she came in that afternoon. But, of course, none from the bottom shelf. She had baked a cake to thank Rose for the sewing stuff from garage sailing on Saturday; Rose smiled as she traced the design someone had hammered carefully and laboriously into the cake pan. It wasn’t as nice as the sewing kit had been in that way, but it was a very good cake pan – a fitting token of appreciation and a friendship offering.
“So… Rose,” whispered Sonia, when both of them felt Mister Morey recede behind many stacks of books. “How many of, um, us, are there?”
“Hard to say for sure,” replied Rose in a whisper. “At least a few dozen in the city. It’s impossible to count, and lots of us are crazy, you know.” Her mind flashed briefly on the guy ranting at the stop sign she’d seen Friday night.
“Um, yeah, I guess I see how that could happen.” said Sonia. “It’s hard holding it together. I’m living in my closet right now.” Sonia didn’t have enough stuff, she’d come from the deep boondocks somewhere, and she hadn’t been able to make more than about a closet-sized space safe in the city. “I never knew it was more than just me. For a long time I thought I was imagining it, or that it was just me and my mom, then…” She trailed off as Mister Morey got closer to the front of the store.
“Books are great,” said Rose as Mister Morey came into view behind Sonia. “They allow us some insight into minds completely unlike our own.” Then you had someone whose thoughts were totally alien inside your head and you knew you could never have made that shit up, am I right? she was thinking.
“Sort of,” said Sonia. Something dark flitted across her mind. Rose felt and shared a twinge of sympathy, even without knowing fully what it might have been. “Anyway, I’m new in the city and I’m so glad to’ve met you. Call me sometime.” She pulled a scrap of paper out of her purse and copied the phone number from it onto another, then handed it to Rose. ‘Sonia Ashstone’, it said. ‘415-555-2872′. Then with a wave, and her three books under her other arm, she ducked out the door.
“A kindred spirit, Rose?” said Mister Morey.
Rose looked at him, wondering how much he realized.
“Keeps her phone number on a piece of paper in case she forgets it, like you with your address. Dresses funky too, but not as funky as you. Likes the same books you like. And looks like she wants to be your friend.”
“Yeah,” said Rose. “She’s new to the city. Looking to make friends and contacts all over.” She heard Mister Morey’s unspoken thought, wondering whether she were romantically interested in Sonia, maybe bisexual or lesbian. But that was the sort of thing he would never ever say because he was a gentleman and he was her boss and it wouldn’t be proper. So while she cringed inwardly, it wasn’t something she’d have to say anything about or think about. But it still didn’t matter anyway, because it would still be a Very Bad Choice.
By Wednesday, every last book on the ‘Best-Loved Books’ shelf had sold. Except the ones from the bottom shelf, which Mister Morey had filled himself. Rose very carefully did not think about it. But Mister Morey did. She felt him staring at her and wondering, felt him turning over the logic or illogic of the situation in his head. How could one copy of a book be worth double, and another copy, same edition, same condition, and same printing, not be? Rose resolutely did not think the answer, even though she knew it. If she ever thought it, the answer might occur to him too. It took a Zen discipline that she had mastered through long practice. But she didn’t know how long she could keep it up. Especially if she got tired.
Wednesday afternoon, Mister Morey took the list of titles from the best-loved books section and went out on a book-buying trip. When he returned, he refilled the shelf. By Friday, exactly one more book had sold off that shelf. And Mister Morey turned the logic or illogic of it over in his mind, and stared at Rose when she wasn’t looking at him. Of course she knew he was staring anyway, but she kept her Zen discipline determinedly and did not look up to catch him. She tried to forget the whole thing at him, but she couldn’t forget it herself so that didn’t work. The best she managed was making him wonder why he kept self-consciously trying to forget it.
Friday afternoon, Mister Morey cleared off the ‘Best-Loved Books’ shelf, loading all of the books back onto the cart, and silently made the rounds of the departments, putting the books back onto the regular shelves. Rose was ringing up customers, but she knew that he had come to some sort of resolution.
When he had finished, he stood silently next to the end of a shelf and watched as she rang orders through, until finally she was free. “A word with you, Rose?” he said.
“Okay, Mister Morey,” she said, carefully maintaining blankness in her mind. “What’s on your mind?”
He just smiled and gestured at the now-empty bookshelf next to the register. “Best-Loved Books is what’s on my mind,” he said. “I’m thinking maybe you’ve got a gift.”
Rose had been expecting something like this; now she maintained her Zen discipline, very carefully not thinking about what sort of gift it might be, even, for the moment, unsure that she had one. “What sort of gift, Mister Morey?” She said blandly.
“I’ve heard of it before, just never believed it. I’m thinking you’re a divvy.” He grinned broadly.
“Divvy?” Rose frowned. “What’s that?”
“You can tell when something is worth a little extra, even when nobody else can tell. You weren’t thinking about it in those terms, but when you picked out the books you liked best, they were exactly the books that sold for a better price. Now, I heard of a guy who could do this with antiques a few years ago – he could always tell a fake even if he didn’t know how it was faked. But we’re looking here at something even more subtle than that, because these aren’t real or fake, they’re just books, different copies straight off the same press. I never heard of it with books.” His face was positively glowing; he might not have cracked the conundrum, but he’d found a way to think of it that allowed him to believe something he could believe. “Rose, I want you to start coming with me on book-buying trips. Whatever it is you see, pick the special books out for me and I’ll give you ten percent of the price premium that I can charge for them.”
“So, what you’re saying is, if I pick out books you can sell for double, you’ll give me ten percent of the difference between double and regular price?” Rose considered it.
“Yes,” said Mister Morey. And it’s easily worth five times that, he was thinking.
Rose smiled sweetly. “Make it half the difference and you’ve got a deal,” she said. Of course she knows exactly what it’s worth, she thought at him. If she didn’t, I wouldn’t be getting my money’s worth.
Mister Morey looked, for a moment, like he’d swallowed his teeth. He considered bargaining, but then realized that if he was right it would be utterly pointless. A divvy could cut straight to the bottom line, and Rose just had. So he threw back his head and laughed, and offered her his hand to shake on the deal. Fair’s fair, was the thought they shared.
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.