by Ryan W. Bradley
“Is the person who buys your books here?” the man asks, shifting from foot to foot.
I work in a children’s bookstore, a real small town gem. You know the type. “She’s not,” I say. “You can leave some information with me, if you’d like.”
The man can’t stand still. He holds up a padded UPS envelope and slides out a book. “It’s about Route 66,” he says.
I’ve been through this drill before, but mostly with small presses or self-published authors. This guy’s got a different feel. “Is it for kids?” I ask.
“No, no, no.” The man scratches his face, shifts for the thousandth time, puts the book on the counter in front of me, like an offering. “It’s about Route 66.”
“We only carry kid’s books.”
“Kid’s books? I didn’t know that.”
“Happens all the time,” I say.
A few months ago a guy came in the store and tried to sell me a magazine from 1974. It was called Arizona and had a painting of a Wild West scene on the cover. “It’s an antique,” he’d said. “Got to be worth something, right?” I told him to try the used bookstore up the street. He told me he’d sell it to me for five bucks.
“Arizona’s not really my thing,” I said. “I’m more into Alaska. That’s why I moved here, all the snow.” The next day he was sitting on a bench across from the store, holding a cardboard sign. I couldn’t read it, but some old lady buying books for her grandson told me he wanted money for meth. “That’s what his sign says?” I asked and she shook her head.
“You can tell,” she said. “I had a niece who was into meth. You learn the signs.”
The man with the Route 66 book is still rocking back and forth. “You the author?” I ask, knowing it’s the only way to separate someone looking for money to score and some writer desperate to validate their decision to self-publish.
He shakes his head.
“There another bookstore in town?” he asks.
I give him directions and he slides the book back into the envelope. On the local news they have a segment called, The Faces of Meth. They are pockmarked faces, stubby teeth, and sucked in lips. The newswoman tells me not to do meth. Not once. It makes me laugh like some inside joke I’m sharing with her on my couch, beers in our hands, instead of through satellites and rearranged particles of an image shot in a studio.
“It’s a new generation,” the man says as he opens the door to leave. “Everyone’s returning their kicks to Route 66.”
I laugh at this, too, but he is not the newswoman, sharing, however falsely, in my revelry. He’s off to another bookstore, trying to sell a book on a topic no one cares about anymore.
There’s a dark-haired woman in the store looking at baby books. She’s at least seven months pregnant, her belly a full moon. “Everything disappears,” she says quietly as the door closes behind the man. “And everything returns,” like a prayer to her unborn child.