Fraud, Cheat, Lie, Thrill

Sissy was just closing up shop when the telephone rang, it was her old friend Ariadne, who asked her not to lock the door.

"Stay open another half hour,"
she said.
"I'm only in town for a while and I'd love to see you."

The only sale Sissy had made that day was a copy of The Book Of The Book by Idries Shah, so staying open had more than one virtue to recommend it.

The rent was due soon, and when it was paid there wouldn't be much left over in the checking account unless something like the sole proprietor's salary was left out of the budget. She smiled to herself grimly.

she thought,
"I can always do a little street-walking if this doesn't work out."

Closing up meant counting the till and making out a bank deposit slip, too often, like tonight, unnecessary.

A secondhand bookstore wasn't always a paying proposition. But parents die and even small windfalls are good excuses to quit selling yourself and enter the dream world. Sissy had always loved browsing through those stores in out-of-the-way corners, looking for a rare and forgotten jewel, maybe some out-of-print work by Proudhon or Stirner, in fine leather binding, available for a song.

Now, running one, she fell in love with every oddball who came in asking after an obscure title that they shared as a secret, a wall that the mystery and romance buyers would never cross. Those people weren't buying books, they were buying warm glasses of milk to help them fall asleep at night. Imagine a diamond merchant doing the bulk of his trade in costume jewelry!

At a few minutes after five a flood of people came through the door, speaking French. One came to the counter and asked about where they could find more bookstores once they had finished here.

Sissy shrugged.

"I'm all there is,"
she said.

They busied themselves inspecting titles and pulling books off the shelves with sighs and exclamations. Sissy perked up, since they were likely to buy. She saw one of them drinking openly from a flask and noticed from the corner of her eye as more customers came in. The crowd began to get boisterous, with actual shouts of surprise,

"No one has this book!"
"Look, look here!"
and so on.

Ariadne came in with some beer.

"Drink with me, Sissy, drink!"

Sissy accepted a beer and asked what had brought Ariadne to the city.

"Abortion. By the way, you don't have a copy of Dubliners around, do you?"

"Sure, over there on that shelf,"
Sissy pointed.

"What made you interested in Joyce all of a sudden?"

"Oh, this clown down at the clinic told me to look it up."
Ariadne drifted off toward the shelves and Sissy found herself drinking alone. The place was packed.

Sissy opened another beer and accepted a shot from the flask when its owner came to pay up. All she had was a coffee cup and the shot was more like a scotch on the rocks with no rocks.

"drink, drink with us!"
the man yelled.
"Yours is the best store we've seen in ages!"
He raised his arm, swung it out, and shouted over the uproar.
"A toast, a toast to the finest of the fine!"
Everyone seemed to have a drink in hand. Music was coming from somewhere.
"Who is that, Wagner, right?"
Sissy asked the man with the scotch.

he answered.
"I think it's Der Fliegende Hollander."

More people came in. Sissy could hardly tell how many because she was busy making change for the ones who wanted boxes and bags full of books. There didn't seem to be any order to it. The Frenchmen were buying anything and everything, it didn't matter, they must have gone crazy for American books.

Sissy felt drunk and noticed that the lights were going on in the streets outside. Someone even wanted to buy the painting on the wall behind the counter, a scene of crows in a cornfield by some unknown artist.

Ariadne came back and laid her purse next to the phone on the counter.

"Would you take over for a minute?"
Sissy asked.
"I'm getting tipsy, I can't count anymore."

"Sure, why not?"
Ari giggled.
"Why don't you eat something, here."
She reached into her purse and drew out a pomegranate. Sissy took it and ate a bite.

She then passed out, the gabble of voices rushing and roaring in her ears.

When Sissy woke up Ari was asleep on the floor next to her and people had been making change on their own. The shelves were empty, but a pair of lovers lay in one corner, busy with each other. A few stragglers came up to pay. All they had to offer was bullets. Opening the drawer, Sissy found it full of lead.

She screamed at the last people,

"Get out, take what you want, I'm yours now, you win, get out."
A manic leer split her face and she ran out into the street, threw a rock at the glittering neon sign of a store nearby.

It blew out in a truncated flash and she stood there.

Gerry Reith