Ricky pushes the thick glass door open. As he steps into the bookstore he quickly steps aside and lets go of the door. Without my fast reflexes I would now possess a flat nose. Sometimes Ricky thinks he’s funnier than he is. Mr. Allen is nowhere in sight but all a person can ever see in Mr. Allen’s book store is books. Books are stacked on the floor near the door. Books cover the sales counter. New books, old books, and very old books that are worth a lot of money fill rows of book shelves that sit on brown nine by nine floor tiles and reach to the ceiling which is covered with squares of white ceiling tiles. Each ceiling tile has thousands of small holes in each square. The walls may be painted but there is no way to tell without pulling out a book. Mr. Allen has a ladder on wheels that rolls on a rail attached to the ceiling. Most of the time we find him on that ladder, sometimes he is shelving books but most of the time he’s reading. He says he has plans to dust or arrange but always finds some book he has been planning to read. After looking down a couple of rows we see him perched at the top of the shop, one arm hooked around a rung of the ladder and in his other hand a book held open with his thumb.
“Hey boys!” he waves at us with the book. “I’ll be right down,” he turns a page in the book and as we have no idea how long the chapter he’s on is we take a seat on the tan, vinyl covered bench at the front corner of the shop. Sally looks at us through the glass door, she’s allowed into the shop by invitation only. After a few minutes Mr. Allen walks slowly toward us still finishing his chapter, as he puts his book to his side he notices Sally pleading at the door. “She looks wet,” he says.
“Just damp,” I inform him. He gives me a questioning tilted head look. “Swimming pool water, she’s chlorinated.”
“Wet dog smell. Just what my shop needs.”
“Sure is hot out today,” Ricky says like he’s just making conversation and not making a case for Sally. Mr. Allen goes to the door and opens it enough for Sally to come into the cool shop. She sits in her place by the tan bench; she’s not allowed to sniff the books.
“What are you boys up to?” Mr. Allen asks while scratching Sally behind the ears.
“Nothing,” we both say together.
“Dog days of summer,” Mr. Allen says like it was something that made sense.
“Who?” we both ask still speaking as one.
Mr. Allen stands with his feet apart and joins his hands at his waist, like he’s on a stage somewhere and recites:
“Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.”
He finishes by letting his hands hang to his sides and giving us a slight bow. We both just stare at him. “Homer,” he says by way of explanation.
“Who-mer?” I ask.
“Sorry, just trying to educate you guys, let me guess – you’re looking for comics?” He shows us the very latest and we spend the hottest part of this doggy day in the shelter of the bookstore, it’s not quite the same as our cave but the ceiling stays in its place – a definite plus.
“We could walk there,” I inform Ricky. “It’s not that far.”
“It would take us two days and we would most likely get hit by a truck,” Ricky replies.
“Still, we could walk there.”
“I’m going to ask my dad tonight. He can drop us on his way to work and pick us up on his way home,”
I have to admit, Ricky’s way makes more sense, but I don’t admit it, “We could walk,” is all I say. Ricky rolls his eyes; hanging out with me has helped him move his eye rolling into the art form category.
Ricky’s dad was once, a long long time ago, a hippy – a hippy of the flower child variety to be more specific. He showed people two fingers, said peace a lot and had brown curly hair down to his shoulders, according to the stories he tells. Now he has a regular job working for a huge corporation and wears a suit and tie everyday, and has almost no hair at all, his one expression of his true nature is his chosen choice of transportation. Ricky’s dad drives a nineteen-seventy Honda N360. When Sally stands next to the car she looks just slightly larger. The once shiny red paint is dull with oxidation and there is a line of rust coming through a few inches from the bottoms of the two doors. It has a small motorcycle engine that Ricky’s dad keeps in top shape, mostly because if the engine isn’t running perfectly the car will not move! His name for the tiny car is Betty. Ricky and I fill the back seat of Betty while Sally fills over half of the front. Ricky’s dad needs to lean out the driver’s window a little to make room while he constantly shifts through the gears keeping the engine revved up. The noise inhibits conversation but Ricky’s dad shouts things we cannot hear from the front seat, Sally tilts an ear in his direction and nods at appropriate times. As we get close to the beach fog covers the ground, Ricky’s dad shifts to a lower gear and turns on the tiny windshield wipers.