Between two towers of books, on the floor, leaning against the wall, I sit with my legs straight out in front of me and a book in my lap. If I tilt my head up and stretch my neck I can see Amy in the children’s section sitting at a short round table with some other children talking and reading. Kids are allowed to talk quietly in the children’s section. Adults are required to show more restraint.
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.
We live on Cedar Street and the walk into town is lined with Cedar Trees. Cedar Trees forty feet apart with branches just touching. I would like to meet the person in charge of such careful city planning. The concrete sidewalk is six feet away from the curb; which is next to the asphalt road. Within the six feet the Cedar Trees grow. The city mows the grass that grows between the trees, so it’s like a long skinny park everyone owns. I can walk on the grass if I want to and no old guy from his porch can holler at me to keep off. Today I walk on the four foot wide concrete side walk being careful to keep off the lines that mark off two by two foot squares and I never step on cracks – no need to invite calamity. The road through town was dug up a few years ago and replaced with red bricks in a herringbone pattern. Out of the same red bricks planters were built that are now filled with flowers and small trees. The cars have all been diverted to parking lots behind the stores, bicycles are still allowed. I notice a group forming in front of the used bookstore, which just happens to be where I’m headed. I nudge a tall, six foot nine, a hundred and sixty pound guy in the back of the crowd; he has a clear view, being nine years old and four foot tall all I can see is backs and bottoms. He turns and misses me altogether.
“Down here”, I say while tugging on his shirtsleeve. He looks down through rimless glasses and finally focuses on what must look like the proverbial ant, me. “What’s going on?” I ask.
“Mr. Allen is being held at gunpoint – he came in early and interrupted a thug – robbing his shop”, he said stopping to breath three times.
“And why are we all just standing here?” I ask with just a little bit of wonder.
“The police – are coming”, he said like that explained everything. I worked my way past him and in and out until I made it to the front of the thirty or so people who had gathered to watch poor Mr. Allen. I could see him through the front window. He looked small and old pushing himself hard against the wall trying to keep himself as far away from the over weight man with a gun as he could. Mr. Allen stared without blinking straight at the guns black barrel. I pushed open the thick glass door, the crowd behind me let out a unison gasp.
“Mr. Allen, I’ve come about the new Flash comic book”, I looked at Mr. Allen like nothing was going on and spoke in a casual, calm voice.
“Jimmy, get back, there’s a man with a gun”, Mr. Allen is a friend and he was looking out for me but, right now, I just didn’t need looking after. I gave Mr. Allen a knowing nod. I turned and looked at the man with the gun. I jumped a little when I saw him, pretending I hadn’t seen him standing there.
“What do you plan to do with that gun?” I asked, like I really wanted to know. I walked a little closer to the man as I spoke and pointed my finger almost touching the gun still pointed at Mr. Allen.
“I was looking for money or something to sell,” he said quietly, almost apologetically.
“It’s too late for that”, I stated, very matter-of-factly, without a hint of doubt. “Put the gun on top of that pile of books”, I took my eyes off him for a split second and looked at the top of the pile of books a few feet from where he stood. He placed the gun on the books and looked down at the ground. “Sit in that chair by the door and wait for the police, they should be here in less than ten minutes”, he took a seat as I walked over to the counter behind which Mr. Allen was still pressed against the wall. “Did the new Flash come in while I was on vacation?” Mr. Allen relaxed and leaned on the counter like he usually does, his usual smile came back too. He reached under the counter.
“I saved you a copy, Jimmy, It’s an especially good episode, lots of very fast moving”, Mr. Allen said, he still wasn’t quite ready for conversation. “Thank-you Jimmy”, he said nodding toward the dejected man on the chair near the glass door.
“No Problem”, I said and turned toward the door. I nodded at the thug in the chair and pushed open the door. There were light applause as the crowd made a path for me – they were already standing. My next stop would be Woolworths; I needed refills for my Pez dispenser.