A little Christmas story for you! Enjoy and Merry Christmas and a very happy, healthy, loving New Year!
Jenny stepped up to the door of the bookstore, framed her eyes with her hands and peered in. There was little visibility to the interior, but the lights were on which led her to think the shop was open. Tall bookshelves lined the walls of the large room and a set of shorter shelves occupied the center. Boxes of books stacked one on top of the other, the bottom ones sagging under the weight, were pushed into the corners and with all the disarray, she thought it looked like the store was under renovation or perhaps just not opened for business yet.
Suddenly the door opened, setting off a shopkeepers bell which tinkled in greeting. A small man stood just inside the doorway, one hand on the latch and the other grasping the top of a simple wooden cane. He was thin and seemed frail and spent from life, his skin wafer-thin and streaked with bluish veins. Wisps of hair curved around his round head and sprouted, stubble-like, on the bald top of it. Plaid suspenders held up pants that seemed too large for him and as Jenny looked down, she noticed he had only a stained, tattered pair of slippers on his feet.
The old man adjusted a pair of wireframed glasses that were set far down on his nose and leaned towards Jenny as if to get a better look. Suddenly, a wide smile erupted on his face.
“My dear, come in, come in!” he exclaimed, opening the door wider and motioning Jenny into the poorly lit room. “Merry Christmas!”
Jenny smiled in return. “Merry Christmas to you, sir! I wasn’t sure you were open yet. There were no hours posted on the door.”
“Well, we are open whenever we want you see,” he explained, selecting a book from a precarious stack by the door. He peered over his glasses at its spine as he shuffled away. He turned back and motioned for Jenny to follow. “That is the beauty of being the proprietor of one’s own little bookshop, don’t you think?”
Jenny’s eyes soon adjusted to the dim light of the room and she began to notice signs of Christmas; small, subtle nods to the season, but lovingly placed. A miniature Christmas tree in a clay pot, dotted with tiny red and green balls and wrapped with a feathery string of lights sat on the end of an old wood and glass display counter at the back of the store. A plastic wreath of faded green with an equally washed-out red velvet bow, wrinkled and flat, hung down the front of the counter, secured with a short piece of tape. A dusty cut-glass bowl filled with hard candy, stuck together from age, had been placed next to the little tree.
The old man stepped behind the counter. “Now, what is it you are looking for today, my dear? A classic perhaps? A romance or maybe a mystery?” He waved his hand around the room. “We have a bit of everything!”
Jenny thought for a moment. She hadn’t planned on buying a book that day. She was on her way to the hardware store next door to pick up hammer and nails, blue-gray paint and paint rollers and brushes. The porch on the farmhouse needed repair and she was the only person who could manage it now—if managing was the right word. She was barely surviving, let alone managing anything. But the thought of tools and paint and brushes in her hands at least gave her the hope that she could accomplish something positive in the next few days. A book would most likely sidetrack everything but the thought of curling up in the rocker on the porch, watching the sunset across the wide fields held a comforting promise, too. Maybe it was possible to do both and she stepped over to a stack of books on a small table. The sign propped up against them said “Buy one, get two free”.
“Is this right?” she asked. “Buy one, get two free?”
“Yes, yes,” the old man responded gleefully. “Fill your bookshelves for the new year! Collect them, give them away! A book is a bargain at any price don’t you think?”
Jenny wholeheartedly agreed with him as she launched a search through the stack. Rebecca was on top and she picked it up and opened to the title page. She breathed in sharply when she saw a scrawled signature across the title.
“This is signed!” she exclaimed. “Signed by Daphne De Maurier herself?”
“Yes, yes-take that one, please! Have you read it?”
Had she read it? Jenny had devoured the library copy as a teenager, several times over. She flipped through the pages now, sighing over familiar passages. She closed it and quickly tucked it under her arm and picked up the next one.
“Pride and Prejudice,” she whispered. It was not signed but simply opening the book evoked memories of green grass under an oak tree on a summer’s day, her dog Einstein sleeping at her side as she absorbed the blossoming romance of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. She tucked it under her arm next to Rebecca.
She sat down in a small chair next to the little table and continued her search. To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind, The Princess Bride. The stack seemed never ending as if more books replaced the ones she had stuffed in her arms, growing instead of shrinking. The old shopkeeper brought her a box, and she began to place the books in it as she marveled at the memories welling up with each new title. He brought another box and Jenny looked up at him.
“I think I should probably stop at one box,” she said.
He patted her hand. “If you think so, my dear. You have chosen well.”
But she had not been the one to choose the books, it seemed. It seemed that he had placed the books, all of her beloved favorites, there, just for her, every one a treasured piece of her past, whose brilliant phrases had jumped from the pages to be forever lodged in her brain, whose characters had become close friends, whose stories were lives, sometimes more real, and better, than her own.
She reluctantly got up from the little chair and carried the box of books to the counter. The old man wrote each title and its price on a sales slip, noting which ones were to be paid for and which ones were free.
“It seems you have one more free book to choose,” he said. “May I suggest one?”
He had not been wrong about her favorites yet, so she nodded. “Yes, please.”
He went to a tall bookshelf near the counter, reached up high, his fingers barely reaching the shelf. He nudged the spine of a thin book until it tumbled out. He caught it and brought it back to Jenny as if for her approval.
“A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Of course, that would be perfect,” she said.
Jenny paid the old man, thanked him for the books, wished him a Merry Christmas and walked to the door, the box full of books seeming light in her hands.
“Merry Christmas, my dear!” he called after her. “And a Happy New Year!”
Jenny set the box of books in the trunk of her car and went on to the hardware store. She picked up a hammer and nails, blue-gray paint and paint brushes and rollers. And she bought several pieces of plywood, a saw, screws, and a screwdriver.
She drove home, to the farmhouse with its peeling paint, ragged bushes and sagging porch. She set the box of books next to the small, undecorated Christmas tree in the large front room and set a pot of coffee to brew. She brought the box of supplies from the hardware store to the garage, discovered two sawhorses under an old tarp, and pulled them out to the driveway.
She had no idea what she was doing but by the end of the day, as the sun set across the fields, she carried a perfect blue-gray bookshelf to the porch. When the paint dried, the books would be lined up alphabetically by author, or maybe by title, or just maybe randomly placed with no thought at all. She could sit in the rocker and reach for any book she wanted and know now that she could manage anything—anything at all.