I should have ordered something with a little less sugar. It wasn’t even that good, so why isn’t there anything left on the plate? Ah, chocolate, I love you so much, so why don’t you love me? At least the coffee’s good. And the conversations in this place!
I can’t help overhearing them. People here talk in a rhythm almost, like you’re supposed to hear just a moment of what they’re saying. “How to find the door. Brenda Alpine. I’m telling you, you’ll love it.”
Now why did that sound familiar? What’s this other guy saying? “It was a red jupiter butterfly, and it was perfectly preserved. It was a steal at just twenty five.”
“I thought they didn’t really exist though?,” the other guy says to him.
“That’s what I thought, but there it was!”
The funny thing is, neither of those guys look like the type to collect butterflies. This coffee really is good. Now who’s this? Almost looks like she’s coming right to my table. I wouldn’t mind that. She’s kind of pretty once you notice it.
She tells me, “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Looking for me?”
“Well, I don’t mean right now. I mean ever since I read your book, I was kind of hoping that I might run into you. I didn’t know what part of Kansas you were from, but it wasn’t impossible.”
“Yeah, okay. Uh, thanks.” I’d be more grateful to meet someone who has actually heard of my work, but something about the way she said it doesn’t sound right. I know what it is. “You recognized me?”
“Yeah, from the picture.”
What’s she got? It can’t be. “Where did you get this?”
“I don’t know the name of the place. It was just this little shop.”
“The guy inside was older than time and there was all kinds of weird stuff in it.”
“That’s right. You know it?”
I hope she couldn’t see that shiver. “Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but are you real?”
“This book, this hardback copy of Edge of the World, it doesn’t exist. The book hasn’t even seen print. It’s just an ebook.” There I am, a picture of me on the inside cover. And of course it’s a photo that was never taken.
She doesn’t know what to make of me. Whatever conversation she had imagined, it wasn’t this. With one raised eyebrow, she disagrees, “I don’t know what you mean that it doesn’t exist. You’re holding it.”
“Yeah, but… I don’t know how to explain this. You wouldn’t believe it anyway. Listen I… Wait a moment! I got it!”
“Not the big picture. I don’t see that, but right now.”
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I’m smiling now. I guess that’s making her a bit more comfortable. I just hope she can deal with what I’m about to say. “What’s the name of this place?”
For a moment I can see the word ‘what’ forming in her mouth again. Then she considers the question. “I don’t know. I don’t think I looked.”
“But you came in anyway. So did I. Listen, when you leave, don’t look at the sign, all right? It would be bad luck like you can’t believe. It would be worse than smashing thirteen mirrors. Can you do that? Not look back at the sign, I mean?”
“I guess so.”
“Good. Now I can stop talking crazy. You liked the book?”
“Huhn? Oh. Yeah, I loved it. I love Joe and Louie. I wish I could find Swackels somewhere.”
“Yeah, Joe and Louie are favorites for a lot of people. But if you keep walking into places like this, then you might find Swackels somewhere.”
“I thought you just made them up.”
“I did. Never mind that. I said I’d stop talking crazy. Let me buy you a cup of coffee or something, and you can tell me all about my book. I don’t get to hear it about it often enough.”
God, I love that laugh. She’s not quite as pretty as I thought she was when she was sitting down, but I like that. I can tell that I’m not quite what she expected. Someone in here is talking about old music. They had records in that store. If I had a photographic memory, I wonder if I’d notice in here some of the jewelry or hats that were in that strange shop. What else is happening here? If this woman hadn’t shown me the book, I wouldn’t have even noticed anything out of the ordinary.
I still haven’t asked her name. She knew mine without asking, so it didn’t occur to her to offer her own. Should I ask? I’d love to know it. Things are going better here than in any conversation with any stranger that I’ve had in years. But what if that’s the price? What if, by finding out more about someone who bought my book from that place, that the book stays there? I can’t have that. She’s charming enough, but that’s here and now. It won’t necessarily last. Am I overthinking it though? Are my books doomed to the obscurity of that old shop already? If so, then this might be all I can get from them. Oh god, what do I do? I hope I can talk her into one more cup of coffee. I need at least that long to make up my mind. This is murder, but at least it’s a pleasant form of torture.