Great. I can’t sit in the café section because Cara is in the corner on her laptop. After three dates I never called her back. The woman has hoarding issues. Her apartment resembles a Marshall’s Home Goods store. Plus, brown is her favorite color. I hate brown.
I sneak along the wall to the computer books where a comfortable chair awaits. I scan a photography magazine and sip black, unsweetened ice tea. Twenty pages in, I spot Roger, who, last time we spoke, felt obligated to show me forty one of his apps. I had to feign a kidney stone attack to escape. I cover my face with the mag and sink down in my seat.
I decide it isn’t safe where I am, so I sneak over to the poetry section and immediately smell Georgette’s scent wafting from the next aisle, the theater section. She is a community theater actress who hates Neil LaBute’s plays and loves long monologues she wants to perform. Her perfume smells like algae. Frantically avoiding her, I sprint to the business area where I run into Jose, intensely perusing a ‘secrets of the stock market’ book. He is the super at a former apartment I rented and before I left I neglected to holiday tip him. Thankfully he doesn’t recognize me.
Head down, I double back to my old chair, which is now occupied by Roger. I reverse field, dart to biographies. I find myself two feet from Louise, a drunken hookup resulting in really bad sex. Sweating now, I dodge her glance, speed to the children’s section, planning my escape from this hellish maze. A kid runs into my shin. I yell, he screams, both of us in pain. His mother happened to be my waitress the previous week. I may have slightly under tipped because she forgot the lemon slice with my tea. I wanted to apologize right there, but her kid keeps wailing and I don’t need the attention.
I zigzag through the music section, continue to the movie and tv aisle, grab a Joan Crawford photo retrospective and feverishly pretend to read while sliding to the art corner where I have a good view of the exit. I still hold my photo magazine, which I intend to purchase. Deciding it was now or never, with short, quick steps, I Baryshnikov my way to the line, which consisted of only one person. Moments later I stand before the cashier, breathing hard.
He smiles and puts up his palm as a stop sign. “Break time” is all he says. Out of nowhere, hustling over to replace him, comes Michelle, who I didn’t know worked here. Michelle taught me to ice skate three years ago. I taught her nothing. It lasted several weeks. She gives me a pity smile; she remembers me.
I was about to say something pleasant when I feel a tap on my shoulder. Annette, my former therapist, who I left because she diagnosed me as impossibly self absorbed.
“How’ve you been, Marcus?”
“Fine. I’m just getting this magazine. Black & white photography is a hobby.”
“You have a hobby? That’s a step forward.”
Dropping the mag and fleeing is now an option.
“Next,” Michelle said.
I fumble with my money, sensing customers lining up behind me. Georgette’s scent attacks me. I hear Roger explaining his new cactus app. I glance around. Mistake. Jose, Louise, Cara, the waitress, and her demon kid were impatiently waiting for me to hand over my money.
Somehow, I complete the sale, scramble to the exit and run right into Miss Hawley, my sixth grade teacher, now retired. She still scares me. I nod, she grunts, not recognizing me, of course. Outside, I take several deep breaths.
It is clear I have to find a new bookstore. It is also clear Michelle shortchanged me a buck.