Harvest House Publishers
The vacuum sound of skateboards approaching at Mach speed caused me to turn just in time for an onslaught of Seattle’s fine young citizens on wheels.
“Lady, you look like a dork,” said the one wearing a stocking cap down to his eyebrows as he pointed at my head. The umbrella I held over my head served as a sound-intensifying alcove. Dork rang out at a very caustic and offensive range.
“That’s a girl,” said another as he rushed by me, did a half-twist off of the angled sidewalk and landed with a thud onto the rough street. “Not a lady,” he yelled, finishing his move and his thought.
The third charmer looked back over his shoulder and added, “No, that’s a creature.” They all laughed with adolescent enthusiasm and the surprisingly deep tone teen boys possess.
My street linguistics were a bit rusty, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t a compliment. It wasn’t until later that I thought to shame them for their use of the word “dork.” Wasn’t that a put-down from before my generation?
I pondered this as I continued toward my usual Sunday morning destination. Moments later I stood in front of familiar, worn, gray-teal doors and reached for the 1920s door handle. I had to pull hard against the force of the morning’s wind. I even leaned toward the street to create enough resistance force. Would I ever get used to this city? I wondered as the splintered edge of the door snagged the hem of my pants.
“Today would have been a perfect day to sleep in,” I said to Nomad the hound dog as I entered the 80 Days used bookstore. I turned to detach my clothing and caught a glimpse of my reflection in the display window. The knotted, sci-fi cone of my curls shaped by a fall gust of wind from Seattle’s Elliott Bay hovered above my head like a foreign object. Young bachelor number three was right. I was a creature.
Mr. Diddle, the owner of the narrow and musty establishment, spoke from somewhere above sight line. “What fun is sleeping when there are so many nooks and crannies in the world of literature to explore?”
This was a typical remark from the optimistic man whose stature and attitude were that of a leprechaun. I passed three aisles, turning my head left and then right, and at last discovered Mr. Diddle’s lower half at the top of a rusty, standard ladder cleverly and dangerously tricked out with roller skates for wheels.
“I brought you coffee and a jelly donut. If you’d serve coffee and pastries, maybe you would have more customers. And a sign would be helpful.”
Nomad trotted behind me, talking a slow yawn chatter while his nails clipped the wood in a friendly rhythm. In minutes my lap and attention would be his.
“My dear, 80 Days exists for those who stumble across a narrow, unmarked entry and have the joy of discovering a new destination. And real book browsers like to have both hands free so that they can reach for a frayed cover instinctively. So they can turn pages without juggling beverages. You found me, Libby. Wasn’t the act of discovery part of your fun?”
“Yes, I suppose so. But I was trying to locate another bookstore, which does serve coffee and pastries. I was lost.”
With creaks of old knees and ladder rungs, Mr. Diddle descended slowly while nodding. He about-faced to receive his Sunday sacraments and extended a finger past the grip of his paper cup and pointed at me. “You say lost. I say right where you were supposed to be. I may have to wait for my clientele, but they are always worth waiting for. I bought 80 Days from old Mrs. McCready when it was just a travel bookstore, and now it is a little bit of everything. So, you see, a sign would confuse people more. Clearly 80 Days is the name for a travel book store. Which this is not.”
“You could change the name,” I offered, but then we both shook our head simultaneously and Nomad howled. I sighed my resignation and began to wander.
“What’s on the agenda for today? Portugal? Cambodia?”
“Mr. Diddle, you offend me. I do not come to a bookstore with an agenda. That is unconscionable.”
“You do research for your travels.”
“I explore random possibilities for my travel itineraries. Big difference. My notes are for fantasy trips I’ll never take.”
“Some day you will. That is why I like that you come here to do your research and type the itineraries. Someone should get use of my computer!”
“I hope your other regulars actually purchase books from you, because I’m indeed a browser, not a doer.” Sadly, this was true for every area of
“Not yet, maybe.” Mr. Diddle held up his jelly donut and motioned me toward the back of the store, where a crooked door cut in half and fitted with deadbolt locks on the top and bottom halves served as his receiving dock for occasional boxes of used books and even fewer boxes of new texts. He stopped just shy of the last row of shelves and nodded to a stack of white boxes in the far corner. “You’ll have fun with those. Good thing you came today. I have a third-party buyer planning to take a peek at this collection tomorrow. These are early 1900s travel guides for England and Spain. Beautiful treasures.”
My eyes grew wide. “Maybe this day is shaping up. And to think I almost went elsewhere—”
Mr. Diddle shook his head to cut me off. “Tsk, tsk.”
“Not the other bookstore. Just somewhere else,” I said, purposely vague.
With a slap of a hand on my thigh, I motioned for Nomad to follow me. I pulled one of the courtesy rag rugs from a pile at the end of the book aisle and carried it to a corner, where I sat down cross-legged and waited for the mass of Nomad to fill and form to my lap.
“You will be here until you need to be elsewhere,” Mr. Diddle said, winking and tapping his temple with his finger.
With mock sincerity, I bowed my head slightly to the grown man ith a smear of raspberry jam on his forehead. “Such a lofty statement of nothingness, O Wise One.”
“Do you want first dibs or no?”
“Yes. As long as they’re free,” I said while I rubbed Nomad with one hand and retrieved books from the box with other. Taking my time, I opened up the leather covers and let my eyes fall with anticipation onto the ornate title pages: Travels in Paris, Sophisticated Voyages, Every Ladies’ London. Exquisite line art depicted images of proper women wearing large-brimmed hats, with eyes that looked demurely off the page while they sipped tea from a full-service set. All I could think was, These women had only a smidgen of the rights and freedom I have now. Yet they saw the world. They experienced the adventure of travel and the warmth of a foreign shore.
Would I ever go anywhere?
“What have you learned?” Mr. Diddle called out from his back room.
I had seen this so-called office, which housed a typewriter table dwarfed by an old black-and-white television and a roller chair that allowed the sitter to recline on the spring spine to a fifty-degree angle before tumbling backward.
I dropped a book about proper packing for an African safari back into the box. “I’m just starting to look at these.”
“No.” Mr. Diddle’s voice and then body emerged from the office full of self-importance. “About your…um… sticky job situation. You find out this week, right?”
“I find out tomorrow, as a matter of fact.” I rubbed Nomad’s ears vigorously to avoid further discussion.
“Do not let them roll over you. Your job should not be at risk. You, Libby, are a precious commodity.” Mr. Diddle pointed his finger into the air to emphasize his point and returned to his media den. “Let me write you a reference.”
I paused as if giving this careful consideration and then broke into my Mr. Diddle impersonation. “Dear Friends and World Rulers at Reed and Dunson Public Relations. Libby frequents my shop. She is a lousy consumer but a nice gal. Her time spent in the travel section is pretty much a waste because she never has the guts to go anywhere. Please give her a job that will finally afford her the time and money for the vacation of a lifetime because I like her and my dog likes her. Sincerely, the Man Who Does Not Know What PR or Advertising Is.”
“I know what it is. I just don’t like it,” he hollered from the cave. I think I heard his finger stab the air once again above his bald head.
Maybe the reference wasn’t a bad idea. It would never get me a raise, but it could get me fired. And I was hoping and praying for one of two things to happen: 1) I would get a pink slip and the subsequent severance package and unemployment would allow me to go on a short-term trip to Italy with pay and benefits or 2) I would get the promotion I have deserved and been denied for three straight years and use my five weeks of vacation to go on a short-term trip to Italy with pay and benefits.
“I have it all planned out,” I said quietly.