Alphus Gibb had heard somewhere that books were a window into the world. He had read few books, lest he be a peeping-Tom, and he wasn’t sure he was entitled to windows. But then, of course, there was Belle with her library! Her nose always in a book, and there was the way she was reading her own story without suspecting it.
Alphus wanted to be like Belle, kind and lovely. Her library had windows, with little square panes like eyelids, from floor to ceiling. Alphus thought this gave credence to books being windows, at least to books being sometimes next to windows.
There was one bookstore in snow country, America. The sidewalks were an aged and fuming shade of gray, clear of snow close to the buildings where it was forced back by the old awnings hung above storefronts. The sign in front read simply, “Used Books.” The diner across the street was the shape of a milk bottle. Through the window, red stools sat on the counters, upside down like stiff spiders in surrender.
An elderly gentleman greeted Alphus as he entered Used Books. Alphus scuffled his feet and surveyed the room; it was stuffed from floor to ceiling with shelves of books. Alphus felt like he was breathing books or that the room was an artery pumping books from a deep dark heart of paper and binding glue and viscous ink, viral and worming, ink that oozed its way across pressed leather surfaces, infecting pages and scarring them with hieroglyphs.
This is the way into the world? Alphus wondered.
The gentleman behind the counter wore a pressed white shirt and a scholarly mustache. “Please, let me know if I can be of any service.” He said to Alphus. Another man sat opposite the counter in a folding chair. The cramped conditions coupled with this man’s unpleasant fatness made it so that Alphus couldn’t avoid squirming against his knees in order to get past him. His jeans were stained with black and connected to black suspenders atop a faded T-shirt.
Alphus wandered through the stacks. Jannika Durby… Ross Troikin… Fisher Knox… Alphus recognized none of the authors. Although, he figured he should have: each had about a bookshelf and a half dedicated to holding his or her works alone.
“—I’ve seen enough in my lifetime.”
“But did you hear me? That’s some twisted shit.” Alphus could barely hear the men in the front talking to each other.
“At this point, you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Nothing’s really new anymore.”
“Yeah but -- --the poses and lighting –”
“Of course, you know some of the best photographers in the world –”
“I ended up talking those two girls who were in here the other day -- -- Anyway, I’ve got some for you to look at.”
Alphus continued into the next room to keep himself from eavesdropping. This room was as clogged with books as the first. A deer-like woman sat crumpled on the ground amidst a skirmish of books. Her eyes were deep-set, her limbs were slender, and there were gray patches of wear on her tennis shoes. She would put a book on the bottom shelf, take it off, reconsider, put it back, and then slide a great chunk of them over. She did not look at Alphus. Looking at her made him tremble. She had one long braid that ran down the middle of her back. Between moving books she would tap her fingers on the wooden shelf, rapidly. As she tapped, Alphus’s body shook; his calves and fingers twitched; his vision became gray around the edges, like she was sliding away from him down a long blurry tunnel.
Cold air burst into the shop as a large woman bustled her way in. Alphus returned to the front room feeling guilty for watching the shelving girl from high above her. The woman greeted the two shop men warmly. She was the picture of average – brown hair, a bit more girth than what’s healthy, and dressed in a neutral-colored rain coat.
The deer girl mumbled something as she tapped Alphus to get out of her way. The gentleman introduced her to the newcomer as she approached.
“Oh, this is the Jennifer you’ve been telling me about!” Said the woman.
“No, we have lots of Jennifers.”
Alphus smiled feeling directionless and uncomfortable.
“In fact, this looks like a man who likes his Jennifers.” The gentleman said motioning to Alphus.
“Let me help show you around. There’s a map on the wall for the cupboards of books. This room is for serials, the next is for authors with only one or two books, and the back room is our open jerkoff room. Back through that metal door.”
Jennifer made her way past the two of them, also squirming against the fat man’s knees. She was very thin, tiny, Alphus thought. She looked like he could fold her in on herself until she fit in the palm of his hand. Or maybe she’d be altogether nothing.
The fat man in the suspenders stood up and refilled the coffee maker. Its glass was stained a semi-transparent brown. It looked like it had been run out before its time, stained by the heat and neglect of half-filled pots not cleaned out until the next morning.
Alphus left the shop. He was not so charmed by windows.