Sometime last summer, a customer whom I had never seen before, wearing a Blue Jays cap and a handlebar moustache, came into the store. He did not respond to my greeting, but rather made his way to the classics section as if he were a regular. He picked up a copy of “David Copperfield” from the shelf, seemed to read from it for a moment, then put it back where he found it and left without a word. The following day, he returned, glaring at me before I could speak, and again spent a minute with the same open book in silence before leaving. Over the next few weeks, he would continue this same practice, and I began to realize that he was reading the novel one page at a time. That, and his failure to acknowledge me, struck me as a breach of unwritten bookstore etiquette, and I began to plot revenge.
Shortly after this realization, I wrote a note which read “I know what you’re doing” and slipped into the book on page 43, at the beginning of the chapter entitled “I Fall into Disgrace”. That day, he came in at his usual time, proceeded to read the usual amount, but he was careful to keep his back to me, so I couldn’t see what he was doing. When he left, my note was missing, but there was one scribbled and inserted on the next page. It read “No you don’t”. I replaced that with a message that read “This is not a lending library” and it, in turn, was replaced with one that read “I know”. Reasoning that some communication is better than none, I asked him on page 46 “Is there a God?” and the next day I got my inserted answer: “Yes” the note read, “I have met Her and She is a pacifist”. On page 62, I left a note asking him, “Why not ‘Great Expectations?’” “Because I don’t have any” came the response on page 63 a day later. “I do.” I slipped into page 64, and then awaited his reaction.
After that, he did not come in for a week. I then decided to remove the book from the classics shelf and put it in the Women’s Studies section, tucked behind a copy of “The Female Eunuch”. When he did return, it was at his usual time, and after a cursory glance at the book’s former location, he walked over to its hiding spot and retrieved it. Shaking his head at me, he read another page and left. There was no note that day.
For the next few weeks, we continued our daily encounter with no interaction. Gradually, we began to tolerate each other’s presence, and a kind of familiarity settled over his visits. On one occasion, I observed what might have been the flicker of a greeting in his eyes. It never happened again, so I might have been imagining it. Regardless, some people go into a bookstore to get lost in any of the worlds it might contain, and it wasn’t my role to intrude in the process. Since he had chosen a Dickensian landscape to inhabit, I resolved to protect that choice.
Not long ago, near-disaster struck. A young man spent a few minutes browsing, picked up the book, and approached the desk. “This about the magician?” he asked. “Not at all. Different story entirely. Kinda slow. You should see the movie first. David Lean knocked it out of the park.” He shook his head. “Isn’t that the dude who wrote that Christmas story.” “Yes, much better job. Ghosts and capitalism turned on its head. What’s not to like? Let me see if I have a copy.” He shook his head. “This one’s fine.” “It’s on hold, actually.” “What?” “Somebody put it on hold.” “Why is it on the shelf, then?” “It was an accident.” “Snooze you lose.” “Okay. Sure. I’m pleased that you are so open-minded. Especially with a copy only read once. By a retired English teacher turned funeral director. No karma there.” He considered this briefly. “On second thought, maybe I’ll read the one about the Grinch.”
When he left, I put a note in the book on page 119. I apologized if I was responsible for his failure to return. “Was it something I didn’t say?” I asked. I went on to thank him for his continued support of the bookstore, even if it wasn’t in a financial capacity. Every footstep across the threshold was a vote for the printed word, and his was not lost on me. I then asked him if there was something I was missing in inventory which would improve the mix.
It is now more than a month since I saw that customer. I refuse to believe that the book stopped speaking to him. I only hope that nothing serious has befallen him. I want to ask a favour of you. If you should see a gentleman with a vacant look in his eyes, wandering the streets of Flesherton in search of something, point him in the direction of the store. Tell him that the destiny of David Copperfield and maybe even his own, as well as whatever might come out of page 119, awaits him. And if you want to come in and buy the book, it’s on hold. For about 604 days.