Spatters of rain dribbled into unsettled silence.
The man with the prosthetic leg dropped the umbrella from his shoulder and shook it onto the sidewalk in front of the bookstore. His scooter chair roosted nearby like a guide dog for a blind man.
Steadying himself, he exchanged tattered raingear for his cane and wobbled uneasily toward the door handle.
A tall man with a van dyke beard held the door open for him with a neighborly grin.
"You get caught in this downpour on that thing?" He jerked his chin toward the scooter chair.
"How'd you guess?" the old fellow shot back.
Inside the store the temperature was fifteen degrees too cold and the man's damp clothing caught chill immediately.
From behind the register an efficient redhead with black horn rim glasses greeted him cheerily.
"Hey, Dub; get caught in the rain?"
Dub snorted and nodded. "How can you stand the cold air in here? Aren't you freezing?"
The redhead made a sarcastic face. "No, we love shivering while we work...." Lowering her voice to a stage whisper, she added, "...as if anybody
cares around here."
Dub settled into his bookstore routine. At the Free Coffee stand he wrangled Sweet n' Low and Creamer into a Styrofoam cup to suit his taste and repeatedly rocked the pump lid a dozen times until overflow rimmed his cup into a brown lake.
Five minutes of effort dragged by as Dub struggled in capturing both his cane, the cup and his balance, then headed to his favorite section: RELIGION.
He plopped his bottom on one of the footstools. Nearby, sorting books, stands a clerk stocking shelves in the Chri-Fi (Christian Fiction) section. This employee is late middle age with a playful appreciation for regular customers such as Dub.
Oddly, few of the other employees welcome the sight of Dub for reasons beyond his reckoning.
"Don't you know, Dub, you're supposed to remove clothing before you take a shower?"
"Oh, really? Nobody ever told me that. Thanks for the tip."
The store manager passes by scowling immediately upon recognizing the occupant upon the footstool. She shoots a lethal eye crinkle at the employee and disappears into her office.
The employee shakes his head and sighs.
"What ya got for me today?" Dub snaps one of his red suspenders and stretches out his good leg for balance. This unbalanced jostling spills coffee onto the carpet.
The dull carpet in the religion section is a canvas of surreal blotches and a map of previous visits. The pattern matches the age spots on Dub's .hands somehow.
"All I can offer today is just the same old nothing; happy Jesus books and a few dog eared Bibles."
As he speaks he deliberately speeds up his work. It is better to look twice as busy, anticipating the dirty looks passing his section again.
"The Ex-wife was going to drop me off, but when she saw the weather forecast I was left to my own devices. I thought I could beat the rain. Notice I said 'thought".
The loudspeaker crackled overhead: "Backup on register...backup on register..."
"I suppose that's you?" Dub turned down the corners of his mouth.
"Yup, life or death as always..." the employee placed his pricing gun on the bottom of his cart and squeezed past the fake leg and vanished.
Struggling to his feet, Dub spilled more coffee and gained a purchase against gravity as he hoisted upright until he was standing.
A small, nondescript woman in a print dress entered the space nearby glancing at a penciled list in her freckled hand.
A sly smile flashed as Dub summoned his silky ex preacher's voice, "Now here's a young lady on an important quest! And what are we looking for today?"
The lady quickly sized up the strange man in the red suspenders standing on the badly constructed fake limb. Her demeanor instantly softened.
"Oh, I'm trying to find a certain book for my mom. She's in the hospital."
"That's very nice of you, young lady. You must be her favorite child."
The woman's freckles flushed in her sallow cheeks, but, she appeared very pleased to hear this.
"Oh, I would never say that...."
"But, it IS true--I'll bet. I'm right aren't I?"
She shyly broadened her smile and accepted the importance of his words.
"I think my mother would agree with you. My eldest sister never calls or visits
unless she wants something."
Dub looks down and sees he has managed to spill what remained of his coffee cup onto his crotch. The khaki shorts he is wearing provide stark testimony to the accident.
"I knew that the minute I saw you looking for that book! You can just tell about a person." He dabbed at the stain enigmatically and gave up.
"What is the title you are seeking if you don't mind that I ask?"
The lady handed him the torn notebook paper. An old lady's scrawl snaked across the line unsteadily: REDEEMING LOVE followed by a barely legible: Francine Rivers.
"I know that one.."
Dub asserted with the voice of scientist who has discovered a new life form…
He reached for a nearby shelf with his cane hand which also clutched the empty coffee cup.
"Right there...see it....NO...the other one....yeah--that's it there!"
At that moment a very large and unkempt man with a lumberjack shirt boomed in.
"Hey there you are. Somebody up front said you'd be back here."
The fellow was an oaf. His voice had a cartoonish quality; too loud and vigorous.
Dub winced at the sound of the voice. People always winced when George spoke.
"There's the man. How are you today George? I was just assisting this lovely young lady in finding a book for her poor sick mother."
George held up his hand like a traffic cop, "Let me get some coffee first and then we can chat awhile.." then, noticing Dub's empty cup..."Say, you could use a refill..looks like, eh?"
Dub looked down at his crumpled Styrofoam cup.
"Okay." He passed the useless cup to George's meaty paw and turned back to the lady.
She was estimating the distance between the book cart and Dub, apparently making good her escape, if possible.
"You say your mom is dying, huh? What does she suffer from? Cancer or something?"
The lady paled and cautiously stepped back toward the corner where Joel Osteen's book cover smiled outwardly.
"Oh, no--not at all. She cracked her rib falling out of bed. Her alarm clock. It, um....she was reaching for it. To shut it off. That's when she took a spill."
George reappeared with two steaming Styrofoam cups of coffee. He crowded into the small space along with the footstool, Dub, the book cart, and the wary freckled lady whose face darkened immediately.
George's bulky arm shot out toward Dub's unsteady cane hand and a few ounces of coffee spattered onto the cart and floor.
Dub shifted his weight onto the good leg and fastened a death grip on the cup managing to spill another ounce or two onto the shoe containing his fake foot.
The employee returned. This extra person required that the four of them negotiate the remaining space like chubby ballerinas on a small stage.
"May I help you find something?" The employee was addressing the small woman as she slunk into an impossibly infinitesimal space adjacent to Rick Warren's ubiquitous PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE, swallowing the entire shelf.
"I...uh...well....do you have a bathroom.....somewhere?" Her tone carried a cry for help.
"Sure, follow me."
The four bodies twisted, contorted, congealed and separated until the lady found enough opening to dash for freedom with great joy.
George roared, "Say--where they been keeping you? I came in last night and you weren't here?"
The employee opened his mouth to answer but the overhead speaker crackled to life: "Backup on register...backup on register..."
Dub grunted and waved his sloshing coffee cup at George with grumpy alacrity. "Let's go find a table and set a spell."
The oaf and the unsteady cane, with the one-legged man attached, set off like fairy tale beasts on some fanciful adventure.
The floor behind them trailed tattoos of coffee figurations like the leaky ruminations of an ancient fountain pen in a language unknown to the mind of man.
The incessant rain outside splattered and dribbled, playing rhythmic counterpoint to the bookstore's sounds: voices, patter and--somewhere in the corner--a loud voice followed by a warm laugh.
The oaf and the one-legged man held court like ancient Jack-o-napes, in a kingdom lost in antiquity.
I was the book clerk and this is my memory.