Encounters in a Bookstore #360: NOT BETWEEN THOSE PAGES

At the bookstore where I work, sometimes you can tell trouble just from seeing its face across the store.

This time, upon approaching my register, trouble was a fidgety man with shifty eyes. There was no line behind him; it was 10:15 on a Monday night. He had an incoherent way of suggesting he had a book on hold, but eventually revealed his reason to be at the cash register. Once I located his order on the shelf, I walked back to my register and simultaneously removed the hold slip, hoping the book would reveal an explanation for his awkwardness, or perhaps a reason to think him less so. The Elegant Universe, perhaps. Or A Brief History of Time. Even How to Win Friends and Influence People would have been acceptable.

The book this guy ordered was Dr. Z on Scoring: How to Pick Up, Seduce, and Hook Up With Hot Women.

Ideally the remainder of the transaction would have been as quick as possible, and completed before a line had the chance to form. I would avoid eye contact and get him on his way. But the longer I work at the bookstore, the more things are not ideal.

The book was twenty-five dollars, give or take some cents. The man flicked through his wallet, pulling out different forms of cash and coin. Some small bits of paper also fell onto the counter. “These are from fortune cookies,” he decided to tell me. “I save them all, and then use the numbers to buy lottery tickets.”

Despite a plethora of fortunes and ‘lucky’ numbers, he did not have enough money in the wallet.

He rifled through his pockets, and also a black plastic bag. No change. A small line had formed behind him, consisting of one pretty lady and one large, tired-looking man.

The awkward guy pawed through the pile of money he’d dumped on the counter between us. “I’m only, like, eleven cents short.”

I reminded him what the book cost.

He cowered in helplessness, a mere eleven cents short of scoring salvation.

The pretty lady who was next in line sighed loudly and approached us. She handed me a dollar. “Just use it,” she sighed again.

The man looked bewildered and I scowled at him, scooping up his money. “You can give her the change,” he said. My mind screamed a response and biting my tongue instead probably saved my job.

Once the transaction was finally complete, I went to the next register where my coworker James had returned and was ringing up the pretty lady. “Your change,” I tried to hand it to her.

“Oh, maybe someone else will need it,” she said.

Later, after all customers were out of earshot, I told James the full story.

“There are some things you can’t learn from a book,” James sagely stated.

Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.