Encounters in a Bookstore #76: A Hint of Ink

At the bookstore where I work it is not unusual to deal with customers who are slightly…off. The bespectacled woman who walked in through the front doors one evening and directly to the cash line was one such individual, and she was easy to peg because of the words billowing from her mouth. She also did not bother to wait in the line, or even seem to notice that she might need to.

“I know I have to have my receipt but I can’t find it because the receipts at this store are just too small and I have about two hundred receipts in my wallet and I have to return this book because the smell of its ink makes me sick and I can’t have it in my house anymore but your return policy might be a problem although I spoke to a manager about it the other day when I had to return a different book by the same publisher that also made me sick because of the smell of the ink and what do your receipts look like?”

“Like receipts,” my coworker offered.

This did not faze her.

“I have so many receipts in here that it’s impossible to find anything and it could be that the one for this book is actually at home but if you make me go back and get it then I wouldn’t have time to make dinner this evening and it’d be really unreasonable if I have to miss dinner because of your return policy since at my age it’s a bad idea to miss meals….”

“What’s going on here?” the manager on duty piped up, although she knew what was going on because she’d been listening for minutes already.

“She wants to return a book,” I said. “But she can’t find her receipt.”

“Well, she has to have a receipt.”

“I was here a few days ago to return a book by this same publisher because it also smelled awful and made me sick and you could just call the manager that helped me then since I know he’ll remember me and that way I won’t have to find the receipt that might not even by in my pocketbook since I’ve got about $300 and two hundred other little bits of paper that fall out every time I—oh, is this it?”

She produced a receipt that came from our store with the book listed on it.

“I’m going to exchange this book for another one like it, then. I’ll leave this one here.”

So she left it and disappeared. As it turned out, the book in question was an interior design book, with ink-drenched pages, as interior design books often are. After the woman was out of sight, we behind the registers took turns smelling the book. It smelled like an interior design book with ink-drenched pages.

Twenty or thirty minutes ticked by. Finally the woman returned with another book clutched in her bony fingers.

Although no one could prevent her from telling her entire tale again, we could and did quickly and accurately process her exchange. We placed the new book in a fresh bag, and the new receipt in her hand. Out the door she went.

Her selection? Another interior design book full of ink-drenched pages.

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.