Encounters in a Bookstore #5: Room 513

Only after a certain amount of time has passed are employees at the bookstore where I work allowed to man the customer service counter. Answering the phones and making overhead announcements and being able to look up titles based on customer descriptions of yellow and red book covers are things better left to seasoned workers—at least two weeks of experience is required.

So three or five weeks into my stint at the bookstore, then, I was working the info desk on a weekday afternoon. At my side, over-explaining everything was my very enthusiastic coworker Chris, who has since gone on to such jobs as life coach and Trader Joe’s clerk. I had just semi-successfully transferred a call to the people working on the floor below when a woman walked in the front doors and headed directly toward our counter.

“Where is room 513?” she exclaimed before fully arriving.

“Let me look it up,” I started. “Do you know the author of Room 513?” Oftentimes having some semblance of the author’s name can help when looking up a book title that is, more often than not, incorrect.

She looked at me with bewilderment dancing into her eyes. “Room 513. Where is it?”

Chris piped up behind me. “This is a bookstore, m’am.”

Her brow furrowed and her confusion deepened. “It’s not the hospital?”

We all looked around at the shelves of books surrounding us, the cash registers off to a far wall, tables of journals and bestselling titles as far as the eye could see, the cafe in the distance.

“That’s next door, I’m afraid,” Chris told her.

“You’re sure this isn’t the hospital?” she asked again.

We both shook our heads, restrained ourselves from suggesting she look around her. “Next door,” we said in unison.

The woman turned and left. We did not laugh, because it was not so funny. The phone rang, Chris answered it, and I surveyed the surrounding area again. Magazines were out of place, books were on the wrong shelves, and customers were sprawled out all over the floor. Some had removed their footwear.

I looked up Room 513 just to see if it existed. Of course it did not. I picked up a stack of greeting cards and went to put them away.

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.