The other day I found exactly what I was looking for in a used book store. It was The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.
The store owner, sitting behind his desk pecking away at an ancient computer, jumped to his feet when I asked for help. He zigzagged through the store, zeroing in on the one remaining copy, perched high up on a shelf somewhere in the back, sideways, all the while remarking he didn’t think he had any copies left. But boy, there were a lot of them around a few years ago, weren’t there, he said.
But there it was and I think we both felt we had won a little prize. We had a chat about used books and their stores, and how they always smell so comforting. I told him how I used to work in a tiny used book store right beside Peddler’s Pub downtown, which is now a shiny, metallic looking gym. I asked him if he knew Neil, the owner who hired me way back then, whose last name is gone forever from my mind. I was a woman expecting her first child and expecting only to be back in Halifax for six months or so, while her husband became more Anglican. He hired me anyway and he and I and Brent would have fun, warm talks. He thought we were weird I think, but he liked us, especially Brent I remember.
Neil had a lovely wife with long blonde hair and a pet ferret. She and I became friends and I remember going to visit her on a long bus ride. She died, the book store owner, told me. Of cancer, he thought. And this news triggered off a long ago memory of knowing she was not well, even back then. I remember that Neil carried a sad burden. I remember him buying her earrings from the Pier One that also used to be on Granville Street. And I remember him saying she probably wouldn’t like them, because he was one of those husbands who never could pick out things his beautiful wife liked. I took the book I had bought for my new friend, and one I picked up for myself too, and headed back down Inglis Street, thinking about the treasures you find in used book stores.