The Bookseller

“What, Mother?” I whisper aloud to the quiet shop. “What are you trying to tell me?”

Is there somewhere else I should look? Some clue I am missing?

I consider my personal ad, think about the newspaper in the fall of 1954. If I saw the paper from those days, would it give me a clue?

I need to do some research,” I tell Frieda when we have our coffee break at ten o’clock. It’s not truly a break, because we don’t close the shop. If anyone came in, of course we would attend to the customer. But if no one is there, we settle on our stools behind the counter, sip our coffee, and have a chat. Sometimes we talk about business, sometimes about what we’re reading. Sometimes we fall into idle Pearl Street gossip—who we saw coming out of the Vogue with whom the night before, what other shopkeepers are doing to attract business to our little street, how unkind it was of the city to take our streetcar line away.

Frieda blows on her hot coffee. “What kind of research?” she asks.

I feel myself blushing. “It’s about a person. A . . . man.” It sounds so foolish, saying it.

Frieda has a gleam in her eye. “You’re holding out on me! Did you meet someone new? Where? When?”

I shake my head. “It’s nothing like that.”

Desperately, I want to confide in her. For over twenty years, I’ve kept almost no secrets from her. But besides being silly, this just seems so . . . personal. Like it belongs to no one else. Just me.

“It’s just someone I heard about,” I tell her. And then, hastily, I lie. “An author. He writes historical books.”

I know this will detach her interest immediately. Frieda can’t stand history. In the eleventh grade, despite my efforts to tutor her, she nearly flunked America: Columbus through the Great War—without a doubt the easiest course I’ve ever taken in my life. But Frieda is all about the moment.

“Anyway, I’m going to take an early lunch and go to the library downtown, if it’s okay with you.” I drain my coffee cup and rise from my stool.

She waves her hand. “Certainly. I have nowhere else I need to be.”

I walk over to Broadway and take the bus downtown, to the big central library that just opened a few years ago. In the research section, I ask the librarian to set me up with microfilm of the Denver Post from October 1954. It takes a while for her to find what I am looking for and set it up on a microfilm machine for me. I wait, browsing the stacks, thinking that the library is both the bookstore’s enemy and our friend. They have everything here—why would anyone ever need to buy a book? On the other hand, there is nothing like the library to awaken a reader to the endless possibilities of the written word.

Finally, I am settled in with the microfilm I requested. I turn the hand crank gradually, scanning the pages until I reach the personal advertisements in the back of each day’s edition.

Yes, my ad is there. I ran it for a week, from Sunday, October 10, until the following Saturday.

I smile ruefully, reading about my younger self, the self who still had hope for that part of her life.

I wonder what that self would think of me now. Would she be surprised that eight years have passed, and I have not changed all that much? That I still bop around my house listening to popular music in the morning? That I still root around in my closet for something to wear and leave a mess of clothes all over my bedroom, like a teenager? Would my thirty-year-old self tsk-tsk me about that? Would she be surprised that her personal ad got her nowhere, did not change her life one iota?

I don’t know. But I do know that nothing in my personal ad gives me any idea what happened to Lars Andersson.

I browse the remaining pages slowly. At first I feel discouraged by the lack of information in my ad, but after a while, I get immersed in that world that was. Hurricane Hazel smashed into North Carolina on the fifteenth, working its way up the coast and taking down homes and businesses in its wake. In England, dockworkers were on strike. On the front page of the Saturday, October 16 edition is a photograph of a woman with a little boy on her lap. Tragically, the boy was killed by a self-inflicted wound from a handgun left unattended in the home. The caption informs me that the photograph is of the boy with his mother, taken some months before the accident. A prizefight, reportedly “the greatest match ever offered in Denver” took place on October 19 at City Auditorium Arena. The Trinidad Junior College homecoming queen and her attendants are shown in a photograph on October 20. They look carefree, joyous, and very, very young.

And then, in the October 21 edition, I come across the death notices.

Andersson, Lars, 34, of Lincoln St., Englewood. Cause of death: cardiac arrest. Survived by sister Linnea (Steven) Hershall of Denver, one niece and one nephew. Preceded in death by his parents, Jon and Agnes Andersson. Services Friday at ten o’clock at Bethany Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church, Denver. Interment immediately following at Fairmount Cemetery.

Chapter 5

So. There you go. Now I understand what happened. Lars Andersson did not stand me up, after all. Lars Andersson could not have stood me up, because he was not alive to do so.

Walking out of the library and slowly heading for the bus stop, I am not sure what to do with this information. I feel a terrible sadness for this man I never met—this man I’ve now met in my dreams. And I have to smile at my ridiculous imagination—at my crazy mind, which has come up with an entire dream life for myself with this person.

This man who, purely by a stroke of bad luck, I never got to see face-to-face.

I am almost eager to go to bed that night, curious what might happen and what I might dream. Laughing at myself, I pour a generous shot of whiskey just before bedtime, thinking it might put me to sleep sooner.

To my surprise, my dream places me not in the split-level house, but in a darkened restaurant. The tablecloths are checkered; the walls and linoleum floor are a deep red. The restaurant is crowded, and I can see several couples waiting for tables near the hostess stand. Judging by the hustle and bustle of the place, I think it must be a weekend evening.

To my right is Lars, in a suit and tie, looking respectable and happy, his left arm draped possessively around my bare shoulder. I am wearing a sleeveless forest-green dress made of broad silk; I can feel its slipperiness on my back and across my ribs. We are seated at a booth, facing the restaurant’s entrance. The other side of the booth is empty.

“Welcome back,” Lars says, his bright eyes gazing into mine. “You seemed to go off to dreamland there for a few minutes.”

I smile awkwardly. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I must have been daydreaming.”

“Imagining a more carefree lifestyle for yourself?” He grins.

My smile fades. “What makes you say that?”

He shrugs. “I don’t know. Doesn’t everyone do that sometimes?” His smile is wistful. “Especially you and me.”

What in heaven’s name does that mean?

From speakers somewhere above our heads, there is music playing. The clear, lusty voice is unmistakable—it’s Patsy Cline, one of my all-time favorite vocalists. Despite the fact that most of her songs are about heartbreak—or maybe it’s because of that—I love Patsy’s cadence, her musical approach. I love the way that you know, just through her songs, that whatever the reason for your sadness, Patsy would sympathize with you. If you could sit down with her over a drink in some smoky cowboy bar and talk about it, Patsy Cline would assure you that it—whatever it is—would be all right. She would pass a handkerchief to you and order another round. She’d tell you she’d been through the same thing, and worse, and she’d come out the better for it.

I have all of Patsy Cline’s records. But I’ve never heard this twangy, melancholy song before. Like so much of her music, it’s about breaking up. She’s singing about how she would rather know now, would rather just get it over with, if her lover is thinking about leaving her.

If you got leavin’ on your mind . . . Tell me now, get it over . . .

“Is this a new song?” I ask Lars abruptly.

“What, love?”

“This song.” I frown. “This song that’s playing—is this a new release of Patsy Cline’s?”

He smiles. “I believe it is. In fact, I think it was you who told me that this is a new release—just a day or two ago, when it came on the radio at home.”

Is that so? I smile inwardly. Now my brain is making up an imaginary hit parade. How very talented of it.

Lars looks toward the doorway, then glances at his watch. “They should be here any minute,” he says. “Bill is generally quite prompt.” He shrugs again. “I don’t know anything about the wife, though.”

Unsure how to respond to this, I simply nod.

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