The Bookseller

Goodness,” I say to myself. “That was quite the dream.” Stiffly, I sit up in bed. Aslan, my yellow-hued tabby, is curled up next to me, purring softly with his eyes half closed. I named him after the lion in C. S. Lewis’s novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—an extraordinary book, especially if one adores children’s fantasy stories. I read each Narnia novel as it came out, and I’ve read the entire series at least half a dozen times since.

I look around my bedroom. The windows are bare, stripped of their curtains and shades. Masking tape still frames the woodwork. My bed and nightstand are the only pieces of furniture in the room; before I began painting yesterday, Frieda and I moved the bureau and hope chest to the living room, to make space and keep splatters off the furniture. The room smells of paint, but the color is extraordinary—it’s the exact color of the sun on a bright day. It’s just what I’d hoped for. With a satisfied smile, I rise and don my robe, padding across the newspaper-covered floor.

Heading to the kitchen to make coffee, I stop to switch on the radio that sits on one of several scratched, tag-sale bookshelves that line my living room, overflowing with books and journals. I twist the knob to turn up the volume and tune the dial to KIMN. They’re playing “Sherry” by the Four Seasons, which I’ve been hearing constantly on the radio this week—I’d put money on it topping the Billboard chart this weekend.

I place my percolator under the kitchen faucet and fill it with water, then pull a can of Eight O’Clock Coffee from an upper cabinet and begin measuring it into the stainless-steel top chamber of the percolator.

“. . . Out tonight . . .” I sing along under my breath as the song on the radio fades away.

“And now here’s an oldie but a goodie,” the disc jockey says. “Does anyone out there remember this one?”

As the next song begins, my hand freezes, my fingertips holding the coffee scoop and hovering midair over the percolator. Rosemary Clooney’s voice fills my small duplex.

“Now that’s just plain eerie,” I say to Aslan, who has wandered in to check whether his morning dish of milk has been set on the floor yet. I finish pouring the coffee and switch the percolator to On.

The song—I remember now that it’s titled “Hey There”—dates back at least seven or eight years. I don’t remember the exact year it was so popular, but I do remember humming it often in those days. I haven’t thought about that song in ages. Not until I heard it playing in my head, in my dream last night.

I recall my dream man’s eyes, piercing and blue, like the water in a postcard from some exotic locale. I remember thinking that I ought to have been frightened, but I was not. Did I look at him with stars in my eyes? I suspect one could say I did.

Well, but how could I help it? The way his eyes gazed into mine. He looked at me as if I were everything to him. As if I were his whole world.

That, to me, was without a doubt exotic. No one, not even Kevin, has ever looked at me like that.

And the way Lars spoke! Katharyn, love, wake up. You must have been in some deep sleep, love. You always know what to do, Katharyn.

No one, here in the real world, says such things to me. And certainly no one addresses me as Katharyn.

There was a brief period, some years ago, when I toyed with calling myself Katharyn. This was right around the time when Frieda and I opened our bookstore. With a new career and a new decade of life—I’d turned thirty a few months prior—I felt it was time for a sea change. Despite my general dislike of the unwieldy Katharyn, I could think of no better way to bring about a grand change of character than to alter my name. Perhaps, I mused, I needed only to get used to it.

And so I charged forward. I had personal stationery printed with the name “Katharyn Miller” on it. I asked Frieda and my other friends to call me Katharyn. I said my name was Katharyn when introducing myself to customers, to the other shopkeepers who we were just getting to know on our little block of stores on Pearl Street. I even asked my parents to use my given name—which they, albeit reluctantly, did. They have always been overindulgent with me.

Frieda was not so easy to push over. “Kitty suits you,” she said. “Why change?”

I shrugged and said that perhaps it was simply time to grow up.

I even used that name when introducing myself to potential suitors. It felt good, a fresh start. A chance to be someone new. Someone a bit more sophisticated, a bit more experienced.

Nothing happened with any of those fellows—a random first date here and there, but no second ones. Apparently, changing my name was not going to automatically change my persona, the way I’d hoped it might.

A few months later I placed the remaining “Katharyn Miller” stationery in the dustbin and quietly went back to calling myself Kitty. No one commented.

I take my coffee to my desk, which faces my two living room windows. I open the curtains. Seated here, I can look out onto Washington Street. It’s a sunny, warm September day. The postman is coming down the street; I wave as he fills my mailbox and that of the Hansens, who own this duplex and live in the other half of it. After the postman leaves, I go outside to get my mail and my Rocky Mountain News morning paper.

Lars, Lars . . . I am still running the name over in my mind. Lars who?

And where have I heard that name before?

I go back inside, glancing at the newspaper headlines. President Kennedy gave a speech at Rice University yesterday, promising a man on the moon by the end of the decade. I’ll believe it when I see it. I cast the paper on my dining table, planning to read it over breakfast.

My mail contains only a few items. Besides several bills, there is an advertisement with a coupon for a free car wash—not that that would do me any good; I don’t even own a car—and a postcard from my mother.

Good morning, sweetheart,

I hope you have nice weather. It’s 85 degrees here and humid, but lovely, of course. There is nowhere lovelier on Earth, I assure you!

I want to remind you of our return date. We’ll take the overnight flight on October 31st. We’ll make a connection in Los Angeles and arrive in Denver on Thursday, November 1st.

We are having a wonderful time, but we can’t wait to be home and see the fall colors! And you, of course.



P.S. I am also eager to get back to the hospital; I miss the babies terribly. Wonder how many have been born since we left????

I smile at her note. My parents have been in Honolulu for the past three weeks and will be there for about five weeks more. It is a huge trip for them, the biggest they have ever taken away from Denver. Their fortieth wedding anniversary was this past June, and the trip is a celebration. My uncle Stanley is a chief petty officer at the Pearl Harbor naval base. My parents have been staying with Uncle Stanley and Aunt May in their apartment off-base, in Honolulu.

This trip is a wonderful event for them, the experience of a lifetime, but I could see why they—especially my mother—wouldn’t want to be away from home any longer than two months. My mother is committed to her work in the Unwell Infants Ward at Denver General; she has been volunteering there for almost as long as I can remember. (“The oldest candy-striper on the planet,” she cheerfully calls herself.) My dad worked for the Colorado Public Service Company for years, assembling electrical meters for homes; he took early retirement last year, at age sixty. Dad spends his time puttering around the house, reading, and going golfing with his cronies twice a week, even in the winter, as long as there is no snow on the ground.

I think back to the dream, and how it was snowing when I looked out the window in the girl’s bedroom. Missy? Is that the name? Yes, snow was falling outside the window in Missy’s room. I wonder that I can remember such a detail from a dream, that my mind can create entire snowscapes for my viewing pleasure while I am asleep.

I smile at the memory of the view inside the room, as well: those two darling children, and the man with the beautiful eyes.

Finishing my coffee, I file Mother’s latest postcard in a manila folder, nestling it with the others I have received—at least three or four a week. I keep the folder on my desk beside a framed photograph of my parents.

I rise and go draw myself a bath. Nice as that dream life was, I need to get on with my own, very real day now.
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