The Bookseller

“Thinking,” she says. “Yours or mine?”


When I ran my personal advertisement, I realized—after skimming a few of the initial replies—that not all of the respondents would turn out to be likely suitors for me. “I am wunderfull. Pleeze call me” was the entire content of one rather revealing letter. Sadly, it was not an anomaly.

There were others, too, in whom—while they were capable of stringing basic sentences together—I did not feel a spark of interest. My reasons varied: too tall, too talkative, too slick sounding.

One evening Frieda came over to my apartment, and we went through the letters one by one. We made three piles: “Kitty,” “Frieda,” and “Discard.” Into the Kitty pile went letters from those who intrigued me. “It’s my ad, after all,” I told her, laughing. “I get first dibs.” Into the Frieda pile went letters from the fellows for whom my initial reaction was lackluster. Frieda selected several of these to contact. “Why not?” she reasoned. “They’re just going here otherwise.” And she waved her hand at the Discard pile.

Ironically, she had better luck than me with the letters. She went on quite a few dates, and actually went steady for several months with a man she met through my personal ad. I thought they were going to get serious, but it was not meant to be. When she told me their relationship had ended, Frieda shrugged flippantly. “He simply wasn’t good enough for me,” she’d said. “He didn’t think as highly of me as you do, Kitty.”

You might think that with a name like Frieda, my best friend would have wiry red hair and be a little self-centered, like the Frieda in the Peanuts comic strip. And while Frieda has her vain moments—don’t we all?—she certainly looks nothing like that little girl. Tall, with long, straight dark hair, she is nearly the opposite of me. She is athletic and strong; she played softball and was on the swim team in high school, and to this day she still swims a few times a week in the field house pool at DU. She strikes up conversations with everyone she meets, from the teenage girls who sell movie tickets at the Vogue to the occasional confused passerby who stumbles into our shop looking for directions to an entirely different part of town. Other shopkeepers on our block call Frieda “the sales-y one.” I am “the bookworm.”

“Lars was one of mine,” I tell her now. “I know you don’t remember mine that well.”

She laughs. “I can barely remember last week. You want me to remember who you went out with—what was it—eight years ago?”

I select a carrot from the refrigerator and start to peel it. “I was just hoping.”

“Why? Did you run into him again?”

“In a manner of speaking.” But I don’t speak it, because even telling Frieda seems ridiculous.

“Did you run another ad?”

“No, nothing like that.” I cut the carrot into small disks. “Look, I have to go. I’m about to start cooking dinner. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

After we hang up, I reread Lars’s letter and my advertisement. I’ve read them over and over since I got home.

And then I remember something else. We talked. We talked on the telephone.


It was just once. I called him, because that’s the smart thing to do in these circumstances—that’s what Frieda told me. “That way,” she said, “if they sound like they just escaped the loony bin, no harm is done. They can’t call you back.”

So after reading Lars’s letter several times that evening, I took a deep breath, picked up the telephone, and rang the number he’d given me. He answered right away.

“This is . . . Katharyn,” I said, testing the name on my tongue. It felt fresh and tingly, like a breath mint. “From the . . . the ad.”

“Katharyn.” In his voice, the name sounded magical, unique, special. “I knew it would be you.”

This scared me a bit. “How did you know?” I asked nervously.

He laughed. He had a nice laugh. “I just knew.”

I turned down the radio, so I could hear him better over the line. Oh, good heavens—now I remember when that Rosemary Clooney song was number one on the charts.

It was playing on the radio that night. The night when we talked on the telephone.

Stars in one’s eyes, indeed.

Lars asked how my day had gone, what I did for work. “I’m actually between jobs at the moment,” I said. Then I told him about the bookstore, which was scheduled to open a few weeks later.

“What an exciting prospect,” he said. “You’re very impressive, Katharyn.”

Impressive. I can honestly say that never before in my life had anyone described me using that word. Smart, yes. Friendly, yes. Impressive? That was a tall order, one I’d never considered myself having the shoes to fill.

“I’m actually thinking of opening a business myself,” Lars told me. “But not nearly as thrilling as yours. Just an architectural firm.”

I laughed. “That sounds plenty thrilling to me,” I said. “How did you get into that line of work?”

“Oh, I’ve been at it for years,” he replied. “I’ve always loved building things. Back home in Sweden, my father was a carpenter, and I used to help him on his jobs. In a small town like ours, when you built someone’s house, you designed it, too. Over here, after my parents passed, I took odd jobs. Finally I saved enough dough to attend UC-Denver. I knew by then that I wanted an architectural degree. I graduated college late for my age—in ’forty-four, when I was an old man of twenty-four. I was hired by a small firm here in town, and the rest just came naturally.”

“’Forty-four.” I thought for a moment. “Didn’t you serve?” Everyone I knew, Kevin and every other boy I went to DU with, or knew from high school or church or my neighborhood, was serving in ’44.

He didn’t say anything for a few moments. I asked softly, “Lars? Are you still there?”

“I couldn’t serve,” he said quietly. “I was Four-F.”

“Why?”

I could hear him take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I have a heart condition . . . arrhythmia,” he said, and then quickly added, “That’s not as terrible as it sounds. But it does mean . . . it means . . . my heartbeat is irregular.” He was silent for a moment, and then he said, “It means I have a bad heart.”

I didn’t reply. I thought of my father, easily the most patriotic man I’ve ever met. During the war his plant went on strike, and he was the only worker who broke the picket lines and went to work side by side with the scabs. The plant had ceased making home electric meters, and the workers at that time were assembling electronics for the war effort instead. My father said that anything he could do to help our soldiers was worth more than a few extra pennies in his pocket. I wondered what he would think of me going out with a man who’d been 4-F during the war.

“Katharyn?”

“Yes?”

“Is that all right? That I didn’t serve?”

I didn’t say anything for a few seconds. And then I replied, “Well, it hardly sounds like you could have done anything about it.” I laughed lightly. “Tell me more about being an architect.”

“I tend toward commercial projects,” he said. “Office buildings and the like. Not as glamorous as residential work, but there is more demand for it. So many houses are prefabricated these days, the same layout over and over. I’d love to design and build my own house someday, make it one of a kind.” He sighed, and I could hear the longing in his voice. He went on to tell me about the architectural firm he was thinking of starting on his own. “I know as much as the bosses at my current firm,” he explained. “The only difference between what they do and what I do is the name on the doorplate and the amount on the pay stub.”

“Well, good for you,” I replied, and I meant it. I admired him for wanting to branch out on his own. I knew from my own experience, mine and Frieda’s, that even thinking about going out on a limb like that is not the easiest thing to do.

The conversation went on for over an hour. Finally, I said it was getting late. “This has been truly wonderful,” Lars said. “I’d love to speak with you again, Katharyn.”

I hesitated a moment, and then I said, “Oughtn’t we just to meet? It seems silly to keep talking on the telephone. We ought to just meet in person and see how things go.”

“Really?” He seemed surprised.

“Of course.”

“Well, then, Katharyn, let’s make a date.” We made a date to have coffee two evenings hence.

“All right, then,” he said after our plans were finalized. “I guess this is good-bye for now.”

“I guess it is.”

“Katharyn . . .”

I paused, and then said, “Yes?”

His voice was soft. “Nothing . . . I just . . . I’m really looking forward to meeting you.”

“I’m looking forward to it, too.”

He didn’t answer. I could hear his breathing; it sounded a bit rapid. “Is there anything else?” I asked.

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