The Bookseller

Now, looking at the photograph of my young parents and my infant self, I feel as if something or someone is striking my heart. A small sob escapes my throat. I am, suddenly, awash in sadness.

“Mother, Daddy,” I say softly. “Why is your photo in this house?” I look around. “Why am I in this house?”

I step quickly to look at the rest of the pictures. Yes, there are strangers here, old and young, children and grandparents, who knows who. But not all of the faces are unfamiliar. Some of these photographs are of my relatives. I see my aunt Beatrice, arm around my mother, in their teen years. There is a photograph of my cousins Grace and Carol Louise, with me sandwiched between them—me chubby, my swimsuit banding across my developing chest, and the two of them gangly in loose-fitting suits, all of us in rubber swim caps, squinting into the sun. There is a lake and a sandy beach behind us. I remember that time, remember the vacation our two families took that summer to Lake McConaughy in Nebraska.

There are my grandparents, stiff and formal in their wedding photograph, my grandmother looking more mature than the nineteen years she was at the time—and more grown-up by far than any nineteen-year-old you see these days. This picture, too, I remember. My mother showed it to me frequently, told me the story of their wedding day, how they almost didn’t get married because the preacher was coming from Kansas City and a snowstorm delayed his train. “During the wait, Grandpa started to get cold feet—probably literally as well as figuratively,” my mother would tell me, running her fingers over the photograph in its leather case. “But his brother—you remember Uncle Artie; he died when you were ten—gave Grandpa a firm talking-to. Told him good women did not come along every day, especially in eastern Colorado ranching country in 1899. Told Grandpa that if he didn’t marry Grandma, then he—Uncle Artie—would do it instead.” My mother smiled. “Well, that was all the convincing it took. Grandpa knew that Uncle Artie meant every word. The preacher arrived, and the deed was done.” She smiled fondly at her mother’s young face. “And the photograph taken.”

Tears well in my eyes as I study the photographs. So many of these faces, like my cousins’, are those I do not see often enough. Some, like Aunt Beatrice and my grandparents, are people who have passed out of my life already. I think suddenly about what it means to grow old. It means that all those that you loved as a youth become nothing but photographs on a wall, words in a story, memories in a heart.

“Thank heavens for you,” I whisper to the picture of my parents with my baby self. “I don’t know what I would do without you.”

I make my way down the hallway and enter the room at the end of it. It is indeed an office, large and sunny, with a picture window on its east wall and a drafting board positioned beneath the window. Pencils and drafting tools overflow a metal tray attached to the board’s right side. In the corner of the room is a small liquor cart, with a row of clean tumblers, several shot glasses, and an array of bottles—some clear glass, some green, all about half full—arranged neatly on its surface. The bottles and cut-glass barware catch rays of sunlight coming through the window.

A cherry desk sits in the middle of the room, with a telephone in one corner, two photograph frames in the opposite corner, and a blotter in the middle. There is a business-card holder next to the telephone, holding a stack of cards. I pick up the top one. “Andersson Architecture and Design. Lars Andersson, President,” it reads. “Commercial, Business, Residential.” I smile, remembering what Lars said years ago about planning more business-related structures than homes; I wonder if the third descriptor on the card is merely wishful thinking. The card shows an address in downtown Denver and a telephone number. I memorize the number, and then tuck the card in the pocket of my bathrobe, absurdly thinking that perhaps this small slip of paper will make its way back with me to the real world, where I might be able to dig deeper into the identity of Lars Andersson.

I lean over and study the picture frames. The first shows an eight-by-ten photograph of me. If it were real, and not simply a prop in my dreams, it would have been taken within the past few years; I can see the familiar lines around my mouth and eyes, the ones I see every morning in the mirror in the real world. I note a slight restraint in my face, as if I were hoping that I could smile sufficiently to look warm and friendly in the photograph, but not so much that the lines would noticeably deepen. My hair is smoothed down and curled under. I am wearing an indigo dress with a boatneck, pearls, and a matching pillbox hat. Very Jackie Kennedy, I think; in this dream world, clearly I am modeling myself after the First Lady. I let out a small laugh. I do like the Kennedys, and I did vote for Jack. I still believe firmly in his capabilities, despite the fears everyone has lately that he has no idea how to handle the Communists, and we’re all going to be blown to bits before the year is out. Regardless of my admiration for her husband, however, it would be out of the question in my real life for anyone to confuse me with Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.

I pick up the other photograph frame. It is intriguing for the simple reason that it contains no pictures. Just three separate slots where pictures could be placed. Were these slots for photographs of the children? If so, why did Lars take the photographs out? And why three instead of two?

“Mama!” I hear Mitch shuffle down the hallway, and then he appears in the office doorway. “We’ve been waiting prayers for you,” he says accusingly. “Daddy said to bring you this, and to carry it carefully.” He holds out a mug that is three-quarters filled with coffee—almost black, as I like it, with just the slightest touch of cream. I smile and take a sip, enjoying the faintly sweet taste. Evidently, Lars also knows that I like one lump in my coffee.

“I’m sorry, darling. Tell Daddy I’ll be right there.”

“Okay.” He takes off down the hall.





Chapter 4


I wake again to the yellow walls, to Aslan, to home.

“Lovely dream,” I tell him. “But I’m not sure where you were, buddy.” I scratch behind his ears. “You know, you may be there,” I speculate. “It seems to be a rather large house. Maybe you’re hiding in the basement.”

I smile as I rise and begin my day.


Midmorning at the shop, while Frieda is in the ladies’ room, I try calling the telephone number I’d memorized, the one on Lars’s business card. I dial it furtively, feeling like a child sneaking a cookie from the jar while her mother is out of the kitchen. I have no idea what I’ll do if someone comes on the line. But an operator’s recorded voice tells me the number is not in service.

Next, I try Lars’s residential number from eight years ago, the number he provided in his letter. Calling this number is a long shot—but it’s worth a try, if for no other reason than to know whether the number is still in use. If it is, I expect I’ll just hear the telephone ring indefinitely; the chances of him answering are slim, this time of day. Surely he would be at work at this hour on a weekday. Nevertheless, my palms are sweaty, dialing this number for only the second time in my life. After I have dialed, I place my left index finger on the telephone hook, ready to hang up immediately if there is an answer. But I hear the same recorded voice, telling me this number is not in service either.

Quickly I pull the telephone book from the shelf under our checkout counter. I scan the business listings, looking for architectural firms with the name Andersson in them. There are none—not even an Anderson, the more typical spelling. And certainly no Anderssons.

I try the residential listings. Nothing for Lars Andersson or L. Andersson. Imagining myself as Mrs. Andersson, I even look for Katharyn Andersson and K. Andersson, thinking that perhaps our telephone is in my name. But no such luck.

I cannot think what else to do. My fingers drift into my dress pocket, finding my mother’s daily postcard. I don’t know why, but today I decided to carry my mother’s words with me throughout the day, instead of filing them, as I have been up until now. I don’t need to glance at the card to remember the picture on the front—a smiling hula dancer, her dark hair held back from her face by a gardenia crown, her grass skirt covering her long legs. Mother’s words on the back—those, too, I have memorized.


Dearest Kitty,

I have been thinking about you all day today. I hope you are well, darling. You know, Aunt May keeps asking about you—whether you are happy, whether you have everything you want in life. And I tell her that of course you do. Of course. I tell her that if there was anything my Kitty wanted that she didn’t have, she’d find a way to make it so. I believe this, darling. You can do anything you want. You can be anything you want to be.

I hope you know what I am trying to tell you.

Love,

Mother

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