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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

The Bookstore: Old Bones

Book, Fantasy, CCO
Book, Fantasy, CCO

As I walked down the wide front porch, I recalled the pink and purple petunias blowing in a gentle wind from across the bay. I imagined sitting at a table with my books, signs, bookmarks, and even a small bowl of chocolate truffles because someone told me that it was a good idea.

I had my first book signing there five years ago. Before becoming a writer and hiding behind words, I was a musician and hid behind notes. But the hiding never lasted, which is why I knew that in both situations, I was home.

The last time I was there was before the pandemic. I had a book launch party for the release of my recent book, Down from the Tree, and a holiday signing event. It was all very familiar. Only it was empty. I saw one masked woman in the distance, and she was heading towards the grocery store around the corner.

It was the first time I heard the boards creak—old bones beneath my feet. Like soulless black eyes, the vacant store on the other side watched as I neared the entrance. I wanted to feel the surge of excitement that I always did when I went there, but with each step, I was losing my sense of direction. I flinched in the light while seeking familiar signs of a civilized world. Nothing was as it seemed.

I pulled my mask up over my nose and entered. It was just her—the bookseller. She was in her usual place at the desk, only she was behind a plastic window. Although it was meant to keep us all safe, it failed. It was plainly unendurable. I remained centered but preferred to fall apart. However, I did not. I ignored all that challenged my old values. And forgetting that it was no longer a part of my identity, I smiled invisibly behind a yellow paper mask.

It was good to see her and to be surrounded by the familiar scent of books. I was aware of her smile, but not seeing it left me feeling even more isolated, and I had let mine go.

We talked about how we had handled our descent into darkness, when all of our illusions were ripped away, only to be replaced by new ones. We shared stories about how we thought that we knew about long winters, and how we were so wrong. We spoke of the crumbling of systems that we believed had been in place, but were now tumbling about in madness. In each other, we validated coming to terms with being on a path of the unknown, admitting that we craved the truth, surrendering to intuition. 

As we crawled out from our overly spun cocoons, we clearly saw that we had entered a new wilderness. What was wild to me before was nothing more than an entryway to transformation. What we learned, unlearned, and will learn in the days ahead, are without measure. 

The only person to dash in and out was a maskless UPS man, racing against the clock. He dropped the packages on the floor and ran back out to the empty parking lot. 

I left the books on the desk. I wanted to flee and stay at the same time. To turn around and walk away was like abandoning her in a darkened cave on a moonless night. It seemed that everything was taking its time dying while waiting to be reborn. I had become the ghost, floating towards the door, promising to return. To what?

I didn't have to know right then. I only knew that we could not get stuck in the unknown. We must pledge not to be tricked into sinking into grief or despair. Fear, suffering, and sacrifice are not necessary. If we stay there, we will lack the will and strength to move on. We went down into the dark, but we know the way out. It's time to embrace ourselves, each other, and reclaim our divine selves. It is time to heal. SUPPORT LOCAL BOOKSTORES


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