Sean of the South: The Bookstore

Words by Sean Dietrich

Illustration by Eliza Bishop

Sean of the South is a reccurring column by Sean Dietrich. For more from this columnist visitseanofthesouth.com.

am on my way to a birthday party. Before the party, I stop at the bookstore because I need to buy a gift. Which I completely forgot to do.

I’m a last-minute kind of guy. I didn’t even plan my own honeymoon until we were in the parking lot, leaving the reception. There were tin cans tied to my bumper.

My wife said, “Where are you taking me?” 

I only smiled.

“Oh my God,” she said. “You’re probably taking me to Dothan, aren’t you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “It’s a surprise.”

And it was. For us both. We left for Charleston. Just as soon as I cancelled our reservations at the Super 8 Motel in Dothan.

I’m walking into the bookstore. I know it sounds crazy, but I love this place. I re-member when they built it. They spent months clearing the forest behind my old church to build this strip mall.

The day the store opened, I was standing in line among the first customers. I was a young man, walking the aisles, running my hands along the books. And I was in heaven because I love books.

I even filled out a job application. A week later, a man called my house and asked me to come for an interview. I hung up the kitchen phone and danced a jig.

For the interview, I wore my nicest shirt and my finest tennis shoes. My appointment was early in the morning, before the store opened. I showed up on the sidewalk. The lights were off. Nobody was inside. So I let myself in.

Soon, I was wandering the dark aisles. The place was filled with classic literature. Twain. Dickinson. Whitman. Grizzard. And a bunch of other authors whose names I frequently use at swanky dinner parties.

A gruff voice came from behind me. “Can I help you?”

I turned to see a man with a sour face, looking back at me.

We’re closed,” he said.

“I’m here for the interview.”

“Well, let’s get this over with, I’m in a hurry.”

We went into his office. The man frowned at my application. He shook his head. He said, “It’s not gonna work out.”

The sour-faced man didn’t give me a reason. No explanations, not even an “I’m sorry.” He just told me to leave.

Before I left, I had to know why. Call it a personality quirk, but I like to know things.

“Was it something I did?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“Then what is it?”

“You’re just not our type.”

He said nothing after that because he didn’t have to. I knew what he meant.On my application, I’d written that I did not attend high school. This guy probably didn’t even think I could read.

“I’m a hard worker,” I told him.

“I’m sure you are.”

And I’m always early.”

“Have a nice day.”

So I bought a carton of ice cream. Which made me feel better. So I ate more ice cream. Which made me feel WAY better. Then I got sick.

Over the years, I kept frequenting the bookstore because there is something about the smell of books that makes me high. In fact, I loved this place so much that the first date my wife and I ever had actually began here at this store—since they served coffee.

Before I ordered at the cafe counter, I asked my date if she wanted something to drink. She said she wanted water. 

So I asked the cashier to fill a free Styrofoam cup with tap water.

When I handed the cup to my date, she said, “What happened?”

“Nothing,” I said.“I asked for water.”

“I know."

“Were they out of bottles or something?”

“No.”

“Is the cash register broken?”

“No.”

“Then why did you give me a Dixie Cup of lukewarm tap?”

“Water’s water.”

“Buy me a bottled water or I’m going to slash your tires.”

So we got married. 

These are the things I think about inside this store. I’m thinking about the millions of hours I spent reading books in the store cafe. About the dinner dates that changed my life.

Little things become more important tome the older I get.

My favorite authors are all here. On every rack. These friends got me through the hard parts of life. They made up for my lack of education. They made me happy.

I scan the “D” section. Fiction. The Charles Dickens books are positioned in a row. A Tale of Two CitiesGreat Expectations, and David Copperfield

Right beside Oliver Twist is a book by another author. Alphabetically speaking, this author’s name comes right after Dickens.

I pick up the book. I dust it off. My name is on the cover. My face is on the jacket. I have to close my eyes to keep from crying.

I half expect a gruff voice behind me to say, “Can I help you, sir?” And I half expect to see a man with a sour face.

Maybe I would answer with: “I know I wasn’t your type, sir. But you were wrong about me. I’m not trash.”

Then, maybe he would ask me to forgive him. Perhaps I would give him a handshake, or a hug. Maybe buy him a nice cream cone or something. Maybe we could even be friends.

But life doesn’t work that way.

So I wrote this instead.