22 January 2014

A fictional trip to the Universal Bookstore in Olney

This is a rough draft of a trip to the Universal Bookstore. It will probably go into Chapter 7. The Characters are:

Agnes: owner of apartments.
Helen: her niece, in her early twenties, starting Grad school at Penn
Kate: lives in apartment below Agnes and is very close to her,
Steven: Kate's 10 year old son, starting 5th grade at Morrison Elementary in the fall.
Tony: Friend of Steven

Summer, 1968

“Anybody want to go the bookstore?” called Helen through the open door of Kate’s apartment.

“We’re busy with the slipcovers,” said Kate from the bedroom where she and Agnes had laid the fabric on the bed and were marking the pattern.

“Can I go?” asked Steven. He’d bought a few books on the Civil War at the Universal Bookstore on Fifth Street. He loved to wander through the narrow aisles and let his eyes play across the books until something caught his eye. 

“If it’s ok with your Mom,” said Helen.

“Go already,” said Kate. “He’s been wandering around looking for something to do, driving us crazy.”
Agnes called Steven into the bedroom and gave him a ten dollar bill. “Buy us a pizza for dinner,” she said, “and if there’s enough change, buy yourself a book.”

“What book are you going to get?” asked Steven, as they turned the corner past the Library and crossed Fifth. 

“I ordered two books from Germany. One is about Nineteenth century German women who came to America. The other is a history of the part of Germany my family comes from.”

Helen walked inside, but Steven stopped to scan the windows displays on either side of the door. There were neatly arranged stacks of “Airport,” “Testimony of Two Men,” and “Topaz” in one window. The other held smaller stacks of  “Couples,” “Myra Breckenridge,” “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” and “Tunc.” The brightly colored covers drew him back to the “Airport” display.

“That’s trash,” said a brusque, Germanic voice. “That window is for the trash I have to sell to keep food on my table. Come inside, Stefan, I remember you. The Civil War boy. Maybe I have something new for you.”

Steven was startled to be recognized and remembered. He blurted out, “I’m with Helen. She’s inside. I’m not doing anything.”

“It’s alright, boy, calm down. You’re fine. Let’s go inside. My coffee is getting cold.”

Steven opened the door and tripped the small brass bells that notified the owners whenever anyone entered or exited. Mr. Richter followed him into his shop.

“There he is,” said a heavy set woman with cat’s eye glasses and a pencil piercing her lopsided bun constructed from her long, thick, graying hair. “He went next door to the deli to get coffee an half hour ago, and he’s finally returned.” With this, she turned and retreated through a narrow door in the rear of the shop.

“I talk to people,” Mr. Richter said with a shrug. He took both of Helen’s hands in his. “My new friend. It is so nice to meet such an intelligent and beautiful young lady who is wise enough to read German books.”

Helen laughed, and thanked him for the speedy delivery.

“It wasn’t me,” he said, “I mailed the orders to the publisher's New York offices and the books were shipped from Germany. You should thank the Post Office.”

Steven had a difficult time following the conversation. Mr. Richter’s English was heavily accented. He and Helen also slipped into German occasionally. At one point, Steven noticed that he was standing near the nudist magazines. He quickly stepped away from the rack so that Helen wouldn’t think he was looking at them. The only other place he’d seen nudist magazines out the open was at the German butcher shop near the train station on Tabor. He wondered sometimes if Germans were all Nazi’s or nudists.

The conversation between Helen and Mr Richter had grown more intense and was now completely in German. Steven heard names and places he recognized, Nixon, Bobby Kennedy, Johnson, Viet Nam, Russia, and he began to wonder about things he’d heard about the Richters. Tony had said that they were Russian spies from East Germany. Steven had asked him why Russian spies would be in Olney.

“There’s lots of Germans in Olney to help them,” said Tony.

“Help them do what?” replied Steven.

“Be spies,” insisted Tony. “You know, like, kill important people. Like Kennedy was killed.”

“Spies didn’t kill Kennedy,” said Steven.

“My Uncle says Russian spies killed him,” said Tony, belligerently. 

“Steven, wake up. Mr. Richter is talking to you,” said Helen, rapping him on his skull with two fingers.”

Mr. Richter handed a book to Steven. It was about Sherman’s March to Sea. “Read this, and you will never think that war is glorious. It’s for adults, but you can make sense of it if Kate here helps you now and again.”

The book cost $1.75. Steven hesitated. He wasn’t sure he’d have enough left over to buy the pizza. Helen handed Mr. Richter two dollars and said, “My treat. Now let’s get the pizza, I’m hungry.”

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