“Tell me the story, Daddy. Tell me …when you met Mommy. Tell me when you knew.”
Arthur smiled that smile that never quite touched his eyes anymore. “When I knew what, son?”
Little Sammy squirmed atop his bedcovers. “You know, Daddy. When you knew… You know.”
Arthur almost laughed. Almost. “Okay. Okay. …Once upon a time, your dad -me- was young. I was barely an adult and was working my first job, at a bookstore…”
Arthur could still smell the scholarly breath of time and leather that greeted him each morning, could still hear the muted tinkle of the bell over the door, could still see the morning light filtering through mullioned front windows. Tomes ranging from paper romance to hardbacked alchemy built labyrinth paths between the barely-visible masonry walls. The dust of every bibliophile’s essence hung, distilled, in the motes that danced where empty spaces dared exist.
“I stood at a desk where I could see the door. Everywhere else was books.” This is where he changed the story; embellished it. “Harry Potter, James and the Giant Peach, Shel Silverstein, and even Where the Wild Things Are; comic books, picture books; fat ones, thin ones; old and new.”
His son’s eyes shone and then twitched over to the bookshelf in the corner. “What about your books, Dad? Did they have those, too?”
“Yes, son. Those, too.”
“Did Mom like your books, Dad?”
Sammy hadn’t asked that one before. The question gave Arthur pause. “No, not really. She -well! That’s a different story!”
This elicited a giggle and more rocking. Sammy even turned a lopsided somersault into his pillow.
Arthur wagged his finger in a pretended sternness. “All right. One day, I heard the bell on the door that meant someone had come in…”
There had been more light that day, enough that the younger Arthur could not see who entered the store. He raised a hand against the brightness and squinted at a diminutive shadow. The door closed, the bell sang, the shadow resolved to a timid, tiny young woman. Encircled by light and interrupted space, Arthur was smitten.
“I saw a very small, very beautiful woman. She came up to the desk and slid a paper on the glass -too shy to ask me for the name of the book she’d written on it.”
His son’s eyes -her eyes- were round in his small, attentive face.
“It was a book on poetry. ‘For school,’ she whispered. She wouldn’t look up, but I saw her look at me when I was searching through our book about books. …We didn’t have computers then, you see. We had a book that we wrote all the books in -well, we typed them on papers, then…”
Now, Arthur managed a shadow of a chuckle. “I came around the desk. She seemed surprised when I stood; later, she said she hadn’t realized we were so close to the same size.”
Something inside fluttered at being nearer to her, he remembered. Her smile set it off again. The feeling was unlike any he’d felt in his lonely, empty life; one spent with one relative or another handing him off till he could move out and raise himself. Whether she smiled, or not, her very existence shook his. Next to her, he could be anyone or do anything.
“But, Daddy! When did you know?”
Arthur’s eyes refocused to the bedroom of the apartment he and Sammy shared, just the two of them. “I …walked with the gir- woman, over to our poetry section. I found what she needed. Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass. She took it from my hand, and our fingers touched.”
It had felt electric, a touch of divinity that opened an eternity of thought and feeling for this tiny, timid woman before him.
“And that, Sammy, was when I knew I loved your Mommy.” Arthur smiled. For an instant, it reached his eyes.
His son somersaulted again. “So, then you asked her to marry you?”
Arthur blushed. “Yes.”
The laughter from his son sounded so much like her startled laughter, from all those years before. At first she’d been shocked, of course, then she’d laughed. How much it sounded like the door bell, he’d thought. He had also thought to hide in a pile of The Rise and Fall of the Greeks and Romans.
“All right, Sammy. Time for bed.” Arthur stood and pushed the chair beneath his work desk. He’d be revisiting it in the morning while Sammy slept in.
Sammy snuck a few more twists and wiggles in before allowing his dad to lift the covers and shoo him beneath them. “‘Night, Dad.” He rolled his head up to see the framed photograph on the desk. “‘Night, Mom.”
“Good night, Sam.” Arthur went to the door and stood. Good night, Catherine, he thought to her picture, and turned out the light.
©2021 Chel Owens