2021 was a year that proved to bring about low word counts, very few writing project progress, and absolutely no completed drafts. It was rough.
So, in 2022 I’m taking back my creativity. I’m going to squeeze in writing time wherever I can get it and run into ideas (rather than running from them because they’re not fully formed). With any luck, that will bring about more random scene for you to enjoy that have absolutely no WIP attached to them. In other words, I’m hoping to gleefully resuscitate my idea journal.
Yesterday I took a look at the poetry prompt posted in the #januaryfalls22 hashtag over on Instagram. I thought maybe I’d jump start the year with a little poem, something small and simple. I stared at the phrase “ushered in” for a solid five minutes. Then I typed the phrase into a header on my notes app.
Then it just started flowing.
It wasn’t a poem. It was a random scene. It fits absolutely nowhere, but I wasn’t thinking about that. It has underdeveloped characters, but I wasn’t thinking about that either. It’s set in a bookstore, which I wouldn’t normally do because I work in one … but I wasn’t thinking about that either.
For that little while when my thumbs were flying over that obnoxious virtual keyboard that causes spelling and autocorrect mistakes at every turn, I wasn’t thinking about much of anything.
Without further ado, I bring you my first piece in the Idea Journal for 2022.
As always, be kind … none of this is really edited.
There are places in your life where you expect to be ushered in: a wedding, a fancy club, a doctors office. Then there is the surprise ushering, when you’re walking the hallway and wondering why this person is following you.
That’s how it was for me when I went into the bookstore.
It wasn’t unusual for the employee to look up from the stack of books and say hello. It wasn’t even unusual when she did a double take—I get that a lot with my hair dyed purple.
But then I headed down an aisle toward the science fiction section and she followed me like a lost and hungry puppy. I turned my head to look at her and she smiled. It was one of those fake smiles with the wattage turned up too high. “Have you been here before?” She asked. “You seem to know your way around.”
“I’ve been here a few times, yeah.” I tried to copy her smile hoping she’d read the discomfort through my facade. “I’m good. I see where I’m headed.”
“Great. If you have questions, just ask!”
All the way up the aisle I told myself I was being ridiculous, overly sensitive. She worked here. She was probably just headed this way to put a a book away or grab something.
But when I found the section and started looking, she lingered. Twenty minutes I flipped through covers, adding to my online list of books, and browsing. I had two tucked under my arm when I noticed she was still there, one aisle away.
Had she been there the entire time?
She was looking at a shelf, but she was angled toward me. From her vantage point she could clearly see me. I looked around and spotted no other shoppers near us. So it was clearly me she was eyeing, right?
I tried to get back to my search but I felt completely uncomfortable: what did this lady want from me?
I took my two books, held them up, and made eye contact. “Guess I’ll just take these.”
She smiled that fake smile again. “Meet you at the register,” she said.
She followed me all the way there. I listened to the sound of her shoes on the short carpet, wondering how close she was.
At the register I stopped on the customer side and waited for her to walk around while I dropped my two books on the counter.
“The one in your purse, too.” She pointed as if I may be too stupid to know which purse she was referring to.
I glanced down at my bag and then slowly trailed my eyes back to her. Her face was hard, serious. “I came in with this one,” I told her. “I always carry a book.” I pulled it out, held it in her direction. “You didn’t even have any by this author, I checked because I came in to see if you had the rest of the series. This isn’t from here.”
She reached out and took the book, fanned through the pages, typed something into her computer. Then she frowned and tossed the book back in my direction. It landed on the counter between us with a slap. “So just these two today?” Her voice was too chipper for what just happened. Aren’t you going to apologize for thinking I stole a book?
I rolled my eyes. How much of an issue did I want to make this? I knew I didn’t need to be sensitive. I should let it go and move on. “Just those,” I agreed, swallowing my anger.
She scoffed. Not like a small noise either. A whole grunt of air past her lips that made me visibly pull back from her as quickly as if she’d slapped me. “Do you have some kind of problem with me?” I asked. Almost as fast as I got the words out I wanted to pull them back. I didn’t want to know what her problem was. Just by asking I’d made her problem into my problem. “You know what, never mind. Just the two books.” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Please,” I added.
She picked up both paperbacks in one hand, slid them apart from each other, and scanned both barcodes in quick succession. “10.03 with tax.”
I pulled a $20 bill out of my wallet and set it on the counter directly beside the book I’d brought into the store with me.
She pinched the bill between her thumb and finger delicately, sliding it toward her side of the counter. “You can go ahead and put that one back in your bag. I have no way of knowing where it came from and I don’t want to offend you by questioning it further so we’ll let it go for today.”
“You can go ahead and take it,” she repeated, going through the motions of putting my $20 bill in her register and counting out change. “Would you like a bag for these?” She tipped her chin toward the two books I’d just paid her for, sitting on her side of the counter just beside the register.
“I do not need a bag for those.” I pointed again at my paperback. “That is my book. Did you see one of your barcodes on it when you looked at it?”
“Stickers are made to be removed.”
“Did you see me picking at a sticker when you were watching me shop?”
She set her hand on her breast with an exaggerated gasp. “I was not watching you shop.”
“Fine. Did you find a record of that title in your database?”
“I didn’t check.”
It was a blatant lie and we both knew it. She held my book in her hand and typed something. I was as sure that she typed in the title as I was sure she had been watching me shop. But I was so close to being done with this store now. She was holding my change in her hand. All I had to do was take it and this would be over. I could leave with my purchase and my property and never come back.
I held out my hand for the change.
She jumped back as if I had startled her, my change fluttered to the floor around her feet. “Don’t swing at me,” she cried. “Stay on that side of the counter, please.”
At her raised voice another man stepped out from the stacks. “Is there something wrong?” he asked. His voice rang with the authority of someone who worked here and felt comfortable in the environment.
“She took a swing at me,” the girl said.
Our voices mixed together as I answered something completely at odds with her response: “We’re fine, I was just reaching for my change.”
I gestured at the floor and sighed. “Look, that’s my change down there but I don’t want to go behind the register and retrieve it, could you possibly help us out?”
He looked confused as to why I needed him to get the bills when the other employee was right there, but he didn’t question it. He just stepped past me, bent down, and retrieved the money. He dropped the bills into my hand.
“Are these yours?” He asked, holding up the two new purchases.
“Yes and that one is too. I brought that one in with me.”
He picked up all three books, placing my personal copy on top. “Oh, Mira Grant,” he read the author from the book, “we almost never have her in stock. She’s really popular.”
“You didn’t have any today either. I looked.”
“Enjoy the books,” he said.
For a split second I considered telling this kind man about my experience. I wondered if this was the kind of thing the other woman did all the time, scaring off a younger clientele who maybe didn’t look like she expected. I wondered if he’d noticed, if he’d had other complaints, if he’d care.
In the end, I walked out. It didn’t seem like the kind of thing I could explain. In my car, seething and thinking it through on my own, it didn’t seem like the kind of thing other people would find offensive. In the end I’d found some books and paid for them. What was the big deal?
I just couldn’t shake the feeling, deep down, that she’s made me feel less than.
I don’t need to feel that way.
No one does.