Rosa had never wanted anything so much. By the end of the day the signed, limited Edition copy of Moira Hennessey’s book entitled All of Us would be reduced to 50%. Since Monday the price had been reduced 10% each day. If no one came to buy it, she, as an employee of Bright’s Books, was allowed to purchase it. It had been advertised in the newspaper. She could hear her boss, (and owner of the shop) Claude, upstairs opening and closing file drawers as he brought his business accounts up to date.
Though the shop was modest, Claude was quite the connoisseur of old books and he was passionate about it. He also carried old editions of classics, and took good care of them. Not everyone appreciated good literature and Claude was often disappointed in the small response to his announcements in the local newspaper. But it didn’t stop him from bringing these gems forward, and eventually someone would come for the books, even if it took a long time.
Rosa was unpacking a new shipment which had to be stamped and properly shelved. There was plenty to do. She was experienced in this work, and she had worked in the shop for several years now, taking a break from her studies. She had graduated college and was saving money for her Masters in Psychology. She had also recently ended a relationship of a few years, and this book was to be a special comfort treat. She would be spending a bit of money but it was time she did something special for herself. So, in celebration of her impending good fortune, Rosa took a break and made herself a cup of tea in the small back-room kitchen. She sat down in a sunny window seat with her tea and a few cookies, and had taken her first sip when the bell over the door clanged.
“Oh, I made it!” the excited young man’s voice declared! “I took the train from the city and walked from the station and it’s cold out there! My sister sent me a copy of the add for the Moira Hennessy Limited Edition book!”
Rosa gulped and opened her eyes wide. She beheld a nice-looking man wearing jeans, a blue oxford shirt, and a tweedy sports jacket. Silently, she conspired in her mind. This could not be happening! She was not going to allow her good fortune to be stolen from her.
“Um, I don’t believe the book is still here,” Rosa heard herself say. And she wondered who was talking. She was not used to dissembling.
“But I saw it in the window,” he said eagerly, with a smile.
Thinking as fast as she could, “Oh that’s not the one advertised.” Again, she thought, what am I saying?
“May I see it?”
Rosa got up slowly, walking as if in a dream. She moved surreally, each movement and moment precarious and uncertain.
“Is something wrong?” he asked, solicitously. “You look rather upset.”
Rosa stopped at the gentle sound of his voice, and turned to look at him. She hesitated.
“OK, the truth is, I wanted that book for myself and it would have been mine in 2 hours if you had not come in!” There, she had said it and yet she was not sure what she was saying or doing.
“Oh, that is unfortunate. I see you are Hennessy fan also.”
“Devoted!” Rosa said more forcefully than she intended. Embarrassed, she walked back to the window seat and picked up her tea. She didn’t know what she was doing or what to do next.
They remained silent for a long minute.
Then he smiled, looking directly at her. “I have an idea.”
Rosa just stared.
“Why don’t we share the ownership of the book?” This time it was he who didn’t know why he was saying what he was saying.
Rosa stopped mid sip and blinked her eyes. She hesitated. “What did you say?”
His stretched his neck to one side, “I said we could share the book and split the cost.” It was as if he were listening to himself. And he tried to maintain his smile but this woman in front of him was looking very serious.
“Yes exactly, so you won’t lose your chance to own it, and I can also own it ”
“But you live in the city.”
“Yes, it would be like sharing the children in a divorce, 6 months with each parent.” Where had that come from, he thought. Her expression was still fixed.
“But we are not divorced! We have never been married!” Rosa heard herself say and realized she was way too upset and saying ridiculous things.
“Yes, that’s true.” He sat down on a wooden chair placed at the end of a bookshelf, a bit deflated. “But could we still share it.” The idea had popped into his mind as ingenious and he felt inspired and wanted to pursue it even though he had surprised himself.
Rosa knew her tide had turned and she needed to make the most of the situation. Had he not been present she would have cried, but not now, not with a complete stranger.
His voice continued. She heard it as if from afar, as she stared down at her tea cup.
“After all, we both have a great affection for Moira Hennessy and one of her major themes is the understanding that often occurs between complete strangers.”
Yes, this is true, thought Rose, coming slowly back to herself and this path of reason.
“Is there tea available to your customers? We could discuss it over a pot of tea!”
“Of course there is!” came Claude’s warm, booming voice as he descended the creaky wooden stairway. He held out his hand. I’m am Claude and I own this shop and I put the add in the paper. Glad to meet you!”
“Hello, I’m Jack. Nice place you have here.” They shook hands.
“Let’s go make that pot of tea,” said Claude. As Claude put the kettle on and filled the tea pot, he told Jack that Rosa had really made the place what it is. Before her arrival it was just a bunch of books on shelves. No window seat, no curtains, no art. “And she has a wonderful way with customers,” he added.
Jack could not respond to that.
They walked back into the bookstore.
“Now, did I overhear that you two wanted to be co-owners of my illustrious Signed First Edition Copy of Moira Hennessy’s book?”
“I was hoping we could,” said Jack.
“A very generous and unusual offer,” said Claude
“Well, I sort of walked into the situation and I did not want to disappoint your finest employee, but I did come all the way from the city and had my heart set on the book.” He glanced at Rosa who had already drained her cup.
“I’m going back to my accounts,” said Claude, “but I know you can work something out. He winked at Rosa. He knew how much she had been hoping to own the book by the end of today, without her saying so.
Rosa glared at Claude’s wink.
“OK, she said, let’s get this over-with.”
Jack began, “You can keep the books for the first 6 months, or maybe we can do 3 months at a time. I’d love to take it to a conference I am attending in 4 months or so.”
“All right, 3 months.”
Rosa calculated the amount, 50% of the already discounted price, and rang up a receipt for Jack. She would have to write a new check herself as she had already written a larger one earlier in the day.
This was done in silence.
“Let’s look at the book!” Jack said excitedly.
Rosa got the book out of the window display, and she had to admit she did feel excited at holding it and knowing it was all her own for 50% of the time. Getting it in to her hands as an owner felt exhilarating! She held it for a few moments and then handed the book to Jack and looked up at him and smiled softly, lost in this feeling. He smiled back. There was actually a big celebration going on inside for each of them. It was a beautiful, ecstatic moment in life of two book lovers.
Jack spoke first. “Let’s look at the signature!”
“Ooh, yes! I forgot!”
Jack opened the beautiful cover after laying it carefully on the counter. The pages were thick and textured. The aroma of the paper was very pleasing. There it was, the Moira Hennessy’s expansive signature right in front of their eyes in a large, blue fountain pen script.
“Oh!” said Rosa
“It is smashing, isn’t it?”, replied Jack.
After a few moments they stepped apart and looked at each other.
“It’s hard to say leave the volume behind, but I know you’ll take good care of it,” said Jack.
Yes, and here, take this card so you will know how to get in touch with me, Jack.
When she said his name, Rosa realized she had abandoned her hard feelings.
Jack read the card. “Rosa Florio. Very poetic name.”
After Jack left, Rosa sat down again on the window seat, holding the new acquisition. She felt so happy. Sharing the book didn’t feel like less of an ownership.
Claude appeared out of nowhere and saw the volume in her lap.
“That’s a fine thing you have there, Rosa. You are a lucky lady! When our friend returns, let’s take him out to dinner and see what other magnificent ideas he has.”
Rosa’s eyes showed agreement. Her thoughts turned to curiosity about Jack also. But that could wait. Right now, she wanted to savor this revelation, this epiphany. This book was “All of Ours”. What was it Moira had written? Something like “Sometimes, the overpowering beauty of the moment exponentially expands to outweigh the small parts of its circumstances. That is one of life’s mysteries.”
“Yes Claude, let’s do that,” was what Rosa managed to say.