I was late for my annual New Year’s mission to Tattered Cover Colfax—the art calendars were pretty much decimated. Many calendars remained, mind you—featuring cats or dogs (pick your breed) sports, tourist vistas in over-saturated color, lighthouses or inspirational quotes of the month accompanied by flower arrangements. I grabbed Camille Pissarro, the last artist on the shelf. (Impressionist, 1830 – 1903, lived in Paris)
Glancing over new arrivals—a small mountain of the January 6 Reports, another of Michelle Obama’s new book—I saw a family come in the door, look around. What is this store? asked the boy. It’s like a library, said the girl. Dad corrected: it’s a bookstore. They lingered at the entrance, unsure about staying.
Later, as I scanned staff picks, a woman on her cell wiped tears from her cheeks. I can’t stop crying, she said. When she clicked off the call the nine-year-old girl watching her asked, calmly, are you being emotional? Am I being emotional? Mom repeated. Of course I am. Her voice dropped to a whisper: I just learned (name inaudible) beat cancer. The child appeared unimpressed.
On my way downstairs to bargain books, I heard “Ms. Dubrava?” Oh, my, I thought, struggling into my teacher role. Not a clue. Charlotte, she said helpfully, heavier, taller, wearing a mask. Of course! I exclaimed and gave her a hug. Adults I meet who I knew as teens are seldom easily identified. She lives in Chicago, is a journalist, which makes me happy. Home for the holidays, she saw other former students whose names I remembered, but my images of them are aged fourteen.
Charlotte’s mother was with her, looked familiar, remembered a writing class I taught for parents. That would have been Jana Clark, the first writing teacher, but I didn’t say so, briefly wondered: did I teach a class for parents? Ah, the past: how tricky to know anything about it for certain. “To look back on one’s life is to experience the capriciousness of memory,” as P.D. James said.
I came for the calendar, intended to ignore the books, have thousands of books, no empty shelves and have sworn to get books only from the library from now on. As you’ve seen, I could not resist a swift survey of new arrivals, staff picks and finally, bargain books. In the last, my eye fell upon a slender collection of stories translated by my translation slam partner Suzanne Jill Levine, one of the great translators of Latin American literature. That book was obviously waiting for me. It was now possible to leave the store.
At checkout, a guy spending a gift card got a balance receipt for a bit under $3, turned to me because I was next in line, said here, it’s yours. The cashier, an older guy with longish gray hair who’s been there for years, told me, you have an aura of luck around you today.
I headed home with my discounted Pissarro calendar, a book I bought because Jill translated it, my happiness about a former student writing for a living and my aura of luck.