Spread of Literacy

On the front walk outside the secondhand books place, where the box of free books is kept, an elderly lady is on her hands and knees, rummaging. Her limp purse is on the pavement beside her.

“Finding anything good in there?” I ask. I’m bringing culled books in to sell, but I’m thinking of letting her pick over what I have brought. She looks up, her face doubled behind huge glasses.

“These are free,” she says. “I get things here all the time.”

“Yes, I’ve found a few things here myself,” I tell her.

“It’s free and I got here first.”

“You bet, it’s all yours if you want it.”

“I don’t want it all,” she says, “I don’t want all of anything. I want what I can have that won’t cause trouble for me or them putting things out – out wrong, maybe, out when they got the wrong – when they were meant for shelves but ended up in the box. You don’t think they will want these back, do you? You think they might send a boy out to get my license number?”

“No Ma’am, I’m sure they won’t do that. They’re all nice people in there.”

“You work here?”

“No Ma’am. I live a couple of blocks away so I’m always stopping in.”

“Uh huh. Can you help me up from here? I can make it myself if I have to but – ”

“Sure,” I say, and I help her up. Her arm is like an aluminum tube in a sleeve that might flex wrong in an instant. Once up she looks down at a pile of paperback books she has gathered. I set my bag down and get them for her.

“I have a car,” she says. She scans the horizon, then spots a mottled blue van parked a few feet away.

She opens the double back doors upon a wall of books, yellow pages scaling dust. I’m considering how I might go about adding more to what’s there when she begins to shove and pull at the mass with surprising energy. A dent forms – a kind of Pueblo cliff dwelling. I put the books in and they begin to slide, but she slams the doors shut before they can fall.

“I don’t like being without something to read,” she says.

I watch her drive away, the shocks on her van jouncing under the great weight. When I turn back to the bookstore a man and his boy are going through the bag I have left on the walk. I consider mentioning the mistake, but don’t. I head back home to fill another bag.

Daryl Scroggins lives in Marfa, Texas. He is the author of This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash novel (Ravenna Press). One of his fictions has been included in Best Microfiction 2020.

See more of his work in 8.3 and 8.3 and 7.2 and 7.2 again and 6.2 and 6.2 and 6.2 again and in Special Flash issue 50/50 here and here