You work at a bookstore.
It took you longer than you’d like to admit to realize that the bookstore is alive.
Circulation, cycles. Books in, books out. The bookstore is breathing. The rows upon rows of shelf-ribs expand and contract with their inventory as you constantly shelve and pull and straighten.
The dust. The dust is constant. You breathe it in. It seeks to consume you. The bookstore is digesting you, slowly. It means you no harm, it’s just unaware that you’re alive. You will be all paper on the inside soon.
You make ads online for the books. You describe each one - the condition, the contents, the most attractive photo of the jacket. Best foot forward. It wants to meet people in the area. It needs a good home. Someone will pay you good money to own it. To devour it. You put your hand on its spine and shudder.
People comment on the lovely smell of old books, but you’ve long since stopped being able to smell it.
The books are shelved by author - crime thrillers, fantasy, and horror all neck to neck. You laugh, because the lights over a popular horror author’s books are always flickering out. You laugh, as you shove your arm back into the dark, cobwebby back corner bottom shelf, shoulder-deep, and feel around for the requisite backstock. You laugh and laugh.
There’s extra books left over after pulling stock for orders today. They join the extra books held over from yesterday. And the day before. Who ordered these books? Why are they here? They overflow the holding shelf. No one knows. There’s more tomorrow. When you come in on Monday, they’re gone again.
The last copy of an expensive book suddenly slides out of your arms and spirals toward the ground. Did it land on a corner, a spine, or flat? You squeeze your eyes shut and pray.
The music in the shipping department is always the same 80’s scream-metal tape. The shipping guy is silent, and constantly moving. He keeps his head down, hands seeking boxes, jacket covers, and tape with practiced deftness. He repairs, binds, unbinds. Always moving. You bring him more flyers, always more flyers. The big laser printer has burned out. The flyers have run low. You try to fix it. He looks up and speaks only to ask for more flyers.
There’s one customer who pays well, but will only speak in ‘pirate’. Customer service is stumped - you help puzzle it out. You are elected to interpret for him. Pirate interpretor. You sweat as the messages become increasingly cryptic and erratic - you think he might be angry. Did you misplace an Arr? They look on expectantly.
The publishers are desperate. The small ones fold, the large ones merge. It’s the economy, they say. They urge James Patterson for one more book. You wonder how long his co-authors can hold out, Paetro, Karp, deJonge, Roughan, Grabenstein, Ellis. Paetro again. There are eight this year already, but a new one arrives in boxes the next day.
They bring in more boxes as you’re unboxing and shelving books. There’s no more room - you stack them higher. You fit them in sideways. You fit them in behind. They keep bringing in boxes. You keep fitting them in anyway, getting creative with space and time. You fit still more in. You don’t notice as they all leave, one by one, until they turn out the lights on you.