…people read books instead of using them to charge electronic devices?
…kids hid under blankets way past bedtime, with a book and a flashlight?
…people had the option of putting bits of their reading material into the hearth to keep warm in winter, when all else failed?
It was a few minutes past closing time, but the door to our garden was closed so the laughter and chatter stayed outside in the dark, under bright bulbs in the trees. Still and quiet inside, I slowly went around turning off the lamps that we didn’t need to see by. The one remaining person, one of our regulars, let’s call him Damian, didn’t mind, because he knew I wasn’t shooing him. It’s a slightly eery and completely magical time of day — none of us are ever quite as alert at 10pm inside our tiny store as we were when we first came in. By then, we’re somehow lulled, in a mild hypnotic daze — countless shapes and colors and faces and words and ideas and moods have funneled through us by then.
Damian had come in about 20 minutes before 10:00 and had been lingering with this or that book for long minutes at a time, slowly wandering around. When I call him a regular, what I mean is that he orders at least a book a week from us and takes home twice that amount from our shelves… we see him almost every other day and he knows, I venture, pretty much every single book we have in stock at any given time. (Lest you be skeptical, I know he reads them all because I always jokingly quiz him.)
He lives nearby and wakes up very early for work. I don’t know what he does. (My suspicion is that he is a writer, but don’t tell him I said that.) We never see him at night, is the point. Though his behavior was unusual, I didn’t question him. I left him alone with his books. Our books. His books. Whatever.
Suddenly, out of the blue (actually from behind a gift shelf, hidden from my view,) I heard: “I can’t sleep.” It took me a moment to respond because I was startled, for one, and because it took me that long to figure out he was answering the question I hadn’t asked. I smiled like an idiot and, with a slightly raised voice, answered, “You want a glass of milk?”
He emerged from where he was hiding and simply nodded, though not without a measure of doubt in his face. So I got him a cup of warm milk (one of the many perks of existing in the place we call home).
He drank his milk, sitting with his books, and looked happy to me. He wasn’t smiling and he didn’t speak, but he looked happy to me. When he finished, he thanked me and told me to have a good night. I told him to sleep tight.
And I wonder: it’s not as if he was there to satiate his hunger for stimulating conversation. He probably has a library at home bigger than this entire bookstore. And I know that there, too, milk could have been gotten if so desired. Why, then, did he need these things from us?