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My Back Pages

When I was a little girl my only toys were a stapler and a potato.



By Cheryl Trykv

At the bookstore it's that odd man with the curly hair. Again. Third time tonight. He stands on the outer limits of decorum, reading, carrying on to himself, silently, obsessively, twirling the curls at his temple. Never says anything, just reads. There's something wrong with people like that. Must be some sort of a nut. I see you, hiding behind Philosophy. Come out of there, you'll destroy your mind!

The forehead certainly is brilliant, mark of a thinker. An earnest quality about him. And his hands, the way they smooth the volume's page, so well mannered, so elegant. Nice watch. Still, there's something odd about the way he ignores me. Pervert. Quit reading, go do something. You're like an addict, get a hold of yourself. "Is there something I can help you find?" Edgy sort. He jumps when I say hello, mumbles something about "just reading." Free country, I tell him. Just don't start any fires.

Back at the register I light a cigarette. I sort through stacks of books and books on books. There are books in the sink and boxes of books and books in the corner mating. The unshelved books are of such great number I am able to construct an igloo of sorts in which, if need be, I may nap. In the meantime, I sift through and pore over pages, I fan them and flip them, letting the sweet breath of usage soothe me. Units of meaning, reasons why.

When I was a little girl I tried to list everything I knew. Of course I was seven and didn't know what I knew, so instead I drafted a second treatment of what I felt. Critics, my mother, called it nasty and horrifying and sent me back to my table for a rewrite. Later that afternoon I recognized that my favorite word was word. Word. It was what it said it was and could be without dispute. Page after page I filled the page with the word word until 'long about dinner time my mother, mock-quizzical, peeped her head into my room. "How's the autobiography?" she said. "You know I'm going to check that later for lies." I laughed and told her to go ahead. That night I thought more about the word word and it seemed to me I had become the word and it frightened me and I couldn't go to sleep.

A customer says she's looking for a book, The Temptation to Exist. Do I have it? The temptation to exist? Me? No.

I hear a book scream out for help. Mr. Nice Watch better not be over there cracking spines. He is. I catch him. "What are you doing?"


"Did I just hear you crack the spine of that book?"

"I don't think so."

"You don't think so. Say, what are you all about, anyway?" I take the book from his hand, his tender, solemn hand.

Title: The Metaphysics of Despair.

That night I let him walk me home. He reminds me of someone. Yes, someone I had meant to say hello to that August at Sea Crest. That Marble Head boy. So serious in the garden. Worried and reposeful, as though he'd reached the end of an endless journey to no end. Staring off into his palms. Knotting the rubber band in his fingers, making a Mšbius of it. Stretching it, curling it to no end. Jack, I think his name was. Oh, Jack.

At my place we sit and talk. He admires my stuffed toy collection, asks how a person ever got so many. I tell him the truth, that when I was a little girl my only toys were a stapler and a potato. I vowed to myself then that when I grew up I'd have all the stuffed animals I could afford. Even though I could hardly care less about stuffed toys now, still, I could never go back on a promise to myself.

"You've a great deal of loyalty to yourself, haven't you?"

"Yes, I suppose I do. I suppose I'm still waiting for one of those toys to fall in love with my integrity."

I tell him when I was a girl our only furniture was a card table in the kitchen where my parents and I would sit and eat, but mostly sit and think about eating.

"Hence, all the TV trays here now?"

"That's right."


"Am I?"

I think it all rather dull and I tell him as much.

"And your parents?" he asks.

More of the truth. That my parents were both killed in a fiery driving accident at Ye Olde Towne Penny Arcade. Video-simulated Le Mans Speedway track. Seems my father spun out, hit the animated guardrail. His celebrated temper flared and he began rocking the thing, pounding it, kicking it, beating it with his fists but nothing he tried gave back his dollar fifty. Finally the whole thing just exploded when my mother, standing next to him, spontaneously combusted from all the alcohol she had in her veins. I wasn't hurt. At the time I'd been at Ye Olde Towne Wishing Well, throwing pennies. Waging hope. It was a horrid ordeal, one of those things that makes a child never wish for anything again.

"Ghastly! Is that why you work at the bookstore now?"

"Yes. More ghastly than you can imagine."

We sit and talk until neither one of us can sit and talk any longer. About me. I confess to him my promise to God many years ago and invite him to join me in prayer. "Take your time deciding," I say. "I'll be right back." I slip into the other room to change into my prayer smock. When I return he is gone.

Late into the early morning I sit in the dark at the kitchen window, letting the light from the streetlamp stripe the room in shadows of hungry discontent. I follow the cross of Saint Peter, the outline, with my finger on the wall. What say you, sash-bar-created hound? Devil of a pane. The moon is up and I watch the furious whippings of a plastic grocery bag, caught in a tree, batter in the wind. A silver Lexus on the street honks for Tommy. Come out here, Tommy, sell us some more of that crack cocaine.

At the bookstore I rearrange the Middle East and put an end cap on Science. Myth is a mess, needs work. Note to self: Separate Biography from Fiction.

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