It's one of those shops with a quaint old name -- "The Bookends" or something like that. Between its creaky old floors and forest of shelves, I walked slowly with purpose, lest I disturbed the elfin atmosphere floating about like mists. Pulling a shadowy spine towards me, I half expected to have to blow off dusts from its yellowing pages. If an elf materialized from his perch atop a shelf and winked, I might just smiled and said hello. I knew better; it's how I loved walking in here feeling like I'd stepped into another century.
The coffee shop next door sells freshly made cookies, muffins and magic bars besides freshly brewed coffee with aromas that filled the two story building of shops. A half door opened to the bookstore in a way that made you remember sweet fragrances between pages, bites or sips whenever either name comes up in conversation.
The Bookends (let's call it that for now) had never been so crowded as to be deemed "popular". But gatherings such as book groups prospered here once, after the owner removed or relocated a number of shelves to make room for a large wooden table and straight backed chairs. So I'd see advertisements about various kinds of word lovers meetings. When I walked in, I'd hear hushed whispers shielded by the stacks. They huddled under a pool of light drinking in kindred spirits and warm mugs of java. I imagined it attracted the lofty literary types, seeing as how they stocked rather unique books like "The Prospector". But I also encountered several gatherings of youngsters carrying tattered books and even more tattered laptops. They grew particularly popular after the entire wall bordering the coffee shop was removed and in its place several inviting tables stained in walnut moved in.
Only later on did I realize the owners did these to strive against their online competitions, where within seconds desires could be fulfilled with sparks of electrons gathered behind the screens and amongst wires. Some said elves hid there too. The fight seemed universal and failing as I soon heard the news of 200 plus store closures from Borders and grieved. I loved my online alternatives yet I'd never wanted to part with the real stores, like the one overlooking San Francisco's Union Square. I rested hopes in the Bookend's clever strategy of supporting author signings, writing workshops, and book readings, rejoiced over its choice location near the beach, in a busy shopping center, and next to a beloved coffee spot.
Then one day I came and realized even more shelves had disappeared. A newly exposed skylight from the vaulted ceiling brought in high wattage sunlight while dispelling all sense of mystery that used to cloak nooks and crannies here. Now the center of the store displayed artful antiques for sale -- the ones I've always admired here but would never have known what to do with them myself. I ran my fingers over the painted surface of a wooden marry-go-around horse, thinking how tough it must be to say goodbye again to a once cherished home and where would it go next. Where would those African masks and potteries with a voodoo flair go, and the model airplanes that used to twirl between shelves? Together with the darkened woodwork, handmade crochet pillows and the forest of printed books they spoke a languid and rich tongue of the past, one trending towards obsolete in the ages of electrons, ever shortening attention spans and written character limits.
I hugged my copy of The Prospector and walked to the counter to check out, like I'd done so many times before with books I don't need but wanted. The proprietor smiled as usual and pointed out the wisdom in my choice, like she sometimes did but other times she just nodded and called a book "a fun read".
"Are you selling your furniture?" I probed, hoping it was not as obvious as it sounded.
"Yes. And all the decorations..."
"Oh..., What will become of this place?"
I asked hoping she will say, perhaps another bookstore.
"I don't know. That's a question for the new owner."
She finally let out an air of resignation, and handed me my final purchase. I gave her an awkward smile goodbye and took another look around. The bright airy new atmosphere seemed jarring somehow, like watching a pink ballet skirt thrown over tweed, or red lipsticks painted above five o'clock shadows. The elves, if there were any to begin with, slipped away one by one, leaving gaping holes among the shelves here and there. And slowly they merged to form a dark pit, into which the cheers and lively spirits of the bygone store sank, cried out and then was no more.
It wasn't long until when I walked by and saw an emptied out store. Even the large center skylight had failed to illuminate. My coffee in hand, I pressed my nose against the window pane until memories came back like pages of illustrations. In years past, we had sat inside hugged by a circle of yellow light, leaning into our favorite corner of the store stuffed with soft pillows and cushioned low benches. We had spread out smiling as lazily as Egyptian royals reclining on their divans, cozy under our blankets of songs, verses and stories.
As I walked away, that yellow light glowed on, long after the pages were shut.