In-Between Aisles

Written by: Jaclyn Pahl

Shelves of books closed in like wire. She stood glaring up at the shelf second from the top, where an anthology of the works of Jack Kerouac sat, looking down, taunting her. The spine, a faded hue of red, seemed to glint with insolence — like the eyes of a thief who got away with stealing. But she could steal too, her geographic coordinates reminded her — steal away from her home country and the well-meaning people back there who could never understand, the people who judged her for her inability to pull the disparate parts of herself together and project them toward a single, comprehensible desire. Even now, in the bookstore, parts of her did not come together. Her jacket pointed one direction, the same direction as her wristwatch, but her purse and her earrings pointed another. She was one person with another laid over the first. Time did not renew. It concealed. 

But in the bookstore, she had a desire both single and comprehensible, not to mention fleeting and electric (as desires at her age often are). She needed the Kerouac. Around her, the aisle was thick with browsers, who thumbed through books oily-fingered and preoccupied. She ducked into the shadows of the Americana section. 

As the minutes passed, the swarm of patrons dispersed. She looked around covertly, fearful she was about to act foolish and draw public attention.  The potential embarrassment of reaching for the shelf and coming up short — on tip-toes, in heels — shiny black boots that she was sure made her look sophisticated — was at once terrifying and thrilling. 

She clutched her purse firmly in her left hand and reached. Her fingers snared the spine, grazing its textured skin, but she could not grip enough to pull. Her desires exceeding her grasp, she recoiled back into the aisle. 

Normally, this might have been it — had she not been so far from home, had she not felt like someone other than herself. Locations themselves can be a kind of disguise. No one around, she needed a new approach. A ladder? But those are only for staff. Climb the shelves? Wood splintering, breaking, books falling into the aisle, her jacket rising around her ears — no, she couldn’t climb the shelves. But, here, under the lowest shelf, she noticed, was a radiator. She touched it. It was cool. She shook it. It was sturdy. But she would need a hand-hold. She pulled on the third shelf. It did not budge. It must be attached to the wall. 

She planted her boot on the radiator, hand grasping the third shelf, and pulled herself up the wall, toward the Kerouac. She grabbed the book (a new holy thing) with a gesture quick and exact, while, at the same time, she loosened her hand grip and let herself fall. 

Stumbling back from the shelf, unsteady, surprised at her own success, she gathered herself together. 

Jaclyn Pahl is a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto studying Cinema Studies and English Literature.  Her fiction has also appeared in Acta Victoriana and Montreal Writes.

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