Not Annabelle, Not Paula, Not Anyone He Knows

Calvin lurks by the bookstore’s Travel section, sneaking quick glances beyond the shelves. The girl in the armchair is still busy with her boyfriend.  Calvin is a father, or was a father, reminds himself he’s still a father. Annabelle now lives with her mother, Margery, his ex—he guesses Annabelle was right to choose sides and not choose his—but here, watching this girl in the space between Travel and Biography, he wants to apologize to Annabelle and tell her things he hasn’t had the guts to say. He doubts the girl is eager to listen. She doesn’t even know he’s there. And she’s not Annabelle, just a girl in a t-shirt who reminds him of her.

Around copies of Froders and Europe on Twenty Dollars a Day, he watches the oblivious, enthusiastic teens grope each other in an overstuffed purple armchair. They have latte breath (he can guess) and lank hair (he can see) and the girl wouldn’t have been ugly but her hair was bleached colorless and the boy was scary skinny, heroin-skinny. The boy wears dark jeans and a pale yellow t-shirt with red piping at the neck. Stenciled across his narrow chest in bright red lettering within a lariat speech-bubble:  Eat Me. Twinkie the Cowboy grins and holds the end of the lasso. The girl wears a denim mini-skirt and little black ankle boots. Pale purple tights. Her t-shirt is baseball-style with lime green sleeves. Cinderella, World Tour, on the front; the back a list of cities and dates. One of the venues was Dallas, though the lettering is fuzzy, but intentionally so.  Cinderella, the hair metal band from the ‘80s, not the princess. Calvin remembers his older brother had a tape. They sucked. He doubts they’re still together.

The couple in the armchair are definitely together, stickier all the time, and getting more so every minute. A redheaded woman next to Calvin slides The Cheapskate’s San Francisco back between San Diego and San Juan, then retreats a few feet and reaches for Lisbon. “That’s vulgar,” she says, pointing at the pair with a paperback Lonely Planet Visits Portugal. “No one wants to see that.” She gives Calvin the once up-and-down over her smart-girl glasses, from his scuffed brown loafers and beige khakis to the curled and faded collar of his blue polo shirt. She looks like Paula.  She’s built like Paula. Oh, Paula, the root of all this mess. “And I don’t know why you’re watching.”

“What?” Calvin rests his hand on the tallest Atlas on the shelf. He needs the balance. This woman makes him want to run to the parking lot, to leap into his car and speed away, or, better, throw himself under a passing bus. “Pardon?”
“If kids are going to do that—” the boy feels up the girl’s ample chest and the barristas by the espresso machine whisper into a phone—Calvin bets they are trying to find a manager—and one of the pair starts moaning, not the barristas, one of the lovers, but he couldn’t tell which, “—then you should have the decency to look the other way.”

“Me?  What?” He looks at the woman who isn’t Paula, at the couple, at the barristas, back to the woman. “Oh, no. It’s not what you think. They’re grossing me out.”

“Sure,” Not-Paula says, stuffing Portugal in front of Poland. “Whatever you say.”  She turns to leave, then hisses over her shoulder. “But if you’re still watching them in five minutes, I’m getting security.” Calvin starts to speak, but she scurries the other direction, toward oversized art books. He doesn’t want to shout. He never raises his voice in a bookstore. To Calvin they’ve always been hallowed, like libraries.