Unlikely (Part Four)

Read this story from the beginning.

Joe

If the events of the past few months had taught Joe anything, it was that you can’t hold on to the past. He knew it was time to get on with his life, and that meant making some changes. While he waited to hear back from Zoey, he’d decided to pack up some of Clara’s old things and give them away. He began with her clothes by folding and packing them into garbage bags, keeping only a few items of sentimental value. Clara had been smaller than Louise, and he doubted any of her clothes would fit her. Besides, it would have been weird to see Louise walking around in his wife’s old wardrobe. It was better to give it all away to charity.

He turned next to the books. Clara had been an avid reader, even more so than Joe, and over the long years of their marriage they had come to own a sizable library. Many were hardcovers that had only been read once or twice and then left on the shelf. The books represented quite an investment in both time and money that Joe didn’t want to see them go to waste. He picked one up and flipped open the cover. This book had been one they had picked up on one of their trips to a used book store in the days before the Internet and ebooks had put most of them out business.

Selling the books to a second-hand store seemed like the best option, so after a quick check on his computer to make sure the shop was still in business, Joe loaded as many books as he could fit into the two-wheeled cart that he used to carry home his groceries. The cart’s frame strained under the weight of all that paper, but Joe decided that it would hold together long enough to walk the few blocks to the bookstore.

It took nearly an hour to walk the distance, the heavy load forcing him to stop and catch his breath several times. When he finally did arrive, he noted how the neighborhood had gone downhill since he had come here with Clara. It had been a thriving community back then, but now it was home to ramshackle tenements, discount stores and more than a few pawn shops. He decided he would take the bus home. He had considered it earlier because he was tired, but now he didn’t want to spend any more time here then he had too.

A short set of stairs led up to the store, so Joe dragged the cart up one step at a time. He had gotten up the first two by himself when the door opened and a woman came out.

“Can I help you with that?” she asked, grabbing the handle of the cart before he could even answer.

“Yes, thank you,” said Joe.

Together they pulled the cart up the stairs. The woman held the door for him as he dragged the books inside to the counter set up by the door.

“So what have you got for us today?” she asked and gave him a warm, welcoming smile.

Joe stopped for a second now that he had gotten a good look at her. She was small and thin with a short haircut. In many ways, she reminded him of Clara when she was that age. He shook it off. She wasn’t Clara; it was just a coincidence that she had a similar appearance. “A few different things,” he managed to say. “I have a lot more at home, but I couldn’t carry them all today. I haven’t decided which I’m going to keep yet,  so I picked a selection to see what kind of price I could get for them.”

“Have you dealt with us before?”

“I think it’s been a decade since I was here last,” said Joe, “and I was buying then, not selling.”

“Let’s take a look then.” She motioned for Joe to hand her one of the books, so he grabbed one off the top of the pile and handed it to her. She scanned the bar code and typed something into a computer. “Pricing is all automated today. Your books look like they’re in excellent condition so that will be factored in as well.” She typed some more and then turned the monitor so he could see. “The program checks all current bids for the book and compares it to other similar titles and past performance – well, a whole list of criteria that I won’t bother you with. The gist of it is we get a buying price for each book from which we knock of a percentage for our profit margin.”

Joe looked at the number the computer was quoting. It was less than he had hoped, but more than he had expected. “And there’s no wiggle room on that price?”

“Maybe if you have a rare first edition or something, we could negotiate with the owner for a better price, but for mass market publications, I’ve already set the index as far as it will go. If we give out any more, we’d go out of business. It helps if you think of us like a restaurant. You can always make your own dinner, but sometimes it’s better to have someone else cook for you and wash the dishes afterward. You’re free to sell the books yourself, but that would mean determining the best price, finding buyers, paying for shipping, and so on.”

Joe thought of having to deal with dozens or even hundreds of strangers, all pawing over his wife’s books. He decided a clean break was better. “No, I think it’s best if you do all the heavy lifting, so to speak. I’ve got a few hundred books to sell, and I wasn’t looking to make it a full-time job.”

The woman held out her hand and said, “It looks like we’re going to be working together then. My name is Hope, by the way.”

“I’m Joe. Pleased to meet you, Hope.”

To be continued…

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Crazed recluse and sociophobe who has taken up writing after failing at everything else. Send pizza.

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