By: Fanoula Sevastos
The first thing you notice is the smell. Not the enormous quilts of
orange and yellow and purple flowers that hang from the balcony, not the
broad glass shelves filled with homey arts and crafts. It's the smell of
cinnamon and roses that strikes you as odd and leads you to the beaky
wooden pelican that sits snug on a tree stump near the register. Only
then do you find the books.
There are short and narrow rows of them, most with covers, some without,
alphabetical by author. But running your eyes and your fingers across
them is not enough; you keep yearning for that familiar scent, that
mingled aroma of wood fiber and ink and must. And before long, you find
yourself picking one up off its shelf, creating an aromatic breeze of
flapping pages, and breathing it in.
I am on a hunt for James Crumley, an author I have only recently
discovered. The owner, a fiftyish woman dressed in a flowing, pale peach
skirt and whose gentle face speaks of days spent in the sun, asks if I
need assistance. Thus begins a leisurely conversation of books and
authors and life, near the end of which she makes me an offer.
"Would you like to work for me?" she asks, politely.
Her voice is motherly and clean, except for a slight slurring of the
occasional syllable of certain words, certain sounds that her tongue
finds impossible to master. It is barely noticeable, but I imagine that
she had tried to correct this in younger years, and that only with age
had she finally come to accept it.
"Ah, but then, you are probably already employed," she adds.
I smile. I thank her for her kindness and explain that I am here on
Hilton Head Island on vacation and that I will be returning home
again in a few days.
"What a shame," she says. "I would have liked to hire you."
And with that, I return to my search.
Despite the apparent absence of Crumley, her shelves, dust-free and
orderly, provide a wealth of other treasures that come home with me. An
eclectic array of books, by Westlake and Camus, Kosinsky and Lessing, end
up cradled in my arms. Delighted, I make my way to the register.
She is out of plastic bags ("must remember to pick some up,"
she says) and so, our transaction completed, I balance the bookstack
against my chest as she holds open the swingy screen door. As I am her
only customer at the moment, she follows me out for some air.
On the heels of the doorway lies a brick patio, more maroon than red, and
a row of natural wood rocking chairs that still need finish. The day is
mellow and cool, and the breeze that carries the light scent of seashells
unsettles the wind chimes that hang near the window.
"Come back again," she says, waving good-bye.
And I do. Every year.
The Paperback Exchange
32 Palmetto Bay Road
Hilton Head Island, SC 29928
Fanoula Sevastos is a public relations specialist by day and a writer
by night. She has been published in various electronic journals including
Eclectica, Disclosures, Conspire Poetry Journal, Slumgullion, and Compass
Rose Review. Fanoula resides in Cleveland, Ohio.