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The Paperback Exchange

By: Fanoula Sevastos

Art By: Olga Dunayeva
Art By: Olga Dunayeva

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.


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|| The Paperback Exchange || || Flood Waters || || Spreading the Light ||
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