Clara still regularly asks to go back to the used book store in town. She spent one afternoon in the children’s section, almost a year ago, and she still brings it up any time we talk about taking a trip into the big city.
We haven’t taken her. Maybe we are cruel parents; but, you see, what she is looking for isn’t there anymore. She isn’t interested in the books, or the reading nooks with the fluffy beanbag chairs and benches. She isn’t interested in the walls painted with jungle animals, or the paper kites hanging from the ceiling. She just wants to go back so she can visit her friend. Her friend is the young girl that was also hanging out at the used book store that afternoon. Clara didn’t even get her name. But they spent an hour or so sitting together and looking at books, and now Clara lists her as one of her best friends, and regularly asks to go back to the store so she can visit her. And I’m afraid to take her. I don’t want to stand and watch as she rushes back to the bench where she left her, only to watch her slumped shoulders as she realizes she is gone. In her mind this young friend of hers is still sitting there, holding her finger in the book they were looking at almost a year ago.
I imagine that some day Clara will return to this book store. She will be pushing a stroller with a noisy young boy gumming on his hand, and she will be trailed by a young girl in a blue flowered dress. She will stand with a purse hanging off her shoulder and thumb through a stack of Little Golden Books, trying to remember which ones her father used to read to her when she was young. A short, thin faced woman will quietly walk up beside her and start looking through the books as well. Clara will glance up at her, and the two will lock eyes for a moment and be struck with a quiet premonition. A feeling of intense recognition that neither of them can identify.
“Hi,” they will both say. And then comment on each other’s babies, and motion to their daughters and make an exhausted noise. They will both laugh. “You know how it is…” They will say. But, they will both want to say more. They will want to say, “Would you like to be friends? Would you like to come over some time to play? What is your name? What is your favorite color? Do you like to make toast? Do you want to search for hidden treasure with me? Right here in this room. Let’s dig it up and find it! I feel like it’s so close!” But then two little boys will cry in their strollers and the women will each politely excuse themselves to separate sides of the room.
Around the corner, down a tall canyon of shelves, a young girl in a blue flowered dress will run her finger down the spines of a long row of picture books. She will turn the corner and nearly stumble into a short thin faced girl in a purple jumper who is running her finger along the spines in the other direction.
“Hi,” she will say. And then without hesitation one of them will ask, “Would you like to be friends?”