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Whitman vs. Thoreau,,,in a Book Store
There was a rich book store on the outskirts of town. A book store that possessed books with yellow tattered pages; books that still held the remnants of old fingerprints along the edges; books bound in dark leather resembling the smell of a well crafted shoe. Cherry wood shelves lined the green papered walls. Parts of it were peeling, ripped, and faded revealing old newspaper clippings lining the sheetrock. Nevertheless, it was a nice backdrop against the grain of the wood with its scratches and scuffs. It produced a certain old charm. The shop was quite small and modest; housing six hundred books or so, all of them second handed or antiques. There was little light, just some small fixtures where light was needed to read the titles.
Madame Buffery could be seen behind the front counter with a volume of eighteenth century Victorian literature. She licked her wrinkled lips as she read the pages. Her bony fingers gently turned each page as if they would turn to dust by slightest touch. Madame Buffery’s mouth watered every time she came across a book that surpassed her good opinion. And although this did not happen often, it happened often enough for Emily, the clerk, to giggle while she stocked the shelves with ‘new’ additions, thus, breaking Madame Buffery’s silence and concentration.
“What are you giggling at girl? Get back to work!” she scolded and returned her glassy turquoise eyes back to her book.
“Yes Ma’am,” Emily said still smiling. From the corner of her eye she could see Madame Buffery’s smirk, knowing that Madame Buffery was as mad at her as a child who receives candy from their mother.
Emily was very simple, very plain, and very beautiful. She wore her brown curly hair in a bun allowing loose strands to cascade over her slightly freckled face. Her eyes were brown, but unlike most brown eyes that resembled bottomless pits, hers were a lighter shade—chocolate, and they held more warmth and kindness than any greeting card could ever muster up. Her style of dress was quite understated as she herself was regarded in life. She wore a long-sleeved burgundy knee length dress with tights and brown loafers. She never wore jeans or pants or even a t-shirt. It was always a dress, tights, and a bun, at least in public. Currently, she was climbing a wooden ladder to re-alphabetize the Gothic Literature section when the store bell rang alerting her that a customer had arrived. She climbed down the ladder assuming Madame Buffery was still drooling over her delectable piece of text. Emily, however, did not realize someone would be so close behind her when she stepped down. It startled her a bit.
“Oh my, silly me. Sorry about that,” she laughed nervously. “What can I help you with today?”
“I was wondering if you had a spare copy of Leaves of Grass I’ve seemed to misplace my own and I would really like to replace it as soon as possible,” the customer said. He had brown combed back hair and glasses covering his grey eyes.
“You are in luck. We’ve just received a copy last week.” Emily turned and walked to the Transcendentalist section and scanned for Whitman. “Ah, here he is, not in bad shape either.” She handed the book to the gentleman who took to it eagerly. It was bound in green cloth and looked to be about fifty years old. “Any particular reason as to why you needed it in such little time?” she asked.
The man smiled gingerly, “Not particularly, but I needed to reread a certain quote of his. It sounds ludicrous to hunt down a book for a certain combination of words, but that is just the kind of person I am.”
“Why didn’t you just go to a regular book store? I’m sure Barnes and Noble has several thousand different copies of Leaves of Grass, each with a pretty mass produced printed cover.” Emily chuckled sourly at the last bit. She was never fond of the impersonal production of product that occurred in practically every part of society.
“Because I like the smell of old bookshops. They smell wise and…dusty.” They both laughed.
“What’s the quote that you’re looking for, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Not at all, wait a moment.” He opened the book and flipped page after page until he was pleased with his findings. “There,” he pointed at a sentence in the middle of the page.
“May I?” asked Emily as she gestured for the book. Out loud she read Whitman’s words with grace and musicality:
O ME! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
“Intelligent man that Whitman,” the man stated.
“I’ve always been more of a Thoreau enthusiast than Whitman, but this is one of his better works,” Emily grinned.
“I cannot say that I agree, Whitman is much more deliberate about living life to the center of its core,” the man stated with a smirk as he lowered his glasses to the tip of his smooth nose.
Emily fired back, “’I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not when I came to die discover that I have not lived.’ It does not get much more deliberate than that, my good sir.”
The man looked stunned and intrigued. He lifted his glasses, bent down to her level, and said with amusement, “I stand corrected, my dear lady.” The man then proceeded to pay for the book at the counter and winked as he left the store. “Perhaps, there will be another time where we shall cross literary minds, until then…”
“I shall wait for your return,” said Emily with a sweet smile and went back to alphabetizing on her ladder. Meanwhile, Madame Buffery continued to drool in her corner.