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The Cellar Minx

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The clouds matched the color of the pavement as he made his way toward the abandoned shop. The air shivered with raindrops that weren’t quite ready to fall as the leaves of late autumn blew across the street. At this time of day, everybody in this part of town was holed up in their dirty apartments, waiting for the sun to go down. He had once asked the old lady at the rundown neighborhood supermarket why nobody ever set foot outside. She had told him that most of the residents found it was much easier to remain unseen when the only light they had to worry about was that which sifted down through the ancient streetlamps. He always wondered what his mother would say if she knew that he took the bus here everyday after school.

He took a sudden turn, sidestepping into an alley. Making his way around back, he threw the crust of his sandwich to the old cat that always lurked behind the dumpster. It hissed, but as soon as he was exactly ten steps away, he knew the ragged thing would slink forward and drag the staling bread back with him. Afternoon sunlight rested on the shards of broken glass as he turned the corner. Walking up to the broken window, he placed his hand in the same place he had for the last two years. He used to always tear up his jeans trying to get through here. Now, however, he knew exactly how to position his body so that, when he swung himself over the grimy sill, he would land unscathed on the other side.

He breathed a sigh of relief as his feet stirred up a cloud of dust. It was dark inside, but he knew his way around by heart. Walking toward the back of the old room, the floorboards creaking underfoot, he ran his hand along one of the many wooden bookcases that filled the room. He let his fingers run across the bindings of books long abandoned, left to rot in this broken bookstore at the end of the street. Reaching the back of the store, he leaned his back up against an old bookcase filled with volumes of heavy encyclopedias. The massive thing slid across the floor, following the grooves it had created over months and months of being forced to reveal the secret it hid behind its heavy frame. Stepping back, he smiled as he reached for the latch securing the door he so painstakingly kept hidden.

Opening the door, he began to descend down the twisting staircase which resided behind it. He knew he’d hear her voice as soon as he reached the fifteenth step.

“Back again?” He never understood how she always knew exactly where he was. Somedays, he would make a great effort to make as little noise as possible as he made his way to the bookstore’s cellar. Yet, somehow, she always managed to call to him at the same time every day.

“Just returning your book. You left it in my bag yesterday,” he replied. Rounding the final bend, he emerged into the room. She was draped across an old moth eaten chair, wearing the same white dress she had since the first time he’d met her. Her auburn hair spilled over one shoulder as her fingers drummed lazily on the arm of the recliner.

“Ah, yes,” she smiled. “I thought I might have misplaced it.” He laughed as he pulled up an old wooden bench beside her. Taking the book from his hands, she leafed through the pages. “Did you like it?” she asked.

“I didn’t understand it at all. Especially the ending.” The toe of his old tennis shoes dragged across the cement, leaving small circles in the dust. “How could it have all been a dream if her jacket was still on his couch?”

She grinned as she turned the book over in her hands. “How indeed.” He shook his head as she trailed her fingers along the failing spine. He’d learned long ago that asking her questions was futile. She said she’s made a promise long ago never to divulge the secrets of ambiguity. So, instead, he watched the way the sunlight from the single grimy window played on the silver pendant she always wore around her neck. Finally, she set the book next to her and leaned toward him.

“You know,” she said, “Endings don’t always have to make since. In my opinion, they rarely should.”

“In your opinion,” he countered, “We should stay in this basement for the rest of our days, and just forget about the rest of the world.”

She smiled and looked around the room. “We have more than enough to sustain ourselves down here,” she said, gesturing to the piles of books stacked haphazardly against the walls. “We’ve stories of rivers and seas and fountains of youth. We can read of feasts and banquets in magnificent houses.” She raised her eyes and grinned as he covered a late afternoon yawn. Reaching for his hand, she brought it back down. “We can even read of sleep so that we’ll never have to close our eyes”.

He shook his head and stood up. “Maybe. But as for me,” he said, reaching into his bag, “I’d rather have a real house, with a real bed.” She laughed as he threw her a chocolate bar he’d bought at the corner shop on his way. Milk chocolate with almonds, that was her favorite. He’d toss her one every day before he’d leave.

“And real food,” she laughed.

“Yeah, and real food.” He glanced at his watch. “Speaking of food, dinner is soon. I should be going. See you tomorrow?”

She shrugged, a smile playing at the corner of her mouth. “I might be here.”

He laughed and turned towards the stars. After he had reached the top and slid the bookcase back in front of the door, he swung back through the broken window. The sun was just setting behind the ashen buildings. Raindrops were now beginning fall, leaving dark spots on the concrete as he made his way to the busstop. As he unzipped his bag to reach for a fistful of quarters, a book fell out onto the pavement. Grinning, he reached down to pick it up and wondered if he’d ever figure out how she managed to consistently slip them in his bag.




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