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Alice and Oliver

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Alice sat in a corner of the shop, mopping slick covers of dust off of her books with an old cotton rag. She worked methodically, picking old biographies and fairytales and fables from the cracked shelves to her left and right and swiping each cover clean. Then she would put them in the vast and ever crumbling pile at her feet. A black and white cat was curled by her feet, snuffling irritably at the cramped atmosphere and the flaking novels.
Alice was bookish, witty, with mild amber eyes that had grown large and sensitive to the dull lighting in her bookstore. Her hair was multifarious, some patches dark blonde and others shocking purple, red, black. She had a homemade pattern of loose dreadlocks down to her waist, and the other, shorter layers were either crimped or curled or stick-straight. It gave people the impression she’d slammed her head repeatedly through the thin glass of a kaleidoscope and then stuck her fingers in an electric socket immediately afterwards. Her skin was cloudy white and nearly unhealthy-looking, like milk that’s been left out overnight. She picked another book off of the shelf and paused to inspect the spine.
“Emily Bronte.” She ran the cotton cloth over its front. “I never really liked her, actually. Could never relate to her poetry.” She looked at the cat at her feet and nudged it confidingly with the tip of her toe. It yawned. “I like Jack Frost much better.” She muttered.
The cat sat up abruptly and gave another yawn, its rough tongue hanging out contemptuously. It paused briefly to scratch at a flea under its chin and then sauntered off, its pink paws slipping in the dust.
The girl threw the cotton rag at it. “Don’t get pissy with me. It’s not my fault you can’t read.” The cat turned a corner and was gone. Alice shook her head as the tip of its tail disappeared and plucked another book off the shelf on her right. James Patterson. For a few moments she scrambled around on the dusty floorboards, confused, and then suddenly straightened up, having remembered throwing the rag at the cat. She brushed dead bug parts off the knees of her jeans as she stood up, and walked around the pile of books she’d created to retrieve the cloth from where it lay on the floor. “Useless, good for nothing animal.” She tripped over a book on her way back towards her corner. Its front cover ripped off.
“So clumsy.” The voice was male and full of half-hearted disdain and mild amusement. It came from the other room, which was much darker and full of older, dustier books that Alice hadn’t even begun to go through.
“You could help.” She said, recovering her balance and sitting cross-legged in her corner. The hems of her jeans rode up to reveal red high heels over checkered socks. “You just sit around and make fun of me all day.”
“That’s because you never do anything interesting!” the voice snapped back, rising an octave. “You sit around and read your silly books and stuff your dumb girl head full of nonsense that was written years ago…”
It rambled on, rising in volume as it became more excited. The cat wandered back into the room and pawed at Alice’s foot.
“You’ll rot away into old parchment if you stay cooped up in here much longer.” Her companion finished, sounding unpleased with the finality of this prospect.
Alice looked down at the black-and-white cat, whose head was now resting on her leg. It’s yellow eyes were trained on her, full of feline exasperation. “Whatever, Oliver.” She said to it, scratching the crown of its head. “At least I’m being productive. You just sit around and lick your ass all day.”



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