as told by Christopher McIntyre
I walked right by it, stopped dead in my tracks and thought, that’s impossible. It wasn’t there when I came into town this morning. I know it wasn’t. I turned around and stared.
There was no question in my mind – it wasn’t there earlier. But, there it was, big as life. I walked slowly to the display window. There were books aplenty everywhere. It appeared The Olde Book Shoppe was open for business. So, I walked over to and stood in the open doorway.
“Good afternoon, young man. Won’t you come in?”
I heard the voice but did not see the person from whom it came. It was a friendly sound, so I took a few steps into the interior of this obviously very old bookshop. As the smell of old wood and dust enveloped me, memories of hiding in my grandparents’ attic came back. It was the same smell. I had spent many happy hours in their attic, exploring their accumulation of stuff over the last century. But the books they had stored away fascinated me more than anything else. The hours I spent in that overstuffed chair by the attic window – flying to all parts of the world on the words of forgotten authors. No schoolroom could have offered what I absorbed from those wonderful old books.
All those memories came flooding back, caressing me with the joy I had experienced so long ago. And here I am … in what appeared to be the same atmosphere, interrupted only by the sound of someone coming down the stairs at the rear of the room – an elderly man arriving from the loft above. He looked so familiar, my heart leapt; I wanted to yell, ‘O’pa’! But, of course, it wasn’t my grandfather even though it looked like him. The shuffling gate, a full head of short-cropped white hair that needed a good brushing. I could still hear Grandma Nell yelling at him, ‘Augie, brush your hair and put on a clean shirt. We got guests comin’. He’d smile and shake his head, ‘Mother, they don’t care what I look like.’ Then he’d chuckle and shuffle off.
“Is there anything I may assist you with, young man?”
“What? Oh … no. I thought I’d just look around if that’s okay.”
“Yes, of course, it is. My name is Morris; I’ll be in the back room if you require assistance.”
“Thank you, Morris.”
He wore the same kind of gold-rimmed glasses perched on the end of his nose, just like O’pa. How I missed my grandfather.
“By the way …” he stopped and turned around, his crystal blue eyes sparkling at me, “There’s fresh tea over there on that little table. Help yourself if you’re so inclined.” He smiled, nodded, and turned away.
“Thank you, Morris, I believe I will.” I watched him shuffle through a doorway into the back room. As I made my way to the tea table, I gazed around the room, admiring all the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, jam-packed with books of all sizes, shapes, and faded colors; and that stairway leading to the loft above – books stacked on every tread clear up to the top. The skylight overhead permitted rays from the afternoon sun to illuminate the treasures that were hidden overhead.
But it was the large round table in the center of the room that caught my attention; a large Tiffany-like shade hanging overhead illuminated the items on the table below. As I passed by, I could not help but notice a large volume with a pair of white cotton gloves on top of its cover. For a second or two, I thought I heard the muffled laughter of children playing but decided it was my imagination working overtime. I paused and gazed at the big volume. A valuable book I surmised. Perhaps I would browse thereafter I got that cup of tea.
For an instant, I hoped there might be a plate of homemade cookies on the little table … chocolate chip, like Grandma Nell, always made available when I visited the farm. Alas, there were none on the little table but I was glad for the tea.
Morris’ warm welcome only added to the unexpected nostalgia I was experiencing. I looked at my watch and saw there was plenty of time before the next train departed for Arlington Heights. I would spend that extra time here, in this wonderful place.
I set my cup of tea on the table and picked up the white gloves from atop the large volume in front of me. As I slipped the gloves on, I saw the title of the book, The Magic of Fairy Tales. I wasn’t particularly interested in children’s stories, but the book was so impressive, I decided to have a look-see inside.
I sat down and sipped my tea. As I folded the cover back, a tingle ran up my arm which surprised me. The first thing I noticed was a date on the flyleaf. If it was accurate, this book was several hundred years old. That seemed unlikely given its pristine condition.
I was further delighted when I saw there was no printing in this volume. It was entirely handwritten in calligraphy, and not in English. It appeared to be written in French which was somewhat foreign to me outside a year of high school French.
The Table of Content was several pages long, most of which I didn’t understand, but there were a few entries I recognized. Jacques et Le Haricot Magiques was probably ‘Jack and the Magic Beans’ or ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, Le Petit Chaperon Rouge surely had to be ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, and, of course, La Belle Au Bois Dormant had to be The Sleeping Beauty. I wondered if Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was in the collection. I paged back and forth and found it, Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains.
Exploring this book seemed somewhat futile, what with the foreign language barring the way. But, out of curiosity, I turned a few pages and was taken by the illustrations accompanying the stories. They were so well done, they had an unusual three-dimensional quality about them.
I continued turning pages until I was struck by one of the illustrations. It was a woman looking into a wall mirror. Her jet black hair, crimson lips, and heavy blue eyeshadow denoted a very evil person. I thought the reflection in the mirror was looking at the woman standing before the mirror … but it wasn’t. The reflection of this evil person was looking – at me. When the eyes blinked, I stood up so fast I knocked over the chair I had been sitting on. Then I noticed the beautiful red apple on the shelf below the mirror. I laughed at my foolishness when I realized this had to be The Sleeping Beauty tale. But the motion … the eyes blinking; was my imagination working overtime? I moved closer to the book and then jumped back again, even farther this time, when the crimson lips curved into an evil smile. Holy Christmas, what was going on?
At that moment, Morris returned to the main room and stopped. “Young man, you look startled … as if you’d seen a ghost.”
“That book.” I pointed to the fairy tale book.
Morris laughed, “Oh, you probably saw motion in one of the illustrations. Am I right?”
“Yes, I certainly did.” I had to smile at his carefree attitude.
“That’s part of the magic of the book. Feel free to browse to your heart’s content. You will see some wonderful things.”
“Is it black magic … or maybe voodoo?”
“Oh, heaven’s no. I’ve had that book for a very long time and inspected it thoroughly. There is nothing but goodness emanating from its pages. And all of the folks, like yourself, who have seen the book, have come away with happy experiences.” He smiled and moved toward the tea table, holding a plate. “Ah, I see you already have tea. Would you like a cookie? They’re chocolate chip … my favorite.”
My breath caught, “Yes … mine, too … may I?”
“Yes, indeed. You just help yourself and I’ll see you before you leave.
Was I dreaming? Had I died and gone to heaven? I closed my eyes and bit into the cookie; it was the same taste as Grandma Nell’s cookies. ‘Sweet Jesus, what is going on?’
Reassured, I seated myself at the table and turned the page illustrating the evil woman peering at me. It was then that I began to hear those sounds of laughter. They were coming from the pages as I turned them; dogs barking, birds chirping, and the one illustration of children laughing and yelling as they came tumbling out of a huge shoe. I continued to turn the pages hoping … for what? … I wasn’t sure.
Morris had mentioned happiness. Perhaps that was what I was looking for. There had not been much happiness in my life. Oh, I had nothing to complain about. It’s just that the joie de vivre that I had experienced in reading all those books in my grandparents’ attic never materialized in my life. I assumed it was just someone’s imagination being put into words and nothing more.
I continued paging through The Magic of Fairy Tales until I came across an illustration that caused me to pause. It was of a medium-sized book with a pencil next to it. There was an imprint on the cover of the book. It looked like My Journal. There was something else written beneath the title. It looked like a name. I bent over to get a closer look and then sat up with a start – it was my name, Christopher McIntyre, imprinted below My Journal.
I looked again to make sure I wasn’t seeing things, and then I noticed the illustration had taken on the appearance of a photograph. No, it was more than a photograph; it was three-dimensional as if I could reach into the illustration.
I ran my fingers around the edge of the of the image area and jerked my hand back when I realized my fingers had slipped into the image. I stood up and carefully examined what I was seeing.
Throwing caution to the wind, I placed my gloved hand into the page frame. My breathing increased, as well as my heartbeat, the farther my hand and arm went into this space. I gasped when my fingers touched the book. I caressed the edges and then picked it up by the spine and held it in my hand. Since it had my name on it I supposed it was mine and I could take it if I wanted to. So, I slowly lifted the book out of the illustration in the fairy tale book.
I held it up and examined it again … My Journal, Christopher McIntyre. It was then I noticed the pencil that remained behind inside the illustration. Without a second thought, I reached in, grabbed it, and withdrew it.
I almost laughed when I realized what I had just done. There I sat with a journal and a pencil. I flipped through the empty pages until I got to the front pages. There was a Table of Content page with a list of titles for stories that obviously had not been written.
The first entry of the list read My Guardian Angel. I turned two pages and there it was … a picture at the top of the page of what looked like a baby curled up on someone’s thumb. There were tiny translucent wings protruding from the sleeping baby’s back. Below the picture were the words, My Guardian Angel.
Below that, the words Have you ever wondered … were penciled in on the first line. My breath caught when I, for some reason, knew what the next words were or should be. I grabbed the pencil I had absconded from the fairy tale book and began to write … what your guardian angel looks like?
Setting the pencil down, I sat up and read what I had just written, Have you ever wondered what your guardian angel looks like? My throat went dry as I began to understand what this story was. I didn’t hear the words, but I knew what words came next; I grabbed the pencil again and began to write, And what about that occasional buzzing noise in your ear? Have you ever wondered about that? Well, it’s her or him, your guardian angel.
I kept writing. It happened to me one sunny afternoon in May. I was lounging on the deck, reading the manuscript of a new book I planned on publishing when I heard the buzzing in my ear. Thinking it was a fly or mosquito, I instinctively waved my hand to ward the creature away, but it came back. Just as I was about to slap the side of my head to do the creature in, the tiny thing circled around and fluttered right in front of my face.
“Oh, my god.” It was a tiny baby, the size of a jelly bean, with wings. When it giggled, I said, “Hi, there.”
It giggled again and returned my greeting. “Who are you?” I asked.
“I’m Gertrude; you can call me Gertie.”
“Okay, Gertie, I’m very happy to meet you. Tell me … what are you doing here?”
She giggled again, “I’m your guardian angel.”
“Young Man, are you all right?”
“What?” I looked up to find Morris standing in the doorway.
“You’ve been here a long time. I hope you haven’t missed your train?”
“My train?” I looked at my watch and realized I had not mentioned a train to this man. I looked at him somewhat mystified. “You’re right. I did miss my train, but there will be another. Thank you for reminding me.”
Morris smiled and returned to the back room. I watched him disappear and kept wondering how he knew about the train I was going to take. Then I looked down at what I had written and realized there was more, much more. I had to write it down before I departed, for fear I might forget.
With pencil in hand, I moved over the journal, my journal, and began to write again.
“Oh, are you?” I responded joyfully.
She nodded and smiled her toothless grin.
“You’re kind of small for a big job like that.”
“I’m an angel in training.”
“Is that so? Well, I’m very happy to meet you.”
She yawned and began losing altitude so, I put my hand out as she did a soft landing on my palm, then she proceeded to climb on to the tip of my thumb, curl up, and go sound asleep without so much as a ‘by your leave’.
Now, what was I supposed to do, sit there until she woke up? I decided that was exactly what I was going to do. Who knows, I may never have another opportunity to get up close and personal with my guardian angel in training. She snored softly as I fell head over heels in love with my jelly bean.
By and by, she opened her beautiful blue eyes as the afternoon light waned, stretched her tiny limbs, yawned, giggled, and flew up to the tip of my nose, kissed it, giggled, and flew away.
It wasn’t until she was gone from my sight that I realized what a blessing her appearance had been. Would I ever see her again? Probably not, since grown-up guardian angels are invisible. But wouldn’t it be splendid if they appeared every now and then.
Bye, bye, Gertie, thank you for visiting.
Tears welled in my eyes when I realized what I had just done. I had written a short story and it was beautiful. The joy I had experienced as a child in reading suddenly erupted within me when I realized what I was doing, what I had just done.
I quickly penned The End and closed the book.
As I stood up, I glanced at the fairy tale book and realized the illustration from which I had taken the book and pencil was exactly as it had been when I first saw it. The book and pencil were there … undisturbed.
I rushed to the front door of the bookshop and paused, “Morris, I’m leaving now. I don’t want to miss the last train. Thank you very much.”
From the back room came his cheerful greeting, “You are most welcome. Have a pleasant journey.”
“Thank you, I will.” I exited the bookshop and hurried to the Canal Street Bridge, paused and looked back, then gasped, “Oh, my God.” The bookshop was gone. All I saw was the blank wall of the parking structure.
I turned and hurried across the bridge and began to giggle when I realized what had just happened to me. I clutched the journal to my breast as I hurried into the train depot.
The train gave a slight jerk as it began to move out of the train shed. I opened the journal and looked with disbelief at what I had done. Then I turned to the front page with the list of other stories and wondered … will I be able to write these stories as easily as I wrote My Guardian Angel?
I closed the book and held it close to my breast and wondered. Morris had wished me a pleasant journey. I could hardly wait until I got home and sat down with this magic book and pencil and began that journey with this gift from who knows where along with the Joie de vivre I had been missing in my life.
And who was Morris? Could he have been O’pa in disguise, come back to help me? And those cookies. I wish I had taken every last one of them from the plate and stuffed them into my … I reached down and patted the pocket of my coat. No, it couldn’t be. I reached into the left pocket and felt its contents … cookies. I checked my other pocket and could have cried with joy … more cookies.
I grabbed one and pulled it out. “Thank you, Morris, O’pa, Grandma Nell,” and took a bite. “Oh, yum.”