Randy Benson walked around the corner onto Jackson Boulevard and noticed The Olde Book Shoppe halfway down the block. He could not remember having seen it when he came into town earlier that day, which he thought odd as he prided himself on being aware of what was going on around him at all times.
As he approached the display window, he noticed an elderly man rearranging books. Randy slowed his pace to observe the old books and toys on display, as well as the interesting elderly man who appeared to be the shop owner.
The elderly man looked up, smiled at Randy and raised his hand in greeting. Randy returned the smile and stopped as the man withdrew into the shop. He looked at his watch – it would be two hours before his train departed for his home in Arlington Heights. He moved closer to the display window for further inspection. He wasn’t into antiques but found what he saw interesting enough to venture inside. The little bell above the shop door greeted him with a charming tinkle. He walked in and closed the door.
The smell of dust, old wood, and old books was interesting and inviting. Someone shuffling across a wood floor in the back room preceded the partition curtain parting and the appearance of the elderly man he had seen in the display window earlier.
“Ah, good morning, good morning. I saw you outside, and did not realize you intended to come in.” Morris smiled. “You are most welcome.”
“Thank you.” Randy was bemused by the appearance of the old man. The wrinkled white shirt, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and the leather apron. But the most interesting feature was the man’s timeworn face with crystal blue eyes smiling at him over gold-rimmed eyeglasses perched on the end of his nose. His short white hair, which needed a good brushing, seemed to have a life of its own. The overall appearance was one of radiance emanating from a man at peace with himself and the world around him. His accent bespoke of a European origin.
“My name is Morris. Is there anything with which I may assist you?
“No, no, Morris, thank you. I have time to spare before my train departs. I thought I’d just look around if that’s ok?”
“Yes, of course. Please, make yourself at home. I’ll be in the back if you should need me.” Morris smiled and disappeared into the back room.
Randy smiled but said nothing. He continued to wonder why he had never noticed this place before as he perused the interior of the room, the walls filled with books from ceiling to floor, and more books stacked on the floor, on chairs, and tables, as well as the narrow stairway leading to the loft above.
The lighting was not very good; he wondered how anyone could find anything without the use of a flashlight. The only sufficient lighting came from a beautiful cut glass shade hanging over the round table in the center of the room. It illuminated a number of interesting books including one with a pair of white gloves resting on its cover. Randy walked around the table admiring several of the offerings, then stopped in front of the book with the white gloves which were obviously meant to be used to protect the interior of the volume. He moved away, then stopped. The idea of wearing cotton gloves to look at a book intrigued him. He slipped his hands into the gloves. They were clean – had never been used, which he found appealing.
He ran a gloved hand over the surface of the book and experienced a tingle in his hand and up his arm. He picked the book up, placed it on its spine and let it open to a page of its own choosing. As the book settled on to the surface of the table, Randy was drawn to the vibrant illustration on the right-hand page. The left-hand page was written in an unfamiliar language by a hand talented in calligraphy.
The illustration was of a seagull flying close to the waves of a large body of water; an ocean he decided. It was the three-dimensional quality of the illustration that was most intriguing. It was almost as if … Randy jumped back from the book.
“Oh, my God.” He was startled at the movement of the seagull’s wings. It was ever so slight but they definitely moved. He moved closer and stood fast when it happened again, and again. Then the motion never stopped. The bird was flying. Randy was stunned and delighted at the animation. But how could this be?
It was faint at first, but he could hear waves crashing on the shore. The seagull’s wings rose as it did a backstroke and lowered its tail as it came to rest on the sand near the water’s edge. The sound of waves crashing on the shore was louder. It was so loud, Randy wondered if Morris could hear it. The illustration was more like a motion picture now, rather than an animated cartoon. It was so real he felt he could reach through the frame of the page and touch the sand and water.
The seagull trotted along the shore, picking at the sand as the waves came in and receded. The neck of a bottle came into view. Randy imagined there was a note inside. Probably some child thought it would be great fun to write a note and drop it in the ocean, to see where it would travel and if anyone who found it would write and tell him about their find. He smiled to himself as he remembered doing such a thing when he was on a cruise with his parents many years ago. Sadly, he never heard from anyone and concluded the bottle was lost at sea.
The temptation to reach through the page frame and grab the bottle was interrupted by the sound of Morris shuffling across the floorboards of the back room. He backed up as the curtain parted and Morris entered the room, “Well, my friend, did you see anything interesting?”
“Oh, yes I did. Thank you.” Randy paused, wondering what to do next.
“Well, you better hurry along to catch your train. You’ve been here a long time.” Morris smiled.
Randy looked at his watch, “Indeed, I have. Thank you for reminding me. I lost track of the time.”
“Come back anytime, I’m always here.” Morris moved with Randy to the front door and waved to him as he passed the display window. Randy returned the wave and continued on his way to the train station.
Several days later, he woke with a start from a dream he was having about the bottle in the sand. There was an urgency about the dream which lingered as he prepared for the day. He had a follow-up appointment with his dentist, a perfect excuse to visit the bookshop on his way home.
He left the train station through the Jackson Boulevard exit. As he crossed the Canal Street Bridge, he stopped abruptly. The Olde Book Shoppe was not there. He thought he may have the wrong location, but no, the ladies apparel shop was across the street as before. It was the correct location; the bookshop was simply not there. He continued to the Loop and his appointment.
At noon he stopped in at The Lola Palooza Soup and Sandwich Bar for lunch. He saw the name tag on the barista who took his order and addressed her when she returned with his barbequed beef sandwich and onion soup.
“Claudette?” She looked up and smiled. “Do you know the area on Jackson Boulevard just before you cross the Canal Street Bridge to the train station?”
Claudette smiled. “I’ll bet I know what you’re going to ask me.”
“What?” Randy grinned.
“The Olde Book Shoppe.” Claudette came closer.
“Oh, my God, yes. How did you know?” Randy lowered his voice.
“You’re not the first person to ask about it.” Claudette looked into Randy’s eyes.
“I was in The Olde Book Shoppe a few days ago…”
“… and today it isn’t there.”
Randy’s jaw dropped slightly. “Yes, that’s exactly what happened.”
“Well, not to worry.” Claudette’s voice was barely audible. “When the need arises, it will be back.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’ve heard this story before. The bookshop appears when there is a need and then disappears after the need has been met.”
“Just like that?”
“Yes, just like that. There was a bookstore there many years ago, run by an elderly man. He died when the building caught fire. They built the parking structure you see today.”
“But I don’t have any kind of a need. At least I don’t think I do. I did see something in a book that caught my attention. I intended to go back and take another look this afternoon, but the shop wasn’t there when I arrived this morning.”
“I don’t know. Wish I had an answer for you.” Claudette smiled and moved away to assist another customer.
There was some comfort in knowing he wasn’t seeing things. He finished his soup and sandwich, placed a tip under the edge of his plate and left the Bar, giving a wink to Claudette as he opened the front door.
With nothing to do but go home, Randy wandered up Jackson Boulevard, paused in front of the ladies apparel shop and gazed across the street at the blank wall of the parking structure – still wondering why The Olde Book Shoppe wasn’t there.
He heard tapping on glass, turned around and saw a woman standing in the display window. She was in the process of changing the clothing on a mannequin. She beckoned for him to come into the store.
“I’ll bet you’re wondering about The Olde Book Shoppe that used to be there.” She smiled knowingly.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I was. How did you know?”
“You’re not the first one. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen folks standing in front of this shop, staring across the street at that awful building.” She glared out the front window at the sterile building across the street. “I finally figured out what they were doing.”
“And what were they doing?”
“Do you remember the Olde Book Shoppe?”
“Oh, yes, I remember it quite well. I opened this store and got to know the old man who ran the bookshop. I think his name was … Morris. Yes, that’s it. He was a kindly old fellow. He died in the fire.”
“Yes, it caught fire – must be twenty years ago.
“Oh, no, I’m not. It was a horrible night. All those fire trucks and police cars with sirens and horns blowing. By noon the next day, they were gone. The burnt out shell stood there for a few months before it was torn down, and then they began building that monstrosity.
“I was surprised when I got the first inquiry. They wanted to know where the bookshop was. At first, the story of the fire satisfied the inquiries. After the parking lot was finished, the inquiries stopped, but I noticed people doing as you just did – standing there and looking across the street. A few of them came in and asked questions but did not seem satisfied with my answers.”
“I can understand that.”
“You can?” The woman stopped what she was doing and stared at Randy.
“Yes, I was in the bookshop last week.”
“No, it’s not. I saw something in an old Fairy Tale book I wanted to see again. That’s why I came back.”
“Did you say, Fairy Tale book?”
“Yes, it was a beautiful old thing, leather binding with gold trim, and the pages were edged in gold.”
The woman got down from the display window platform, and looked thoughtfully at Randy, then moved toward the back of the store. “Come with me, if you will. I have something to show you.”
Randy obediently followed her to the back of the shop where she opened a large drawer and lifted something wrapped in what appeared to be upholstery fabric and set it on the counter. “I took this from the bookshop the day after the fire.” She unwrapped the object and pulled an old book from its protective cover.
“Oh, my God, that’s the book. But how could… how did it…” He stopped and looked into the face of the astonished woman.
“I suppose I shouldn’t have done it, but it was the only thing in the shop that hadn’t been touched by fire. I couldn’t help myself.”
“Have you looked inside the book?”
“Not really. I’ve never been so inclined. I suppose I should have, just out of curiosity, but I never did.” A small tone sounded as someone entered the store. “Excuse me, I’ll be right back.”
The temptation was too great. Here it was, right in front of him. He set the book on its spine and let it open to a page of its own accord, laying the covers flat on the counter. A shock went through him when he realized the book opened to the exact page he had been looking at before. The seagull on the right-hand page was the same. Soon it began to move its wings. Anticipating where it would land, Randy was prepared this time. When the half-buried bottle appeared, he thrust his left hand and arm into the book frame, grabbed the bottle and pulled it free of the sand.
His heart was pounding along with his shaking frame as he retrieved the bottle from the book. Not wishing to get involved in a discussion with the owner of the dress shop, he closed the book, placed it back in its protective cover and wrapped it in the fabric.
Shoving the bottle into his overcoat pocket, he attempted to walk nonchalantly toward the entrance of the shop. When the woman noticed him, he waved. “Thank you very much.” Once outside, his stride toward the Canal Street Bridge increased to the point where he almost broke into a run.
The train coach gave a small jerk as it pulled away from the station. Randy placed his ticket in the clip on the back of the seat in front of him and tried to calm himself. It was not as if he had stolen anything from the owner of the dress shop, it was the audacity of reaching into the book frame which shook him to his core. The wheels of the coach squealed as it made a turn in the train yard and headed out of Chicago.
Randy reached into his coat pocket and withdrew the bottle. He initially thought it to be a beer bottle, but upon closer inspection, it was the faint lavender color on the inside of the bottle which gave him cause to believe it was not a beer bottle after all. Perhaps an eau de cologne container from some great lady’s bedchamber. The surface of the bottle, though frosted from constant collisions with other objects on its way to his hands, was translucent enough to reveal there was something inside. He could only imagine what it might be, but it would have to wait until he got home as there appeared to be no way he could open the bottle without breaking it which he did not want to do. He spent the remainder of his train ride speculating as to what was actually inside the bottle. Perhaps a note, and what would it say. Probably nothing more than the thoughts of an adventurous child. But, still and all, he was curious to know.
He closed the front door of his apartment and set the bottle on the kitchen table. Perhaps he would not have to break the bottle after all. He’d try a corkscrew first. After scraping away a thick layer of wax, he inserted the corkscrew and began twisting it. He slowly pulled on the cork. Nothing happened. He bent the corkscrew back and forth slightly and then pulled again. This time, the cork moved.
He placed a few drops of olive oil at the edges of the cork and renewed his effort. The cork came out with a loud popping sound, followed by a faint pinkish mist spilling from the mouth of the open bottle. Somewhat taken aback, Randy set the open bottle down and stood back as the volume of mist increased. Soon there was a fountain of pink mist pouring forth and filling the space around the bottle. Randy moved away from the specter unfolding before his eyes. The image of the table disappeared in the mist. He heard the bottle fall over. The mist hung ominously over the table.
The silence of the scene was broken by a sneeze and then the rustling sound of something on the table top. Randy was moved to say ‘bless you’ when he heard another sneeze but decided against saying anything, not being quite sure of who or what actually produced the sneeze.
As the mist began to clear, Randy could make out the figure of someone sitting on the table top, legs dangling over the edge, swinging lazily back and forth. Whoever it was, they were wearing pink tights with matching ballet shoes, a pink tutu, wrinkled undershirt, and a clip-on halo. Fuzzy pink wings were fastened to his back which shed little stringy things each time he moved.
Randy grew brave and stepped forward, “Who are you? What are you?”
The figure was somewhat startled to see Randy. He got to his feet. With legs spread and hands on hips announced, “I’m the Tooth Fairy.”
Randy was on the verge of laughing, “You’re kidding?”
“Do I look like I’m kidding?”
“I’m not quite sure what you look like with that get up you’re wearing. I was hoping you were a Genie.”
Randy pointed to the bottle next to the visitor. “You know … someone who can grant wishes.”
The Tooth Fairy looked at the bottle with disdain, then glared at Randy.
“Well, do you grant wishes?”
“Put a tooth under your pillow, fat head, and find out.”
“So, you’re a smart-ass.”
“A smart… never mind. So, what am I supposed to do with you?”
“Search me. You opened the bottle.”
“A regrettable moment, I assure you. How did you get into the bottle in the first place?”
“The Wicked Bitch of the North put one of her fangs under her pillow.”
“You mean the Wicked Witch of the North.”
“No, Wicked Bitch of the North.”
“Okay … and?”
“And, I don’t know what she expected me to do with that disgusting yellow decayed thing … put a quarter under her pillow and take the fang. Yuk!”
“You’re a saucy fellow.”
“Yeah, well, you spend time in that stupid bottle.”
“Point taken. So, what did you place under her pillow?”
“At first, a toad. It was an ugly thing, but it reminded me of her. After careful consideration and a whole lot of sympathy for the old hag, I replaced the toad with a beautiful frog.”
“Actually it was a frog prince. You know, the kind you kiss and it turns into a gorgeous hunk?”
“Hunk? Hunk of what?”
“No, I’m not kidding.”
“What rock have you been living under? Hunk as in a beautiful young man bursting with testosterone.”
“Oh, that kind of hunk, which you happen to have in your pocket?”
“Don’t get cute with me, buster. As you can see I don’t have any pockets.”
“So, from whence did you get this frog prince?”
“I whenced him from my magic tooth fairy bag.”
“Standard equipment in a tooth fairy bag, is that what you’re telling me?”
“Yes, pinhead. Do you what to hear my story or not?”
“I apologize. Yes, I do wish to hear your tale now that the plot has thickened with a frog prince. Please, proceed.”
“Keep it up wise-guy. Placing quarters under pillows of rug rats is not the only thing I’m capable of doing. So, I suggest you zip it if you don’t want to find out.”
“Consider my lips zipped.”
“I knew the frog prince before he was turned into a frog. He was young, handsome, smart, and had a body that wouldn’t quit. A real stud muffin.
“So, what happened?”
“She wasn’t smart enough to kiss it. Had she done so, she would have had a life-altering experience.”
“I’ll say. She probably would have had a heart attack and dropped dead, what with all that testosterone dangling in front of her?”
“Her dropping dead never occurred to me … a possibility I had not considered.” He laughed mischievously. “But, as my luck would have it, she didn’t kiss him. To make matters worse, in addition to being a bitch, she turned out to be a witch who mistook my goodness in giving her a frog prince and interred me in that lousy bottle.”
“For how long?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t have a chance to ask. This is the first time I’ve been out of that fucking bottle.”
“Well, that sucks.”
“You’re telling me?”
“Sorry. So, what happens now … that you’re out of the bottle?”
“You’ve already said that once before. Don’t say it again, please.”
“How about, I don’t have a clue?”
“Better, but that’s not an answer. You should have kissed the fog yourself.”
“Wouldn’t have done any good, he would have stayed a frog. The curse of being a tooth fairy.
“You poor thing.”
“You could sound a little more sympathetic when you say that.”
“YOU POOR THING!”
“I said sympathetically! You got any whiskey?”
“Yeah. What are you … hard of hearing?”
“You’re a real pain … you know that? I need something to steel my nerves.”
“Do you see anyone else standing around here, or did I miss someone?”
“You’re not very nice.”
“I’m a tooth fairy – charm is not in my job description. Whiskey!”
“How do you want it? In a thimble or an eye dropper?”
“So, you’re a wise-guy on top of being a nerd?”
“Sorry.” Randy sat down, placed his elbow on the table top next to the tooth fairy and leaned his head against his hand. “What’s your name?”
Randy sniggered, “Arnold, the Tooth Fairy. How perfect.”
“If you only knew.”
“What were you before you became a tooth fairy?”
“A lion tamer.”
“Wow, what an interesting resume. What would you like to be now?”
“Out of here and away from you.”
“Grant me a wish and I’ll put you back in the bottle and dump your ass back into the ocean.”
“DEAL! What’s your wish?”
“I want a companion, a wife, a soul mate, and a puppy. I’m lonely and desperate.”
“Gee, how could I have missed that? Sorry, your wish it too complicated.”
“Do you know anything about women?”
“I had a mother.”
“Mothers don’t count. A puppy is the best I can do.”
“And why is that?”
“They’re uncomplicated, loyal, devoted, and unlike women, they are trainable.”
“No. I want what I want.”
“Nooooo, I want what I want.”
“Are you mocking me?”
“And why would I do that? I hope you’re not going to cry?”
“No, I got something in my eye.”
“Oh, Jeez. This is going to take some time. It’s not like I can run down to the corner deli… hey, wait a minute. How about I put a hooker on retainer?”
Knock, knock. “Randy?”
“My neighbor, Rose.”
“Is she single?”
“I don’t know. I suppose so. No, not her. She’s a nice person but kind of plain looking.”
“Well, you’re no prize yourself. Let her in. Let’s have a look-see. Hey, what are you doing?”
“Putting you back in your bottle. I don’t want her to see you. It might freak her out?
“Hi. I brought you some dinner.”
“Rose, you shouldn’t be doing that.”
“Why not. I’m a good cook and I hate cooking for one.”
“Okay, come on in, and thank you. It’s very kind of you. How’s your mother?”
“She died last month.”
“Oh, Rose, I’m sorry. I forgot.”
“How can you forget about someone dying?”
“I’ve had a lot on my mind. Please forgive me.”
“Okay, you’re forgiven. Now, eat. You need to keep your strength up.”
“I will, Rose, I promise, but right now I have to get ready for a meeting.”
“Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Bye, Rose. And thank you.”
“HEY! Let me outta here.”
“Hold your horses.”
“Don’t ever do that again.”
“Grant me my wish or I will put you back in there and seal it so no one will ever be able to get the damned thing open, and you can rot in there.”
“Okay, simmer down. Let me think.”
“I still think you should go back in the bottle. I’ll put you back into the ocean where I found you.”
“That’s really a dumb idea, but I think you’re probably right.”
“Maybe some little kid will find the bottle and take it home and you can live with them. It would probably be a lot more fun than here, with me.”
“You’re not so bad.”
“Yes, I am. I’m a big bore. When you were still a tooth fairy, how did you get around from one tooth to the next one?”
“A flying carpet.”
“Really, how cool. Where is it now?”
“The bitch witch took it. Said I’d get it back when the spell was broken or she died.”
“Broken? How broken?”
“I told you, I don’t know. I forgot to ask.”
Well, maybe she left a clue. Check your pockets.”
“Do I look like I have any pockets? I told you that before. Don’t you ever listen?”
“How about your tooth fairy bag? Empty it out. Maybe the answer is there.”
“I doubt it. Here…” Arnold turned his bag inside out.
“Is that a bra?”
“It’s a living bra … that died.”
“What’s it doing in here?”
“It’s from the late ’60s. Some feminist protest. Everyone was doing it.”
“And you decided to keep this one.”
“It’s a long story. Kind of a love story.”
“You were in love with a bra?”
“God, you really are dense. No, what was in the bra. And don’t act so surprised. I can be warm. So when was the last time you put your boots under someone’s bed?”
Well, that’s the dilemma. You’re trying to get your flying carpet back and I’m trying to find that someone special in my life. Obviously, you’re not going to be that person, so why don’t we get you back into the ocean and let Kismet take care of you, and let me off the hook for interfering with your journey.”
“You’ve got a point. An idiotic one but still, there is some logic there … somewhere.”
“So, what do you want? The bottle, or me?”
“OK, the bottle.”
The tide was going out when Randy reached the seashore. He went to the end of a breakwater and threw the bottle as far out into the lake as he could. A twinge of reluctance surfaced when he realized he was going to miss, Arnold. He stood on the breakwater for the longest time, watching the tide take Arnold away, hoping the right person would find the bottle this time. It was getting dark when he finally walked back to shore, and took one last look, “Farewell, my friend.”
‘Maybe I’ll go back and see if The Olde Book Shoppe is there. If not, maybe the owner of the ladies apparel shop will let me look at the Fairy Tale book again. She was rather a pleasant person. Maybe we can look at the book together. Who knows what we may find.’