USED BOOKS • by Von Rupert

Edgar slid through the door of the bookshop minutes before Lady Randolph would flip the sign from “open” to “closed.” Wintergreen and cigarette scented air huffed out between her loose lips as he walked past the counter. He rubbed his cold hands together and nodded hello. His shift at the hospital ended at half past six, and the bus dropped him off twenty minutes later. Months ago, Lady Randolph had stopped complaining about his last minute arrivals. Since then, they limited their conversation to nods and goodbyes.

She sat on a high stool, her back as straight as the mop he wielded at the hospital, a dark green muumuu dotted with red flowers draped indefinitely over her bony shoulders. Her short hair was permed and dyed a garish blond, gray inching up at the roots. Pink lipstick iced her mouth as thick now as it probably had been that morning. Edgar grimaced. One thing he didn’t miss about marriage was kissing lipstick. He plucked at his front teeth with his tongue, almost tasting it.

At the back of the store, softcover books lined sturdy oak shelves from floor to ceiling, the overflow stacked neatly in boxes. Two twenty-five cent books to get him through the night, to help him forget. That wasn’t too much to ask, was it? After returning home from the war, he had taken a bottle of bourbon to bed every night, but his wife and his liver never adjusted to it. In the end, even sober, his wife couldn’t adjust to him, post-war, at all. He understood; most days he couldn’t either.

A fresh batch of Louis L’Amour waited for him. Edgar bent low and searched through the box for unfamiliar titles. Clean books with near perfect covers this time, as if they had been read only once. His limit was two, or he would read through the night. If his luck held, tomorrow would bring new books or a few of these would remain. He bought two books every day, except weekends. On Saturdays he bought four, because the shop was closed on Sundays. What did Lady Randolph do all that long day? He tried to picture her sitting in a church pew, but couldn’t conjure the image.

Some days it was easy to pick two. Some days there were only two books he wanted to buy. Other days there were none, but he bought two anyway and read them. Usually, the words were a balm. Occasionally, a punishment, firing too close to his vest, but he bore them anyway. Atonement. Just like his job mopping up spills in the operating rooms at the hospital. Atonement. He could still, four decades later, see the little girls’ faces after they stepped on the landmine, the one he had wired and buried and been secretly proud of. He still saw their scooped out faces in his dreams. He still — No, not here.

On days like this one when there were too many choices, Edgar’s task was super-human. To pick two and let the rest go, chancing never to meet them again. He never read the backs. Their descriptions would make his decision too hard, make the choosing too personal. How could he turn down a book once he knew what it was about? He couldn’t, so he didn’t. He relied on covers and titles, reminding himself that most of the time in life, all you ever saw were covers anyway.

Tonight, he lingered, his two books in hand. Lady Randolph was tidying as she did every night, wiping down the counter, pushing books back from the edges of shelves, retrieving strays. She had already turned the sign. He heard when she shuffled to the door, heard the muted bell as the sign brushed against it.

Reluctantly, he returned to the front. As always, she read his titles and skimmed the back covers, nodded, as if she knew every book intimately. Nodded, as if she were sending another one home. He always avoided her curiosity, carved a scowl onto his face so she wouldn’t read any further than the books. Neither spoke as he paid his nightly amount.

What did she do after he left? He knew she lived alone above the shop. Faded blue curtains hung from the windows that faced the street, but what did her rooms look like? Did they mirror the decade when she had moved in, like his mother’s house had, cracked green linoleum and rough tweed couches? Or more like the house where he rented his room: fragile end tables with crocheted doilies, tinged yellow and spotted with knickknacks that made more dust than sense?

“Do you cook supper?” The words slid off his tongue before he could stop them.

Behind thick horn-rimmed glasses, Lady Randolph’s eyes widened and locked on his. “Yes.” She answered slowly as she nestled his books in a brown paper bag. “I cook supper. Pork chops tonight, and collard greens. White rice because it’s cheap.”

He nodded, grabbed his bag off the counter, and hurried to the door.

“And I’ll read two books before I turn down the light.”

Two books. Edgar froze in place, his hand anchored to the cold doorknob, his inner world rocking at its base, reminding him of the four Richter earthquake he had felt in California during week three of boot camp.

“Two books, you say?” He couldn’t look at her, but tasted the hopeful syllables on his disobedient tongue. He felt her nod before he opened the door and walked through it.

The bell clanged a warning — don’t look back — but he didn’t obey it. Instead, he stood next to the door and watched Lady Randolph lock it. She studied him, her eyes squinting, her long bony fingers pressed to the glass. Edgar raised his hand to wave, but saluted instead. Her mouth shifted, curved. Ever so slightly, his lips curved back.


Von Rupert lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. where she homeschools her children and carries far too many books home from the library. On the web, she’s a writing mentor at Writer’s Village University and F2K.


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Rate this story:
 average 4.3 stars • 10 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Lisa Walpole Finch

    Beautiful writing. There’s a palpable sadness that runs through this story. I loved it. Your prose is gorgeous, tight and carefully crafted.

    • Von Rupert
      Lisa, thanks so much for the encouraging comments on Edgar's story. Much appreciated. I'm glad you were able to pick up on the emotions underlying the scene.
  • Lisa Walpole Finch

    Beautiful writing. There’s a palpable sadness that runs through this story. I loved it. Your prose is gorgeous, tight and carefully crafted.

    • Von Rupert
      Lisa, thanks so much for the encouraging comments on Edgar's story. Much appreciated. I'm glad you were able to pick up on the emotions underlying the scene.
  • Some authors make it look easy. Five stars.

    • Von Rupert
      Aww thanks so much, Amanda. I'm glad Edgar's story worked for you. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.
  • Some authors make it look easy. Five stars.

    • Von Rupert
      Aww thanks so much, Amanda. I'm glad Edgar's story worked for you. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.
  • Stephen Ramey

    Nicely done, Von. I especially like the subtle moment between them at the end.

    • Von Rupert
      Thank you, Stephen! I appreciate the feedback. That final moment was tweaked many times. I wanted it to be as true as I could get it.
  • Stephen Ramey

    Nicely done, Von. I especially like the subtle moment between them at the end.

    • Von Rupert
      Thank you, Stephen! I appreciate the feedback. That final moment was tweaked many times. I wanted it to be as true as I could get it.
  • I would have preferred the focus to have been on the man coming to grips with his relationships problems via the bookseller. The atonement for his mine guilt via reading 2 books a night didn’t ring true.

    The introduction of the mine situation came across too extraneous, if not a ploy for gratuitous sympathy.

    I didn’t understand the Lady title for the bookseller woman.

    The relationship premise held a lot of promise but it was left unfulfilled.

    • Von Rupert
      Jeff, thanks for reading and commenting on Used Books. I appreciate you taking the time to point out specific points that made Edgar's story feel less real to you.
  • I would have preferred the focus to have been on the man coming to grips with his relationships problems via the bookseller. The atonement for his mine guilt via reading 2 books a night didn’t ring true.

    The introduction of the mine situation came across too extraneous, if not a ploy for gratuitous sympathy.

    I didn’t understand the Lady title for the bookseller woman.

    The relationship premise held a lot of promise but it was left unfulfilled.

    • Von Rupert
      Jeff, thanks for reading and commenting on Used Books. I appreciate you taking the time to point out specific points that made Edgar's story feel less real to you.
  • Alie Bell

    Beautiful. And needing the distraction, that is so true.

    • Von Rupert
      Thank you, Alie. I'm glad reading Used Books was a positive experience for you. I appreciate your kind words.
  • Alie Bell

    Beautiful. And needing the distraction, that is so true.

    • Von Rupert
      Thank you, Alie. I'm glad reading Used Books was a positive experience for you. I appreciate your kind words.
  • Leona Pence

    Excellent writing, Von. I think you can take this Flash and explore these characters in a much longer story. I’d love to know what develops between them.

    • Von Rupert
      Thank you, Leona. I'm glad you enjoyed these characters. It's amazing how much I had to know about them in order to write this brief story--I agree there is much to their relationship that could evolve into a longer story.
  • Leona Pence

    Excellent writing, Von. I think you can take this Flash and explore these characters in a much longer story. I’d love to know what develops between them.

    • Von Rupert
      Thank you, Leona. I'm glad you enjoyed these characters. It's amazing how much I had to know about them in order to write this brief story--I agree there is much to their relationship that could evolve into a longer story.
  • joanna b.

    Von Rupert:

    I just read most of your other work on this site. It was all good to wonderful. The sci fi time travel one in the form of a letter was incredibly good, A Fresh Start was heartwarming. Etc.

    So now I feel a bit more comfortable in saying that this story today, Used Books, underwhelmed me.

    The writing felt awkward, heavy, and at times ungrammatical, e.g., “In the end, even sober, his wife couldn’t adjust to him.” This reads as if it was the wife who was a drunk. He atones by forcing himself to finish a book even when it “fires too close to his vest?” I can think of better ways to atone.

    He is a very damaged man, that is true. But if there is a redeeming feature there, I missed it entirely. I could not for the life of me feel his pain. And if what is happening is that he’s revving himself up to get a dinner invitation from Lady Randolph, I hope she comes to her senses and starts locking up early.

    3 stars.

    • Von Rupert
      Joanna, thanks for taking the time to read and comment on Used Books. I'm sorry that Edgar's story didn't work for you. I'm glad you were able to find other stories in my collection that were a better fit.
  • joanna b.

    Von Rupert:

    I just read most of your other work on this site. It was all good to wonderful. The sci fi time travel one in the form of a letter was incredibly good, A Fresh Start was heartwarming. Etc.

    So now I feel a bit more comfortable in saying that this story today, Used Books, underwhelmed me.

    The writing felt awkward, heavy, and at times ungrammatical, e.g., “In the end, even sober, his wife couldn’t adjust to him.” This reads as if it was the wife who was a drunk. He atones by forcing himself to finish a book even when it “fires too close to his vest?” I can think of better ways to atone.

    He is a very damaged man, that is true. But if there is a redeeming feature there, I missed it entirely. I could not for the life of me feel his pain. And if what is happening is that he’s revving himself up to get a dinner invitation from Lady Randolph, I hope she comes to her senses and starts locking up early.

    3 stars.

    • Von Rupert
      Joanna, thanks for taking the time to read and comment on Used Books. I'm sorry that Edgar's story didn't work for you. I'm glad you were able to find other stories in my collection that were a better fit.
  • Paul A. Freeman

    Engaging story, but I felt it needed to be longer.

    • Von Rupert
      Paul, thanks for reading and commenting. I'm so used to the flash format that I never thought to write Edgar's story in a longer format--interesting idea. It's definitely worth exploring.
  • Paul A. Freeman

    Engaging story, but I felt it needed to be longer.

    • Von Rupert
      Paul, thanks for reading and commenting. I'm so used to the flash format that I never thought to write Edgar's story in a longer format--interesting idea. It's definitely worth exploring.
  • Deborah Bundy

    I slid into this story like Edgar slid into the story, not wanting to linger, withholding my thoughts. Then, like Edgar, I fell in love. Well done.

    • Von Rupert
      What a lovely comment, Deborah! Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. Edgar endeared himself to me also. I think you captured his essence perfectly.
  • Deborah Bundy

    I slid into this story like Edgar slid into the story, not wanting to linger, withholding my thoughts. Then, like Edgar, I fell in love. Well done.

    • Von Rupert
      What a lovely comment, Deborah! Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. Edgar endeared himself to me also. I think you captured his essence perfectly.
  • Kelly Ospina

    Wonderful story, Von. By the second line, I was intrigued by both Lady Randolph and Edgar.

    • Von Rupert
      Kelly, thanks so much for stopping by to read and comment. I slowly fell in love with both characters as I learned more about them--I'm so glad you found them intriguing.
  • Kelly Ospina

    Wonderful story, Von. By the second line, I was intrigued by both Lady Randolph and Edgar.

    • Von Rupert
      Kelly, thanks so much for stopping by to read and comment. I slowly fell in love with both characters as I learned more about them--I'm so glad you found them intriguing.
  • I greatly enjoyed this one. Thanks.

    • Von Rupert
      L.A., your comment is much appreciated. I'm glad you enjoyed reading Used Books.
  • I greatly enjoyed this one. Thanks.

    • Von Rupert
      L.A., your comment is much appreciated. I'm glad you enjoyed reading Used Books.
  • Walter Giersbach

    This story resonated with me becuse of a personal suituation. And isn’t that what writing is all about? Connecting with readers, one at a time and each in their own way?

    • Von Rupert
      Yes, Walter, I think that's it exactly. Connecting with readers one at a time is the essence of the reader/writer relationship to me. Different characters connect us to different readers--it's a privilege to be a part of the writing community where one on one connections are possible. Thanks so much for your insight.
  • Walter Giersbach

    This story resonated with me becuse of a personal suituation. And isn’t that what writing is all about? Connecting with readers, one at a time and each in their own way?

    • Von Rupert
      Yes, Walter, I think that's it exactly. Connecting with readers one at a time is the essence of the reader/writer relationship to me. Different characters connect us to different readers--it's a privilege to be a part of the writing community where one on one connections are possible. Thanks so much for your insight.
  • Diane Cresswell

    I felt at home reading this story for I have been in many stores such as the one described here. You made this a wonderful read slipping into a brief moment of two people’s lives – revealing so slightly that fragile moment of connection. Yup liked this one.

    • Von Rupert
      Diane, thanks so much for your comment and your close reading. Yes, I'm finding in life that those "fragile moments of connection" can be huge and momentous (often in hindsight). Like you, I haunted many many stores like this one and met many characters like these two.
  • Diane Cresswell

    I felt at home reading this story for I have been in many stores such as the one described here. You made this a wonderful read slipping into a brief moment of two people’s lives – revealing so slightly that fragile moment of connection. Yup liked this one.

    • Von Rupert
      Diane, thanks so much for your comment and your close reading. Yes, I'm finding in life that those "fragile moments of connection" can be huge and momentous (often in hindsight). Like you, I haunted many many stores like this one and met many characters like these two.
  • Tom Britz

    Von, what I love about your writing is that it never stays rooted in one genre. You seem willing to explore the literary landscape. This piece seems to be influenced by Alice LaPlante and her theories.

    Your writing has always been character driven, or at least that is how I see it. Used Books, is no different. The title could be a metaphor also for the characters. Edgar’s always just looking at the covers, never reading the blurbs on the back. Not wanting to know too much of the story as long as the cover is in good condition and it intrigues him, he is happy.

    These two characters seem to have a history as they both work at the hospital and it would appear that Edgar used to room at her house.

    The writing was beautiful and the details telling. I look forward to seeing more, soon.

    • Von Rupert
      Tom, I do have trouble remaining locked in any particular genre. I go where my stories take me which is so often unexpected. Yes, LaPlante made a huge impact on me earlier in the year, and I'm glad you were able to see her influence here. Thank you for reading and commenting--I appreciate the support.
  • Tom Britz

    Von, what I love about your writing is that it never stays rooted in one genre. You seem willing to explore the literary landscape. This piece seems to be influenced by Alice LaPlante and her theories.

    Your writing has always been character driven, or at least that is how I see it. Used Books, is no different. The title could be a metaphor also for the characters. Edgar’s always just looking at the covers, never reading the blurbs on the back. Not wanting to know too much of the story as long as the cover is in good condition and it intrigues him, he is happy.

    These two characters seem to have a history as they both work at the hospital and it would appear that Edgar used to room at her house.

    The writing was beautiful and the details telling. I look forward to seeing more, soon.

    • Von Rupert
      Tom, I do have trouble remaining locked in any particular genre. I go where my stories take me which is so often unexpected. Yes, LaPlante made a huge impact on me earlier in the year, and I'm glad you were able to see her influence here. Thank you for reading and commenting--I appreciate the support.
  • Rohini Gupta

    Different and interesting. I liked the subtle relationship. Does it go further? A sequel might be interesting.

    • Von Rupert
      Thanks for reading and commenting, Rohini. Yes, this was most definitely a subtle relationship, much of it existing within the minds of the two characters who developed a certain comfort level with one another over the course of many months. Does it go any further? So far, I've left it at that closed bookstore door.
  • Rohini Gupta

    Different and interesting. I liked the subtle relationship. Does it go further? A sequel might be interesting.

    • Von Rupert
      Thanks for reading and commenting, Rohini. Yes, this was most definitely a subtle relationship, much of it existing within the minds of the two characters who developed a certain comfort level with one another over the course of many months. Does it go any further? So far, I've left it at that closed bookstore door.
  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    This struck me as a case of “let’s pretend” rather than the writer getting into the hearts and souls of her characters. Too much did not ring true, and I find that’s often a sign of a prompt- or challenge-driven piece, rather than something felt from inside. Two stars.

    • Von Rupert
      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Sarah. I'm sorry Used Books did not ring true for you. I appreciate the specific feedback.
    • I think I figured out my view of this - it came across as a script for a TV show.
  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    This struck me as a case of “let’s pretend” rather than the writer getting into the hearts and souls of her characters. Too much did not ring true, and I find that’s often a sign of a prompt- or challenge-driven piece, rather than something felt from inside. Two stars.

    • Von Rupert
      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Sarah. I'm sorry Used Books did not ring true for you. I appreciate the specific feedback.
    • I think I figured out my view of this - it came across as a script for a TV show.
    • JAZZ
      I agree with Sarah here. I felt it was a bit too much like a how-to-write piece.
  • Paul Owen

    Fabulous – the healing balm of books. I’ve experienced that’s whole life, but not to the extend Edgar has. Beautiful story, Von, thank you so much.

    • Von Rupert
      Thank you, Paul! What an awesome response. Yes, you got it exactly--"the healing balm of books." I've experienced it, too and knew exactly how Edgar felt needing those books to help him through the night. Your comment is much appreciated.
  • Paul Owen

    Fabulous – the healing balm of books. I’ve experienced that’s whole life, but not to the extend Edgar has. Beautiful story, Von, thank you so much.

    • Von Rupert
      Thank you, Paul! What an awesome response. Yes, you got it exactly--"the healing balm of books." I've experienced it, too and knew exactly how Edgar felt needing those books to help him through the night. Your comment is much appreciated.
  • Really great writing! Loved it; instantly drawn in.

    • Von Rupert
      Thank you, Lynn! It's so nice of you to read and comment. I'm glad Used Books worked for you.
  • Really great writing! Loved it; instantly drawn in.

    • Von Rupert
      Thank you, Lynn! It's so nice of you to read and comment. I'm glad Used Books worked for you.
  • Alie Bell

    Von- when I have a few minutes I like to go back and read old stories, and I just spent the last half-hour reading your stories. Beautiful, all of them. Thank you so much.

    • Von Rupert
      Oh Wow, Alie, thank you so much for taking the time to read my stories here at EDF. I do exactly the same thing!!! When I find a story I like, I read everything I can find by that author. I'm a reader first and foremost. Like Edgar, reading has saved me many times. :)
  • Alie Bell

    Von- when I have a few minutes I like to go back and read old stories, and I just spent the last half-hour reading your stories. Beautiful, all of them. Thank you so much.

    • Von Rupert
      Oh Wow, Alie, thank you so much for taking the time to read my stories here at EDF. I do exactly the same thing!!! When I find a story I like, I read everything I can find by that author. I'm a reader first and foremost. Like Edgar, reading has saved me many times. :)
  • I enjoyed reading this. I liked the creation of atmosphere.

    • Von Rupert
      Thanks, Derek! I appreciate your comment, and I'm very glad you enjoyed reading Used Books. I'm so happy you felt the atmosphere of the story--I really wanted it to translate from my imagination onto the page.
  • I enjoyed reading this. I liked the creation of atmosphere.

    • Von Rupert
      Thanks, Derek! I appreciate your comment, and I'm very glad you enjoyed reading Used Books. I'm so happy you felt the atmosphere of the story--I really wanted it to translate from my imagination onto the page.
  • MPmcgurty

    This was a nice short story. Pleasant to read and I wondered at the end if Lady R is coming onto Edgar or if there might be a friendly relationship warming.

    The only thing I didn’t like was the atonement, and the details of the girls who stepped on the landmines. “Scooped out faces” might be okay for a thriller or horror novel, but not for a flash story about a man living his life through books. It really bumped me out of the story for a moment, and it wasn’t really needed. Not sure books or mopping floors would atone for that anyway.

    • Von Rupert
      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, MPmcgurty. I appreciate your feedback on what worked for you and what didn't. I agree that nothing can atone, but it never stops people from trying. I think atonement is sometimes a mind game we play--we can't live with our actions unless we find a way (in our minds) to atone for it. Of course, then there are those people who don't attempt to atone for their actions, but instead make excuses for them... Ah, but that is another story. :) Thanks for the comment--good food for thought.
  • MPmcgurty

    This was a nice short story. Pleasant to read and I wondered at the end if Lady R is coming onto Edgar or if there might be a friendly relationship warming.

    The only thing I didn’t like was the atonement, and the details of the girls who stepped on the landmines. “Scooped out faces” might be okay for a thriller or horror novel, but not for a flash story about a man living his life through books. It really bumped me out of the story for a moment, and it wasn’t really needed. Not sure books or mopping floors would atone for that anyway.

    • Von Rupert
      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, MPmcgurty. I appreciate your feedback on what worked for you and what didn't. I agree that nothing can atone, but it never stops people from trying. I think atonement is sometimes a mind game we play--we can't live with our actions unless we find a way (in our minds) to atone for it. Of course, then there are those people who don't attempt to atone for their actions, but instead make excuses for them... Ah, but that is another story. :) Thanks for the comment--good food for thought.
  • Luke Antonetti

    Von,
    I was just finishing up a writing assignment for my class and got a mild case of writer’s block. I decided the best thing to clear my head was to read something entertaining. Your story cleared my head and helped my finish the story which, coincidentally, was a flash fiction. I have recently posted this story and I thank you for your help, from a writer to a fellow writer.

    Thanks,

    Luke A.

    • Von Rupert
      What an absolutely awesome comment, Luke.Thank you. I'm glad my story could help you finish your assignment. I hope you submit it someplace, get it published, and come back and tell me about it, so I can read it. Wishing you the very best with your writing.
  • Luke Antonetti

    Von,
    I was just finishing up a writing assignment for my class and got a mild case of writer’s block. I decided the best thing to clear my head was to read something entertaining. Your story cleared my head and helped my finish the story which, coincidentally, was a flash fiction. I have recently posted this story and I thank you for your help, from a writer to a fellow writer.

    Thanks,

    Luke A.

    • Von Rupert
      What an absolutely awesome comment, Luke.Thank you. I'm glad my story could help you finish your assignment. I hope you submit it someplace, get it published, and come back and tell me about it, so I can read it. Wishing you the very best with your writing.