Off the rack, p.1
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Off the Rack
Off the Rack

  Indie Short Stories from an Indie Bookstore

  by

  Helen K. Bailey, Teresa Jones, Brigette Kinney, P. V. LeForge, Jesse Murphree Kemper, Nancy H. Rainey, Len Schweitzer, Shannon Taylor, Stephanie Tillman, Sara Warner

  Copyright 2012 P. V. LeForge

  E-books for people who like to think about what they read.

  This book is not available in print.

  Table of Contents

  Introduction, by P. V. LeForge

  The Student, by Teresa Jones

  Drown, by Jesse Murphree Kemper

  The Carnival, by Nancy H. Rainey

  Time Will Tell, by Stephanie Tillman

  Big Daughter, by Sara Warner

  Wexford Strawberries, by Brigette Kinney

  Invincible, by Helen K. Bailey

  Nice and Easy, by Len Schweitzer

  Titillate, by Shannon Taylor

  The Last Things We Do, by P. V. LeForge

  About the Authors

  This book is dedicated to the dozens and dozens of clerks and shelvers and ledger-keepers that made The Paperback Rack such an institution in Tallahassee for over 30 years, And also to the thousands and thousands of book-loving customers who kept it afloat, a dollar or two at a time. May there be many more like you.

  Introduction

  P. V. LeForge

  In March of 1984, Len Schweitzer and I opened the doors of The Paperback Rack Bookstore in Tallahassee, Florida. The stock consisted primarily of books we had taken from the shelves in our own homes, augmented by trips to thrift stores. There were maybe 1,800 books in the store on that first day. I happened upon the name Paperback Rack in Larry McMurtry’s novel All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers, a novel both Len and I enjoyed. Coincidently, McMurtry himself also owned a used bookstore, although it wasn’t called The Paperback Rack.

  It’s not hard to realize that one opens a bookstore—a good bookstore anyway—because of a love of books. But for me, it was more than that. I had found that, as a writer, I needed to surround myself with books. Immersing myself in literature was like relaxing in the waters of a hot spring. Around literature, I was able to write, without it I stagnated.

  I was not the only one who felt this way. I’m sure Len felt it, as did many of the employees that came and went over the next twenty years. For many of us, being a part of a vibrant bookstore contributed to our creative energy. This collection, which I have wanted to produce for over a decade, is proof that this energy found form.

  Over the years, The Paperback came to be considered one of the very best independent bookstores in the Southeast—a bookstore that survived a recession and the invasion of the megastores. It is only fitting, then that this book is an indie book as well.

  As advertised, all the stories here were written by people who spent quality time working at The Paperback Rack. Several were English majors, who considered writing their primary interest. Others are publishing their first stories in this volume. We all have other professions now: security, social work, education, librarianship. I live on a horse farm. But wherever we are, books and literature continue to be important in our lives.

  An electronic book, unlike a paper publication, is a living, growing, and changing thing. Typos can be corrected, bad words can be exchanged for good ones, stories can be added or deleted. Readers are encouraged to be proofreaders and copyeditors; if you see an error, let me know and I will fix it. By the same token, there were far more Paperback Rack workers than are represented here. Some simply had no stories to contribute, others have dropped out of sight. If any of them see this collection and want to submit in the future, they will be welcome to do so.

  The Student

  Teresa Jones

  It was a Colt Python .357 Magnum. Nickel-plated, heavy, cold in my hands on that hot day. It was the only gun I’ve ever shot and when I did I aimed it up into the air at an angle, not at anything. It kicked so hard when I squeezed the trigger that I had to take a step backward. I was wearing sandals and I almost twisted my ankle in the sand. The blast was crazy-loud. The bullet flew over the trees.

  Tony and I were alone in the clearing. It was after school. I didn’t have to work that day. Cicadas droned all around us, but after the shot and the echo there was dead silence. It was weird. I was afraid it might stay that way forever. I felt like I’d just done something I wasn’t meant to do, and it seemed possible that everything was changed because of it. Then the cicadas started again, and the world returned to normal, except my ears rang for half an hour.

  Tony was pleased, I could tell. He gets a peaceful look when he’s happy about something. He grins a bit and his eyes sort of glaze over and it’s like he’s gone, he’s someplace else, left his head. At any other time you have his full attention. He’s so intense it’s scary, especially when he’s mad. Then he’s extra-focused. He looks at you like you’re the only person in the world besides him, and you feel that way, too. Like if you ran it wouldn’t matter because he’d just go after you and find you. He’d track you down. There’d be no place to hide. So you might as well just stay and take it, whatever it’s going to be.

  Tony’s my brother, but I’m afraid of him, even now. My mom says he’s like his dad was, that there’s nothing we can do about it except pray. He hit me in the face once when we were kids and made my nose bleed. I don’t even remember why he did it. He never did say he was sorry.

  Tony was nuts over guns. He’d had them for as long as I could remember. He loved to show them off. He was always excited to get a new one, but the Python was extra-special. He couldn’t wait to take me out to shoot it. He acted like it was some kind of present he was giving me. He said most girls don’t get a chance to even hold a gun like that. Like it was a secret rule--guys only. You can look, but you can’t touch. I never wanted to touch a gun anyway. I only went with him to shoot it that day because I was afraid not to. I didn’t want to make Tony mad. After I shot it he polished it and wrapped it in a purple cloth and put it back under the driver’s seat in his car.

  Tony was in love with that gun, but I hated it. And I hate it now, wherever it is. I hate that Tony let Lima use it, and I hate that DD’s dead because of it. But things are what they are, right?

  That's what people say.

  DD thought that because I was a virgin, if he slept with me he could get away with anything, no one would touch him. He thought that being with me would make him safe. He was so freaked out after his brother died, he had lots of crazy ideas. He thought the government was listening to him pee! When we first went out he talked about how much he loved Gary, and how much he missed him, and how it was killing their mom that the cops hadn’t found who did it. He said the cops weren’t even trying, that they didn’t give a shit about Gary because he was dealing.

  DD was convinced that he would be next, that someone was going to kill him, too, but I don’t know why. He was completely straight as far as I knew, had never been arrested for anything. He didn’t do drugs and he didn’t sell them. When we first started talking he came on tough like all guys do. But he joked around, too. Flirted with me some, told me I was beautiful. He thought I was smart. He told me so, I guess because usually I was doing homework whenever he came over to get Tony.

  Once he brought me a box of four chocolate truffles. I’d never had truffles before. The box was gold, tied with a skinny gold ribbon. DD set it down on the notebook where I was working some math problems. I looked up at him and he smiled. Tony saw us then and said, “Hey, man, don’t get any ideas about my sister.” DD told him, “It’s just candy. Don’t sweat it.” Then Tony gave me that look, like it was my fault. So I didn’t even eat a truffle then. I waited till after he and DD were go
ne. It was the best thing I ever tasted.

  We started sneaking around. When DD took me out we went to a cafe across town on Murat Street. It's something else now, but back then you could sit at a table for two in the courtyard there. The patio was shaded by huge oaks and edged with terra-cotta pots of geraniums. There was a stone waterfall sculpture, and music playing. I felt like I was in a movie when DD took me there.

  We went to the cafe six times before DD told me his idea about my virginity. I got really upset. I almost started crying right at the table. My throat was like, locked. I couldn’t even finish my sundae and it melted into pink and white glop. I was stupid, I guess. Up until then it was like a kind of game. I was doing it because I wanted to, and hiding it from Tony added a thrill. DD was nine years older than me, though. I was thinking of him like another brother, one who was nice to me, one I didn’t have to be
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