Alone by Shoshana Edwards

She sat on the bench in front of the store, huddled in her heavy coat, the street lamp barely outlining her frail body. Inside, she could see people laughing, pulling books off the shelves, showing one another their favorites or their new find. Some were drinking coffee or tea. She watched the chess players sitting in the window seat, laughing and hugging old friends that came to watch and comment.

Once she stood up and walked to the front door, but it was locked. She knocked gently and the store owner opened it a crack.

“Oh, I’m sorry. You can’t come in. You wouldn’t like it here anyway. I don’t think we have anything you would want to read.”

She wanted to read everything in there! But the woman would not return, despite her insistent knocking. When people noticed and began to whisper and point, she returned to her bench.

Occasionally someone would come out of the store, or a couple would walk by on their way in, and they would stop and talk to her. They would ask her if she was cold (duh, she was shivering and the snow was falling), or they would inquire why she wasn’t inside. When she told them what the storekeeper said, they would exclaim “Oh, you must have misunderstood! Mary would never turn anyone away.” So, she would get up and go with them to the front door, excited at the prospect of finally going in, at last being able to handle the books and talk to her people, book people, only to be turned away, again. Mary would tell her latest customers, “Oh she will make trouble. I just know it. We don’t want her kind in here. We want happy people.”

“But I would be happy if I were in there!” she exclaimed before the door closed. “It is where I want to be, and I would be ever so joyous and friendly, and I promise I would never make trouble.” 

But the door closed tightly again.

Why, you ask, did she not go to another bookstore? Why did she not seek out someone or somewhere that would let her in? The answer is simple. There were none. Every day, and every night, she sat on a different bench in front of a different store. Sometimes she returned to her favorites, hoping that they had forgotten why they closed their doors to her. But they were always closed. 

She even sought out new stores: yarn stores, game stores, libraries, community centers. The libraries were always open to her, and she spent hours reading everything she could. But there was no one to discuss with, to share the delight of a passage so beautiful it made you want to dance and sing. Sometimes the game stores would let her in, but then ask her to leave when they discovered she didn’t know how to play the game in progress. The community centers were always open, just like the libraries, but she was pushed aside, relegated to a table with no other occupants or a seat in the row of chairs along the wall, watching the regulars chatting and laughing and dining, ignoring the lonely woman among them.

One day, she found an old dog, abandoned, sick, and dying. She lay down beside him, took off her coat, and covered him. She tore the hamburger patty she had snatched from the community center kitchen in half, and they shared their last meal. She curled up next to that skinny old dog, covering herself with as much of her coat as she could and together, they fell into their forever sleep in the snowfall, never knowing why the world had rejected them: only that they had found each other and there was great comfort in that discovery.

Copyright 2023 Shoshana Edwards