Let me describe the first time I met her.
I was in The Strand bookstore, the one on 12th street, one of the most amazing places in the world. The smell of old books is almost overpowering there. I was in the mystery section looking through war torn copies of Raymond Chandler novels. It was Sunday, just after seven pm.
Across the aisle, I saw her. She had just moved out of Science Fiction and down the aisle that contained Letters, Criticisms, and Literary Biographies. She was short and bookish and dressed like your average college girl, a knee length skirt of dull gray and a fitted black button up blouse with three buttons open to expose just enough to make me follow her with my eyes. Then there was the red hair. Short, ridiculously curly, chin length and it seems like there was an attempt to part it in the middle. She looked deliciously almost criminally adorable.
Though I put her image aside and moved on to the Short Stories & Anthologies section, there was something tugging at my brain about her. I was looking at a strange group of pristine copies of “The Best Short Stories of 1982” when out of my periphery entered that same blur of coppery red hair.
Now, there are simple equations when it comes to lust for me. Red hair will always spark my radar. The fact that we were in a bookstore automatically lowered all defenses I had. I stood quickly and followed her with my eyes, to see what section she would peruse next. Noting that she had a frame a bit thin for my taste, but a lovely bottom and a shy yet sensual gait, I saw that she walked across Books on Writing and Play Anthologies then turned right into Mythology. She walked down past Mythology, German Studies, South East Asia and South America, right to the Occult section.
I followed her erudite path and paused next Film and Drama Techniques to catch a better view while pretending to examine a book that pretended to examine New York Realism.
Red hair plus the Occult section at The Strand plus freckles equals something that could be called physical and intellectual lust. After all she had freckles across her nose and just under her eyes. Pale Irish lass skin and quite a rack for such a thin girl. And then there were the glasses. Oh… the glasses.
Dark brown swirls of tortoise shell. Thick, but somehow delicate with a little flare at the edges that gave her a hint of that “50’s librarian” that made we swallow hard and bump into a display of Proust. The world seemed to fade into as she stood there shining like a star in front of a huge volume on the history of freemasons.
It was at that point that I became hypnotized by her and dropped a book that explored Chiaroscuro techniques in Germany.
She looked over at the disturbance, gazing over her shoulder quickly, a rogue curl momentarily falling over her eyes. Her deep green eyes. I tried to transmute my look of awe into something akin to that sort of dashing bewilderment that guys in the movies seem to perfect, but I think I just looked like a drooling idiot, which has its own charm, I suppose. She replied with a sort of half-smile-while-gazing-through-handsome-glasses-and-rogue-strands-of-red-hair kind of look. You know the look.
I could have left it like that, her half smiling with all of her feminine wiles, me dumb with the chemistry of desire, but I straightened up, put the book back on the shelf, and readied myself for witty conversation.
“Hi.” I said.
“Hi.” she said.
She looked just shy of twenty two, though I was never good at gauging age.
Then to my horror, I found that I had lost any control over vocabulary and couldn’t move my limbs or mouth.
She seemed to be waiting for me to say something and raised a single red eyebrow and smiled. Red eyebrows. Perfect red eyebrows. I’ll give you a minute to think about that one.
I tried to shake of that bad start.
“Hi.” I said, again.
It was then that I realized that I wasn’t good at this.
She let out a little laugh, her hand instinctually coming up to cover her mouth as she did, then she turned around and walked away. I drifted away, angry at myself, but somewhat content by winning a smile and a giggle.
I walked across the Occult section, past Korean Studies, then mad a left and went past Judaicia. From there it was past Gardening then making a right, up through Photography and Antiques to a small section that was under New Arrivals.
This section was positioned in such a way that you had to kneel or sit on the floor to browse it. This section was labeled with a bold serif font that read: Erotica.
I had often found amazing things in this section. From my early discovery of all the joys of Anaïs Nin to De Sade to modern erotic short stories that both dazzled and provoked thought. I found a literary criticism of Fanny Hill and was so caught up in the blurb that I almost didn’t notice the hem of a skirt that brushed against my arm.
It was her.
She kneeled down next to me and picked up some modern gay erotica anthology. I knew she knew that I was into her. I could see her fighting against a smile and a blush. They were both loosing wars. She then picked up a battered copy of Little Birds and we both glowed crimson. The nervousness I felt before was gone and my goofy smile shifted to a pleased one.
We both looked down at the book she held.
“That’s an amazing book.” I noted with feigned nonchalance.
She smiled and looked into my eyes.
“I know, I’ve read it many times.” she replied with equally fake ease.
We were two shy people sitting in a crowded bookstore talking about erotica with strangers. There was something electric in it.
“Have you read Delta too? I asked.
“I have read everything Nin’s ever written.” she said with both pride and delectation. Then added, “I work here you know, so I get to read everything, but there are somethings I need to own.”
Looking down I saw the name tag hanging on a metal chain around her neck. I must have been too hypnotized by her to notice. In green ink the little laminated card read “Abigail”.
She looked down at her copy of Little Birds and then looked up at me.
“I’m Abigail.” she said. Not Abby, I noted.
“So I just read… I’m Henry.” I said.
She smiled widely.
“Like Henry Miller?”
“At times.” I smiled with a hint of deviousness.
We both stood, almost simultaneously.
“Do you…?” I was unsure if going out to coffee was the right think at the moment. I started remembering that I wasn’t good at this, again.
“Yes.” she said not looking into my eyes and seemingly sinking into slight shyness. “I get off in a half an hour. Coffee across the street?”
I purchased three books, all of them from my favorite section, and sat at the coffee shop across the street and waited for Abigail. Whens she finally came out of the bookstore, wrapped in a pea coat and scarf my heart started beating funny and my hands started sweating. Bookish girls did things to me.
She saw me through the window, came in and sat down next to me on the little couch. This was one of those relaxing little places with couches and huge cups of overpriced coffee that let you sit around for
hours nursing one latte and flirting with dream girls.
“Thanks for waiting.” she said smiling. The young hip waiter with the hair in his eyes came over and Abigail ordered a triple espresso. It seemed like everything about her was perfect, even her coffee order.
“So what did you get?” she asked before grabbing the books from my lap. “Translation of Chanson de Bilitis, Best Erotica of blah blah blah and… Venus in Furs… very interesting indeed. Into S&M or just gender politics?” she asked, pouring raw sugar into her tiny cup of jet black coffee.
“I… suppose both. Studying at least.” I said drinking my cappuccino nervously.
“I’ve seen you in the store a bunch of times,” she noted, flipping through the erotica anthology. “An hour in literary criticism, an half hour in philosophy, but you always end up kneeling in the erotica section.”
I coughed and blushed. “Well… they put it so low, you have to either bend over or kneel in there…” I started, but she finished my sentiments by smiling wickedly.
She opened the book and picked it up, then after looking around to see if anyone was close enough to hear she read in a whisper.
“He let go of her wrist finally and slipped his other hand from her… panties.” she read, blushing already and leaning in conspiratorially to continue. “She pouted, but before she could protest he grabbed her arms, pulling her hand from his…” she paused before saying it, “cock and marched her over to the bed, pushing her down so that she was lying on the bed with her legs dangling off the edge at her knees. Then he reached down and hooked his fingers on the sides of her panties and pulled them off, smiling at the little surprised sound she let out as she raised her ass up to let him. She looked at him as he stood in front of her and she squeezed her breasts together, then she pulled the cups of her bra down so that her breasts were pushed up high and stuck out of her bra.”
I swallowed hard. Never really hearing a woman read something like that in public like this. She looked a little read faced and put the book down, smiling.
“That seems… complicated. Grabbing and moving and hooking and sliding and all. Well, let’s see if this German is the same…”
“I am back again, dripping, wet through, glowing with shame and fever. The negress has delivered my letter; I am judged, lost, in the power of a heartless, affronted woman.” she sighed in mock drama. “Well, let her kill me. I am unable to do it myself, and yet I have no wish to go on living.”
I laughed and she caught my eye. “Poor Severin, such a little sissy.” she remarked, again looking into my eyes and smiling.
“I wish I had Delta of Venus here… passages from that blows all of this away.” I said, hoping she might have a copy in her bag.
“What’s you favorite? I know all the stories.” she said sipping her coffee and flirting again with her eyes.
“Favorite? I don’t know… they’re all interesting… Lillith, the woman who is sexually cold and her husband says he gave her Spanish Fly and she goes out with her friend to the movies…” I started, but she finished the plot “And in the end after he soundly fucks her he tells her it was only a sugar pill, right?”
We laugh and her hand touches my knee.
“Is the store still open? We should get a copy and read them here…”
She shakes her head. “Nope, It’s closed, but… I could get us into the basement if you want. There may be a copy down there. It’s like the stacks of a library…” she said, looking over at the store across the street.
We paid and then she took my hand and we crossed the street giggling, nearly getting run over by a taxi. I went towards the front door, but she pulled at my hand directed me around the corner to a nondescript door away front the big windows of the bookstore. She smiled at me and pressed a little button on the side of the door. In a moment a static voice shouted “What?” she pressed another button and shouted back “It’s Abby, let me in!”
In through the nondescript door and down a dark staircase and then we were down in the stacks. A huge basement full of rows and rows of dark wooden bookshelves. The scent of stale mildew was overpowering and it took my eyes a second to get accustomed to the dim light.
Abigail stood in front of a huge bookshelf smiling.
“These are the stacks. These are all unsorted books we bought in bulk from bookstores that closed, the families of people who died and private libraries that fold.” she said, her voice almost swallowed by the deep quiet of the place.
“If they’re unsorted then how are we going to find Delta?”
She looked away and smile a crooked smile.
“Oh, I guess I didn’t think of that.”
I walked towards her and she backed up against a bookshelf and looked up through those big lashes with her doe eyes. The first kiss was honey and wet penny madness. The rush of kissing someone new and interesting and sexy. She gave herself to me in the kiss, her body pressing against me and going almost limp in my arms.
She looked up at me with those brilliant green eyes and said “You said you have a copy at home though, right?”
And that’s when I realized that the greatest invention on Earth was the taxicab.