Two years had passed and I knew Erin well. I knew her moods: I knew what she
liked and didn't like, what would bore her to tears or light up her face with
mischief. I knew what would send her into fits of helpless laughter, what would
make her angry, thoughtful, witty, playful, or loving. It takes time to learn
someone, but after two years I could say with some real confidence, I know this
I knew before she said a word that something had messed up her day. She arrived at our bookstore wearing her casual autumn garb, jeans and an untucked flannel shirt.
"What's wrong with you?"
"I am riding on the horns of a dilemma."
I knew she would tell me when she had thought about it. I would add my two cents' worth, she would toss in some wherefores, to which I would add a few interrogatories and lots of footnotes. I am good with footnotes. And after two years I was very good at leaving her alone when all the signs said let her be.
She picked up the duster and disappeared into the back room. That was another bad sign: in troubled times, Erin liked to dust. So I let her ponder her dilemma and dust her way through it in peace. Since she now owned part of my store, she had unlimited dusting privileges. She could dust all day long if she wanted to.
Two customers came and went and one of them made my week, picking up a $1,500 Edward Abbey and a Crusade in Europe that Eisenhower had signed and dated here in Denver during his 1955 heart-attack convalescence. Suddenly I was in high cotton: the day, which had begun so modestly ($14 to the good till then), had now dropped three grand in my pocket. I called The Broker and made reservations for two at seven.
At five o'clock I locked the place up and sidled back to check on Erin. She was sitting on a stool with the duster in her hand, staring at the wall. I pulled up the other stool and put an arm over her shoulder. "This is turning into some dilemma, kid."
"Oh, wow. What time is it?"
"Ten after five. I thought you'd have half the world dusted off by now."
"How's the day been?"
I told her and she brightened. I told her about The Broker and she brightened another notch.
We went up front and I waved to the neighborhood hooker as she trolled up East Colfax in the first sortie of her worknight. "Honestly," Erin said, "we've got to get out of here. How do you ever expect to get any business with that going on?"
"She's just a working professional, plying her trade. A gal's gotta do something."
"Hey, I'm a gal," she said testily. "I don't gotta do that."
"Maybe that lady hasn't had your advantages."
The unsavory truth was, I liked it on East Colfax. Since Larimer Street went all respectable and touristy in the early seventies, this had become one of the most entertaining streets in America. City officials, accepting millions in federal urban renewal money, had promised a crackdown on vice, but it took the heart of a cop to know exactly what would happen. The hookers and bums from that part of town had simply migrated to this part of town, and nothing had changed at all: city officials said wow, look what we did, now people can walk up Larimer Street without stumbling over drunks and whores, but here they still were. I could sit on my stool and watch the passing parade through my storefront window all day long: humanity of all kinds walked, drove, skateboarded, and sometimes ran past like bats out of hell. In the few years since I had opened shop on this corner, I had seen a runaway car, a gunfight, half a dozen fistfights, and this lone whore, who had a haunting smile and the world's saddest eyes.
"You are the managing partner," Erin said. "That was our deal and I'm sticking to it. But if my vote meant anything, we would move out of this place tomorrow."
Copyright © 2005 by John Dunning
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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