It was his home, the book shop. Though it was sheer conjecture as to how long he’d been there, or why he’d chosen in the first place to dwell among the assortment of hardcovers and paperbacks, best sellers, bargains and first editions, an ever growing collection of stories did indeed validate his existence. Sounds of shuffling footsteps in the absence of corporeal feet. Volumes of poetry (18th century, most often) inexplicably left out on the mahogany end table snugged between two worn-shiny velvet reading chairs. Wistful strains of Chopin playing on the curvaceous old Silvertone-when it wasn’t switched on. And most compelling of all, on a handful of occasions, an actual apparition. By description, a well-attired gentleman, floating luminously down the aisles. Somewhere along the line, he came to be known as Barkley. Beloved, hopelessly romantic, resident shade.
Everyone assumed, with much sorrow, that when the book shop closed after nearly 60 years, and the space gutted and converted to an internet cafe, it spelled the end of Barkley as well.
Five minutes ago, Joe Zafforoni was desperate for nothing more than a filled-to-the-brim Cup O’ Joe mug (a gag gift from friends) of strong hot coffee. But after a simple chivalrous gesture, the stakes were now higher. She was steps behind him when he’d reached the cafe’s front door, and as he stood aside and held it open for her, his brown eyes drinking in the blue of hers, he was smitten. Presently standing in line behind her, his mind searched frantically for a last ditch solution to the dilemma confronting him: As soon as she received her order, she would leave, and he might never see her again. Opening her wallet, fetching a five dollar bill to pay for her mocha, she also, on impulse retrieved one of her business cards. Celadon green with black script. He was afforded a split-second glimpse of it before she dropped the card out of sight into a plastic bowl, set on the counter next to a hand-lettered sign.
Win a Free Drink!
Turning, taking a sip from her mug (Coffee. If only everything in life was this reliable!) she smiled at him as time ran out, and she was gone.
By all accounts, Barkley had been an extraordinarily competent valet. The envy of many gentlemen finding the service of their own gentleman’s gentleman less than sterling. Or to clarify, competent until the day a certain breezy young lady placed upon Barkley’s silver calling card tray, her own tastefully engraved introduction.
And in a case of hyperopic, mistaken identity infatuation, Barkley’s life unraveled into a disorder of mismatched socks, improperly laid tables, weakly brewed tea, and days off spent pining away in the local literary emporium.
That the plastic bowl should fly off of the counter, seemingly by itself, simply defied logical explanation. Startled, Joe stooped to pick up the several dozen business cards scattered around his feet, grinning like a gold-lucky prospector when he saw the one. Celadon green, with black script.