Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lissette Mendez

On Lincoln Road, the fountains are already off. The music’s gone from the cafés. It is so quiet, I can hear the rubber slap, slap of my flip-flops against the pavement. It is the calm before the storm. And for once it’s not a cliché. The tourists are huddled in their hotel lobbies waiting for evacuation buses bound for shelters—high schools in the hinterlands named in honor of obscure leaders. The few passersby clutch their last-minute supplies—gallons of water, pack of Energizers, tinned pinto beans or tuna—walking headfirst into the wind.

Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, The Gap have already closed.

Thank God Books & Books is still open.

I yank the door too hard and cross my fingers against someone from the staff telling me to leave, telling me there’s a hurricane on the way, don’t you watch the news? Why are you at a bookstore? Don’t you have a Publix line to stand in? Generator to fight for at Home Depot? Bathtub to fill? Hatches to batten down?!? I don’t look anyone in the eye and head for the fiction section.

There’s a hurricane on the way and I need something good.

Something smart, but not too intellectual, entertaining but not vacuous. Something to hold me together through what’s coming: six days of cold showers, the truck stop smell of sterno with my coffee, peanut butter sandwiches, 500 mosquito bites from sitting outside to catch an evening breeze. And I’ll be one of the lucky.

I scan the author names looking for something worth the candle when the lantern dies.

Allende, Atwood, Austen…Nabokov, Naylor, Coatzee mis-shelved…Fitzgerald, Flagg and Forrester…I make my decision, walk to the register, pay and head out into the evening. Leaves scrape the pavement with a sound like ghosts dragging paper chains. I clutch my packet of books against my chest, my very own bag of hurricane supplies, as I walk west into a sun that looks like it was plopped out of a can.

Books have always saved my life. And Books & Books has always been my clean, well-lighted place.

Lissette Mendez
Florida Center for the Literary Arts

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