An Original Story by Michelle Huneven!

by Jessica on November 13, 2014

Michelle Huneven

Note: I very much regret not being with everyone tonight, and I send a special thank you to Jen Ramos for inviting me and reading this story.

I wrote this story about something that happened to me one day at Vromans. Happy Birthday to the bookstore of my life!

I stepped out of the bright afternoon into the dim, climate-controlled hush of Vroman’s bookstore. My eyes were still adjusting as I headed toward the far wall of fiction when, not halfway there, I saw my mother in the religion section.
Surely, it was she: five foot five, her same slim frame, the same cant of her shoulders—the left a little higher— and her own cap of coffee-brown hair that, even now, deep into her eighties, showed only a few glistening threads of white. After almost thirty years apart, she was entirely familiar to me. How glorious to see her again! My mother, restored. But I couldn’t yet run to her. I’d suddenly become shy, shy to the point of terror.

I knew, though, to take a good long look. My father was gone, but I’d want to report this accurately to my sister. Mom wore a navy blue rain coat and was paging through a book on the table–I couldn’t see which one. She had the start of a dowager’s hump, not too bad. Her skirt or dress came below her knees, and she had on anklet socks with thick-heeled lace ups, old lady shoes her own grandmother might have worn back in the nineteen forties. My mother, whose closet floor was once a deep jumble of high-heeled pumps, was now in orthopedic clunkers?

She had been gone from us for so long, there was no telling what habits and customs she’d taken up.
Had she been in Pasadena all this time? Had she come often to Vromans, the bookstore she’d taken me to throughout my childhood? Had she spotted any of my novels–Round Rock, Jamesland, Blame and Off Course? The employees had made a display of each new book, and sometimes they’d hung a foam-backed poster of one or another title upstairs where the readings are held, in the very place where my mother and I used to take our purchases to be gift-wrapped.
Had she ever bought one? Had she ever rearranged the shelf where my books were so that my covers faced outward, thus eclipsing nearby titles by Nick Hornby, Josephine Humphries, and Laird Hunt? Or had she, in passing, accorded her stern nod of acknowledgement?

As I watched, my mother leaned closer to the book she perused, perhaps to read a caption or fine print. I yearned to approach her, to break into her day. I could already hear her voice raised with embarrassment and false cheer: Oh for heavens sake. What are you doing here?

Around her rose a rustle and a murmur; I saw then that she was with four or five other women, all of them like her, elderly, hale and mobile. She had friends! Of course she had friends, she’d always had friends when she lived among us. In that rustle and murmur, a signal had gone out, and the women moved on like a small flock of birds or an order of nuns, dispersing some yards away in the psychology aisle.

I remained where I’d been blinking and trembling. I had thought my mother was dead, but in fact, she’d been here, here in Pasadena, all along—shopping, reading, making friends, living a life of her own devising, on her own terms, free from us.