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“Congratulations to Jessica Chen, winner of a spot in Drink The Wild Air!”

writing prompt

The Bookstore
by Jessica Chen

The bookstore on the corner was my home.

Not literally, of course—I lived two blocks over, but I spent most of my time in the bookstore. It didn’t look like a bookstore on the outside. To know what was in the shop you had to go inside; the patina of dust on the front window was thick, but once I thought I made out the shape of an owl on the other side of the glass, its wings lifted in frozen flight.

Inside, there was no owl. There were just books—rows and rows of them, spilling off the shelves.

The owner of the bookstore was an old woman named Mrs. Durand. I was perhaps her only regular customer, and while we had rarely spoken but for the exchange of money for book, we still gave each other unsure smiles when we saw each other. She was old enough to have remembered World War II, a young woman living in the terror of France.

Sometimes I thought about how she was another story in a store filled with stories. I usually didn’t linger on it, preferring to curl up with one of her books instead, but today I held a story about the French Resistance, and my curiosity peaked.

I walked up to the counter, where Mrs. Durand sat in an armchair. When she saw me, she looked up and heaved herself out of the chair, walking unevenly to the counter. “Hi,” I said nervously. I had never been great at speaking to people, even Mrs. Durand, even after all these years. “I’d like to hear a story.” Realizing that this may have sounded demanding, I added hurriedly, “If it’s all right with you.”

“Hear a story?” Her voice was thickly accented with French. “Not read a story. Surely that book you have in your hands would be fascinating.”

I nodded. “It is interesting. I like it. That’s why I kind of want to hear one … please. You lived in France during World War II, didn’t you?”

At my words, a touch of sadness appeared on her face. “You should come back here,” Mrs. Durand said, gesturing to the space behind the counter.

I had been regularly visiting the bookstore for the better part of two years, and I had never been behind the counter. I sunk into the second squishy armchair.

“When World War II started,” Mrs. Durand said, “I was eight years old. I remember a lot of it, though—I saw it through the eyes of a child.” And with that, she let sixty years of locked-up memories flow. She told me about her family, the terror, the air raids, and I listened to all the stories she had to share.

It was better than any story I had ever read.

When I left the bookstore that day, I knew that even when I wasn’t in the dusty-windowed bookstore, I would hold the stories of everyday people close to my heart forever.

Congratulations to the other young writers who also won great prizes with their stories. See them at CPL: Teen Zone  Thanks to the Calgary Public Library for supporting the talents and interests of Calgary’s young writers!

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