A Glimpse of More – Short Story
The door slams. A second, softer thump following signals the flimsy screen door hitting the frame with a subtle screech as the metal lock snaps into place. Less than two minutes later the old door creaks open again, and the sound’s parade repeats. Soft footsteps from the first floor can be heard through the hardwood flooring, along with a faint jazz tune playing gently over muffled talking. The steady scratch of lead moving across spiral notebook paper, Dart always so specific about getting their college-ruled paper as if they could ever run out of space to cram in more chicken-scratch notes into years old ledgers and workbooks.
An unsteady beat drummed into the desk with their first two fingers of their right hand, they work out extra fidgety energy as their left hand begins to cramp up. Finishing the sentence with a grimace, Dart flexes their hand open and shut a few times after putting down a gaudy pencil with a bright red fox and a strangely buff yellow tiger childishly adorning the plastic wrap. Even with the fan on half speed the tightly trapped air inside their room only circulates the thick scent of dust. A small window tightly shut with thick black curtains tucked tightly against the glass lets in only a trace of sunlight, even at noon, and the smell of jasmine and nag champak incense faintly wafting off them.
A large rectangular desk takes up almost a third of the small square room with white walls featuring haphazardly hung pages of landscape scenes ripped from books and magazines, its deep black color contrasting the white comforter and lumpy pillows resting on the poorly made twin sized bed just behind the small black desk chair where Dart currently sits, messy head resting on folded arms. Closing their eyes for a moment, they relax their tight jaw and tensed forehead and enjoy the satisfaction of completed work.
Downstairs, the door creaks open again. Dart’s lids spring back open sleepily, a faint ironic smile playing at their lips. Never a quiet moment at home, they think to themselves amused. Pushing out from under their desk with both feet, standing slowly then stretching their arms out and over their head with contended hums, Dart stands ready to face the evening anew. A slow Saturday night, although a busy night at a mom and pop store seems like an oxymoron in of itself, Dart ponders briefly grabbing a small keyring with a small red charm and an unprotected phone with a crack on the bottom right corner. Pushing gray sweatshirt sleeves back down over their graphite-stained hands while shakily stomping on too large, white slip-on shoes, Dart cracks open a lightweight door and closes it behind them softly.
The sound of chattering increases with every quiet step they take through the cramped white hallway, stacks of carboard boxes filled with heavy books lining both walls making a claustrophobic space even worse. The calming small of leather and old paper mixes peacefully in the air. Dart starts down cool oak steps into the much larger open space their family holds dear. Comfortable with use, decades of memories in various shaped wooden frames cover the walls of Calagin’s Book Emporium. Older patrons amble through isle of bookshelves, paperbacks sorted by color and size and sometimes stacked in odd piles on the solid wood tables spread out near walls and ends of isles. Some of which have known Dart since they were born, but they were always more friendly when their old but spry parents used to run the place. A long white countertop stretches from the front door, all the way to the back wall and ending just a few feet before the stairs, sectioning off a small portion of the shop for employees, or more accurately, for family.
A twenty-eight-year-old woman with long blonde hair tied back into a low ponytail sits in a simple wooden chair behind the cash register placed close to the door, sorting through papers and books, and occasionally stopping to hit a few keys on a small silver laptop. She looks up as Dart hits the ground floor, eyes creasing into a familiar smile with wrinkles that pull beautifully at the corners of her eyes.
“Hey, finished up?” She only spares them a quick look before turning back to her paperwork, a pile she claims has no end. Dart hums in acquiesce, pushing nervous hands into the pockets of their dark jeans. “Okay,” She finishes with a knowing smile, one Dart barely sees from the corner of their eyes as they stare down at their feet. “You can head out for the night then, be careful.” Their heartbeat starts a steady, excited rhythm and Dart nods quickly, matching blond hair bobbing with them where it’s cut just under their ear, before they start scampering towards the door, grin stretched across their lips. “Have fun dork!” Dart coughs a surprised laugh out at their older sister’s usual boisterous attitude, one she echoes from the counter with the tinkling of the silver bells tied onto the front door handle complimenting her light voice.
Hot air greets Dart warmly as they step outside, cobblestones solid beneath their rubber soles. Briskly turning left, they start through the network of alleys made of the rows of businesses long established in old downtown. The buildings provide a relieving shade, a windless day typical of summer in Florida causing sweat to gather under the much too many layers Dart wears like the fabric can protect them from stares on the street. A sharp laugh sounds from just a street over, and Dart jumps at the noise before they can constrain themselves. A blush shamefully works into way across Dart’s nose and tops of their ears as they hurry to continue on their way.
Before they can take their next step, a crash sounds behind them and aluminum trash cans rattle as they tip. Quickly turning their head over their left shoulder, Dart’s eyes widen seeing a small, dark shadow take off down the alley, heart freezing in their chest until they recognize the brown tabby fur.
“Sweets!” slips out excitedly upon seeing the large cat, who pauses upon hearing their voice. Training keen eyes squarely on Dart, the cat’s form relaxes before turning around and ambling towards them with a loud meow. A huffed laugh escapes Dart, who couches down and offers a sleeved hand for him to smell. “Hey Sweets, you scared me for a second.” A timid voice says. Soft ears are pushed back as the cat headbutts Dart’s hand solidly, purring as he rubs all the way down their arm to sit against them. They huff a laugh out as a bright smile takes up the bottom half of their face. A sandpaper tongue graces Dart’s finger before Sweets suddenly jumps up and gives a commanding yowl. They tilt their head to the side questioningly, but he pads off without a second glance back. Just before turning the brick corner, Sweets turns his head back to lock eyes with Dart before prancing off. That’s strange, Dart thinks with eyes wide and mouth opened an inch, for a second there, it was almost like…he wants them to follow?