I was the man in that bookstore, and this is my side of the story.
Two kids come running in, a panting woman close behind. I think nothing of it at first: “Mom can’t keep up. Been there, done that.”
When I was a kid, I trapped crabs in the Chesapeake Bay, before my family moved to Cedar Rapids. Nowadays, I take my kids fishing on the Mississippi every chance I get. It can be tough to keep up with them.
But the woman stops a few feet from the entrance and stares at me, then moves sideways in to the nearest stack of books, her eyes on me the whole time.
I’ve seen crabs that look less suspicious.
I get distracted by the package in my jacket – an anniversary present for my wife – and try to adjust it without looking uncomfortable. My kids, besides being blabbermouths who will rat me out the first chance they get, are voracious readers and they forced me to stop at this bookstore before heading home. It would be nice if I could surprise my wife just once.
My movements don’t go unnoticed. The woman comes out from behind the bookshelf. Her nervous crablike eyes swivel around the room and settle on me.
I look for the two kids she came in with. And then it hits me. “Those are her kids, right?”
She’s doing something with her purse. Rotating it around until it hangs down in front of her vagina. Then she pats her purse and gives me a knowing look, one eyebrow raised.
“What does that mean?” I think. I catch her eye and smile, hoping she’ll just go away.
But her odd behavior makes me wonder what’s in her purse and if those really are her kids. Maybe she’s stalking them. I remember that article from Utah about the female teacher with a secret life as a sexual predator. Four kids have come forward so far.
Behind her, in the historical fiction section in the corner, my kids are waving to me.
I have to walk by crab-woman to get there, and I notice she’s been standing by the display of “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
She scuttles out of the way. Her hand is in her purse, and she’s sweating. I tell myself to breathe, and inadvertently catch a whiff of her: perfume over body odor.
Things start to add up. Harried single mom, standing in the erotic book section, sweating, giving me the eye.
The dildo in her purse makes me nervous, and I want to run, to get my kids as far away from her as possible.
But I don’t, because they each have a book in their hands, and that pleading look in their eyes that says they already spent their allowance on something else.
By the time we get up to the register, the woman is gone. I pay the clerk, my kids are suitably thankful, and we walk out the door.
As we leave, I look for the woman and her kids. They’re a block down the street, walking fast, and I find myself hoping that she gets whatever it is she needs.