The Sisters Memento

Drink some tea and light your favorite candle for an optimum reading experience! 😁

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Halfway between the biggest skyscraper and the smallest car park, in a forgotten part of the city, is a bookshop. Ensconced between Miller’s Deli and Nany’s Alterations, the Tiniest Little Bookshop takes up six-hundred-and-seventy-two square feet and twenty square inches of city.

It isn’t the curio shop where any dusty classic or oddment finds a well-meaning owner. It isn’t the store to go for the latest bestseller. It isn’t the place anyone looks for, but the doorway that seems to find the people needing to be found.

In that place, it is where they find the one thing they need even if they don’t know it at the time.

Her name is Viviere, and her sister is Mori. Her name is Mori, and her sister is Viviere. The Sisters Memento, together, they run the day-to-day, dawn-to-dusk, flux and flow of the Tiniest Little Bookshop, waiting for those who enter the shop by fate or happenstance or luck, whatever the word of the day was.

Viviere plucks books from the shelves in the morning, sets a handful of them in the tiny window for passers-by to view. She stands by the window and smiles as the people go to and fro, paying little to no mind to the Tiniest Little Bookshop. At night Mori takes the books down and reshelves them, perhaps to appear again at a later date. Mori turns the lights off in the store, one by one, until only a candle flame remains in a single votive on the counter. At night, with only a candle as a companion, Mori takes a book from behind the counter and reads until the candle burns itself out. In the darkest part of the night, when the sun is hidden on the other side of the world, she sets out another votive for Viviere to light in the morning.

This is a ritual of many movements between two sisters. Their routine is their norm, their pace one of practiced ease, their paths around the store well worn into old, faded carpet. Light and dark move around the Sisters Memento like silk scarves, time a sinuous sewing thread, and each of those is pinned in place in the Tiniest Little Bookshop. The strands of all things leading for a briefest of moments through a small bookshop in the middle of a bloated, overcrowded city leading in the stray for a moment of reprieve.

Just before dawn, Viviere lights the votive. It smells of cranberries with a hint of orange, filling the bookshop with an air of comfort and cozy. Viviere likes the warm scents, Mori the cool. The sisters trade off every other day, just to balance the ambiance of the shop. Though usually when a customer enters they don’t seem to care how it smells that day. That is an indulgence of the Sisters Memento.

Viviere wanders the small handful of stacks looking for the right, or even wrong books to put in the window. There’s a book about the philosophy of senescence, a pamphlet about how to tie shoes, a novel about a boy who found the top of the world. There are others, some that make sense, and some that confuse. There is a dash of whimsy in her selections most days. It’s hard to know what will bring a customer in. She likes to think that each day’s selection creates a map of the day, never to be repeated again. Unique, beautiful, momentary, these are the things that make each day special.

The bell above the door jangles proudly as a young woman sticks her head in the opening. She peers around, sucking on her teeth, and inches her way inside..

“Hello!” Viviere says. “Welcome to the Tiniest Little Bookshop, may I assist you with anything today?”

“Oh! I just saw the book in your window…” she motions vaguely at the window and appears to lose her train of thought. “Do you know which way it is to 7th and Main Street?”

“Which way would you like to go? The shortest or the most interesting?”

The woman is now a full six feet into the store and the door closes behind her. The bell makes a less boastful noise. It’s being shy now that a person is in the store. “Well, I am in a hurry…”

“The most interesting then!” Viviere pulls a book from the window, the one that caught the young woman’s eye as she passed. She hands the book to her over the tiny candle flame of the cranberry and orange votive. It flickers from the movement of air.

The young woman takes it hesitantly. “What’s this?”

“A book of poems about the insects that inhabit the Norwegian winter. The odds are stacked against them, but they live some of the most musical lives.” Viviere points to the window. “Go to the left, walk three blocks and you’ll find Main. Take a right and walk one more.”

“Oh, thank you. What do I do with this?” She raised the book.

“Read it! It will come in handy in a few years.”

“I…uhm, do you take card?” The young woman reaches for her pocket.

“No, I take memories, though.” Viviere pulls a single keepsie from the jar of clear marbles on the counter. The sunlight from the window catches the impurities and imperfections in the glass as she rolls it between her fingers.

“Memories?”

“Perhaps the payment for this book Norwegian bestiola will be the memory of the day you lost your doll out the window of your parents’ sedan when you were four? Or the day you were lost in the woods during the camping trip in high school?

“I suppose you can take whichever one you want.” The young woman stares at Viviere for a moment then her brows crease. “Wait, how do you know my memories?”

“What is on the corner of 7th and Main?” Viviere asks, dropping the marble back in the jar.

“Shirley’s Comedy Tavern. I’ve got my first skit there tomorrow.” She clutches the book to her chest. “I just wanted to familiarize myself with the route.”

“It’s going to be a journey like none other.” Viviere smiles and shoos the young woman out the door and wishes her the best of luck. The bell whistles.

Sometime later an elderly man finds his way in and Viviere hands him the pamphlet on tying shoes. He is in the dusk of life and he knows it, Viviere knows it. He’s looking for a drink of water. He is parched and the day is hot as it nears noon. The memories of the youth are heavy because they have so much room to grow; in the mind of the elderly memories are lighter. As she hands him a glass of water a single droplet of water lands on her finger. The droplet fills the crevasses of her fingerprint and softly she blows cool breath over her fingertip until it evaporates. The man thanks her for the water and she sends him on his way. Warm air fills the entrance to the bookshop as he leaves and the bell trills softly.

The darkness of the buildings, cars, birds, and trees are stretching further across the roadway. The sun has passed the highest point of the sky and begins to hide in shadow. Viviere stands from her post behind the counter and welcomes her sister with a nod as she emerges from the darkest part of the stacks. Mori nods in return and gracefully takes the spot her sister has just vacated. Viviere isn’t fond of hiding in the back stacks like her sister and sits out watching the people passing by, dusting off the books, straightening the baubles and decorations. They talk as the day grows long, about things old and new, about things to come and things to pass. Eventually, Viviere makes the two an early dinner and they talk more over glasses of cider and egg sandwiches.

A woman, middle-aged, enters the shop. The bell at the door crackles. She is frustrated and sweating. “Are there no bus stops on this side of town?”

“Welcome to the Tiniest Little Bookshop. There are a few stops a handful of blocks in either direction,” Mori says and points her index fingers at each other then spreads them as wide as her arms will go. The movement of air causes the half-full votive candle flame to flicker.

“Why aren’t there any here? This should be the one place where they have a bus stop, don’t you agree? What do you sell here? Books? I thought I saw something in the window…” she trails off and stares around the bookshop.

Mori, leaning her elbow on the counter, resting her chin in her hand. “Among many things,” Mori responds but doesn’t say which question she is responding to. She has a smile on her face because she likes to play these games with people. The woman is frazzled, lost, but then most people who come to the bookshop seem lost in one way or another. People are always looking for something even when it’s right in front of them.

Mori looks over the books in the window her sister had pulled from the stacks that morning and finds one on the theory of color. Mori isn’t as judicious with her picks from the window as Viviere is, but she has her own method.

“I didn’t come here for a book,” the woman says.

“Of course not,” Mori says and still thrusts the book into the woman’s hands.

“Which way to the nearest bus stop?”

“The bus stop isn’t what you are looking for.” Mori comes around the counter, and with a napkin pats at the beads of sweat on the woman’s brow.

“Well I’m not looking for a spa!” The woman says and yet doesn’t object when Mori straightens the collar on her ill-fitting blouse.

Mori smiles up at the woman. “Read the book on the bus. Pay attention to the colors. The bus stop is three blocks to the left of the shop.”

“I’m not paying for this,” the woman says, slipping the book into her purse.

“If you don’t read it, you will.”

The woman huffs and leaves the shop. The bell is quiet.

“There are much better ways to handle those people,” Viviere says from the seat where she is reading a book. Just a bit of late afternoon light is reaching her there, as the sun slides further behind the horizon of the cityscape.

“And there are many ways to skin a cat,” Mori replies. She waves her hand in front of the window and disrupts the light hitting her sister. Viviere frowns, sticks her tongue out at Mori, and mimes throwing the book she is reading at her sister.

Darkness begins to descend on the streets and the store is cast deeper in shadow. Mori wanders about the shop turning each light on one by one. The lights, old gas lamps, have been replaced with newer electric bulbs that flicker to mimic flame.

One last customer enters the shop. He is young, barely out of his teens. He is bright-eyed, innocent, full of the promise of a young life to be lived. This is usually the kind of customer that tends to come in when Viviere is working the counter but occasionally they sneak in when Mori is at the helm.

“What can I do for you, little one?”

He frowns at the diminutive. “Uhm…are you hiring? I was just passing by and saw a book… Uh… I’m looking for a job. A job at a bookstore seems cool.”

“Seeming isn’t always being, but in this case, you would be right,” Mori says. She pinches a marble from the jar and lets the flickering lights around the shop glint through it. “I’m afraid we aren’t looking for any help at the moment, but perhaps we can help you.”

“Oh, uh…okay?”

Mori wiggles her fingers over the books and finds just the wrong one. She likes to pick the wrong books sometimes, because sometimes the things people look for are wrong, and to realize that is to experience the wrongness. She hands the book over and he stares at it.

“Flowers are beautiful aren’t they?”

“Yeah, yeah they are.” He seems confused. “How is flower arranging going to help me?”

“It won’t.”

“Uhm.”

Mori smiles and drops the keepsie back in the jar. “But you should still read it. Even the things that can’t help you are still worth knowing.”

“Okay. Thanks?” The young man backs out of the shop and blinks up at the bell as it giggles at his departure. He stands outside holding the book more lost than before.

The night goes on, the roadways darken, until the only lights are those of the streetlamps. Mori turns the store lamps off, one by one, until all that remains is the flame of the votive candle. Viviere has gone to bed and the shop is quiet. Mori takes a book out from behind the counter. The pages are blank but it’s only temporary. She breathes in. The air, a mixture of the candle scent, book smells, the faint odor of the electricity running through the walls, and the admixture of scents left behind from the customers. She lets out a breath and the pages begin to fill with words. One after another, she flips through the book as the pages fill, adding her own flair to the shape of the words, mapping a story of the world that revolves around them.

The votive candle flickers and flickers until the wax is almost gone. Mori reads until the moment the candle finally extinguishes and takes in one last breath and lets it out. The book wasn’t done, and it wouldn’t be for many months, but there will be other nights and other days to work.

Mori raises a finger to her temple and a single spot of light appears. The orb of light hovers near as she puts the unfinished book away and sets the last few things in order around the shop. She scrapes the last of the day’s votive wax into the trash and places a new candle. This one is scented with eucalyptus. She grabs all the books from the window and begins placing them back in their homes. Tomorrow Viviere will pick a new set of books in another combination for the front window.

The store is dark, the bell quiet, the street outside bereft of life, but this is the time when Mori feels most alive. She sweeps the floor of any gathered dust, dances to some unheard tune, singing in the language of those who came before and those who would come after. Mori and Viviere sleep at different times of the day and night and Mori sleeps only when the first signs of life begin to pass outside the window.

Halfway between the biggest skyscraper and the smallest car park, in a forgotten part of the city, is a bookshop. It is the entry you step into for a moment as the rain pours down from the sky. It is the doorway where you pop your head in to ask for directions. It is a place you find only once. A point on a map you try to reach again but all you find are dead ends and empty lots. The bookshop is a memory you keep, and carry with you wherever you go for the rest of your life.

Her name is Mori, and her sister is Viviere. Her name is Viviere, and her sister is Mori. The Tiniest Little Bookshop is their home, their passion, their pin in the world around which life moved. All to write the book that is The Sisters Memento.

~The end

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