“Now you’ve got to move fast when we get there, all right?” Brandy’s mother said while driving the old fake-wood-sided station wagon easily through early morning traffic.”I mean we’re getting there plenty early, but these people are wild, wild I tell you.” She shook her head in disbelief, throwing back her long, black hair. “So, just kind of shove the books into the sack. . . the newer looking ones, I mean. It doesn’t really matter what they’re about or anything. We’ll sort through them later. Just getting them’s what’s important, and afterwards. . .” She turned and glanced beside her. “Afterwards we’ll take what books we don’t want for ourselves and sell them at the flea market.” Leaning over slightly, she patted her daughter on the shoulder. “What do you think?”
Brandy, a slight, blonde girl with glasses, idly chewed on her fingernails. “What was that, Mom?”
“You haven’t been listening at all, have you? And stop chewing on your nails.”
Brandy stopped. “I have been listening, Mom. It’s just that….”
“Just that what?” Her mother frowned, further lengthening her long, thin face.
Brandy quickly bit a bothersome piece of skin off her reddened fingers. “Well, I had a lot of homework to do today.”
“You knew the book sale was today, Brandy. It’s not going to take all day, anyway. The faster we get the books, the faster we can get home.”
“Why do we have to do this every year, anyway?” Brandy whined.
“You know why.”
Brandy, remembering her younger brothers back home and the monthly trips to the flea market, sighed and said nothing more as her mother turned into the drive of the abandoned school building that the county now used for various community events. A banner hanging on one of the old brick walls said: Come One, Come All to the Friends of the Library Annual Bag o’ Books Sale.
The parking lot was already beginning to fill up, and a line was forming at the front steps. Library volunteers were handing out brown paper grocery bags and talking with acquaintances.
Pulling the car around to the front steps, the mother said, “Go on and get in line. I’ll park the car and meet you. Be careful though, and don’t let anybody break in front of you.”
“I won’t,” Brandy assured her.
“And get me plenty of sacks!”
Brandy nodded and slammed the car door. She walked up the steps, looking and listening to the many people lined up as if they were at an amusement park, waiting to get on an exciting ride.
“I need four or five sacks, please,” Brandy said to the lady passing out bags.
“My goodness,” she replied. “How many books do you think you’ll find? I’ll start you out with two bags.”
“Well, my mother’s here with me, too. I’m sure we’ll need four or five sacks.”
“All right.” The lady frowned slightly as she handed her the bags.
A few minutes later, Brandy waved as she saw her mother coming up the walk. “I’m here, Mom! Up here!” she yelled.
“Good, you got the sacks.” her mother said, bounding up the steps.
Brandy handed her all but one.
Then the big wooden doors opened. “You remember what I told you now. Just get anything that looks new. I want the boys to have new things. Besides, new things sell better,” Brandy’s mother said, looking eagerly ahead and pushing against her daughter.
The old worn steps creaked under the weight of the crowd as it swarmed into the building. Soon a buzz of conversation filled the narrow halls and once-empty rooms, now full of book lovers and bargain hunters. Brandy quickly made her way to the children’s section. She was amazed at all the books. She opened her first bag and started down the nearest row, struggling not to look at the books or open them and run her fingers down the pages like she did at school and at home. She knew her mother would expect a full bag, so she just grabbed and shoved.
Starting down the next row, Brandy looked up to see that the crowd had grown while she was grabbing. Many other kids about her age were going through the isles as fast as she was. They were beginning to push, shove and reach in front of others for books. Older people she had seen in line were in the room, too. Even they seemed to be reaching for books without looking at them. Brandy picked up her pace. As she started down the third row, she bumped into somebody. “Excuse me.”
The voice sounded familiar, so Brandy focused on the face. A young woman, her chestnut hair pulled back into a smooth ponytail, was smiling at her. “Miz. Jones!” Brandy stammered, “Wh… what are you doing here?”
“Doesn’t it seem like a good place for an English teacher to be?” She laughed.
“Yes, Ma’am, I guess so.” Brandy replied.
Mrs. Jones just kept on smiling. “I don’t know about you, but I’m finding some that were my favorites when I was a girl, like this one.” She held out an old book, its blue canvas cover tattered at the edges. The title, printed in peeling gold foil letters, read: Black Beauty.
Brandy smiled. “Oh, I love that one! But that book’s so…so old. I’ll try to find you a newer one.”
“No, that’s all right. ” Mrs. Jones said, “I like old books.”
“Oh,” said Brandy.
Mrs. Jones, noticing the almost full bag said, “It looks like you’ve got enough to keep you busy for weeks.”
“Oh they’re not for me…for my brothers and stuff.”
“I see. Well, I’ll let you get back to it. It looks like these books are going fast.”
“Thanks, Miz. Jones. I’ll see you Monday.”
“See you then.” Mrs. Jones waved good-bye and reached for another book, a new one with a bright yellow sun on the cover.
Finally, Brandy reached the end of the last row. Only then did she look around for her mother, finding her at a table near a large shelf. She was looking through the books, turning them over, leafing through them, inspecting the pages.
As Brandy approached, her mother said, “Such slim pickin’s this year. I hope you had better luck.”
“I got a sack full.”
“That’s all? Oh, well, you stay here with the books, and I’ll take one last look around.”
Brandy nodded, eager to have a chance to finally look at the books. She ran her hand down the smooth, glossy covers, scanning the titles and opening the pages to see the pictures. As she went through the pile, she frowned. None of them really appealed to her like she’d hoped.
Halfway through the bag, she felt a hand on her shoulder. It was her mother. “Brandy, I want you to do something for me. Go over to that sack sitting on the table over there and get that book sticking out of the top. It’d fetch a good price at the flea market.”
Brandy turned and saw a bag sitting on the table nearest her. She looked up at her mother. “But, Mom, hadn’t somebody already picked out that book for themselves.”
“But they haven’t paid for it, have they? They won’t even notice that it’s gone with all this pushing and shoving and grabbing. Go on, now!”
She had pulled the book out of the bag and had turned to go back to her table when she heard a firm voice say, “Did you just pull that book out of my bag?” Brandy turned. It was Mrs. Jones, looking at her, straight at her.
Brandy hesitated. Then, her mother was standing beside her. “My daughter wouldn’t do a thing like that.”
“I saw you pick up the book,” she said.
Brandy blushed. She tried to speak, to explain, “My…I…I…”
“I told you. My daughter didn’t do it. She got that book from over on the shelves.” Her mother was close to Brandy now, leaning against her, trying to push her forward. Brandy stood firm.
Mrs. Jones kept staring. She didnâ€™t seem angry anymore. “I would have given you the book, you know.”
Her mother stepped in front of Brandy and spat, “Now you listen, lady! She didnâ€™t do it!â€
Mrs. Jones looked into Brandy’s eyes and almost smiled. “You’re right, Ma’am,” she said. “Your daughter wouldn’t do anything like that.” Then, picking up her bag of books, she walked out of the old classroom.
Brandy’s mother turned to her. “Who did that woman think she was?
“Miz. Jones, my English teacher,” Brandy said.
“Your English teacher?”
Brandy sighed. â€œYes.â€
“Well, she shouldn’t have said those things about you, anyway.”
“Why not?” Brandy asked, plopping Mrs. Jones’ book down on the table.
“Why, she as much as called you a thief!”
“I did take the book. Like you said, Mom.”
“But it wasn’t stealing because that book didn’t belong to her yet, now did it?” Brandy didn’t say anything. “Well, did it?”
“Whatever you say, Mom, ” said Brandy. Then, noticing another uneven nail, she started chewing.
“What does an English teacher need with more books, anyway?” Brandy’s mother asked.
Brandy didn’t answer but sat in her chair and started flipping the cover of a practically new book of fairy tales – back and forth, back and forth.
Her mother stood with arms crossed and lips pursed, looking down at Brandy. “You get busy putting those books away now. I’m ready to go home since we’ve got about all we’re going to get here.”
Before Brandy started, she looked around. The room seemed more like a library now. Of course, most of the books were gone, but the bargain hunters were gone, too. Only the book lovers and her mother remained, sorting through their finds or trying to resurrect that special book from childhood to give to children or grandchildren.
Brandy began putting the books back in the bag, trying to forget the room, the old books, Mrs. Jones and her mom. The fairy tale book would be good for Kevin, she thought. The horse story for Keith. He liked horses so much. And this one, the one she’d taken out of the bag, the one that belonged to Mrs. Jones…. Brandy looked to see her mother busy with her bags of books. Slipping out of her seat, she went to the shelves, almost empty now, and returned the book with the burning sun.