Day Four: Sometimes you just gotta ask

I don’t know everything. Hell, I barely know some things. Life is a busy place full of an infinite amount of information that is constantly changing. Working through a manuscript is no different. I know some things. I’ll never know everything. At times, it’s like I know just enough to work my way through a world and it’s trials. I’m positive the characters laugh at me when they’re off set.

As I noted in the first post on this project, my lead character jumped ship and a feisty teenage girl took his place, altering the entire scope of the story and the genre in which it was to be. This left me a little shy on information when first I sat down to tell Agatha Blume’s tale. I mean, I had all but just met the girl. We hadn’t even had a thorough conversation. Next thing I know we’re starting a chapter with her brushing her hair and having a terse exchange with her mother. And then she drops the Keeper bomb and I stopped writing.

From Chapter Two (one revision, unposted):

It should have been the worst month of her life. All that time, just ticking away into boredom. But Agatha didn’t mind time. She could deal with time. It was the Keepers that bothered her.

Wait. What? Who the hell are the Keepers? Until that moment, I had never heard of them. I mean, I figures I knew who she was talking about, but I had never called them Keepers before. In the first run at Chapter Two, she didn’t mention anything about Keepers. But in a read through, in preparation for completing the chapter, there it was. Keepers. So, I had to stop. I had to find Agatha and ask her what the hell she was talking about.

Thus, I leave for you an interview with Agatha Blume. I get what she’s up to a bit better now. I know who the Keepers are and why she calls them that. Now I can continue.

An Interview with Agatha Blume

(for the purpose of figuring out what her deal is)

Hello, Agatha. I appreciate you taking the time to help me figure exactly who you are and what you’re doing in my story.

Sure.

Tell me a little about yourself.

Um, well, I’m sixteen—seventeen in, like, four months—and I’m a Junior in High School. Please don’t ask about college. I get enough of that from my mom. My best friend is Judy—or at least she was my best friend until I saw her out with Justin at the movies. Now, I don’t know. She knew I liked him. It’s like with my hair, you know? I told her I wanted to dye it blue, to be crazy or something, and then, like, the next day her hair’s blue. It looked good too. Justin texted me after school and was all ooh, it looks hot like I wanted to hear that. I just ignored it. Well, I had a sad emoji ready, but, I mean, what good would that have done, right? He obviously likes her more than me anyway. She’s so pretty. It’s stupid.

Gotcha. So, what about—

Gotcha? That’s your response to that? I tell you my best friend stole the boy I like away from me and you say “gotcha?” Whatever.

It wasn’t meant—

Just forget it, okay? I don’t even want to talk about it.

Fine with me. How about your mom? What’s your relationship like—

Don’t ask.

Technically, I didn’t. You like to interrupt people, don’t you?

(the glare she offers is intense, and yet somewhat humorous. As if it’s taking a great deal of concentration. She might have gas for all I know.)

I do not have gas! That’s gross. Delete that.

I was about to ask about your mother. 

Whatever. She’s fine. I love her. She does mother things, though. Annoying mother things all the time. I mean, she’s a good person, right? It’s not like I don’t realize that. She just … it’s like when I’m in my room, you know? And she just barges in. She’ll knock, of course, but then it’s like she just decides that’s enough for her to come in. I’m not twelve anymore. I need my privacy. And she doesn’t let me do anything. She used to ground me if I didn’t make all A’s.

Used to?

Well, I took care of that. I just make sure I always have A’s. It’s like keeping my room clean and stuff. I just make sure it always is when she comes in my room. If we don’t have anything to fight about…. (she shrugs)

Ah, I see. I get it. You make sure everything is the way she wants it; and if it isn’t, you just … fix it.

Yeah. Something like that.

So you correct it in time. I mean, “in time”. You actually go back and change things. Make sure you know the answers to tests and have homework done and so forth.

I don’t know what you’re talking about. (Clearly her body language says otherwise.)

It’s fine, Agatha. I know what you can do. I’m just trying to understand.

Well, understand quieter. The Keepers are watching.

The Keepers? I don’t have anything about Keepers in my notes.

Oh, well, I guess everything’s all fine then. I mean, if you don’t have them in your notes, they probably aren’t even real. Just some stupid kid with her stupid story. Whatever.

Fine. Tell me who the Keepers are.

(she seems very reluctant to talk about them, shifting in her seat, looking away as if watching someone from afar.)

I don’t know who they are. I just know they watch time. It’s, like, I don’t know. I saw one once, one of the first times I moved through time. I went back two days to try to find a, well, I had lost a ring of mom’s that belonged to her mom and she got super pissed and then cried all night about it. I thought if I went back to when I last had it I could make sure it didn’t get lost. When I got there—I was in the living room—I saw some shadowy person. Like he was there, but not entirely. Some tall looking guy, really pale, you know? Like vampire pale. He was talking to another Keeper somewhere. I never saw that one. He walked past me, almost through me really. It was like he didn’t even see me. He kept talking about an infringement in time–I think that was the word–but he couldn’t place the source. He definitely wasn’t friendly. He had some gun thing. Silver. Kinda big. I don’t know. But it scared me. I just stayed and lived the next two days again rather than risk it. I didn’t move through time again for a while.

When did you first move through time?

(she laughs) My thirteenth birthday. We had a dog named Rufus. He went on a rampage through the kitchen after Judy popped a balloon. Knocked into the kitchen table and the cake went splat all over the floor. I was inconsolable. It was a Minion cake. I love those guys. It was my first non-Princess cake, and I felt pretty adult about it. Stupid, I know. I’m still not even sure how it happened. I just had this idea later that if I could have stopped Judy from popping that balloon, Rufus would have been fine and my cake would have survived.

And what happened then?

I don’t know. It was, like, one minute I was in my bed crying, thinking about that moment, the next I was just there. Judy had the balloon, but hadn’t squeezed it yet, so I just knocked it out of her hand.

And your cake was saved?

Well, no, not exactly. I actually popped the balloon when I hit it, and, well, it all just happened anyway. Splat. Minion doom.

Did you try again?

No. I mean, I thought about it, but suddenly the cake didn’t seem such a big deal. I had moved through time, you know? Cake seemed kinda silly in comparison. The Keeper thing happened a few months later. I had done it a few times in between. I was always afraid of it, actually, so I never went far. Just enough to change simple things that seemed to matter at the time A few minutes the day I missed the bus. An hour the day I threw up in Justin’s pool. The most I ever went was twelve hours or so. It was when I went back two days that the Keeper showed up. Sort of.

So you don’t really know who they are. You just call them Keepers because of time?

Something like that. I don’t know.

You haven’t seen one since?

Maybe. I sometimes think so. A reflection here or there. In a car. In my dreams. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just seeing things. Maybe they don’t even exist, but I don’t want to take a chance. I figure if I keep it under twelve hours, forward or back, I’ll be okay. I think it’s like ripples, you know?

Ripples?

Yeah. Like, imagine you’re blind and standing about five feet into a pool. And someone gets in and the ripples on the water hit you. You can’t see so you probably have a good sense of feeling where it came from, or something. If someone jumps in, yeah, definitely. If they go in like halfway or something, probably. But, like, a toe dipped in and you’d never be able to tell. So, I don’t know, I just dip a toe in here or there.

That’s actually pretty damn clever, Agatha.

Thanks. (Her cheeks are red, she’s watching her feet sway. I don’t think she gets complimented all that often.)

So, just one more question: You said the Keeper you encountered wasn’t friendly. What do you think would happen if one of them were to find you, or discover what you can do?

(She ponders this one. I think she already has an answer, but she isn’t sure if she wants to say it.)

I don’t know. It won’t be good. That I know for sure.

How so?

Because. I mean, how many people do you know who can move through time? Imagine what would happen if a bunch of people could? Other than me, right? People would be moving through time all over the place to fix everything. And, you know, like the cake, it doesn’t always work out. Might even make it worse. Some things are just supposed to happen, right? So, the Keepers have to protect time. They won’t want me doing what I do, even as small as it is.

Oh, I see. You believe they are specifically interested in protecting time and nothing else? Almost angels of time, in a way.

Right. Right. Yeah, if angels carried weird gun things and hunted little girls who just wanted to keep their moms happy. That sounds logical. Good call.

Fair point. I guess we’ll stop there. I think I understand things better now. Somewhat, anyway.

How lovely for you. I’ll go see if I can sleep and not dream horrible dreams, thanks.

Thanks for your time, Agatha. See you soon.

Whatever soon is.

Here’s the latest revision of Chapter Two:

Chapter Two (Revised)

Words In a Box Weigh Heavy

If you ever have a chance to move a bookstore by yourself, don’t.

I made a number of mistakes during the run of Wordsmiths. A lot of them were up front. One of them was not hiring at least one guy who could lift a box of books without tumbling down a flight of stairs. I don’t know, maybe I’m asking too much at this point. There aren’t a lot of physically gifted book nerds in the world, after all, are there? Regardless, the only reason this point has relevance is because one of my other mistakes was not working harder to get the bookstore in the location I wanted to begin with.

The square in downtown Decatur is a charming place. Home to a number of Atlanta’s finest eateries with an endless supply of drink options, unique shops, coffee shops, a MARTA station, beautiful architecture, and as many events as they can cram into that space over the course of a year. It’s hoppin’ is what I’m saying, in case you drifted a bit and began thinking about your next meal. The Arts Festival, Beer Festival, Wine Festival, Beach Party, July 4th Fireworks, and much more, bring thousands of people right there, on the Square, businesses reaping the benefit. And for a bookstore, there is no greater gold than Labor Day weekend, when the Decatur Book Festival arrives. 75,000 (or more) people fill the Square, with books on the mind, and money in their wallet. It is the weekend we long for, our Christmas crammed into three days. If you, as business, aren’t on the Square, then to those who visit, you just aren’t there. Plain and simple. Not when that many people are vying for space, unwilling to wander too far away.

So…my mistake. We’ll call it Mistake #1 on a list that, at last count, has no end.

In my talks with the city, two main buildings were targeted. The first, the old Sun Trust building on the Square, basically ended the conversation for me. That was it. The place. The main floor still housed the ghost of the old bank, longing for something sight-worthy, memorable, befitting of such an historic place. It had a vault, right there in the open, a haven for the creative mind. There were offices, primed to be culled out as book nooks. There were chandeliers, pillars, and so much character. It needed Wordsmiths. I had grand plans at first, far too grand actually. I scaled them back (which if you visited the store might make you wonder how, or what in the world I might have thought was bigger than what I wound up with), focused on the space, and entered negotiations with the building’s owner.

Now, I’m not here to disparage the man. Allow me to make that clear. But–and this is no secret to those who knew him–he was no genius. In fact, to my misfortune, I was the first individual he managed a continued conversation with about leasing the space. Ever. Most people wandered off after “Hello” and “It will cost you THIS MUCH I WILL NEVER BUDGE.” Then again, this was my first leap into a lease negotiation as well. So, there we were, two people with no experience talking about an offer on a lease with no basis of negotiating comparison. In hindsight (a common refrain you may see here), I should have sought advice. I should have asked for help settling on a deal. But as we hammered away, I let my pride, my vision of the long-term dream of Wordsmiths, get in the way. I allowed us to get hung up on the length of the lease. He wouldn’t budge beyond a one-year lease, I wanted at least two (preferring three). Such a short term left me with an unfavorable possibility: Having to move the store after one year, which I wanted nothing to do with. Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. That’s what I said. Oy vey.

It was full of opportunity, and everything I was looking for.

It was full of opportunity, exactly I was looking for.

Negotiations broke down. He told me he had a number of people lined up, waiting for the space. Not wanting to cave, unwilling to deal with him further, I dropped out, wished him luck finding anyone with a business willing to sign a one-year lease, and moved on. Oh, how I wish I had just taken the lease, proven my worth, and built my store there. I would have saved thousands of dollars. Wordsmiths might still be around. Then again, the economic crush of 2008 might have still done it in. I’ll never know.

The story of our second location is another tale altogether. Though the space was beautiful, and historic, it wasn’t Wordsmiths. It wasn’t what I meant for it to be. And it wasn’t on the Square. Granted, it was only a block plus away, but you’d be amazed how far that is. You’d be amazed how much business you gain being in an impossible-to-miss location. Additionally, it left me with the ultimate choice, as mentioned already, I wanted nothing to do with: I had to move the store a year and half after opening it. And guess what? My Country Bumpkin Owner still hadn’t secured a tenant. So we had a chat. Not the first time we would have a conversation about hindsight. And I signed a one-year lease. Just like I should have done to begin with. I’m not a dumb guy, but I sure seem to do a lot of dumb things.

I didn’t have the resources I needed to convert the space to its original design (one that would have included a small cafe), but it came together nicely. I believe, and tell me I’m wrong if you visited and think otherwise, this is the memory of Wordsmiths Books. This is the image that comes to mind when people tell me they loved the store, when they mention the name to anyone, anywhere. When I think of it, I’m sitting in one of the chairs before the store opens, coffee in hand, taking a long look, staring through the front door, clock ticking steadily above the vault to my rear, smiling at the realization of a dream. I could have lived there forever.

It was everything it should have been in the first place. Or, something like that.

It was everything it should have been in the first place. Um. Yeah. Something like that.