A napkin rustles up against my fingers, slick from the toasted Panini, forcefully removing any impurities that may infringe upon the perfection of a new book. A kid somewhere behind me begs for his mother to buy him a double chocolate brownie. She says no. He begs for the rice krispies bar. She says no again.
Later, as I sip my cappuccino, I begin to review the stories. The first one is good, the second one is bad, the third one is fantastic. It's a collection. Sci-fi written by women, many of them women of color.
Somewhere behind me, a baby cries. I want to tell them it'll be alright. It usually is. Perhaps a double chocolate brownie would help, but I doubt they're old enough. Perhaps their parents are trying to ingratiate them to books as soon as possible. That would be a good thing.
Because that's what this place is, as I sit in the far corner of a counter up against a stack of free-to-use board games, feet idly sliding across the legs of the stool I sit on. A café, tucked into the dying embers of brick-and-mortar book stores. They will fade away, as they have been for years, to tablets and e-books and free 2 day shipping. I will miss it. There's something inviting, comforting, even the sound of the baby crying is not what it might be on a plane or at work.
Throughout the store, books have been replaced. Toys, figurines, board games, DVDs, vinyls, a dying chain reaches out to grab hold of anything, everything, in an attempt to stay relevant. The entrance of the store is a grand shrine to the new, to the screen, to the tablets. A man who looks pleasantly generic stands behind them, ready to guide you through why this 7" screen is better than the rest; and look, how shiny it is under the carefully placed lights and tactfully bright shelving display units. This is the future, we sell the thing that will destroy us, because that is what we know, because the system demands so.
The cappuccino has cooled off enough for my sips to become faster and fuller. The café is still busy. People type away on laptops, or talk away on phones. I am the only one reading. Perhaps that says it all, perhaps that says nothing. Even in the last vestiges of a dying medium, nobody else has the courtesy to extend a helping hand.
Behind me, a man packs up his laptop, and pulls out his smartphone. He leaves the café. There are no books that follow.