"I've sent people walking out of here carrying twenty books that I've handed to them," says the woman. She's old, but surprisingly sturdy looking, tall and lean, with short, silvery white hair. Her job at the book store keeps her spry. "There's nothing left."
"Nothing you'd recommend I get for her?" says the man. He's younger, fatter, wearing a gray and green jacket although it's warm inside. It bunches around his neck. "Look, just tell me your favorite novel."
"It's gone. Sold out." She doesn't tell him the title and he doesn't guess. "You know that new Michelle Obama book?"
"Well, that won't cut it," she says. "Too many people reading it. And there's all those blank pages in the middle." She turns around like she's giving up. "Wait, how about - Oh! Gone. Nevermind." Whatever book she saw in her mind is sold out as well. She's given away the very last copy. "Does she read bios? Memoirs?"
"I don't know," he says, "I guess." He wonders if he knows her very well after all. He should. She's his wife. But does he? He spends more time with his basset hound, an old man dog with an old man name. It fits him perfectly.
"How about you just get her a cookbook?"
"I can't," says the man, "See, I already did that, last year."
"You know the place I inherited? When my parents passed?" She does. It's a small town, and they used to play golf together, but only when the weather was nice. "Old farmhouse, out in the middle of nowhere. It isn't insulated." He doesn't want anything to do with it. "There's this whole wall in the kitchen filled with cookbooks. So on her birthday, I'd forgotten to shop for her, so I went in there and I wrapped up a cookbook and gave it to her."
"You didn't," she teases. There's laughter in her eyes. But she's on the job and she reins her tone in, keeping it a little too cold.
"Hey, I have to get rid of all the junk somehow."
"I hope it's not all junk," she says. Her two daughters work in real estate now. But she hopes that they will find a place in their busy lives for her silverware, when it comes to that. She tells herself they will but she isn't sure.
"Not all of it. But I don't have any use for all the cookbooks." He doesn't like cooking, usually rotates through the same few recipes. Occasionally he'll find something online that he just has to try. But only occasionally. Even then, he doesn't need the cookbooks. There's one recipe his parents used so frequently that he has it memorized. The book does too, when he opens it it flips exactly to that page. "My point is, I can't get her a cookbook."
"I have to go back to working the counter now," says the woman. A line is forming, and the conversation is going nowhere. Besides, she's on the clock.
"I'll keep looking," says the man. He knows he won't find anything. He wonders why he's even trying. He wanders upstairs, in the direction of children and self-help, two things he doesn't have. Maybe he'll get his wife the new Michelle Obama book. Maybe she'll even like it.