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THE ALPHABETIC BOOK CUJB/Ron Nyren ONE NOVEMBER AFTERNOON, my father closed the stationery store half an hour early to prepare for the arrival of theAlphabetic Book Club. He thought our front lawn needed to be raked first, even though I insisted it would be too dark for Mr. Barr and Mr. Jelticoe to notice by the time they arrived. Because I had spent the afternoon straightening up the stockroom, raking seemed like more of the same, as if leaves were only another kind of paper. I wondered if we would have to separate walnut leaves from oak and maple leaves and pUe them aU in different corners of the yard. My father could be very meticulous. At the store, the black ballpoint pens were not allowed to touch the red ones. The large manila envelopes had to lie with their open ends away from the aisles, as if to discourage customers from reaching in to feel the inside. The packs of red, yellow, green and blue index cards had to be arranged to follow the spectrum. And yet my father's mild temperament did not permit him to give instructions. He hoped his two clerks—and I, though at thirteen I only helped out after school—would notice on our own how he did things and follow his example. For instance, when I saw him raking in long stripes, each one beginning at the house and ending at the road, I did the same. "Did you look at the book for this month?" he asked. I shook my head. "I couldn't make heads or taUs of this one. Mr. Barr wUl understand it, I guess. Tm afraid Tm not much of a reader." As if to make up for this, he raked determinedly at a cluster of walnuts half buried in the lawn. Twilight was falling, and the air felt unusually warm, as it had been all day. The smell of leaves made me want to lie down in them and go to sleep. Apassing car switched on its headlights, casting a dim shadow of my father onto the waU of forsythias along the side of our yard. When he had first joined the Alphabetic Book Club, I had read each ofhis group's selections, often finishing itbefore he did. But they never chose very creative books—books that involved complicated negotiations between humans and space aliens, for example—and so I soon lost interest. In any case, I always had plenty to read on my own. Often I walked around the house with a paperback open before me, my feet The Missouri Review · 119 finding their way up the stairs and down the haU by memory. As soon as I put one book down, I picked up another. I spent more hours imagining I was someone else than I spent imagining I was myself, and it made me a poor conversationalist and bad at sports. We had both started raking in the center of the lawn, and presently we reached opposite ends. From where I stood by the driveway, I saw two kids from school, Gary Norman and Morris Brecker, coming down the street. They were smoking and talking. As they reached the edge of our yard, Gary yanked off a thin forsythia branch. He slashed the air with it, whipping a gypsy moth in half in midflight. Morris laughed. My father nodded to them, but they paid no attention. Morris and I had been friends since the first grade. We had staged wars in my basement, using action figures and a race of flat, furry creatures I had devised by gluing plastic eyes onto little slices of carpet remnant. But that summer, after his thirteenth birthday, Morris had changed. His voice lowered an octave below mine, and his face went long and horsey. First he said the fluorescent lights in the basement gave him a headache, and then he said we were too old to play with toys, and then he said he wouldn't mind, if I would also play football or basketball with him once in a while. Those kinds of games were death to the imagination, I argued. Soon he stopped coming over...


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pp. 119-128
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