Chime. I open the door and wipe my squeaking sneakers on the woven wicker mat aligned with the door frame. The smell of aging lignin immediately envelopes me, a hint of vanilla. The veteran wood floors creak as I weave through the shelves, pulling out cover after cover. Devouring a glimpse of the fictitious world beyond the dedication page. I always read the dedication page.
I smiled at the woman behind the cash register and the man she spoke to; he must be a friend. I pulled my AirPods from my ears and tucked them away in their case before replacing them in my pocket. I looked at the shelf in front of me. Poetry. I needed to think about different structures and general diversity for my Monday night poetry workshop, something to consider. I wiped the condensation from my iced coffee on my jean shorts before I move the long-forgotten beverage out of my way. The shelves labeled with signs that read “New Fiction Releases,” “General Fiction,” “Historical Fiction,” and “New Orleans Narrative.” Posters and photographs adorned the walls, not a space left uncovered by a drawing or quote about the timelessness of a good book.
The children’s section is a mixture of the old and new. The ramp to the store’s expansion smells of fresh paint and new hardwood floors. Colorful characters and stuffed animals are displayed on the bookshelf, keen to attract a young child’s attention. But I still see my bedtime favorites tucked within the overstuffed bookshelf. The Kissing Hand and I’ll Love You Forever sit neatly next to one another as though no time has passed. I catch myself smiling at the stories I used to carry off to sleep with me each night. As I made my way around to the back of the store, I approached my guilty pleasure. The counter is adorned with notebooks, stickers, bookmarks, and single pens in their own capsules. It’s the little things I tend to love. A pin for my bookbag or a sticker for my writing journal; I take a breath and remind myself I need none. I head to the counter with the book I had come in for—The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid.
I am trying to remember why I first fell in love with reading. Maybe it was because my mom read me a story or a chapter of our current book each time she was home to tuck me into bed. It was the only time I was usually guaranteed. Maybe it was my grandmother surprising my kindergarten class by dressing as a moose when she was the surprised mystery reader and performed If You Give a Moose a Muffin. It could be the countless hours I spent setting up my stuffed animals like I was on stage at an award show and reading picture books to them for hours. Or maybe it was when my first-grade teacher let us all chew gum while the class read My Father’s Dragon.
Truthfully, one moment didn’t determine my love for books. Over the last (almost) 20 years, I have developed a curiosity for stories, my mind hungry for adventure, romance, mystery, deceit, fear, and the inevitability of human nature. Books have taught me life lessons and encouraged my passions. They have fostered my interests and broadened my outlook on life. Books also gave me a community; they introduced me to the world within a bookstore, a feeling of comfort I continue to find wherever I go.
Starting college at Tulane, 1,349 miles from home, I needed a place to escape. I needed a sanctuary of possibility, a bookstore that would calm my anxiety with just the smell of the covers on the shelves.
Octavia Bookstore camouflages into the stereotypical homes of uptown New Orleans that line the uneven sidewalks. Each time I walk through the door, I am transported far from reality. I leave the hectic life of a college student behind, and I get to live in someone else’s world for a while.
There is another spot I escape to, the one I’m sitting in now. It helps me cultivate my creativity and fuels my stories with characters, but I’ll keep this one for myself.
A little ways from the bookstore, I bypass the chatter of customers and reside in the plush oversized chair I have become familiar with. I take my journal and a pencil and press play on my musing Spotify playlist. My hand moves quickly across the page, trying desperately to keep up with my mind.
The breeze blows through the windchimes strung above me. Chime.
Zoe Gellert is a freshman Staff Writer from Westchester, NY. She is majoring in psychology with an intended SLAM minor. You can almost always find her on the front porch, writing or hanging out outside. She also loves to play with her dogs, experience the city of New Orleans, go out with friends, and watch good documentaries.