They come into the bookstore every several months. Never separately and always within a few minutes of opening, when no one else is there and a parking space is available right in front of the door. He walks around and opens her car door and then guides her to the front door of the store. "Watch your step," he says as they reach a small incline.
It appears that they're on an outing, as they're both well dressed and put together, making my jeans feel inappropriate. She's in a suede coat with a fur collar when there's a chill and he's in a sport jacket always. But it's an outing with purpose as well as grace. She thinks she hasn't read enough of the classics and wants to catch up to where she believes she should be.
She's from Germany and speaks with an accent that makes each word sound interesting. He's a retired university professor and never browses or buys anything because he has a library full of books that were sent to him for review over the years that he's still reading. The books have a bit of competition, though, because he brings stacks of well-read Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock mystery magaizines for me to put out on the free table. He doesn't mention these other than to ask if people took the last batch. I assure him that they did.
They're both well into their 80's, if not 90's, and I don't know their names, although I know their history because he sits and talks with me while she stands behind us looking at books. They met during the war and he returned soon after to bring her back to the States. They lived in small walk-up apartments on the East Coast, where he earned degrees, taught there for several years, and then moved to Illinois, where they've stayed, except for frequent travel. She corrects him occassionally as to dates and descriptions of apartments and travel. There's been no mention of children and my feeling is that there are none, although I haven't asked.
She never moves beyond the classics and never requests a specific book, but looks at several before choosing one or two. On occassion she'll request an author--Proust and Joyce and Dickens have been covered. She's returned to Proust, but not to Joyce.
He sometimes has suggestions for her, but so far every choice has been her own. Always a classic though, and always a hardback.
The last time they came in she was using a cane and was walking slower. He was more solicitous. And for the first time she had a specific book in mind. "War and Peace," she asked at my desk without moving to the shelves. "Hard back, please."
I found her a nearly new copy with bright pages and print that was easily readable. He took out his wallet as she leafed through the pages and declared that, "This will do." He didn't ask about the stack of mystery magazines although he left more.
"I'm afraid I won't have enough time to finish this one," I heard her say as they walked out. He didn't respond as he guided her through the door.
It's been several months since I've seen them. I hope she's still reading.