Dan Gleeson does what everyone does. Go to the book store and drink its coffee, reading its books and hiding away from his parents. This, because they shut down the good arcades a decade ago, and those that remain are just galleries to one-armed bandits.
A sad drip of brown hits the page and leads into, "... I'll say this: Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets." The drop shines back before fading into the fibres as it rolls into the spine. He looks up, around, and touches his forehead. Dabbing, he pulls away to see the streak continue on his fingertips. Sniffing it reminds him of sitting in front of the television, up late listening to a mail man talk to a psychiatrist in one ear, listening for the car to pull up with the other. Late nights, early to bed, earlier still to feeling bedridden.
The car door slams and he quickly switches off the television. Peering through the windows he sees his father stop and talk to their neighbours. Hmong or Cambodian. One of them. He never asked, but the food was always good when they invited him for dinner. His dad finishes the conversation and the keyhole shudders as the teeth chatter. Click and the door creaks open.
He's in bed, first up with the covers to his chin, then thrown off a little, to really sell the act. Nobody sleeps without turning.
"You forgot to throw the curtain across. Saw the glow from the street."
He tastes the brown off his fingers. It's fresh, a little salty, and with a hint of anti-dandruff shampoo. He closes the book and puts it back on the shelf. He fishes out a dollar coin and leaves it as some kind of perquisite, sitting with the dust. He starts to walk out when a man in a apron walks over to him.
"Sir, you're going to have to buy that book."
"You are free to read all you like as you drink the coffee, but if you stain the book, it's considered a purchase."
"I left you a dollar. That should pay for that page."
"Sir, you can't hotswap pages from a book. It's a whole book or else."
He walks over to the shelf, the coin already gone, a shuffle of dust in its place, and picks up the book. Cracking it open to the spoil, he puts his tongue on the mark and waits. Then, page suitably moistened, he slowly sucks out the brown.
"There. Stain's gone." He passes out from the rush.
"That's the wrong book, sir."
Written on Tuesday, 1 October 2013