Whenever Abby traveled, she bought books. It was somehow more exciting to discover an interesting book when she was far from home, even the same exact book she might find in a bookstore in her own town. Maybe when most people thought of San Francisco, they thought of sea air at bayside or delicious scents wafting out of North Beach cafés. But Abby thought about the mysterious mustiness of vintage bookstores or the clean-page smell of big bookstores like City Lights and Modern Times.
She was three stores into her shopping trip today—or, as she secretly liked to think of it, her "literary orgy." She visited at least a couple of favorites each time she came to San Francisco and tried to find at least one or two new bookshops to explore. She might manage to hit six or eight stores today if she timed it right, and then tomorrow she'd head home—clutching a cloth bag of treasures or lugging a box.
She'd only found one purchase so far, but it was a gem—in a tiny, dusty nook of a bookshop on Polk Street, she'd found an old picture book of strippers and burlesque queens. No photo in it was newer than about 1965, and some went all the way back to the turn of the twentieth century, where the women wore body stockings to create the illusion that they were nude. What a find! Abby loved books best when they transported her somewhere else, and with this one, she didn't have to imagine the dancing girls with their sequins and huge feather fans—they were right there before her!
She found the closest coffeehouse and sat dreamily sipping a cappuccino, carefully turning pages. She'd never been to a strip club, but the filmy outfits and racy high heels fascinated her. Look at this one, she thought. If my grandmother had been a burlesque dancer, she might have looked like this. Or what if she herself had been born in another era? That might have been Abby herself on stage, opening for beautiful blonde Lili St. Cyr.
San Francisco just made her feel this way—that anything was possible. After her reverie had faded, she finished the last sip of coffee and walked the few blocks to Kayo, a bookstore she'd never visited before. Stepping inside, she gasped—this shop seemed to have nothing but old pulp paperbacks! From every shelf, glamorous dolls and bitchy babes gazed or snarled out at her. A few were menaced by monsters, a few were being ravished by pirates, but most of them were the focus of the cover all by themselves—or, in the lesbian section, in twos. They were redheads and blondes and brunettes, slinky in evening gowns or seductive in lingerie. They were gorgeous!
Abby began making her way through the endless stacks of books, mostly fiction but interspersed with some midcentury pop psychology. Shocking Exposé! The World's Oldest Vice! Transvestite Secrets Revealed! What Every Young Wife Must Know! Innocent No More!
Even the Kinsey Reports and Bulfinch's Greek and Roman Mythology had been published with lurid illustrations. Abby walked sideways down a whole row, reading titles and drinking in the brightly colored covers. Almost every one had a gorgeous woman on it.
Just change her clothes and she switched from Amazon Pagan Queen! to Sorority Sis Unleashed! The bookstore had been deserted when she came in, except for the guy behind the counter, so she almost dropped the small stack of paperbacks she'd picked out when she got to the end of the row and nearly bumped into a small, smiling woman, who stood as if waiting for Abby to reach her. A man stood behind her, smiling too.
"Oh! Excuse me!" gasped Abby. "I didn't see you there." "I guess not," said the woman with a grin. Her sweater was buttoned tightly over curves. "You're the biggest bibliophile in town." She said it like it was a kind of tasty fetish.
"Yeah, we've seen you in the last three stores," said the man, who had on cuffed trousers and a vintage rayon shirt with a little tiki face embroidered where another shirt might have a pocket. Abby noticed disconcertedly that his nipples showed through the soft fabric.
"We're bibliophiles too." said the woman. "But we're taking a break and going over to North Beach now. Want to come along?" Abby blinked. "Are you going to City Lights?"
"Nope, the Lusty Lady. You should go. You'll like it. I saw you snagged that excellent old stripper book down on Polk Street."
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