The Redneck Kafka by Pat King

(Reprinted by permission. Originally in Babel Magazine #57 and The Whirligig #6)

There was a simple sign on the window. Cheap Used Books. I was unemployed, trying to sell off some books, hoping to buy dinner for the night, then return to the apartment from which I was soon to be evicted. The apartment in which I had been married for a very short time.

I walked in, chiming a welcome bell. I had a box of hard covers in my arms. On top was my favorite book, a collection of Kafka’s short stories. The shopkeeper, a thin, old man in his sixties or seventies, was helping an elderly lady decide on a paperback romance novel.

The shopkeeper waved at me. “Hello,” he said. “Just stick the books on the counter. I’ll be with you as soon as I can.”

“Yes sir,” I said. I gently sat the box down, being careful not to scratch the beautiful oak counter with the corner of my box. God, the store was warm. My apartment was freezing, without heat or electricity.

I had passed this store before. It was within walking distance of my apartment, about twenty minutes away. It’s a hell of a walk if you’re carrying a few pounds of books. It was my entire collection, the books that I had kept since I was a kid. I read them all the time, several times each. I loved them, I think, more than I loved my soul. But I was hungry, so damned hungry. Continue reading