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The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

By´╝ÜGabrielle Zevin

PART I





Lamb to the Slaughter


1953 / Roald Dahl

Wife kills husband with frozen leg of lamb, then disposes of the “weapon” by feeding it to the cops. Serviceable-enough Dahl offering, though Lambiase questioned whether a professional housewife could successfully cook a leg of lamb in the manner described—i.e., without thawing, seasoning, or marinade. Wouldn’t this result in tough, unevenly cooked meat? My business isn’t cooking (or crime), but if you dispute this detail, the whole story begins to unravel. Despite this reservation, it makes the cut because of a girl I know who loved James and the Giant Peach once upon a time.

—A.J.F.





On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor’s notes. “Island Books, approximately $350,000.00 per annum in sales, the better portion of that in the summer months to folks on holiday,” Harvey Rhodes reports. “Six hundred square feet of selling space. No full-time employees other than owner. Very small children’s section. Fledgling online presence. Poor community outreach. Inventory emphasizes the literary, which is good for us, but Fikry’s tastes are very specific, and without Nic, he can’t be counted on to hand-sell. Luckily for him, Island’s the only game in town.” Amelia yawns—she’s nursing a slight hangover—and wonders if one persnickety little bookstore will be worth such a long trip. By the time her nails have hardened, her relentlessly bright-sided nature has kicked in: Of course it’s worth it! Her specialty is persnickety little bookstores and the particular breed that runs them. Her talents also include multitasking, selecting the right wine at dinner (and the coordinating skill, tending friends who’ve had too much to drink), houseplants, strays, and other lost causes.

As she steps off the ferry, her phone rings. She doesn’t recognize the number—none of her friends use their phones as phones anymore. Still, she is glad for the diversion and she doesn’t want to become the kind of person who thinks that good news can only come from calls one was already expecting and callers one already knows. The caller turns out to be Boyd Flanagan, her third online dating failure, who had taken her to the circus about six months back.

“I tried sending you a message a few weeks ago,” he says. “Did you get it?”

She tells him that she recently switched jobs so her devices have been screwed up. “Also, I’ve been rethinking the whole idea of online dating. Like whether it’s really for me.”

Boyd doesn’t seem to hear that last part. “Would you want to go out again?” he asks.

Re: their date. For a time, the novelty of the circus had distracted from the fact that they had nothing in common. By the end of dinner, the greater truth of their incompatibility had been revealed. Perhaps it should have been obvious from their inability to reach consensus on an appetizer or from his main course admission that he disliked “old things”—antiques, houses, dogs, people. Still, Amelia had not allowed herself to be certain until dessert, when she’d asked him about the book that had had the greatest influence on his life, and he’d replied Principles of Accounting, Part II.

Gently, she tells him no, she would rather not go out again.

She can hear Boyd breathing, fluttery and irregular. She worries that he might be crying. “Are you all right?” she asks.

“Don’t patronize me.”

Amelia knows she should hang up, but she doesn’t. Some part of her wants the story. What is the point of bad dates if not to have amusing anecdotes for your friends? “Excuse me?”

“You’ll notice I didn’t call you right away, Amelia,” he says. “I didn’t call you because I had met someone better, and when that didn’t work out, I decided to give you a second chance. So don’t be thinking you’re superior. You’ve got a decent smile, I’ll give you that, but your teeth are too big and so is your ass and you’re not twenty-five anymore even if you drink like you are. You shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” The gift horse begins to cry. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

“It’s fine, Boyd.”

“What’s wrong with me? The circus was fun, right? And I’m not so bad.”

“You were great. The circus was very creative.”

“But there must be a reason you don’t like me. Be honest.”

At this point, there are many reasons not to like him. She picks one. “Do you remember when I said I worked in publishing and you said you weren’t much of a reader?”

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