Typhoid Magpie

Unsplash BookSebastian Script

From her bedroom, Rivi brings me a copy of a used book she’s picked up earlier in the day: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. “I found it at Green Apple,” she says. “It was mis-shelved in the poetry section.”

I turn the book over and look at the back cover. “I think I’ve read this,” I say. “It sounds familiar.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she says. She takes the book back from me and flips through the pages. Mid-way through, she stops, and I see that there’s something stuck between the pages of the book. It’s a photograph, a Polaroid. She takes it out and hands it to me. “That’s why I bought the book,” she says.

“Because somebody left a photo in it?” I look at the image. It’s of a woman, but the shot is framed so that all that is visible of her is her shoulder, which is bare, and her face from the bridge of her nose down. Curls of red hair twist their way around her neck and blow in a frozen breeze over her shoulder. “It was probably a bookmark,” I say. “It is a used book, you know. You’re not going to tell me it’s another ghost photo, right?”

“God, no,” she says. “It’s just an old Polaroid. It’s for my lost and found collection.”

“Okay, I’ll bite. What’s your lost and found collection?”

“I’ll show you,” she says. She goes back to her bedroom, and returns with a Tampa Nugget cigar box. She sits beside me on her couch and opens the box. “I found all these inside of used books around town.” She reaches in and pulls out a small pile of things, spreading them out on her coffee table: receipts, photographs, bits of thread and paper.

“So you’re buying books just because of the stuff people leave in them when they toss them out?”

“It’s like I’m curating a museum,” Rivi says.

“It’s nothing like that,” I say. “It’s like you’re collecting trash.”

She picks up one of the receipts and holds it up for me to look at. It’s from a 7-Eleven, for a purchase of a soda and a magazine. Rivi turns the receipt around, and on the rear of it, someone has written in blue ink: think for your fucking self.

“Inspirational,” I say.

She puts the receipt down and takes up another photo: a young girl in a blanket fort, reading a copy of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. The girl is reading by the light of lamp with a stained glass shade, which she has stashed away inside the fort with her.

“How much of this stuff do you have?” I ask Rivi.

“Oh, a bunch. Dozens. I’ve got a whole shelf in the bedroom full of the books these came out of.”

“And how many of these books have you actually read?”

“None, of course,” she says. “Why would I do that? I just want the stuff that’s inside them.”

“Well you know, you could just take the pictures and junk out of the books and save yourself some money. You know, if you’re not going to actually read them or anything.”

“I can’t do that,” Rivi says. She takes a candy wrapper out of the cigar box and gives it a looking over. “It wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t buy the books too. It would be like breaking up a matching set somehow.”

“You’re killing me,” I say. “Absolutely killing me.” I peer into the box. “Is that a piece of dental floss?”

“Oh yeah,” she says. She reaches in and removes the floss.

“How do you know that hasn’t been used?” I ask.

She shrugs. “Probably has.” She holds it up to her nose and sniffs at it. “Smells like peppermint.”

“That’s absolutely disgusting,” I say. “You’re like a magpie. Anything shiny, you have to pick up.”

“Look, nobody is going to use dental floss for a bookmark if they’ve had it in their mouth already. Also, magpies don’t actually like shiny things. That’s a myth.”

“It’s still disgusting,” I say.

“It’s not disgusting. It’s art.”

“Disgusting art.”

“That’s what they said about Warhol,” she says.

“I don’t think Warhol saved used pieces of other people’s dental floss,” I say.

“It’s not used. It’s as fresh as the day it came out of the packet.”

“Totally not. If you look close, I’m sure you can see little bits of food stuck to it.”

“It’s fresh,” she says, and to prove her point, she wraps the ends of the floss around her fingers, sticks them into her mouth, and proceeds to slide the floss between her teeth. “Thee? Totally freth.”

“That is the nastiest thing I’ve ever seen you do,” I say, but I can’t look away. “You are going to contract some horrible flesh-eating disease, and your skin is all going to slough off of you like a burned marshmallow.”

She pulls the floss out of her mouth and runs her tongue across her teeth. “Minty,” she says. She leans closer to me. “Wanna make out?”

“Never and never. I don’t really even want to be sitting next to you right now.”

She puts the floss back into the cigar box. “Liar. You always want to make out with me.”

“It’s like you just ate a piece of gum off the bottom of a table in a restaurant on Market Street.”

“Hardly,” she says. “Unless it’s peppermint.”


“And not too hard.”

“I’m leaving now,” I say, and I stand up from the couch.

“Does it have any teeth marks in it?” she asks. “Like could the police use it for evidence in an unsolved cannibal murder case?”

“You need to go to the doctor.” I make for her front door, and she gets up to follow me. “You need some antibiotics. Actually, you need all of the antibiotics.”

“One little kiss,” she says. “For the road.” She puckers and makes kissy noises at me as I open the door and step out into the stairwell.

“Never again,” I say. “Keep your Typhoid Magpie lips to yourself.” I start down the stairs.

“I taste like candy.”

“Goodbye, Rivi.”

“Just like Peppermint Patties.”

“I’ll miss you when you’re dead.”

I turn the corner at the bottom of her stairwell, and from above me, I hear her cry out in a sing-song shout: “PEP-per-MINT PAT-ieeeeeees!”

GOODBYE, RIVI!” I shout back.

Just another Sunday.

I don’t know how we live through them.

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