The jingle of the bell, so sweet and low, cut through the morning air and seized Sadie's attention at once.
For her day off she'd decided on a solitary expedition to the town square. She hoped to get some early Christmas shopping done, and was compelled by a need she felt very strongly but could not define. She'd spotted something recently, in one of these shop windows, that would make a perfect gift for her father. She could not remember it, but she was determined to find it.
She was wondering whether to take lunch at Perkin's five-and-dime when she heard the distinctive tone of the bell. It sounded like the old-fashioned shopkeeper's bell her dad kept on his workshop door. Sadie glanced around at the various stores, wondering which of them had such a bell. It was too early for most of the shops to be open for business. This being a weekday, there was not as much pedestrian traffic as there would be on the weekend when the tourists were out and about. Where had that jingle come from? She paused, listening.
Traffic noise was minimal. Soft music poured out of an open window several floors up, where a smiling woman shook out a throw rug. Flocks of pigeons and starlings fluttered about in search of tasty scraps. Further down the block a child's voice called out, and a cat's meow answered. But the bell, which had sounded so close to her, was not in evidence. How curious.
Sadie turned toward Perkin's, thinking again of lunch. Perhaps a meal would help her remember what she'd seen, and...
The bell jingled again, right behind her. She pivoted only to see the crosswalks of the town square, deserted except for an elderly man walking a dog across the square. Deciding to forgo lunch, she followed the old gent. As if approving of this decision, the dog turned and gave her an amiable look.
As the man and his dog turned the corner out of sight, Sadie considered the row of shops here and the unoccupied benches nearby. These were situated in front of carefully cultivated trees and looked too inviting to resist. Settling on a bench facing the store fronts, she studied them as the wind blew a few fallen leaves along the brick pavement. A candle shop. A music shop. Memories, which seemed to specialize in vintage toys. Next to it was Comfort Food, a small eatery of some sort. Sadie leaned forward to see if any of them were open--
--and heard the bell's jingle, fainter now but unmistakable.
Rising, Sadie walked to the corner. None were open yet. But here, on the corner, was a fifth shop she hadn't noticed at first, a used book store. The Mystery Ship was festooned with nautical décor, from the ancient ship depicted on its sign to the "porthole" windows. Sadie was reading a hand-written sign that invited shoppers to come in and "sail the seas of imagination" when her eye was caught by a small green and white hardback in the nearest window.
Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury.
That was it! This book, mentioned by her dad on many occasions, was the object that had been dancing on the edge of her memory. He'd told her wistfully that his own copy had been lost in a move, and wished he could find another so he could re-live its magic. He'd even advised her to read it herself, as it was a book like no other. It would be his Christmas present, and she could borrow it from him later. Better yet, this shop was opening for the day. Even as she stood outside its lights came on as its friendly-faced owner unlocked the door. He looked pleased to have a customer first thing.
The door swung open silently, but Sadie heard the jingle of the bell one last time, more faint than ever. It came from further up the block, and glancing that way she saw the old gent and his dog, standing together and regarding her warmly. She favored them with a grin just as warm, and stepped into the shop.