Rita's book collection is like nothing you've ever seen. Piles of worn hard covers, dull blues and yellows and reds textured like burlap. They fill the travel trailer, stacked in no particular order. Chaos's library tumbles forth from corners and shelves. In a San Leandro trailer park, just across from the Bay Fair mall, you clutch your beer and perch upon a mountain of pulpy romance novels. Rita calls it the love seat, "get it?" You get it and laugh nervously. A little too loud, a little too obvious. It doesn't faze her and she doesn't seem to be ashamed of her trailer. If anything, she appears proud of the clutter.
"So this is pretty much it. It's not big, but it's home."
You nod and ease between piles towards the only actual door in the trailer. "This the bathroom?" you ask. She winks yes and turns back to the loaf of French bread she's carefully slicing with a lime green serrated knife.
The door shuts behind you and you realize there are just two inches in between you and the toilet seat. You clumsily rotate, wiggle out of your jeans and sit to piss. Your knees bump the door and you realize you're sitting face to face with your own reflection, having an intimate conversation. You pop a zit, pull up your pants and fumble for the handle. You trip back out into the main room as the toilet flushes embarrassingly loudly.
She's humming over her wood cutting board, arranging the bread on a white plate. She reaches into the microwave and pulls out a tray of once-frozen, now-steaming, spinach artichoke dip. Rita sets the platter on a stack of science fiction and gestures for you to sit next to her on the love seat. She's still humming as she presses a slice of bread into the ominous green dip, it's a song you don't recognize right away, but it's familiar and probably something you're embarrassed to know. Something from a Disney musical maybe.
"Are you going to ask?" she says, preparing you a slice of bread.
"Ask what?" You open wide as she feeds you. The dip spreads across the roof of your mouth, filling your sinuses with garlic and steam.
"Ask about my books. Don't act like you're not curious." She hums again as she reaches for a napkin and drags it slowly across your lower lip. "Got it," she says softly, examining the stray chunk of spinach she'd captured. She smiles and you can see the little space between her front teeth.
"I hadn't planned on asking, but sure, why not."
"Okay. What's with the books?" you ask, words wedged between a bite and a swallow.
Rita stands up and starts walking towards the mattress at the back of the trailer, unbuttoning her baggy white dress shirt. "They were gifts." She doesn't have to speak loudly; there's no room to echo here. You watch her lay her shirt across the corner of her bed. Her bra is black, laced around the edges. Her stomach is white, thin with a black beauty mark about an inch from her navel.
Mildly uncomfortable, you rise to your feet, scratching your shoulder. "I'm going to step out for a smoke if you don't mind."
"Not at all," she replies. The screen door creaks as you push it; you cautiously settle on the step and slide a well-packed cigarette from its package. You hear the door screech again, and Rita squats behind you, one denimed knee on either side of your ribcage. Your heart pulses against her kneecaps, the paper of your cigarette crackles as it burns, the crickets whir in the warm summer evening. Heat radiates from her chest, warming your spine. You shiver without meaning to and she rests her chin on your shoulder.
"You didn't say who they were from," you say, flicking off a long section of ash with your thumbnail.
"Just some people." Rita wraps her arms around you.
"Some men," she says.
"Ah." You look up through the torn canvas overhang that clings to the metal supports above the trailer for dear life. The stars are nonexistent, muted by the ambient light of adjacent cities. "But why books?" you can't help but ask.
She's quiet for a second and then says, "Because it's all I ever asked for." She pulls your cigarette from your fingers, takes a long drag and tosses it into the neighboring trailer's potted ficus. She walks back inside, gesturing for you to follow.
Rita pushes you up against the refrigerator and kisses you hard. So hard it's like your skull's an eight ball and your body is a green felt pool table and she's a pool cue, knocking your head right off with her lips.
She pulls back, throws herself onto her mattress. "Come here." You don't think twice about it, just come and sit next to her. She kisses you again, she kisses your neck, she eases her way down your snug gray t-shirt, easily unzipping your wrinkled khakis.
You lay back, try and enjoy yourself. There's book, buried somewhere in the layers of blankets beneath you. It bites into your back, begging to be identified and removed. You reach for it covertly; Hardy Boys? Really?
You finish and she wipes her lips, sidling up to you with her head propped up on a hand.
"Listen," you say, "it was good seeing you again. Really good."
"It was." Rita flashes that gap-toothed grin.
"I have class in the morning, so I really ought to head out."
She doesn't look surprised. "Will you come back?"
"Will you bring me something?" She glides back into her shirt, walking you to the door.
You know where this is going. "Paperback or hardcover?" She grabs your belt loops, pulling you close for another kiss. Rita whispers in your ear, then releases you and you're free again. You walk past white plastic paneling, a green cinderblock laundry building, a dog on a chain. The air hugs you pushing you to the car you'd parked a few trailers away.
Her last words weigh heavily on you.
"I want a book end."