In the early days the market for it was limited. It was an idea ahead of its time, we told each other, even as the heat was turned off and the bill collectors rang at every mealtime. We dressed the children in clothes we could no longer stand. It was Brooxie’s idea, though now she says we came to it together. I do recall her asking me, “Why are people feeling so weightless now, their lives insubstantial as if they were drift and wave?” I went to bed that night black with thought. It was the next day, as I tried to scuff some curdled milk onto Benny’s stale cereal, when I said, “Enough!” And the plan crystallized in my mind in a matter of seconds, the way, it is told, that poets accept the sudden arrival of a finished poem in their heads while making a mid-night trip from bed to bidet. Brooxie’s sister, Anne had closed her greeting card shop the year before because no one wrote anymore, and the space remained closed and in our name. Its location, while not ideal, was not too bad, though the city had shifted westward the way lees settle in a cup. We opened Gravitas in May 20–. Its slogan, “Feel Nearer Other Matter; Feel More Rooted,” was also Brooxie’s idea. She did the décor, set up the advertising, ran the shop from behind a brightly decorated counter. I mostly hung around talking to customers, reassuring them that there was nothing disorienting in our product. It’s just plain old gravity, pure as chalk. As a matter of fact, I used to say, “You are going to feel at home on Planet Earth for the first time in your life.” This was years ago now. Everyone buys gravity somewhere. When Home Depot began carrying it at reduced cost (though of inferior quality) we saw the writing on the wall. Soon Gravitas would go the way of Anne’s Deal with Us Card Shoppe. Paradigms shift, as someone smarter than us said. We began casting about for new ideas since we considered ourselves too young to retire (though, financially, we were doing quite well). It was our youngest child, Alfalfa’s idea that had us up all night spitballing. Alfalfa said, “I’m tired of the allergens and the pollution making me feel loopy.” We stared at our lad as if he had just recited Dante’s Cantos in Italian. Can we sell Fresh Air? Brooxie asked, around two a.m., as we chewed our pretzels meditatively. It was the start of something big, we thought. It was another way to make money from our planet’s failure to give us the wealth and happiness we felt we deserved. Yes, I said. I said, Yes, everyone, whether they know it or not, needs air. We will convince them they need air.
COREY MESLER has published in numerous journals and anthologies. He has published six novels, two full length poetry collections, three books of short stores, and a dozen chapbooks of both poetry and prose. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize numerous times and two of his poems have been chosen for the Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. With his wife, he runs one of the country’s oldest and best independent bookstores, Burke’s Book Store, founded in 1875. He can also be found at www.coreymesler.wordpress.com