Licking the Door

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On Thursday morning there was a little girl standing at my door and not coming in. She could see the wooden cat in the window and she sang: cat cat cat the cat. But her mother, laden with toddler, pram, baby, groceries and the rest of their life said: not today.

So, this little girl licked the glass of the door, the good thick glass, icy cold with the cold day and she stood with one foot flat and one pointed and her chin to the sky and eyes closed and tasted the glass of everything until her mother said: Oh God, stop it, stop licking the glass, quick,  come away.

The little girl with both eyes still closed had to correct her mother. She said: it’s not glass, it’s lollies.

 

The Football Score

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“Well, I can tell you about this guy, he’s an absolute funny guy, wrote the most amazing books about a discworld and then he died, just like that. Look at that picture of him, he has a wizard’s hat, always wore it when he was out.”

The two old men, swayed in front of my door, shoulder to shoulder, two friends, telling each other about all the books in the window. One of them was holding a radio, which was softly broadcasting the football. Suddenly they both stopped talking and looked down at the radio, concerned.

What was that he said?

No, it’s all right, all alright…the man holding the radio lifted a calming hand, don’t get up about it.

They turned back to the window and stared at Terry Pratchett, at Agatha Christie and at Winston Churchill. One of the men said: I never held with that fellow.

The other man said: no, that’s right.

Then they looked at all the children’s books, came up close to the window and said: look at all those kiddie’s books, good on them…good on all of them.

Then they turned away and went slowly up the street, looking down at the radio, at the football,  one man had his hand on his friend’s shoulder as they turned, possibly consoling him about the score.

 

 

 

 

 

The children who asked me to look after their bikes…

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This has never happened before! These children swung into the shop during the afternoon, so suddenly that I didn’t see them until they were directly in front of me and clasping their hands together as a plea, they asked if I might look after their bikes, please and please, while they went to Woolworths to get some things. They were bright with cold and energy and woven together in a tight clump of children and daylight and endless time.

And they had already parked the bikes in a neat row along the window of the shop; they showed me this a little anxiously. And I said that this was all good. And off they went.

A little later a boy came into the shop in a puzzled and worried way and told me that he knew the people who were of those bikes. He stood with his hands in his pockets and looked at the Asterix books for a while and then asked me if those people were actually in the shop and I said no, they were around the corner and up the street and he dashed for the door and out and around the corner and was gone.

Later, I checked the bikes; they had obediently stayed in their courteous row.

An hour later, the children were back, as suddenly as they had left. They thrust a handful of gentle flowers at me, orange and white daisies, they said: here’s for you, for looking after the bikes, and then they were all backing out, banging into each other and into the doorway, calling and calling: thank you very much for looking after… see you another time…see you….

 

 

 

 

 

That’s ok, all my books are valuable to me…

Frank Donato

This little boy, 10 years old, came into the shop carrying a copy of Lord of the Rings under his arm, a bright red paperback with a bookmark about half way though.

He asked me for a copy of The Hobbit and I had one but it was an illustrated hardback and more expensive than the paperback reading copies. He told me he is allowed to spend his pocket money however he wants and he wanted that one.

His mother and grandmother stood back, wise, allowing him custody of his own reading life. They beamed over him their generosity and grace. Once his mother said: he’s read everything, he makes his own library. They said they did not know where this reading thing came from. They did not claim credit for it themselves. This is unusual.

He told me about Watership Down and The Little Grey Men. He asked for Goodnight Mr Tom and wondered if I knew about Tarka the Otter He wandered around and around, smiling at the books, happy with the choices even though he had read most of them. When he walked he kicked one leg up in front of him in a rhythm, round the tables and shelves he went, nodding his head at the books he knew. Then he saw a book with a pirate ship on the front, a blue one with a beautiful sapphire cover. I explained the book to him but he was not interested in hearing about the book, he only wanted to hear about the story. I said, this book is also a book to hang onto, it is valuable…

He said: I know, I know, don’t worry about that, all my books are valuable to me…

 

Illustration by Frank Donato

 

 

 

 

The Young Man who Looked at a little Bird under a Glass Tree for a Really long Time…

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He came into the shop with a friend, but the friend abandoned him: she had books to find and a list in her hand.

He stood still at first and kept his hood on and his hands in his pockets and prepared to wait. But he looked at everything. And for so long and so carefully. Sometimes he bent forward, eyeing the spines and the titles, reading everything he could without picking them up. Then he looked at the shelves, from top to bottom, he leaned in and looked upward at the small roof of each cabinet. Once he put his face close to Pinocchio, seemingly intrigued with it, all by itself on one shelf. He stared at a cover of The Worst Band in the Universe for a long time.

I thought that I have never seen so close an examination of volumes and displays and walls in here, never such an intense scrutiny of covers and pictures and for such a long time.

He stopped at a little stone bird. It sits under an absurd small tree made of wire and glass and which hosts a poem called The Dipper.

The poem is printed out and lays underneath the tree and next to the bird and the blue and green and gold glass beads settle around them and it all goes unnoticed by everyone except small children who often ask: is it real. And I say that it is not real and they stand back, unimpressed by a tree that is not real.

This man leaned in and read the poem. He leaned over it for so long I though he must have read it eleven times. Then he examined the tree, the hanging glass drops that weep evenly around the poem and sometimes drop their beads or the gold leaves on the floor for no reason at all. He leaned over the rock, a real one, it embraces the base of the tree, holding still a nearly invisible idea.

He didn’t say anything, his attention was the song.

Then his friend returned with her book, The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, and said: ok, I’m done.

He straightened up and they left and that was that.

 

The Dipper

It was winter, near freezing.

I’d walked through a forest of firs

when I saw issue out of the waterfall

a solitary bird.

 

It lit on a damp rock,

and, as water swept stupidly on,

wrung from its own throat

supple undammable song.

 

It isn’t mine to give

I can’t coax this bird to my hand

That knows the depth of the river

yet sings of it on land.

 

Kathleen Jamie

 

 

 

You can still see everything…

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Well, he came back to the shop, the man who had to allow his library to go under the hammer at the auction all those years ago.

He came back because he is going to build another library and he chose without hesitation copies of The Mill on the Floss, Tom Jones and Vanity Fair. And when I examined each one slowly to make sure that I could actually allow them to go ( as he had heartlessly chosen the most attractive copies in the shop ) he told me a story about each of these books – he had read them all, several times over! This customer was wearing a knitted jumper with leather patches on the elbows and he leaned on the counter, on his elbows to tell the stories, especially urging me to read Tom Jones which was exceedingly funny. When he told the stories of the story of Vanity Fair  he stood up and held onto his glasses with both hands, trying with difficulty to keep himself anchored on the mere ground which is far too ordinary a place to stand when you are trying to talk about Vanity Fair and Becky Sharp.

He said he now can only read with one eye.

He told me about Middlemarch, Far From the Madding Crowd and Madam Bovary.

He said that reading with one eye or three eyes, makes no difference when you are reading books as good as these. That you can still see everything.

 

Sculpture by Emily Blincoe

 

 

The Auction

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There have only been four visitors today, outside is cold and windy and raining and everybody is just running past the windows looking for their car keys.

But one man stayed for ages, looking for a copy of A Room with a View which is his wife’s favourite book. He told me that when he and his wife moved to their houseboat they had to sell all their books and there were thousands of them. (But now, come summer, they were moving and were going to make a library again, a haphazard summer library of everything!)

He said he remembered the day they sold everything, a cold and grey nothing sort of day and everything went up for auction and he was happy to see it all go (thank riddance, he had thought) but when the books went under the hammer he tried to just sit there but he couldn’t and so he went and sat in his car and looked through the windscreen and made himself not think about it but it wasn’t possible.

 

 

 

But I Can’t…

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Robert said that his books and his reading keep him so inspired and compelled to keep on with his own writing that when his friends come over and ask him what he is writing about (and then laugh when he tells them) that he just doesn’t mind.

He said that the reading gives him the third eye of salvation because this is what, say, Dante does when you read him properly, etc. Makes you see in colour, etc.

He said he makes everybody a cup of coffee and they all say: come on Robert, give it a break and he says: but I can’t

Today he is at the shop looking for a particular journal of Egyptian Archaeology….he says the world is a rich place, yielding more reading than he can ever do. And he laughs, so happy with his rich perplexing world and all the books still to read to write.

 

Sculpture by Eoghan Bridge

There aren’t enough books to keep up…

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A child reader told me this on Saturday morning, sadly, because the Pippi Longstockings had run out and she had finished Tarka the Otter and The Magic Faraways, all of them, and there were no more Dork Diaries, but there should be and so what is there now…..

She leaned against the shelf, thinking with every ounce of herself about where to go next…and her young mother leaned into the chair and read some news on her phone that was very interesting.

This child thought she might have a go at the Skulduggeries but doubted that they would be any good. She though that The Twilights were ok…

She had read Ballet Shoes and Tom’s Midnight Garden and The Incredible Journey, and I asked her where she found these books and she said: at school.

I offered her some popular choices and she was polite but not enthusiastic. After a long time she chose The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong  and told me that this book smelled nice and most of the others don’t so she would choose this one.

 

Sculpture by Valarie Hadida

 

 

 

Too Many Pies…

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I have a visitor who comes here quite often no matter the weather.

She said when she came into the shop this afternoon that everybody’s always got too many pies in everyone else’s business: I don’t like it, I don’t like it, I don’t like being told I am a hoarder and have a problem. So what if I have too many books and too many vases. Who are they to tell me if I’m ok or not? I am ok.

I thought that her hands, that were holding her worn out bag and a copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau trembled slightly, and then I thought that they trembled again.

(But that’s ok, I know what it is to doubt your own precarious hold on life. The hands always show how much weight there is to hold at any one moment).

Then she left, took off, as she said, into the outside, getting home before the dust storm which she said was because of global warming thanks to idiots like Donald Trump. She left, banging the door and took off, into bravery and difficulty and idiots like Donald Trump and still keeping on going.