Two gentlemen at the front window of the shop:
‘Don’t rush me.’
‘What about that there?’
‘No, don’t rush me. I’m not one for reading. But what do you think of this fellow?’
These gentlemen, obviously friends, were outside and leaning over the sill display. The lucky “fellow” was Lee Child. They came in, and one of them picked up the book and brought it to me. They adjusted their masks trying to speak clearly.
‘Lovely day, Ma’am.’
‘Can you look after this for a bit?’
I looked up later and saw them in Cooking. Silent, both reading standing up, hats held under an elbow, breathing quietly, as you do. Later again, one of them in the chair, the other leaning against the shelf, still reading, still reading.
They finished eventually and returned to the counter with The Book of Sauces.
‘This is wonderful. Will you put these through?’
The man who paid handed the Lee Child to his friend.
‘Here. Happy birthday. Didn’t get time to wrap it.’
‘Wrap it. You better wrap it for me.’
But he was already reading it as they left. No time for wrapping.
They said, ‘Thank you Ma’am, much obliged. A lovely day.’
It rained from dawn. The fire died in the night.
I poured hot water on some foreign leaves;
I brought the fire to life. Comfort
spread from the kitchen like a taste of chocolate
through the head-waters of a body,
accompanied by that little-water-music.
The knotted veins of the old house tremble and carry
a louder burden: the audience joining in.
People are peaceful in a world so lavish
with the ingredients of life:
the world of breakfast easy as Tahiti.
But we must leave. Head down in my new coat
I dodge to the High Street conscious of my fellows
damp and sad in their vegetable fibres.
But by the bus-stop I look up: the spring trees
exult in the downpour, radiant, clean for hours:
This is the life! This is the only life!
Alistair Elliot (1932 – 2018)
Painting by Larry Bracegirdle
It was not me who said this. It was a sharp argument that went past my door. And I still don’t know what was discovered, but I hope it was something of value like, right now, a space unoccupied by concern.
This is what people seem to be telling me, with their arms around a carefully chosen paperback, that this is precisely what they want. A space. A place.
It’s possible. I know it is because some customers have one regardless of the world around them. One man laughed and laughed because he’d found a limp soft copy of The Glass Menagerie. He said, ‘I’m a winner today.’ A break may be a small square of sunlight that only lasts a few minutes. But it’s massive. The Glass Menagerie is massive; you can climb into it for as long as you want.
The discovery argument passed the door so loudly that I couldn’t miss it. Two men. One speaking slowly and the other not listening. Wearing blue and orange, the tradesperson’s colours. Going to the bakery. When they returned the argument had softened into pasties with sauce in brown paper bags that were warm with grease and grunts of satisfaction.
I hope it was a good discovery. An unoccupied space maybe, that lasts for hours and goes on past the back fence of the morning’s disappointment and belongs only to the person who found it. I found one in the shop. There was only a screwed up docket lying in it and a bookmark from a previous reader that had fallen from a book.
Painting by Chris Liberti