‘I’ll do this, you get in there. Start looking. Beryl, get in there and start.’
I heard this through the door of the shop. They are out there crouched over the Covid sign, and it was spoken in a low scream. Beryl (and the other lady) are sisters.
‘Can I leave my umbrella here? Can I leave this book here? This is just the beginning. Quick, get in here, Stan.’
There were husbands, too. They came in, smiling, obedient, satisfied.
‘Am I allowed to buy this?’ Beryl held out a book. I said she could.
‘Oh God. Thank you.’ She thanked me. I thanked her. There was another low scream.
‘No, don’t pay now, Beryl, keep going. Get in there. Have you been in there?’ The sisters (in everything, but especially in reading) breathed at each other, swaying together, and they made for the back room. The husbands looked on. More people came in out of the rain. It is dark outside. We aren’t used to the rain yet, so we love it. Everyone stands utterly silent. It rains harder. The carpet is damp.
‘Can you lend me 50 cents?’ Beryl is calling to her sister. Serene. Knowing she will get 50 cents. Or the world.
‘You’re a naughty girl. Ok.’
‘Here. Wait. Put those back.’ But Beryl disobeys.
‘Give me my 50 cents then. Beryl disobeys again.
‘We don’t need that. We can come back.’
The sister who is not Beryl looks at me apologetically. ‘I must be strict with her. She leaves everything at my house… so many bloody books.’ Beryl and Irene look at each other. They exchange a world, and they go back to browsing.
‘Don’t forget our bags.’ (They have shopping bags piled in the corner.)
‘Peter will get them.’ Peter is waiting patiently. He is in love. He has been in love for 150 years. I can tell. He knows there is no need to get the bags yet. He leans, shoulder to shoulder with his brother in law. They keep talking.
‘Get that Seven Pillars of Wisdom.’
I’m getting this Charmian Clift. And this Norman Lindsay.’
‘I will.’ They look at each other dangerously. The husbands look up, interested. Experienced.
But the sisters browse on. ‘God, look at this.’
‘I might. Did you find any Jackie French?’
‘Oh, this is beautiful.’
‘God, I love this.’
‘You leave that there.’
Suddenly, they turn to me.
‘Do you have an online presence.’ (They ask politely.)
I say: I don’t. Just a blog. I write about readers. Like you.
‘My goodness. But why?’
But there are not enough words for why.
The husbands approach, and they know.
So I do.
Illustration by Inge Look