You’ve been here a donkey’s age

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A couple came into the shop. He stopped at the window. He swayed back and forth, thinking and thinking. He stood in the same place. He wasn’t looking at the books. He was looking at something else, but I couldn’t see it.

His wife beamed and beamed at the shelves. She hurled her approval, but quietly, and everywhere. She said, ‘I like Fiona McIntosh.’ She came back slowly with three books. There was no hurry. There was time.  She said to her husband, ‘What else?’

He said, ‘The devil if I know!’

He swayed back and forth, looking at her. He shone his own approval all over her. She was already bent over, but she bent over some more, laughing slowly.

He said, ‘You’ve been here a donkey’s age!’

He said to me, ‘She’ll be a donkey’s age.’ He nodded silently, agreeing with the end of a vast argument that was flung back over a long time, perhaps a century.

She nodded, agreeing with the end of a vast argument that was flung back over a long time, perhaps a century.

He swayed back and forth. She beamed.

 

 

On the jetty, Edithburgh, at dusk

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I’m just watching. It’s all I want to do right now.

The jetty is warm.

The fisher people are patient, they move in and out of all the rooms of the evening. They are on the jetty looking for squid. One man handles his rod as if it is a pencil. He only needs one hand, light, delicate. He writes on the water. He leans over, frowning, as if looking for mistakes.

There is a child who is running in circles with a green bucket. The father says, ‘Here, bring it back.’ The mother continues to hold the line, staring downwards. She is wearing raspberry coloured sports shoes. She is blown about, swaying, and looking downwards, into the water, looking for signs in the green, green water, wondering how to improve things.

One man sits in a chair. He wears shorts, a singlet and rubber boots. He says, ‘Away then, away then, come on you.’  The next man is motionless.

The child is chasing seagulls. They hop backwards, an inch, another inch. She is so fast; they must hop back…two inches this time, hop, hop, and then they tilt their heads. She stretches and dips. Maybe she will put a seagull in her bucket. But she can’t, her father is calling and calling, ‘Here…. where’s me bucket…?’

The jetty is warm.

My family land a squid and it releases its life, in ink. Heads turn. Heads nod.

They are going for green tonight. They only want the green jigs. The information is passed on.

The sun settles, depressed, smoky. It can’t get clean. The eyes of the squid are wet emeralds, soft and gone. More fisher people pass us, heading for a place on the jetty, finding it, a precise place, a warm spot that works for them. They stop to prepare fishing rods, put down a plastic bucket and kneel to the sun.

My family land another squid; it releases another finale, across the jetty, ink, fire, a catastrophe, whatever. The running child with the green bucket pauses, glances across the stain,  reads it, moves on, calls back, ‘Got it’. She runs and leaps, entirely alive.

I am only watching.

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Reading a children’s book slowly and reluctantly

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A lady had bought three children’s books (for grandchildren) and tried to leave. Christmas things to do etc. But she was sabotaged on the way out. The Smallest Bilby and the Midnight Star on the window shelf stopped her exit. She came back and picked it up. Looked at the cover. Brought it to the counter. Outside, people rushed past. She read it though slowly, thoughtfully. Then she said, ‘Damn.’

We looked at each other understandingly. The book had won. She carried it out, I watched it go.

 

Three ladies look through the window at the political biographies

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The political biographies occupy the window in an arrogant and useless kind of way.

Three ladies are out there, together, come off a bus across the road. I can see the driver sprinting for the bakery.

I can hear the ladies. They are bent over, peering in.

‘Sue was reading one of his books…’

They laugh wildly. (I wonder, who is Sue…?)

‘Caroline read it, too. When she…you know…’

I knew she wouldn’t lend me, so I asked for it at the library.’

‘They take an age though.’

They all agreed that libraries take too long. I still don’t know what they are referring to. I remain still. Eavesdropping is rude. It would not do for people to know. Is it Paul Keating? Surely not.

‘I wouldn’t mind it. She said it makes you feel good.’

(Paul Keating?)

‘You know you can read it and…’

‘Enjoy it.’

Whee yes! That’s what she said.’

‘I’m going in.’

‘Anne’s going in, bless her’.

“Anne” poked about amongst the political and knocked Keating to the floor. She picked up The Happiest Refugee and brought it to me. She said, ‘A hardback, no less. That makes me happy. It’s Anh Do!’

She opened her kind handbag and found the money. She looked at me and said richly, deeply, ‘Read it read it read it! You must read it. It’ll make you feel good.’

Then she left, thrusting the book at her friends, who bobbed up and down and exclaimed, ‘Anne, you’re a one!’

And they walked on, Anne with the book, and the others talking about having a colonoscopy.

Artwork by Pat Brennan

The kids in the car

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Outside, in a car. There they are! Two children having to wait in the car for a parent who has rushed to the bakery.

I watch the car windows go up and down. Up and down. Spindly arms flicker. They are calling to each other, their little voices like recorders, fluting.

I watch an old lady pause and look in the window. The front passenger offers a small hopeful wave. The way children do. Unsure if it’s ok, but offering anyway.

Then he leans back, stretches forward, leans back again, with those little stalky arms up and touching the roof.  He checks that a smaller sibling in the back is attentive to his rather magnificent stretching. That child is nodding, nodding, nodding, but is looking out of another window.

The sudden grill of motorbikes makes them pause and stare at each other. The younger’s face is stretched downwards in that way children do, to fit itself around approval and joy.

The front one goes swish swish with his hair. He reaches out and flickers both hands right to left in an abrupt and convincing parody of a pianist thinking before descending.

He is singing.

Suddenly he reaches across to the back and offers a packet of something. He puts the packet gently into the sibling’s face to properly display the feast. They eat in these positions, together.

There are two small bikes strapped to the roof. I see now that there is also a dog in the back. I stand in the doorway of my shop, enjoying the sun and everything.

The front child returns and begins playing jazz piano on the back of his seat. The audience (of one) gazes forwards, rapt. The thin arms bounce and run, hover and dive, his fingers stripping the upholstery as he releases some ribbon of sound he has heard on YouTube or somewhere, somehow. His thin frame quivers across his own deadly reach. He must stop now, panting.

Another child goes past, staring in. Mr Front Seat disappears from view. Then his eyes appear. He points over the sill with his finer. Is he a sniper? Nearly as deadly to humankind as a jazz pianist. The passing child continues past. Walking and looking backwards at the car, eating biscuits.

Mum returns.

They talk, nod, seat belts, more nodding, a long conversation, she is holds the packets of food in mid-air. There is a long story from Mr front seat. Mum is interested, listens right to the end, then she leans back and kisses Mr Backseat. He leans back, replete. She deals out food, fastens her own seat belt, pull gently away from the kerb, eating from a paper bag bag, the children likewise, like little horses, noses out of sight and eyes closed.

Artwork by Pascal Campion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love’s Labour’s Lost

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Sometimes people come into the shop and I don’t notice. They just appear, and not through any door that I have. When I look up, there they are. A knot of teenagers, seated on the ground, leaning back, solemn, as though here for a meeting. I can hear the trailing ends of one idea after another.

‘The point he’s making is that….’

‘What people don’t realise….’

‘With my play, I had to…..’

‘Yeah, but that exerts…’

Someone is reading aloud. Everybody listens. The reader stands up. Finishes. Everyone dives forward with an idea….’I’ve got that on Instagram…not the book…it’s on something…’

‘No, no no, pretty much…..not that one…’

‘In The Uncommon Reader…’  Someone narrates the plot of The Uncommon Reader.

‘Listen to this…’

‘I was like…’

‘There’s this really long word in this play…’

More reading out loud.  An argument. A selfie is taken.

‘Oh my God. I’m getting that.’

‘Are you serious?’

‘I love this.’

‘The exhibition was in 1910…’

‘This was published in 1948.’

‘I don’t reckon…’

‘So what books are you grabbing hon…?’

‘I know. I don’t know. But I’m getting this now. I just googled it, I love it.

It was Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost they were reading from, and that they are now buying.

Then they leave, one girl hugging the ‘beautiful book’ and telling the others she can’t go out tonight because she has rehearsal.

 

 

A Tale from The Decameron, 1916, John William Waterhouse

 

 

 

Daughter and mother

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They came in together yesterday and looked around confidently. I could tell they approved. Connoisseurs of bookshops always enter with full sails. ‘Here we are…’

Then they pause, broadsided by higher authorities. An enormous spiteful Pepys. Tintin. Dickens, Pratchett, Adams. Sendak, Steinbeck, Atwood, Dai Sijie, Garner. Proust. The Quincunx and Ibrahim Nasrallah on the front shelf. Anais Nin. All out the front to help me meet the ego. Authorities, like me, pretend to have read everything. But we bloody haven’t.

The mother and daughter approved and warmed immediately. There was a burst of a Christmas excitement.

I want this.

I heard you. I heard you.

The mother came up to the counter and leaned in comfortably to tell me softly about What She Read. Outlander. It took over her eyes. She had to look away so she could see the plot and tell some of it to me.

The daughter kept on sorting. She loved the World Classics. She loved Lewis Carroll. She’d read Treasure Island. It was violent. She loved Charles Dickens. She loved hefty classics in small dense volumes. Red covers.

I love these.

I love these. I want this.

I have that…

The mother ordered copies of the Outlander series. The daughter looked pleased.

‘Then I’ll read them. After you.’

‘We have too many books.’ (We all do).

Then they gathered themselves together, paid for their books, moved out, hanging onto each other and talking about Game of Thrones.

 

Mother and Daughter at Table by Jean Edouard Vuillard

Quietly, quietly

Reading a book by Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres

There are two people here and they don’t know each other. They both greeted me when they came in. He said, ‘Nice in here.’ She said, ‘Cold outside’. Every time they passed each other, they nodded. He had three enormous history books. She had Hans Christian Anderson, one volume: the complete collection.

In the back room there is an argument. It is three old ladies. They won’t agree on Patricia Wentworth. They each bought one small paperback and wouldn’t look at each other. One said, ‘Hold the door, Dilly.’

Dilly said, ‘I like these strong doors, they get the muscles going.’ And she stood strongly against the door, letting her friends out, and the last lady said, ‘Well, let it go now, you’re letting the weather in.’

And the quiet lady, who’d been waiting, said, Isn’t it wonderful!’

I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I agreed that it was, and the quiet man, who had lost his phone somewhere, called out that he’d found it, on top of Louis Fischer. And he said, ‘Thank God there are still bookshops.’ And then the door opened and someone came in, and backed out, calling, ‘Sorry, don’t want books, isn’t this meant to be the bakery?’ And he nearly fell over a child who had pressed in behind him, and who now said, ‘Watch out for me though’ and held up her arm to show a green watch, and he said, ‘Just let me shut the door first, it’s a good watch, a very good watch.’

And the quiet lady said again, ‘Isn’t it wonderful…’

 

Painting: Reading A Book By Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès

I’ve got two impatient men out here

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A lady visited the shop this morning and stayed mostly with the biographies. She circled around briefly, noting this and that, nodding and looking, but always returned to the biographies. She said, ‘I love them.’

Then she said, ‘I’d stay longer, but I’ve two impatient men out there.’ She wagged her head from side to side and raised her eyes to the roof. She remained looking thoughtfully upward, as though seeing some solution up there.

Then she looked back into the biographies. There was a tap on the window and an urgent face appeared.

She said, ‘Oh damn them.’

She opened the door an inch and stared out, and they stared back. She said, ‘I just told her in there that I’ve got two impatient men out here.’

They jumped back in alarm. One said, ‘Well that’s not true is it. We just want a cup of tea. You go back in there to your books and fancies. Can’t she Frank! Why can’t she do that!

But Frank was not helpful. He had turned away. A cup of tea! He disappeared from view.

She joined them outside, sighing, suffering, and I heard her say, ‘Well, my goodness”, as they continued down the street.