The meeting

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There is a meeting outside the shop.

It makes steady progress, everyone is loaded with pies and coffees and cakes, but they move slowly on and on, past the window, stopping briefly, talking and talking, moving on again, then circling back to my doorway.

Winter’s over, mate.

Two men face each other, take a few more steps, stop again. They gesture with paper bags. Several others join them, backs to the cold. They look through my door, but don’t come in. A few more steps, talking and arguing, faces muffled through paper, sighing over the coffee, the coffee’s good.

Need to tie up loose ends…

I’ve zero tolerance…

120 bales..

Get your invoices in…

Worst thing ever…

There are always two people in front of each window. Some men are strolling up and down. I can’t work out where they’ve all come from. There are no vehicles parked outside.

No, mate, never heard of it!

Works really well.

Seven days a week?

I’ve a grandson back there though.

There’s no right way.

They are still coming out of the bakery, the group stretches past my shop. There are calls for more coffee.

Here, Ian. Someone tell him to get a carton of milk.

When I bought that spirit level, might have been a good ten years ago…

Everyone stops talking to stare at a truck that has stopped across the road. The driver jumps out and heads to the bakery, leaves the engine running.

He’s keen.

There was a guide, some sort of guide…wasn’t there?

No, there wasn’t.

All the shit you have to go through…I could tell you…

There’s a shout from down the street, out of my view. Everyone turns.

Is that Charlie?

There are footsteps, calling, movement, everyone preparing to leave, looking for a rubbish bin.

Weather’s coming in.

Don’t use the government guide.

Government? Is there one?

There was a turning of heads and a general, agreeable dismissive noise of contempt.

Government!

 

The men who wore suits, and talked too loudly

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These men came into the shop, friends, wearing rather beautiful suits, which is unusual around here for the middle of the day. They stayed in conversation, moving from shelf to shelf, discussing things far beyond the bookshop. They talked very loudly. There was an interruption with a phone call. They made plans for the evening.

One man said, what about Gayle?

The other said, no, don’t worry, we don’t want the kids there, she’ll stay home.

The friend said, sure?

And the first man said, yeah.

Then he said, is that Watership Down? Isn’t it about dogs or something?

Rabbits.

They bought it. At the counter, they said, how’re you going?

I said, I am at the height of my menopausal powers right now.

I saw their eyes flicker. There was a contraction in the muscles around the mouth. They breathed in, squared up, were polite. They said, no worries.

Then they said, thank you very much, and left the shop. As they passed through the door, their mouths still held the uncomfortable shape.

I forgot to tell them, well done, for Watership Down, a brilliant book.