He was with a friend. She kept bumping his shoulder gently so he had to keep moving along. He frowned and read titles closely and bit his lip, put them back and went on to the next one. He gave each book a long fair go. He tipped his head back and narrowed his eyes to get at the reviews on the back and the dates of publication.
‘You find it?’ She asked. He shook his head. She put headphones in.
In Classics, the man rested on one knee. One elbow resting on the knee. One hand resting on the shelf right next to Steinbeck and Stevenson.
His friend took her headphones out and said they needed to go to Woolies later. He nodded. She put her headphones back in. Began to nod gently to another rhythm. He bent closer to the shelf, angling toward another vision. His feet were uncomfortable, splayed out for balance, and he soon moved back and knelt on both knees instead. He was now backed up against the leg of his friend. She had her eyes closed, and was moving, in tiny imperceptible movements, from side to side.
She reached down with her left hand took hold of his ear. She continued listening. He continued looking. Joined.
This conversation whipped past my shop door and was gone before I could catch the interesting tiger tail. This single question sang out clearly and steadily and remained in the air after the talkers had gone; it hung there. I saw it.
What had she done? Fault is awkward because we all have a bit. So I wanted to know. A sustaining dose of someone else’s faults will quieten mine. For half an hour.
The walkers were walking shoulder to shoulder and leaning in, as you do when sharing things delicate. As we do. Once I found keys in our shed door that ought not to have been there. They were jammed in awkwardly and left there for three days. I said, ‘Who left those there? We could have been robbed.’ But a grandson owned up immediately. ‘Me, Nanny. I wanted to get Pa’s wire scissors and make a hole in your fence.’ He looked at me, pleased with the vision of himself making a hole in our fence. I said delicately to Pa, ‘Do we need a hole in our fence?’ The walkers who passed my shop discussing the apology were women and young. I can tell that because of the pace and strength of the walk. They don’t lean forward. They were upright. They challenged the sky: get out of our way. They frowned slightly, aware of the footpath, the kerb, and approaching traffic. They gave the apology a chance. Their shoulders were soft. They give the criminal a chance. Their eyes were considering. I saw that.
I myself gave the keys in our shed door a chance. I like those keys and their crooked hopeful insertion into the aching lock. I wished those young women hadn’t been walking so fast. Why didn’t they hang about the doorway like men do, with time available, nothing to do, and an argument to win; a country to conquer. But they didn’t hang. They moved on. Once a friend told me, ‘Apologise. Just fucking do it. If they’re worth it, apologise.’ She said this when we were raising kids and getting it wrong. Now I ache with the wrongness and the need to have apologised more. The keys must still be there. Sometimes we don’t get an apology back. The same friend said, ‘So what. Get over it.’ She won me a country.
I wonder who those young women were, and who had the key in their lock, crooked.
Two men came into the shop today together, and I thought they were brothers. This is because they worked shoulder to shoulder. First they had to check in.
‘Did you get it?’
‘No not yet.’
‘Come inside. There’s another one in here. Try it. Might work better.’ They found my app printed and hung up in a different place.
‘That one out there must be on a shadow or something, generally I get it, don’t I.
The other man instructed him.
‘Come back a bit. Come back a bit.’
‘It’s been working beautiful till now.’
‘Yeah, I know mate. Come back a bit, you have to get the whole thing in.’
‘I’ve got it.’
‘No, you haven’t.’
‘Ok, I’ll have to sign the thingo. Don’t know why that is, it worked beautiful in the bakery, sorry to be a nuisance.’ He looked at me apologetically. I said, ‘Not to worry.’
I rewarded them with Melody Gardot through the speaker. They swayed.
I watched them move. Gentlemen, with hands in pockets. Silence. Leaning over the books with courtesy and interest. One men went into Art. The other man swayed, listening. They passed each other twice in the same narrow space. ‘You right?’
‘I am, mate.’
Hats on, black, coats on, blue, shoes stout helping with winter. Silence and breathing.
Suddenly their wivesentered, signing in efficiently. There are three of them. Who is the third?
‘Come on, girls.’ The see their men.
‘Oh, ello stranger, fancy meeting you here.’
One of the men responds, ‘Do I know you?’
Why are you in the children’s books?’ They don’t answer.
‘Come on Sue, let’s get Nora Roberts.’
Sue, in a beautiful red coat moves gently and slowly. ‘Did you sign the thing?’
‘We did.’ They move off, Sue with a walking stick. They ask each other.
‘How much is this?’
‘Is there a section for crime?’
‘I know what author I’m going for.’
‘Here, watch your step.’
Meanwhile, the husbands are still in art, shoulder to shoulder. They are examining their wallets. I listen to them when they pay for the art book.
‘Hans Heysen, not a bad bloke.’
‘He didn’t do too bad, did he?’
‘Now that I’ve retired I should put my finger back into the apple pie.’
‘Well, I’ll tell you what…’
Then they left, alone, and without their ladies. Outside in the cold, I could hear them still talking, still bent over the book he had open and was holding out under the afternoon cold.
‘Have they gone? Where are they?’
‘The men have left us behind, Sue.’
‘They’ve all gone, have they?’
‘They’re probably looking for us.’
‘Well, we can get back to the car. Don’t need them.’
Then they left, but I can still hear them outside the door.
‘I’ll just look round the corner.’
They moved slowly out and on and past the window. I can still here their voices…
‘…well that’s their fault for just sitting at home…’
Three people have just stopped at the window. Their car is parked behind them; one lady holds onto the car door, steadying herself before stepping to the footpath. They others lean to look through the door.
‘David would in there if he were here.’
‘Yes, he would.’ The third lady joins them. She also leans to look through the glass.
The four of us all met somehow at the counter in my bookshop. Me seated, my friend standing, her friend leaning, another lady, here. That word comes up: menopause
and we all make “the face”, and our shoulders move slightly in outrage. The temperature of our bones glides (again) upward, silent and inappropriate, as confused as ever, keeping pace with life and not sympathetic. But we laugh and shout and laugh. We agree triumphantly that bras never fit. We have many ideas. Nothing can defeat many ideas.
Eventually one lady leaves, trundling her groceries and things out of the door in a little trolley. Her shoes are excellent; soft, and stitched and kind, looking after her, the person that wears them.
This morning, two young girls with beautiful shoulder bags visited the shop. I don’t remember them here before. They settled in. I sat back with respect. True readers.
‘Lord of the Rings…. look at these…do you have The Sils?’
‘Yeah, ages ago…’
‘Every book that he’s written…’
‘I know, right!’
‘Do you think I should get something about…’
‘I shouldn’t be looking at this, but I love roses…’
They are young and can kneel easily. They can include the bottom shelves. They are not fatigued by high shelves. Reach and lift. Scan books on their knees and get up rapidly again. Their shoulders are not rounded. Once a lady told me she cannot read the titles on any books above her head or below her knees, and I needed to get rid of everything on the highest and lowest shelves. She was really angry. She had shoulders that were argumentative.
One girl cradles, then hugs the book about roses.
They can both walk and read at the same time. I used to be able to do this. The angry woman had said that my shop would cause injuries.
‘Look at this.’ The girls whisper darkly and laugh and laugh and laugh.
They sit on their heels, easily.
Once a man said I needed to do something about my doorway.
‘You need to do something about this doorway. Bloody ridiculous.’
The girls are are counting coins on the floor.
They stand up and look at each other’s armloads, then look down to examine their own cuddled stack. Then they move to another shelf. They have not yet got enough.
The angry lady had said that she would not return.
One girl said, ‘I’m going to fly with these. Just got The Last Unicorn.’
‘Did you get that?’
They pay and leave, hugging their books. Hugging their books. When they floated past my window, they were hugging their books.
They were funny because they kept arguing about who was best – J.D. Robb or Nora Roberts. Or Karin Slaughter. Or someone else…They couldn’t remember.
They used the hand sanitizer generously and did not agree with the trucks going past at such speed (too loud). They promised to lend each other their books. One lady thought the other would lose the book first. The accused lady looked fierce. She paid for her book, looking organised.
Another truck went past. They turned to watch it and made disapproving sounds. One lady began to tell us about a film with Tom Hanks that we should all watch, but her friend steered her out by the elbow, saying it was time for something to eat.
Yvonne was one of my first customers. When she came in, she apologised for using a kindle. She said, ‘You may as well know’. She loved racy thrillers – Clive Cussler, and she said that when she was young, she was quite a dish.
Every day she walks the block with Marco. She rescued him. She said he’s a gem, but terribly naughty. She always asked after my family. When she was young, she learnt an instrument that nobody had ever heard of.
One day, she brought me in a glazed tile. She’d bought it up the road. It was a picture of my shop (as close as you could get) and she wanted me to have it. I was very flattered. I hung it on the wall. Every day, customers would ask, ‘Where did you get THAT?’
Yvonne said, ‘Gawd. You can get that picture anywhere.’
The day I closed the shop, I saw her walking calmly by, Marco clicking away at her ankles. She passed me when I dashed over the road for groceries. She said, ‘Times are grim,’ but she was squared up, ready for a challenge.
I remember Dion. He was one of my first customers. This was back when hardly anyone came in. Dion came in, and said, ‘Wow! This is great!’ Then he asked me how I was. I did not know back then that he would ask me this for the next five years. I also didn’t know that he wasn’t ok himself.
The first book he asked for was Twilight. He had seen the film, and thought it was the greatest film ever. He bought the book from me.
Still he visited, weekly, fortnightly, then monthly. I have not seen him for a long time now.
I remember when he gave up smoking. He asked me for a book on sharks. I showed him one and he bought it. Said it was fantastic. His hands were shaking.
Once he said that I would not want what he had. He never went into details about his health, or lack of it. He always asked after mine. No matter what.
Once he came in, full of head pain, and said, ‘Kerry, you’re gunna love this joke.’
Once he came in on a rainy day to say hello, and make sure that the shop was ok. I said that all is going well, and he said: except the weather.
The last time I saw him, he said, ‘Don’t worry about me, Kerry.’