pulled the knife out, and he was still bleeding

Sometimes the street outside the shop is quiet. There is no movement, no noise, and nobody passes the shop. Sometimes I go outside and look up and down the road. Then I go back in and get on with things.

Today, it was chaos out there. People crowded past in groups with maps, bags, and phones. The traffic on the road equalled this, stopping, starting, parking, arguing, sounding horns, calling from car windows. And today, the groups on the footpath were so packed together that I heard them and saw them. Every now and again I looked straight into a face that was looking straight back at me.

Somebody yelled, ‘Got to call in here on our way back.’ I didn’t see them. They moved too fast. I hoped they’d come back.

I saw the next couple because they paused at the door. He peered in with screwed up eyes.

‘What is it?’

‘Dunno. Medical place I think.’ He looked right at me and abruptly pulled away.

I’m not a medial place.

The next burst of information came a little later.

‘…pulled the knife out and he was still bleeding…’

‘Silly.’

The first speaker turned and looked right at me looking right at him. I thought, ‘Shit!’

Then,

‘You want something to eat, mother? All right, but I’m not fussy about going back to that cafe though.’

‘That wasn’t here, Ed. That was another town.’

He (who wasn’t fussy) humped his shoulders and looked in at me. I looked out at him, sympathetic. I know about getting the right doughnut.

Painting by Charles Hardaker

My unedited house

It starts where I sit at the kitchen table looking at people across the road. There’s a small group of them, and they move the afternoon light because the light is loaded with flakes of heat, gum leaf, and dust, and every outline is livid with it.

The people are leaning over a car, bonnet up.

There are dishes and cups here, and one yellow pot at the window, level with the heads over the car outside. Inside, there is also a coffee mug, a tea towel, a phone charging.

There are books on the floor, and a wooden train set with some missing. A bottle of perfume, a set of weights, clean washing (some of it folded).

A bowl of nashi pears, heavy with yellow.

Everybody’s things.

And bookshelves.

I have a low table with a glass roof. Under the sliding panel of glass there are square cavities, each one containing something really good. Polished stone in silky chunks, fossils, a giant leaf that’s not actually that big, carved wooden spoons, pieces of shell, clay, a feather, all those things that have no value but have great value. The glass is scratched now. On top, a wooden petrol station put together and painted by hand, and inside this a plastic elephant and giraffe from a game that strayed into another game. On the top of the petrol station, copies of Hairy McClary and Asterix and the Golden Sickle.

Carpet.

The nashi pears are heavy with yellow. Someone should eat them.

That child

This child came in just on closing. Entered by herself. She was carrying an enormous chocolate muffin, holding onto it’s rear end with a paper bag, and she walked at me, like herself, her own walk, with an orange drink, and another paper bag full of clinking coins. She stared at me over the jumble, holding the end of my afternoon gaze with bright direct and unalloyed eyes. I had to sit back and reassess. I looked for a parent. She didn’t.

Her hair had escaped the morning’s organisation, framed her head in soft snakes, as alive as she was, ready to strike at my disinterest. She said,

‘Hello.’

I answered, ‘Hello.’

She hesitated, and helped me out, me, the one needing assistance.

‘How’s the bookshop going?’

I said, very well, thank you’, a limping answer like the ones from my childhood when I used to be questioned about school.

The child was kind. ‘That’s good. Is cash ok here?’

She stood there looking directly at me, not breaking the stare, the chocolate framing an active oval around her mouth, her hair poised in spikes and loops, her eyes dark and joyful, hopeful that I would allow her something.

She indicated her paper bag of money with gratitude. That’s good, I was worried, I want a bookmark, that one, that sorting hat one. Today at school there wasn’t much to do, so I sorted the whole school into all the sorting hats, and I knew who to put into Gryffindor. It’s easy. Do you know how to?

I said I did, hoping she wouldn’t know that I didn’t.

She was delighted and rattled the paper bag of money. The chocolate on her face gleamed. Her hair relaxed but still watched me. She said, thank you for the shop, have a good day and afternoon. She struggled with the door, keeping the half-eaten cake upright, the orange drink calm, and her overwhelming face fixed straight onto mine, slid out, was gone, a spark of something, gone now.

The man who asked for a book I didn’t have

A man visited me on Thursday and asked for a book I didn’t have – Shark Arm by Phillip Roope, and his walking stick gave him some trouble as he balanced himself at the counter.

He said, ‘Don’t worry, that’s just my walking stick trying to kill me’, and we smiled, and a customer nearby looked across and nodded and then looked back at the shelves again.

He asked me to order the book for him, and I replied, ‘Of course’, and I looked up to take his details and there were tears in his eyes which must have come on suddenly and for no reason visible to anyone here.

He said, ‘Let me know when it arrives, I’m looking forward to this.’

His eyes were blue. His shirt and jeans and hat were all green, His eyes held the story though because everything for a second swam right in front of us, and then was gone again.  

Image by Horacio Cardoza

The two ladies who screamed but were actually laughing

They are here in the shop. They are blue, cream, and white, and happy with the weather. Their heads go from side to side, looking at everything fast. They talk at the same time and stack books back on the shelves, placing them exactly as they were before. One lady taps the spines back into soft lines with her fingertip. Lovingly. They call to each other, and their heads go from side to side again as they look at each other’s books, and then back to their own books.

One says, ‘Quick, the lads are here.’ They shuffle and stack harder. One shows the other a picture in a book and they both give quick screams of laughter. Two men come in. The four of them gather tightly. One lady is balancing some books on one hip, ‘I’m getting these, and she thrusts them at one of the men, and he looks down admiringly. He says, ‘Did you leave any for anyone else?’ and the ladies give small screams again, and the man looks happy.

Illustration by Inge Look

It is good to know

Natacha Einat (2)

Last night there was a slice of light balanced on the horizon just before the sun set. Max said, ‘Is that the morning?’

It is good to know things.

A little girl in the shop, who darts into the shop after school and stands silently staring at the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, leaves without saying anything. I don’t know anything about her except that she reads. This, by default, makes her enormous. Which books, and why? She looks at art books, kneels next to, handles, frowns at those glossy slabs; the pages of the art books. She sits on her knees, a book laid flat on the carpet, bends over it, hands on the floor, looking and looking. Seeing…what?

It’s not just the page we see.

 

Artwork by Natacha Einat 

Tonight

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When I put my grandson, Max, to bed tonight here, he said, ‘But this smells like Noah.’

Noah is Max’s cousin, the same age, three, and a strong significant presence, like breakfast, or mummy, or love.

He indicated the quilt. ‘This is Noah. It smells like her.’ Him.

It does. It smells like the washing detergent that Noah’s family use, and it is Noah.

Then we read about dinosaurs. He falls asleep, strongly living, and asleep. His hand is still reaching for the lamp dial, an Ikea lamp with a brass dial that controls the light.

Then I go and look at some books given to me by a friend who is 94 and can no longer hold the books upright to read them. Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong; a set of four volumes dressed in pale green watered silk, announced in gold, housed in a slip case, and volume one with a large grease stain on the sublime watered frontage from when he last read it, propped at breakfast.

My friend, Richard, who can no longer hold the books up, is lying strongly, asleep.

All is life.

Life is so urgent

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Outside the shop, this morning, there was a clang. Five ladies all bumped into each other, unexpectedly.

‘Well, ha ha ha, how are we all?’ Somebody took charge.

There was also a little dog, Marco. Yvonne and Marco pass every morning. Yvonne once gave me a picture (on a glazed tile) of a bookshop she thought looked like mine. This was when I first opened, and it made me very happy. Yvonne grew up in England and said she was quite a dish when she was young.

Everyone laughed and leaned in. There was discussion about an email.

‘It took me 20 minutes to open it.’

‘Ridiculous!’

‘Ahhhhh. Well. Technology!’ They all agreed on technology.

Through the window I could see bright jumpers, shopping bags, a rose coloured beanie, and Marco, the patient gentleman.

‘The sun, isn’t it good.’

There was more discussion, low voices and leaning in. Laughter.

‘Yes.’

‘Catch you next time.’ Laughter. ‘Isn’t this funny.’ Laughter.

‘Bye.’

‘See you, girls.’ Laughter.

‘Yes, see you next time.’

‘Yes, and I’ll get that email.’ Laughter. They part. They move, and they let each other go.

‘What’d she say? I missed that bit.’ This is Yvonne to her friend, moving slowly on. ‘Didn’t she say something about dogs?’

‘I don’t know, I missed that bit.’

‘Yes.’

And on they go, past my door, past my window. Nobody looks in. I imagine the outside of my shop as if in a dream. I imagine it as beautiful. But nobody looks in. Life is so urgent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I might start reading Hemingway. I might start reading him. See what it’s all about.

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Men in orange work overalls, two of them, came into the shop. I had The Beatles playing, and one said, ‘Penny Lane!’

They had bottles of coke, they wore beanies and silver earrings. They consulted smartphones.

‘I might start reading Hemingway. I might start reading him. See what it’s all about.’ His friend nodded, ok.

They handled the classics. Alex Garland’s, The Beach made one of them put down his coke. He read the back of the book, kneeling on the floor.

The other man disappeared into the back room.

He came back to science fiction.

Leans back to see the top shelf, hands crossed across his front, holding the coke by the neck. Leaning now in front of art. Trying to see the bottom shelves.

Now, leaning into fantasy, resting a shoulder. The other man is still on the floor, his boots are tremendous; clutched by mud.

‘Cheers mate. Better go.’ They move quietly, slowly.

‘Do you take card, mate?’ (to me). One is buying Dexter. ‘I’ve seen this series.’

‘Cheers.’ They turn to leave, but one comes back. His friend treads patiently from side to side.

‘I’ll just get this as well. It’s reasonable.’

He says to his friend, ‘It’s reasonable. Need my wallet.’

He dashes out to a car, then back in, ‘Sorry mate (to me), didn’t have enough.’

His friend stands patiently, holding the door with outstretched arm, head resting on the arm, one boot on top of the other, gently.

‘Better get back.’

He pays. They leave quietly. Out into the bright cold.

Dad

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I am at the shop, but it is not open. There is lots to do. There are spiders in here. I am cleaning and polishing, waiting for the day.

While I work at the dust, I watch people go past. Little strikes of life, flaming up the windows, then disappearing again.

‘She’s got horses, she’s got bloody dogs, what else is there going to be….’ This was a couple, walking swiftly. Everyone walks swiftly, now, under obligation. He, the listener, was gazing down at her, showing concern, getting a reply ready. She was carrying a bag, leaning forwards, outraged about the dogs and the horses.

‘I’ve always had an interest in war histories.’ This was an old man who was hustled into a waiting car. ‘Get in dad.’

Keeping dad safe.

But dad was looking out at the books in the windows. His eyes the size of eyes, seeing books, unable to get them.

The dog man was over the road, standing at the BBQ, standing at the required distance. His laugh, which I can hear from inside the shop is still the same, up and over and not respecting the required distance. His dog sits patiently.

A couple came past (swiftly) and saw someone they knew. The halted. Their dachshund gave a small shriek as the lead gripped his neck. Then the couple remembered, and continued on (swiftly), mustn’t stop. The dog whirred into another trot, its legs circling like clock hands going too fast. The lady said, ‘Come on. Quickly.’

John cycled slowly past; on the back carrier of his bike was a bunch of carnations, tied securely.

‘Did you eat all your Easter eggs?’ This family passed (swiftly) all arguing. Someone has eaten more than their share of Easter eggs. Unfair.

Two people, maybe a couple, throwing keys. ‘You threw it on the wrong side, wake up fukr’.

A mother and two children, scurrying. ‘We can’t go in, its closed, but it’ll be open again.’

One day. For sure.