Ethel and John came into the bookshop about a month ago, tangled together and finding it difficult to manage the door. John wanted some Spike Milligan to read, he told me a long story about Spike Milligan and Ethel helped. She was short and square, John was bigger.
She had a British accent and she said you know at the end of every sentence. They had been married 45 years.
Ethel came in by herself two weeks ago to order a book for John, a gift, a biography of Spike Milligan. She was limp with relief or joy that I could find the book and order it.
Last week though, I found that book on the counter, returned.
Ethel came in again, this week, and found it difficult to manage the door. She had a slow, strong face. There was a small amount of sunlight caught in its contours, apologetic light and her features were gathered safely in the centre of it. While we searched for another book she told me a little about her life and she said that John called her the old dinosaur. The book she had bought for him, well, he didn’t want it.
The other day they came back together. He said: look at what I’ve got to work with and I thought he was referring to the book she had bought him, but he was actually talking about Ethel. He told me another long story about Spike Milligan and he had spit caught in chains at the corners of his mouth. He told me he had worked hard he had, all his life, he had. He told me a long story about it.
They had trouble with the door that day too, which was Ethel’s fault, and they stood in front of the thousands of oblongs that lined the walls and rooms and John told the long story about his life and the bookshelves leaned over him, the books that already safely contained their story and his story and her story.
He said: sorry about that book but he didn’t want it… his useless dinosaur just wasn’t up to much, all her fault.
Ethel stood still on her piece of earth. And then they left.
Sculpture by David Leffel