The Queen

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There’s a family at the front window of the shop. The child, a granddaughter, presses her nose to the glass, breathing fog. There’s a grandpa who does not want to come in.

There’s a grandma who does. She opens the door part way and says, are these new books do you think? He says, yes, meaning, so let’s not go in.

But she creaks the door a little further. He looms up unhappily behind.

You’ve got enough.

But Grandma indicates their grandchild. I mean for her.

He subsides. The grandchild (the Queen) squeezes between them, through the stone pillars of the family, through the gap, and passes regally into the shop. She asks me for Cat Royal. She is up to volume seventeen. But I only have volumes four and eleven.

Grandpa looks relieved. Let’s go then.

But the Queen has found Goodnight Mr Tom. She won’t budge for now. She repeats the title in a sing song (they have read this at school). She thinks she might read it to Grandpa, because it is about a Grandpa. He is standing near the door but she commands him toward the cane chair next to Gardening. He breathes out, longing for a coffee and one of those cream buns next door, and accustomed to his way. But the Queen slices his power into cubes and leaves them kindly on the floor. She will read and he must listen. He takes the cane chair, organises his enormous outdoor boots out of the way. The book is only some three hundred pages and will not take long. Grandma, in Art, looks at them and turns back to Hans Heysen.  Their granddaughter chooses Mr Tom and Grandpa, stiff with sitting, thanks me kindly, thank you very much, they all read except me, and then they all leave for the bakery, coffee and big cream buns.

 

The raspberry saddle

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There are three of them here in the shop, a family, an adult daughter and her parents and the father is silent and examines the door locks. The mother looks at the books, closely, with her eyes half shut. The daughter carries books around. The daughter tells me about a copy of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising that she had once, the glue let go, it unglued itself, the binding fell apart. She said it was her mother’s fault for reading it aloud so much.

Her mother said, what was the accusation? And the daughter said, without looking up, you know…

The mother leaned back and looked into the past with pleasure. She said yes, it was our fault, our generation did it, read like that. I remember. Remember Lord of the Rings? And you used to be into the unicorns.

I’m not into unicorns, I never was.

You used to be.

I never was.

Then the father said: yes you was.

The daughter looked at me and said, see, I had a mum who read to me like anything.

The mother thought about this with her eyes kind of half shut and then said, thanks babe!

After they left, they stood in the alcove outside the door for a long time. The daughter was telling them a story about a unicorn, she said it had a raspberry saddle, she said, do you remember it mum, do you remember that, and the parents were nodding and nodding and trying to remember it.

 

Artwork by Emma Ersek

Sally reads to Max

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I saw this photograph, of Sally reading to Max today. And although I am not there I can imagine the reading very well.

Max will be delighted to do anything with Sally. Sally will be delighted to do anything with Max.

Max will hold on to the book with all his small strength. Sally will be unable to turn the pages, she will encourage him to let go, she is unfailingly kind. Max will work hard to let go. He will shake both sides of the book at once. He will turn the pages too fast or turn the same page over and back and over and back, trapping Sally’s hand inside the book. Sally will laugh, she is unfailingly gentle.

Max will scratch delicately with one fingertip the pictures on the pages. He might be able to get one off the page and eat it.  Sally will be amazed, she is unfailingly encouraging. Max will close the book on his own nose. Sally will help him over and over to open it again. She is unfailingly patient. Max will chirp and bubble and this is how he reads. Sally will consider his efforts and be proud. She will say: Max is reading.  And thanks to Sally, he is.

 

 

 

 

Barry and the Three Day Read.

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Barry is tough and masterful and enthusiastic. And he loves books. He visited the shop with an urgent list.

He remembers reading Storm Boy in three days and he told me how he loved that fucking pelican so much that when he read that book to his own kids he cried for the second time. He said that he always read to his kids and now they read to their kids and so he feels he has not done so badly in the long run. But Christ, that pelican nearly killed him. He though that I could probably knock that book off in three days if I wanted to read it.

He has also read the Icefire books to his kids and also Terry Pratchett – he thought that the Tiffany Aching books were the best in the business.

He came in today for a copy of Where the Wild Things Are, he wanted one for his grandson because every damn kid should read that book. He used to have a copy but his partner gave it away when she was on drugs.

Sadly, I did not have a copy of that. But I did have a copy of Storm Boy.

Barry was delighted; he said he’d definitely take that then, even though the pelican really messed him up. He also needed something else because he was visiting family and needed something to drown out his brother’s arsehole of a voice. He paid for the books and as he did, the shop door closed with a sudden bang all by itself and he said that I had a poltergeist in the shop, another damn thing to put up with.

Then off he went, back to his family with a copy of Storm Boy, as he closed the door on me and the poltergeist he said: mate, that fucking pelican…

Photography by Dean Nham