The Umbrella

There is a young girl sitting cross legged in the corner with an umbrella rising up and over one shoulder, the curved handle announcing exactly her small neck.

There is her mother with a rucksack over one shoulder, standing nearby and looking at book after book in Health.

There is silence in here, but outside raining like mad loudly and cars swishing past then stillness and people running across the road trying to be fast because of the rain but they all do the rain dance. This is a highstep dodging the traffic jump sideways kinds of dance where you end up next to a caravan that’s not yours and rain everywhere anyway.

There’s mud all over the footpath;  every time the door opens I can see it. And wet paper bags and a coffee cup blown across from the bakery.

It’s getting darker and darker even though it’s the middle of the day. A couple look in and she says, ‘Want to have a look, Neil?’, and he says, ‘God no, can get them for half the price online.’ He keeps on peering in, looks right at me. She looks at him. They move away.

The mother and daughter are both kneeling next to the shelves. The umbrella has been laid aside. I can still see its curved handle, a perfect expression, holding its ground and not available online.

A car has to brake suddenly right out there next to my shop. The sound of brakes makes me look up. All the occupants have been jerked forward. I can see mouths moving, heads turning all about.

Mother and Daughter are shoulder to shoulder looking out of the window, and the umbrella is still on the floor in the corner, looking warm and useful.

When I look up a little later, the girl is in the chair. Her mother is kneeling next to the umbrella. It looks after her knee. The rain is coming down. The windows are cold dotted with it.

A couple cross the road come towards me. They break into a sprint for three steps, then calm it into a fast walk, avoiding the water in the air but ending up soaked anyway. They don’t come in. They go to the bakery.

The mother and daughter come to the counter. They look happy. The umbrella is hooked over the girl’s arm.

The boy turning rocks over

There’s a boy turning rocks over in the bay. I noticed because of the way he balanced himself on two larger rocks and then leaned to pick up smaller ones, one after another. He inspects them with his nose almost on the smooth skin of each stone. The bay he is working in is silent and hot. The child labours on. I can hear the soft click of each rock as he replaces it. Every now and again, the plop of a stone sliding into a rockpool. There’s the horizon, a bar of blue above him, the black spoky jetty to one side, and a row of shacks, oblongs of colour, holding the other side. And him right in the middle.

The man going past the window

Last Friday it was hot outside. Everyone was slowing down, and children were walking with their eyes screwed up.. The glass along the front of the shop was hot. The purple tinsel waiting to be put up was warm, and when I went home, the ducks sat on the side of the road with their beaks down and eyes shut.

People still came in to look for books. The man who came past the window was moving fast. This is why everyone inside looked up. He was striding along, talking on the phone without looking left or right, and he had his phone on speaker.

 ‘He said that what he really respects about me is that…..’

The other person said something.

Then the man that we could still see stopped dead, and leaned back and laughed hugely, and banged one knee with his hand and said,

 ‘Oh mate, thank YOU.’ Then he walked on, was gone.  

Painting by Elizabeth Jose

The man and his son, maybe

A man and his son, maybe. I heard them talking together in Classics.

‘You have to be careful of the translation… I’ve got a rubbish translation that I picked up somewhere…’

The man speaking leaned in, hands clasped behind his back, reading titles closely. Peruse, sigh, agree, nod, frown, turn away, turn back, ‘Well I can’t see that without my glasses…’

His phone in his breast pocket gave away a small sound.

‘Is that yours?’ He called to the younger man in the next room.

‘No, it’s you.’

‘Probably something useless then.’ He fumbled with the phone, uncomfortable with its intrusive glass mouth. He held it close and read it slowly.

‘Oh, they’re waiting for us in the bakery. They’re on a table at the back.’

He put the phone away and drifted along the shelf once more. He picked up Saul Bellow and Balzac. He balanced paperbacks under one arm. He was adroit. His eyes were narrow with pleasure. The young man, his son maybe, came out with David Foster Wallace. His eyes were narrow with pleasure.

They browsed on. They did not go to the bakery .

Illustration by Andre Martins de Barros

The tall kids

…came into the shop this morning in a group, supple and swaying and swishing all about, looking everywhere before settling in front of a shelf, or being caught by something – as is wont to happen to young people; they go from shivering everywhere to absolute stillness. Then they talk in half murmurs and bits of sentences, and their friends answer back the same way, and nobody minds. They are young, and they can relax all their muscles, not needing to leave any limb still tense with yesterday’s banking. They fold their hands and their lips in the same way. When they leave, they thank me over and over and look back to make sure the door is closed properly.

Image by Pascal Campion

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

The Father and Daughter

He sat and waited patiently for her, who, like all reading children, took the necessary time. He sat in the only chair here, patient and alert. She chose and chose. He leaned back and yawned. He flexed his hands and looked at them.

He stood up and browsed for a bit. She read on the floor with her nose resting on her knee. He flexed his patient knees and turned to look at her. She was reading. He yawned and waited and looked at her again. She was reading.

Then she stood up, he swung round, and they came to the counter with her two books.

Suddenly he asked me about a book – but he couldn’t remember the author. He hesitated and thought. Then he said, ‘I’ll just look it up.’ The child, hugging her books close, leaned backwards. Her back is a slender wand. She is looking at the roof, but her eyes swivel and regard the father. She has a small smile.

We can’t find his book. We search the internet but cannot find it.

Then they leave, pass through the door and go back out to continue their life.

Painting by Darren Thompson

Kindles are better

A couple came in, and he said to me, ‘But don’t you think Kindles are better? This is what I do. I go to the shop, see the book, look it up and download. See?’

 He raised both hands in the air to show me how simple it is. ‘See?’ His wife looked at me and said nothing. He shrugged his shoulders up and down to show us easiness and simplicity.

He went on talking about kindles. His wife moved over to Art and knelt down to read. He walked around, relaxed, commenting here and there. He showed me a book (Sherlock Holmes) and said, ‘Look at this.’

I looked at it, and he said, ‘Would anyone want this?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’

He nodded, ‘Ok.’ Then he said, ‘I like to read but I want to save space. See?’

I did.

Then I said that I liked kindles, I admitted to using the kindle ap, which delivered me recently a rich and full copy of Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks in Japan. When choosing buses and bus routes, I search for the longest slowest path to the city so I can be with Isabella and see how she recruited her health in Japan. After all, I may need to do this too. Anything that delivers literature, I want. I want a kindle.

He was polite, ‘That’s good. But what I do is…..’ He told me some more incredible things.

Then his wife came back with an enormous pile of art books, and said, ‘Here, get these,’ and he quickly pulled out his wallet and paid for all of them; it was a considerable pile, high and aching.

The Letters of the Great Artists, heavy and boxy and seductive, was on the top of the stack. It took up a lot of valuable space in the world. In it, Claude Monet complains (in a letter) of old age. He slashes a canvas because he cannot reach the high notes of the colours he needs to reach. The book is a deep scornful red with thick cream pages done by Thames and Hudson (with 150 plates, 51 in colour) and a delicious bitter coffee stain stamped on the satisfying last page, As usual, I look at the buyer darkly. Maybe I should have kept it for myself. I am likely to never see another copy. I slash at my canvas because I cannot reach all the books I need to hold.

She marched out with her books, and he followed, checking his phone for reasons to feel better.