Undefeated, always

Inge Look (3)

I like the way they enter the shop, strongly, not opening the door but crashing it out of their way. They are scarves and swirls. They are orange and nutmeg. They are loud, beautiful, and their jewellery is long.

When they came in, one said, ‘My God, a BOOKstore’, and they entered magnificently.

‘What’s that?’

“It’s Dune. It’s making a comeback.’

‘Oh really.’

‘For God’s Sake.’

‘I love Dune.’

‘So did I, but isn’t it dated…’

‘No.’

‘You can’t beat Georgette Heyer, is what I always say.’

Her friends look at her kindly.

‘There’s a new book by…who was it…?’

‘Look at this.’

They argue about Family Circle. They are loud. They are not in agreement about the basics. One of them has a grown child who is causing anxiety. One grips the arm of another. They lean close to read the titles on the Young Reader table; one says, ‘Don’t they read some good things these days, look at this with the dragons on it.’

But they have to go. They move as an army, knowing precisely when and how to move, and why.  How to defeat the enemy. They are ladies of a magnificent age. I do not want them to go. I want to know things. But they have to go; there is work to do.

When they leave, one says, ‘Do you want to try for a loaf of bread next door?’

They go. They leave, taking Georgette Heyer and Family Circle Jams and Preserves. Undefeated, always.

 

Illustration by Inga Look

The Empress

Red Shirt on the Steps by Darren Thompson  (2).jpg

I’m just going to look in the bookshop.
A woman said this outside the shop, she said it to her family, or perhaps they were friends, but anyway, they were all male and all young except one, her husband maybe.
Are you serious….one boy said this on a note of desperation, his voice slid around on the word “serious” trying to find something positive to stop the downward slide.
I won’t be long. I thought she was calm and good and I hoped she might come in. They had stood for ages in the doorway, they looking down (at phones), she looking in.
Are you serious…this said by another boy, he had headphones and long black jeans that rolled underneath his shoes and were worn away like old matting. He had a black singlet and on the front of this was the word Satan.
Just get into the car. This was what she said next while I was hoping she might come in.
… are you serious… This again from the first boy who swayed back and then downwards, marking the agony of his life right now.
Get in the car. And so, like that, she trimmed the arguments and parted the agony, opened the door and came in and I was pleased. She was serene and upright, pulling the summer in after her and needing nobody for attendance.
Outside the window were her menfolk, family or friendfolk, slumped in a sort of comfortable defeat, dropped against the window, one boy hoisted his shoulder against all new ideas. The headphone boy stood still in his own private response, eyes closed anyway. Another, a third boy made binoculars out of his hands and telescoped her through the glass, his orange T-shirt stained the light, and I saw that his eyes tracked her from shelf to shelf and sometimes he made his eyes desperate  thinking she was looking at him. But she wasn’t. He wanted to go home but she didn’t.
All those boys drifted over to their car and I watched them. The car was parked right outside the shop, it was white, they opened the doors and left them open. There were chip packets all across the back seat.
One boy lay across the back seat. One boy sat with his legs on the dashboard and the other possible brother slowly baked his evening plans, sitting on the footpath.
There was a father too, he was already in the car, was reading the newspaper and not bothering to question the rather beautiful afternoon.
Inside the shop it is cool and nice and she, (the empress), is leaning with Janet Evanovich, leaning against the cool wall, an empress, not hurrying, not concerned with outside.
When she left, much later on, she paused in the doorway and re entered the summer exactly in the way she wanted and all the sons stared at her wordlessly and she stared back at them in exactly the same way. It was excellent.

 

Artwork: Red Shirt on the Steps by Darren Thompson

Ethel, not John

David Leffel sculpture.jpg

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

 

 

 

 

Dion

Preston Pownell

Dion comes to visit my bookshop every day – although he is not well, and possibly  never will be. He no longer works. He loves films. He bought a copy of Twilight and has not yet left the first page, but he visits to check that the second volume is available should he ever need it.

He is very loyal to me and my shop, and every day checks to see that I am well, even though he is not. His few books that he owns are essential to him. He is always concerned for me because he thinks that I don’t get many customers, but he is not concerned for his own devastating health problems. He says that Twilight is the best writing about vampires there is and is always eager to talk about it, carrying the book everywhere with the bookmark always in page one. He is always laughs at my humble jokes.

Photography by Preston Pownell