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.

Yeah!

023 (2)

Another day of being here, but not open. I am working away. Listening to magnificent life working away outside in the sunlight

‘Do you want me to get your fukn smoko or something?’

This is a green ute and two men, one seated in the car and one standing by, wanting to get at the food but having to wait for the fool in the front seat to finish scrolling.

‘Yeah.’

‘Ok, whada you want?’

‘Oh yeah, you know, whadever. Get me a savoury.’

‘Jesus. All right then.’ He walks off, heavy with duty. The man in the front seat goes back to his phone. Things to look at.

I go back to sorting. Wiping covers, chasing dust, changing the displays. I am heavy with duty.

‘That’s expensive, two dollars…’ Two ladies pass quickly, a flash of gold, a shopping bag swung lightly, containing small contents of great value. Must contain a book.

The back room is arranged. Ready. History is organised for once. Fiction translated from other languages is full for once. They sit lightly, containing no small contents of great value.

A group of three pass the windows.

‘Yeah. I thought, what’s he going to try next?’

‘Ha ha he he he. The laugher laughs in careful laughs. Emphasizing how funny the joke is, and also how funny it probably isn’t.

‘Leeches?’

“Yes, the bloody idiot.’ The voices fade. Another group take over.

Yeah, I’ll have a potato pie, and a hotdog and something with cream.’

‘You allowed all that, Alan?’

‘Oh, it’ll be all right, here’s me money.’

I stop to go to the bakery. I want a potato pie, a hotdog and anything with cream. I am careful to stand on the crossed crosses. The bakery staff look sad. I go back and eat in the back room by myself underneath mystery and crime.

‘Come on.’ A clear call. I am cleaning the windows.

There was a chirping, a tiny voice I could not hear. They are just out of sight.

‘Come on.’

Chirping. It goes on and on. The listener, a young mother listens to all of it. Patient and kind and exhausted.

‘You are not listening.’

Chirping.

‘Come here and take my hand.’

‘There are no mushrooms growing on the road.’ The voices fade.

I am finishing. Everything sparkles again.

Two ladies pass and look at my door, and one asks the other if she has ever been in there. The other lady answers, no, but it’s too late now, it’s gone.

I laugh. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Only this morning, a teenager asked to be allowed in. In she came, pacing back and forth for an hour, obedient with hand sanitizer, piling books, pleased and wanting, as young people always do, the classics; have you got To Kill a Mockingbird, have you got this, have you got that, have you got basically everything that is really good. Frowning and wanting and needing to read stuff, so no, I’m not gone.

 

With thanks to Holly.

The young girl who wanted a book for her friend

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This young girl wanted a book for her friend. The friend is an exchange student and unable to go home right now. So a group of students are buying her books, for consolation. The exchange student, who can’t go home, reads and reads.

The young girl had a list of books, written in pencil and folded neatly. She showed me the list. It is mostly the classics.  I read, “William Wordsworth”.

I said, ‘William Wordsworth!’

And she said, ‘Oh yes!’

The man who forgot his glasses

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How we rotate our faces! Try to add levers to the eyes to push them further out – work properly, for God’s sake. Draw the mouth backwards, teeth forwards,  screw up the eye sockets.

‘What’s that one?”

“That’s Kingsley Amis. That’s Bennett…but I don’t think you agree with him.’

“No…no, indeed.’

This couple are examining the top shelf of Classics, but he can’t see properly.

‘That’s Enid Bagnold.’

‘Who the devil?’

 ‘National Velvet.’ And that’s James Baldwin.”

‘Silly writer.’

‘I don’t think so.’

They continue on, murmuring, agreeing and arguing.

‘No. Listen, I said…Bellow. Saul Bellow.’

‘Well, I don’t like the young writers. Is that Dickens?’

‘That’s Dickens.’

‘Ah…David Copper?’

‘Oliver.’

‘AH….My God, is that Durrell? Which brother?’

‘Lawrence.’

‘God, really? What have they got?’

‘All of them.’

‘…I’ll take Justine.’

‘I bet you will.’

They moved to Art. I can’t hear what they are saying, but I can hear the click and whir of the interested eye sockets, the loaded brain, the immense experience. He turns around.

‘Damn those glasses.’

‘Well, go and get them.’ She glares him into a decision.

He made one.

When he came back to the shop, he stood outside in the cold, pinned to the window outside, looking through at a Roald Dahl biography that he could have looked at in the warmth inside.  He peered, turning his head back and forth to get the details. He finally came in, and bent a brief sideways glance on me, his eyes, now magnified, were enormous, a three dimensional glare. But he was pleased. He continued onwards.

He forgot Art. He got caught in Young Readers.

He examined Swallows and Amazons. He said, ‘Ah.’

He looked at Geoffrey Trease, No Boats on Bannermere, and said, ‘Ah’.

His wife called out, ‘Look here.’

And he said, ‘EH?’ He didn’t move. He was back with Durrell. ‘Ah, goody, good and good,’

His wife called again, ‘Look at this.’

But he didn’t move.

She said, ‘Are you coming?’

He lifted his shoulders and shuffled past me; he said, ‘There’s no peace.’

 

Artwork by Shishkin Andrey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bless you darling

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He came into the shop and the first thing he said was wow, sorry! 
Then he told me about Moby Dick and did I know that every tough gangster in every big deal movie featured that exact gangster in jail reading Moby Dick…
So now, this customer was reading Moby Dick and taking a long time about it because each time he returned to the book he had to go backwards a couple of chapters and regroup , you know, to get it all going again.
His girlfriend was the most intelligent person he knew and was always reading, always, all the time and never stopped and so now he was going read everything too.
He talked about Animal Farm, 1984 and Brave New World, some guy had told him to read these as well,
He said: lovely!
He said that his girlfriend was like, amazing, and that I would think she was the most intelligent person I had ever met, and this is because she is. She told him to get reading and he was like: all right, all right I’m doing it. He loved Moby Dick.
Moby Dick (he said) had heroes and death and bargains, it had toughness and tough blokes and all the time this bloody whale. Does he even get the whale? What’s with the whale? It had boats and that shit that makes candles. But the tough people.
He had both hands raised up trying to sketch out the toughness, but he stopped and looked embarrassed. He said: I guess you hear this all the time…the trouble is that I’m just getting into it.
He reminded me that his girlfriend was such an attraction and I would see it if I met her.
Then he left, swung out of the door the same way he came in and said: bless you darling, it’s good that you are into books like this, and then he was gone…

Photography by Doreen Kilfeather

These will last one week

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They are standing very still, this couple who came into the shop in the early morning and she examines the books leaning first on one leg, then the other, still, always still. She holds one book against her waist and reads the back of another. He says something and she looks up at him, stares at him, doesn’t answer, they stare at each other. She looks back down at the book she is holding. He rocks on his heels and whistles a little. She has raised a stack. He looks at her as though she were raising hell and he looks proud, he looks at me to see if I have noticed that life today is a masterpiece.
When they came in, she came in first. She plunged into the books, into the choices, leaving the bright summer day outside easily and gliding in without looking at me. I thought she scanned the perimeters of possibility within a few seconds and favourably too because her face went from holiday to intense. Maybe he recognised the flags because he squared up and rocked on his heels and made ready to carry the world.
He carried some of these books over to me, set them neatly on the counter and looked at me and said: this isn’t all. And they’re not for me because I’m not that clever.
Then he went to retrieve more and suddenly he appeared backwards through the second doorway, just half of him because he was leaning sharply back and he said again: that’s not all. That’s not all – and those books for her will last……ONE WEEK.
When she came out to pay for the books, he was already stacking her world into his arms. And she looked at him with her head on one side, considering something and then they left, and she was leaning closely in with her arm across his shoulders so that they could not get through the doorway easily and had to jostle and wedge and they are nearly dropping the books and he is saying: don’t worry, I’ve got ’em.

Mopy

Brenda and Frank came into the shop and they were bending forward, with raised shoulders and concerned hands as though pressed in through the door by the heat outside. When they straightened up safely, Frank saw me and nodded and told me that he did most of his reading on the can. He said: I’m going to branch out, starting with Mopy Dick, I saw the film, I read history you see, true stuff.

He bent forward to stare at a set of Britannica literature and he was delighted, he said: is that the whole lot… flipping heck… Charles Darwin…no, no, I don’t know him. But I’ll find out! He looked around and indicated the whole shop, swept its outline  with his can of beer: this is a place of good stuff.

His partner, Brenda, said, don’t worry about that, what are we going to get now?

I’m going to start at the top and work down, going to start reading that way, I really want to, don’t I, Brenda. She agreed affectionately, regarding him as the living treasure he actually is and they chose a copy of Moby Dick with delight and left again, blazing out into the hot day, going for coffee, carrying goodwill, a passion for living and Moby Dick.

You can still see everything…

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Well, he came back to the shop, the man who had to allow his library to go under the hammer at the auction all those years ago.

He came back because he is going to build another library and he chose without hesitation copies of The Mill on the Floss, Tom Jones and Vanity Fair. And when I examined each one slowly to make sure that I could actually allow them to go ( as he had heartlessly chosen the most attractive copies in the shop ) he told me a story about each of these books – he had read them all, several times over! This customer was wearing a knitted jumper with leather patches on the elbows and he leaned on the counter, on his elbows to tell the stories, especially urging me to read Tom Jones which was exceedingly funny. When he told the stories of the story of Vanity Fair  he stood up and held onto his glasses with both hands, trying with difficulty to keep himself anchored on the mere ground which is far too ordinary a place to stand when you are trying to talk about Vanity Fair and Becky Sharp.

He said he now can only read with one eye.

He told me about Middlemarch, Far From the Madding Crowd and Madam Bovary.

He said that reading with one eye or three eyes, makes no difference when you are reading books as good as these. That you can still see everything.

 

Sculpture by Emily Blincoe