I saw somebody say this – those exact words in answer to a question, ‘I guess you are really busy.’ And the person answered, ‘No, I’m not busy.’ She was young.
I say I ‘saw’ somebody say it because I did see it. The utterance was so shocking and unexpected that I saw it. Saw her face and her mouth meaning it. I’d never heard it before, and never have again. I never forgot it.
Because when she said it, her face had so much movement and her thoughts didn’t crash into anything. Imagine the staggering reality of not being busy. A big space of wasted grass with no list. No shopping. No plans except one that’s still on the fridge from last year. And walking next to fences. Rain on your thumbnails. No gasping for air already used up first thing in the morning. Waiting with both feet down. Marking the back of your hand with a dry paintbrush. Evening. Where light and night even out into a nice flat plum. Imagine your time with a faint slice of beautiful thick emptiness right at the bottom. And your feet planted, both down on the warm wet bricks and you seeing that.
Painting by Carlos San Millan
Yesterday afternoon, a man came in with a bottle of champagne. He had seen a copy of Black Beauty in the window. He left the bottle on the counter and examined every book on the window table before returning with Black Beauty. He said he was also hoping for books by Monty Roberts, and that if I wanted to know about horses, I had to read Monty Roberts.
There was another customer here, looking through The Counties of The United States of America, and saying out loud, ‘This really is the nuts and bolts of the USA. It’s so complicated. Look at it. Look at this map.’
The other man said, ‘Have you read Shy Boy?’
‘This is the only book that actually shows how the counties have further subdivisions.’
The other man said we should all read Shy Boy: The Horse That Came in from the Wild, by Monty Roberts. He stood thinking, tapping the top of the bottle, and said that a couple of years ago, he –
Two people passed the door, walking fast. One said, ‘Well, we don’t have to worry about getting married.’
The man with the bottle of champagne turned abruptly and watched them walk by.
The other man said, ‘Look at this statistical table, it’s really up to date.’
A customer told me this: when he was young, he read all the stuff in school. But his cousin, his good cousin, he didn’t read anything. Well, they are still mates. And his cousin said only the other day: why do you read stuff Rob, you don’t need to read, all you need to read is just one instruction book man, like a manual, like the engine manual of your car man, life only needs a couple of instruction manuals.
Rob told me that on the last day of school, long time ago, they were going home and he had in his school bag all his stuff, all his books and that. And he has kept them all until this day because he loves them, even the book on how to type, and the book on how to spell and the book on how to do other stuff, BUT his cousin, he threw all his stuff in the creek.
When Rob told me this story and told me about the part about the creek, he looked at me and we both thought about the books in the creek, the slap against surface, the heavy sinking, the triumph, yes! And everyone thinking, yeah, free…whatever…
Rob said that he kept the books on how to type. He loved those books. He always saw things a bit not like the others and all that.
Now he reads and read many things – he is reading Faction Man because he is not sure that Bill Shorten is all that he’s cracked up to be, reckons that that guy never had a proper job yet. He should of worked at MacDonald’s or something and leaned how it is. That’s what reading books told him about: work a proper job until you are despaired of it and then you can get famous. But if you don’t work a proper job, get your hands black and all that, go home owning nothing except a bad job then you’ve no right being in government and that’s why they are all wankers.
A young man came into the shop, fervent, purposeful. He stood at the front, agitated, and looking at me. Then he asked me for a book by its title: did I have it; did I know it, had I read it??
But I hadn’t.
He said in a low and significant voice: this book proves that the world is flat.
I said: oh wow.
He said: it’s an important book.
I said: oh wow.
He asked me if I might find a copy. I looked on the internet while he paced and sighed and wondered and I did find one. I said: it looks like an interesting book.
He corrected me: it’s a true book.
I offered to get it in for him and he flung the required money onto the counter, ecstatic.
He said: the world is flat. The world is fucking flat.
He went off to roam the rest of the shelves, not a single book of which contained the correct information regarding the shape of the planet. But he was respectful; he handled the books with reverence. He was particularly gentle with a copy of The Wind in the Willows.
He said: my sister had this book.
Then he added sadly: but people get annoyed with me, for things, you know…