Unsquared again! And the boy who bought his sister a bookmark

A big old straggling family come into the shop. Lots of them and stretched across a few generations. It was raining outside, the wind blowing it against the door. All of them had rain on their shoulders. One man was wiping if off his glasses. A girl texted on her phone with the rain misted all over it. They were lively and unorganized, so I gave them Dave Brubeck’s Unsquare Dance (on my Boombox speaker hidden away behind a pile of Dickens).

‘Oh my God, remember this song? Remember this movie?’ A young man elbowed an older man, an uncle maybe, who didn’t respond; he was looking at a biography of Mao.

The young man moved into a small private dance.

The family began to disperse. Some back outside, some into Classics, some into their phones. The dancing man continued on next to me. He used just two soft square feet of carpet, eyes closed, one hand still holding a copy of Treasure Island, the volume he had picked up just as Brubeck began his idea.

The family talked in small groups. Rotated and change their gestures. Head to head; an argument about tall ships, chin and eyes showing authority. There is whispering, hissing, and then pushing. Family member are on phones, on knees. The dancing man still scratching the beat in the air. An old lady, a grandmother maybe, looked at him over the top of her glasses. She has a copy of Wolf Hall. Later she puts it back. The music ends, and the young man straightens up unconcerned and moves into the front room. My playlist moves to Pavlov Stelar’s Hit me Like a Drum. The old lady suddenly becomes mobile and warm and strong. She dances three steps, one after the other. Then she stops and looks at me sternly. She moves into another room.

I play Alexis Ffrench’s At Last, and a lady in Gardening sighs and puts her head on one side. Who is she? Is she with them?

There’s another argument. What’s the capital of Romania? ‘You wouldn’t know, Graham.’

‘Look, mum, it’s a bunch of breeds of cats. You don’t want that, mum. Look at this. Get it. Get it for your shelf.’ Mum shakes her head.

Someone reads out loud three times, ‘The Cats of Dipping Dell’.

‘Found anything of interest, Margaret?’

‘Well. No.’

A boy buys a bookmark for his sister. He says, ‘Quick, before she comes back.’

The all stream out, and on the way Papa purchases a copy of Pinocchio for Lilly, who says, ‘Yes, I’ll read it. Stop asking me that all the time.’

The boy who bought the bookmark is last. He looks back at me. His face is a lit lamp.

They’re gone.

Illustration by Sarah Jane

Unsquared again

There is a piece of music called Unsquare Dance, by David Brubeck (1920-20120). According to Wikipedia, ‘his music is known for employing unusual time signatures as well as superimposing contrasting rhythms’.

Anyway, when I play Brubeck’s Unsquare Dance in the shop, the shoppers stop and shift their eyes slightly. It’s very subtle. As though trying to find something. Irritated? Needing to separate the music from the air. I know what it is. Absorbing though the shelves of books in the shop are, Unsquare Dance breaks though everything. Superimposes itself? I don’t know. Bu unless you allow some part of yourself to travel with the Unsquare, the rest of you can no longer find anything else you want.

This is true. One morning I let the song out and watched its deep rubber bands step hopping all over the shop. One old guy, leaning in to read the titles on the books and fogging up the spines, got snagged on David Brubeck’s contrasting rhythms and began a slow smooth dance of his own right in front of New York Review Classics. He didn’t have a chance. When the piano part started, he started too, beating the shelf with two fingers, both ears caught between the drumbeats and his shoulders no longer his.

Is this because of the pace or the rhythm?

He left eventually, with two books, and all the air around him unsquared and bits of jazz bass still in his ears.

One of my grandsons dances to “Unsquare” frantically because his legs can’t keep up with the beat that his blood and bones can realize. Can he see the squares refusing to square in the music?  He is only two years old and so can unhook his knees and allow his lower legs to extend at fast true right angles as he dances. The rest of his self becomes rubber. Whatever he can see, it’s clear to him what he has to do to get from the beginning to the end and remain in one piece. He works fast. He claps until he no longer can, and then gives the rhythm to his head. When the head has done a share, his hips move in to help – until, overloaded with data, he unhooks his knees and downloads everything he has. This is when he turns to rubber and twists himself amongst bass, piano and snare drum without touching any of them. Arrives intact and asks for it again. It’ll be a long time before he finishes playing with this.