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

No, that’s not what I’m saying

There’s an old man who comes into the shop from time to time – he buys gardening books. Once, last month, when I was glum, and it was cold, and the sky had its eyes closed, he came in. He found a gardening book so big that the cover had a handle. He picked it up and carried it round, he kept saying, ‘Look at this!’

He bought it.

He carried it around the shop a few more times. ‘Look at this, this is great! Good on you for having it. Good on you for having this place.’ His face is a smile, it stretches, every kindly muscle of it, into a single malt smile.

Then he saw the bookmarks and went silent. ‘Look at these.’

‘Look at this.’ He handled a little silver dragon, screwing up his eyes to see it properly. His hands are huge, gardening hands, at rest but alive as if still holding the secateurs. ‘Look at this. This is marvellous. It’s a little dragon. Good on you.’ His nails are dark, holding soil from the beans he probably checked this morning.

When he first visited the shop, he wanted a book of jokes, not rude ones, just quick ones, for entertaining the grandkids. ‘They like quick jokes these days.’ When he spoke of his grandchildren, his eyes moistened and an orchard grew there.

Did they know? Those grandkids? If they don’t, in time they will. When he’s not there, and a small corner of warmth, tomatoes, the washing pegged carefully, the careful attention to what matters – is gone.

When he left, I followed him out. I don’t know why. No, that’s not what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say is that the sky had opened its eyes and was looking right at him.