He called this question to a companion as they walked past the shop. The speaker was walking in front, the companion behind, and he answered, ‘Apparently not,’ without looking up from his phone.
Then a man inside the shop moved into my vision. He was bending over a history of Stonehenge. He shouted loudly to me:
‘Stonehenge. You ever been there?’
I said I hadn’t, but I hoped too. He looked at me happily. ‘You ought to. It’s grand.’
Last week I’d showed this book to Irene, who loved British history, and she said she knew all about Stonehenge as she’d lived right next to it for so long. What she’d really wanted that day, though, was anything on King Charles I. Apparently, he was a devil.
Anyway, the man who thought Stonehenge was grand now joined his wife in the front room, and she (with two books clamped under her elbow) was saying to a child,
‘Katie the Kitchen Fairy. That sounds interesting.’ The child tacked the book under one arm and reached for another. Next to them was another family group. A teenager balancing a high stack with both arms was saying:
‘But you never know when I’m ninety.’
In front of me Robert has loomed up, still waiting for his latest order and talking about Oliver Lodge, who could communicate with the dead. Robert’s having trouble with his vision. But he said, it’s all right. It’s all about transfiguration. Transformation. What I need is a new body. And I’m going to get it.
I looked at him admiringly.
In the front room, the conversation flickered on.
‘I used to say that.’
‘I do read. I just don’t read very much.’
‘A Sprinkle of Sorcery. That sounds good. Somebody, a man’s voice is reading out loud. Murmuring and sinking and saying, ‘and then he took the golden glass and placed it where it received three pieces of moonlight…’
‘I like that.’
Two young people pass the counter, wearing tracksuits and carrying water bottles. They browse quietly, intensely. He has his hair back in a pony tail. They have stout summer sandals. They turn their heads from side to side, reading the spines.
A young man brings a stack of Kevin J Andersons to the counter. He says, ‘Been looking for these. Hell. For ages.’ He has too many to carry. His dad, peering through the door, rushes in to help.
They leave. Outside, they join a merry group. Someone shouts, ‘You didn’t let him into a bookstore, did you?’ Laughing. More shouting.
A child is bobbing and singing in front of me. She’s tapping a picture book on her knees as she steps seriously from side to side. She doesn’t notice me sitting there. Then she dances back into the front room and lays her head into the side of an older woman, who places one hand on the side of the child’s head and strokes her head. The child is still, but her feet continue the dance.
A man overpays me. He says, ‘No, keep it. Put it toward a drink for new year.’
A man left quietly. As he moved through the door, he looked back and said, ‘Well done, this is great. Couple of things I want. I’ll come back.’
In the back room, conversation:
‘Big job to pack up though.’
‘I don’t want to read that now.’
‘Ann Patchett. God, she’s good.’
‘What’s that thin book there? Hand it over Paul.’
Two teenagers pile books onto the counter with gleaming eyes. They have black nail polish. They tell me they collect books in series. They want Witcher, but I don’t have that. That’s cool. They’ll be back soon. They ask where the Persian teapot came from. I said, a gift from my sister. They nod approvingly. Cool as.