There’s a couple of families in the front room of the shop, nicely tangled and knotted, as families tend to get when they’re relaxed and warm. I like to listen to them. This little question was flung.
‘Do you know how much pages there is in this dog book?’
Someone answered, ‘Mmmm.’
There was a soft clatter: books falling.
‘I want the first Goosebumps.’
‘I want Selby.’
‘Does that say 3080?’
‘Brian, leave the pram alone.’
‘You read this, Helen?’
‘Long time ago. Give us a look.’
‘Taylor. Is that where they go? Looks wrong.’
A parent wandered out with a paperback clamped under one arm. He consulted his phone. A child followed, holding the parent’s hand, swinging from it, leaning in, clamping an ear to the parent’s thigh and walking easily, a delicate and bent stalk. The father rested the paperback on the child’s head. She smiled.
‘You ready, Troy?’
This family left with an old soft copy of Animal Farm, held carefully in anticipation, and which had recently balanced briefly on a child’s ageless and silky thistledown hair.
The family left in the front room continued buzzing softly.
‘Does this say three thousand and eighty?’
‘Maybe. Look at the numbers.’
‘It says 38.’
‘I think so, too.’
‘Can I get it?’
The child emerged with the book. They held it up to me with two hands: an offering.
I asked for the necessary $3. The child had the coins. We exchanged the necessary courtesies:
‘Enjoy your winter reading.’
I watched them leave, a family, a nub of 3, moving in and out of each other’s thoughts faster than any forlorn and hopeful technology. The child was showing the book to the parent; the child’s face was unable to hold a shape, the jaws compliant and full of heat, trying to find an outline for the significance of the purchase; the bliss of carrying home a bliss.
The family collided with itself in the doorway. A bandaid came away from someone’s small wound and lay flat and spent on the mat. The mother said, ‘Come on,’ and they sailed clumpily out. In the pram, I saw a tiny foot raised straight up; a flag.
Artwork by Le Chat Peles Collective