A day in a bookshop has pretty much the same shape each time. But inside, the activity is varied, unpredictable, poetic, and never ending. It looks like this:
On arrival, look through the windows and admire own displays. Make note of books that have fallen down in the night.
Before unlocking the door, check for doggy wee on low areas for rinsing off later.
Look through bakery window and see how long the queue is. Dash in if possible.
Hide doughnut under counter. Sweep pavement and chuckle when every passer by says, ‘You can come and do my place now, har, har, har.’
Lights, fans, displays, bins etc. Sort and put out new stock.
Go through shelves and take away anything I might want to read in the future. Hide these. Clean windows.
Talk to customers about trucks, war, cakes, cats, pianos, aunties, injuries, the bank, the post office, children, circuses, glass jugs, crocuses, football, New Guinea, almonds, carpet stains, butter, Mazdas, Samuel Pepys, the geology of Mt Gambier, analogue clocks, ponies, Margaret Atwood.
Take orders, make orders, write orders. Check queue in bakery. Look out at the people over the road lying about on the grass, waiting for buses, fighting, eating.
Dogs go past and wee on the door again.
People go past and knock on the window.
I help people find books and remember books. Make records of all requests, sales, own purchases, losses, orders. Make a note to improve record system. Talk to people about Ken Follett, Bridgerton, and Sinbad the Sailor.
People ask for discounts, credit, free books, the way to Kangarilla, the way to the pub.
I eat lunch furtively between visitors.
On days that nobody comes I still do most of these things, but feel I am doomed.
On Sundays motorcycle groups circle about in groups, revving engines, following each other, and parking together. Then they do it again. Then again.
People demand my Covid square and then jump, embarrassed because it is right there, next to them, on the door frame, at eye height. Other people say, ‘Don’t you put me on that register!’ I try to cater for everyone; it takes all sorts to keep a bookshop going.
Older customers phone for a chat. Teenage girls sit under display tables and talk in whispers. Children walk past my open door and shout at their parents to go in, and the parents say, ‘No, it’s closed.’
I shelve more books. I charge batteries for the light displays using my new Ikea battery charger. I run over to Woolies for another bag of minties.
I go into the back room and stand up tall and stretch because I am getting lap top neck. Come out and watch couples in cars towing caravans arguing with each other as they park.
Phone people about orders I can’t get. Phone people about orders I can get. Answer the phone to people ringing to complain that I was closed when they came here. Answer the phone and hang up again on anyone who, after a long pause, says, ‘Are you the business owner?’
Look at books people bring in for me to buy. Accept books gratefully that people bring in for me to have.
Listen to the pigeons in the roof and wonder if I should tell the landlord about them.
Talk to people about all the books they (and I) are going to read. Watch ambulances fly past. Watch cars honking at the intersection. I go out and ask people to not park across the carpark driveway.
Check the shelves for gaps and make notes of what is always selling. Dust everything. Look at the cobwebs. Clean windows again. Get on with orders and requests. Tidy all the displays, replace books on shelves.
Start to plan the closing process which needs to be sharp because some hopeful shopper always comes up behind me just as I have my bag on my shoulder and the key in the lock.
Clean windows again, empty bin, empty till, turn off lights, bring in signs. Pack bag, exit, put key in lock just as hopeful shopper comes up behind me and asks for just ten minutes, please, please.