a guest post by Jo Canham of Blarney Books
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It’s been a quiet afternoon with the last two hours completely to myself, the sky is turning an ominous grey-black colour, the small hand is moving closer to the five, and I start busying myself with pack-up. Switch off the music, the heating, pack my mobile in my pocket, and the front door swings open. In come a woman, a man, two small children, and a request, “Can we bring our dog in? He’ll bark if we leave him outside.” Wondering what they do at the supermarket, I agree that it’s okay if he stays on his lead, and I sit back down, glance discretely at my watch, and surreptitiously flick the heating back on. The kids run to the children’s section and start going through the toy-box, the dad sits down and opens his paper, and the mum disappears with the dog down the fiction aisle.
I’m just getting back into my book when the door opens a second time. This time I glance at my watch with less discretion. It’s after five. A middle-aged woman hurries up to me and asks, “You haven’t got a copy of People of the Book, have you?” Everything about this woman, this request, smacks of book club, so I have to ask, “Is it a book club read?” Of course it is. I deliver the bad news – she’s been trumped by another, more fleet-footed member. “I’m sorry, I sold a copy yesterday.” “Well, perhaps you have other copies out the back?” ‘Out the back’ I have a home, not boxes stacked with book club recommendations, Oprah or otherwise. “No, I’m sorry. At the moment I don’t have another. The new book shop will have several copies available.” “Oh, god, I don’t want to pay full price – I might not even like it!” No, perish the thought of forking out money for a new experience. I hunt around for a pencil, and take her details down in the unlikely event that another will turn up in the next few days. Somewhat calmed, she makes her exit as another couple enter.
It’s the teenagers from across the road. In the five years I’ve been open, I’ve watched these girls grow and change. They’re now as leggy as foals, and have the same hesitant, awkward manner. These two stand closely together at the young adult fiction section, and start going through each title, whispering to each other. They are making a thorough job of their search. Whilst I admire this love of fiction, especially at their age, I am somewhat conflicted. Every minute that passes between five and six o’clock builds more and more tension within me. I feel for my husband, who is by now juggling a very tired toddler, who will be begging for mum, and a cranky four year old, who needs dinner. Of course he will get their dinner, if it comes to that time, but in the meantime they are hard work. I hear their cries from my desk.
The door opens again, “Great! I never seem to catch you when you’re open!” “Well, we’re just about – “ “Oh, I won’t keep you long. I just want a quick look at the cook books.” Now, this is an out-and-out lie. No one ever takes a quick look at the cook books. People have been known to sit down, make themselves comfortable with a pile from the shelf, and go through them, page by page, sometimes even taking notes (which I can only assume means copying recipes). I can’t accuse her of lying, so I take a deep breath and sit again. And turn off the heating.
I can hear the dog’s paws scraping on the floorboards. At least the dog is keen to leave. But no movement from the other end of the lead. I guess she’s somewhere down near ‘F’. I can’t see her. The dad closes his paper, looks up to the roof. Not at his kids. “Ready?” He calls out to the room in general. “Just a sec.” “Come on, kids. Let’s wait outside.” They clatter out, leaving Lego scattered all over the carpet, and a pile of tossed-about Little Golden Books. This is a familiar dad’s ploy. It’s now dark and definitely cold outside, and no self-respecting mother is going to allow her children to wait in the cold and dark while she indulges her love of literature. Sure enough, she and the dog emerge, she with a copy of The Collector by John Fowles. Thrusts it at me, with her eyes on the door. “It was reviewed on Tuesday night book club, so I thought I’d give it a go. For $4 it’s worth the risk.” I am at risk of believing that people will now only read what has been endorsed with a bookclub stamp of approval. I pray to the gods of literature that this is not in fact true, that people still have imagination and self-determination.
I check my watch. It is 5.30 now. The teens have laid out half a dozen titles on the nearby table, and are earnestly discussing which is most worth their pocket money. I tidy my desk, go outside and bring in the flags, the A-frame. I pack up the Lego, re-stack the Little Goldens. There is nothing else I can do, short of turn the lights off and leave the four of us in the dark. I sit, and read. My toddler opens the door between the shop and our home, and asks, “Mum finished in shop?” “Soon, Mister. Very soon.” The girls actually understand this, and gather up two of the six books. Neither are book club recommendations, or even vaguely in vogue. They are looking for something new to read and are willing to put $12 of their pocket money to the cause. They are the heroes of my tale. I give them a 50% discount. I am given new hope, maybe not for my generation, but perhaps for the next!
As they leave, the woman at the cookery books looks over at me. “Do you have a toilet here?” I point to the facilities. “Thank goodness!” She rushes in. A few moments later, she leaves the toilet, and then walks directly out the front door. I look over at the cook books – she has made two piles of books on the floor, with roughly 20 books in each pile. I’m not sure why, and I try my best to figure it out. My conclusion is that she simply couldn’t be bothered putting them back on the shelf. I pack them back where they belong.
It’s 5.45. I lock the front door, turn out the lights, and go out the back to my family.