During the winter months my brother and I thought we might lose Father on more than one occasion. He developed a raspy chest infection and I could hear the phlegm knocking against his ribs every time he coughed. I prayed he would succumb quickly and not linger like Mother did. That wouldn't be fair to him or I. He moved into my Victorian terrace and I converted the parlour into a bedsit affair for him with at least the illusion of independence. Each morning as I knocked his door and went in to fetch his commode, I hoped he would have slipped away in the night. Croaky snores told me he had survived again.
Now the weather has brightened I’ve been able to arrange for him to come to the shop with me most days. A taxi collects him at 2.00pm and I have sweet, weak tea in Mother’s yellow rose porcelain teacup waiting for him when he arrives at 2.15pm. I have moved his Pre-Loved books closer to the front of the shop, and now they are Rare and Antiquarian books, I have expanded them into a complete bookcase. I’m sure he believes me when I say the move is solely because some of the books are quite valuable. The fact that I can see him more easily too is just a bonus.
Father has surprised me since he recovered, I will admit. First he declared a liking for blueberry muffins. I have no idea where my meat-and-2-veg Father who sees haggis as foreign muck first tried this most American of cakes. He usually likes one with his 3.15pm tea even though he does sometimes mutter that however delicious, food should not be blue. Any blue blobs that fall from the muffin are squashed one by one with a shaky index finger and delivered to his tongue in a waste-not-want-not way of one who has lived through wartime rationing.
He has also shown real talent for computers. I lent him my Dell when he was recovering and he searched for websites trading in rare and specialist books. He asked me to create him an account so he could message the sites, and he began an enduring correspondence with a number of sellers, about old books. He has catalogued all of our antiquarian books and is in the process of setting up a small online store himself. Fellow book traders have been delighted to advise him about advertising and web design in return for his sage words and valuations on their treasures.
On occasion Father remembers when some of the first editions were brand new releases. I’ve heard him curse quietly when he sees a value for a book he owned as a boy but discarded for being boring or complicated or too young for him. I’m sure he then sets himself the task of tracking down a bargain copy, not for the purposes of making a profit but for the sheer pleasure of owning a book which others prize highly.
I’ve also been busy expanding our business beyond smart coffee and political books and old dusty volumes. The library book club was looking for a new home during some weeks of building refurbishment and they have carried on using the shop to meet since then. Arnie from the library still hosts the group and as well as the monthly session, the group meets once a week or so for a coffee and reading session. We take it in turns to lead, although I like to listen to Arnie’s mellifluous voice talking us through characterization and plot so I’m happy whenever he begins the discussion.
Arnie is also something of a writer himself and as an offshoot of the book club we have set up a writing circle. I’m nervous beginner and I hardly dare think I’ll ever be even half as good as Arnie. He has an MA in Creative Writing, what a glamorous thing. He networks with real and e-real writers and arranges talks at the library. I’ve been to them all so far but have never dared ask a question. I’m usually gregarious and feisty even but who am I to ask a published author why they made some of the stylistic decisions they did and so on.
I’m just about to capitulate and agree to work with him on setting up a small press. We have plans to publish local writers and stock their works in the shop and the library, as well as some anthologies of our writing circle stories. I feel happier in the planning and organizing role but I have a feeling Arnie will push me for something. When I admired the collection ‘Braking Distance’ from Calum someone who wrote a story a day for a year, he said why didn't I try that.
Father says he would like to write a book about books and that he would like me to publish it. He will probably type it with two fingers on my laptop in our family shop, fuelled by blue food and Mother’s tea. Life is so different right now and I feel like I have something to plan for. I feel like Father has a future, even though he turns 80 in a few months. I hope that I have someone to see things through with me and it feels like Arnie and I are becoming closer and closer.
For years I envied my brother his life of escape to university, of a family and home and of the freedom to do what he wanted instead of doing a duty to the family. Now I feel grateful I am where I am and that perhaps he is missing out on what my life is. When the shop is quiet, I pour myself an extravagant coffee and muse on my good fortune. When it’s very busy I love every minute and I understand why my Father treated those special books like his children each time I feel pages and covers, and tuck purchases up into bags.
And increasingly I find myself jotting down snatches of overheard conversation or details of a customer’s hair or clothing or manner, or a brilliant plot that will surely make an excellent Hollywood blockbuster. I have a feeling some might start to appear in my stories quite soon.