I really ought to finish this story – here it is so far:
A bookshop I hadn’t been in before, a bookshop I hadn’t noticed before… but it wasn’t new, the dust on some of the shelves, the cobwebs in remote corners, no, this wasn’t a new shop – in fact it looked as I it had been here since the dawn of ages… in fact that might even be Moses sitting behind the counter with his wild hair and beard… but Moses wouldn’t have had glasses which this man did, quite modern ones with pink plastic frames.
He nodded a greeting then called for me to make myself at home, well, thank you, sir! It was warm and pleasant, a fire was somewhere I could smell the smoke, maybe apple wood, it was pleasant and homely. I took off my scarf and began to explore. I didn’t go to any particular section or shelf, I just drifted as usual looking at anything which caught my eye. There were treasures here, and glancing in the inside cover I gleefully note that they weren’t expensive. It was a rackety old shop but much bigger than I expected, in fact, the further I went in, up a couple of steps, down a few, squeeze round bookcases, negotiate past tables piled high, it seemed to go for a wonderful forever. There were creaky staircases leading up and a spiral staircase lading down – ascent or descent difficult because of the books on in wobbly piles on each step.
I stopped to take off my jacket, and looked round. As well as books there were odds and ends perched here and there, a Victorian doll whose eyes followed me, a Rochdale Co-op milk jug and nearby a collection of old milk bottles with Ramsbottom Dairies printed on the glass, knickknacks, whatnots, bits and bobs, this indeed was a treasure of a shop.
I found another staircase at the back of the shop and wound my way up, past the third floor and up to what had been the attic. The floors were wood and uneven, balls of dust and fluff beneath the wobbly tables and in the corners of the shelf-lined walls. I drifted over to the window and looked out.
To my surprise I was not looking out over roof tops but over the harbour, or a part of the harbour. New in town, I hadn’t explored everywhere and this old and pretty little quay and cottages looked entrancing in the glorious sunshine… I must explore! I’d not properly worked out how the town worked and I hadn’t realised this little shop was so near the sea! I could have wasted time here, but I would come back.
I didn’t work my way back round the bookcases and tables in the same way as I came to a different staircase, a narrow wooden one with a wobbly banister There was a small landing with another window and I topped to peer out; I’m not very good at directions and didn’t see the harbour but from this side . I looked down into a garden, a rather rustic garden with a few old trees, and to my delight there was actually a pig rootling around and some geese grazing enthusiastically. Well, how delightful! I could see now that among the green of the leaves, red apples almost glowed in the lovely sun… I know I’m in a different part of the country, but I hadn’t realised how in advance the seasons were here – unless they were a particularly early variety of apple!
I was feeling delightfully lost, what a wonderful find this little – well, no, big shop was! What a treasure! The staircase ended and across the crowded room was a window with a window seat just asking to be sat in, and I would oblige and sit there and have a look through the pile of books I had gathered, and just make sure I really, really, really did want them.
I flipped through the 1890’s cookery book, yes to that, the obscure Hungarian poet… not sure, a Ngaio Marsh I hadn’t read, a fairly modern history book about the Baltic traders and the Hanseatic League, and a couple of others. As usual there were a couple I’d picked up almost by accident with no idea what they were… a book about flags and signalling and a very old hard backed book, its purple cover dark and fraying, There was a motif stamped in the centre of the cover but I could only really feel it, worn by time and use it was almost invisible, as was the title…
It fell open in my hands and my eye was caught by a sentence…
… and the endless plain stretched out to the hazy distance. There was no tree, no sign of any human life, nothing as far as my eye could see across the shimmering sand and the blighted scrub.
I looked up and out of the window. The glass was old and warped and shivered the view outside and it took a moment to realise that not only had the sun disappeared, but rain was lashing down and the dribbles weren’t old glass but water streaming… another difference in this new place, the weather was sudden and unpredictable. I didn’t have a raincoat, or even a hat or hood, let alone an umbrella… well, I would settle down for a little while, read and emerge when the downpour abated.
…the shimmering sand and the blighted scrub. I would find no way this way and I turned. Ever vigilant I followed the trail which had brought me here, back into the trees. Beneath their shade I was chilled and pulled on my jacket again, taking care not to put the old book down, I had to keep hold of it, The old book with the purple cover, I had to keep it in my hand…