The shop started out as a second-hand bookshop, but beginnings are important only as a window to arrivals.
I didn’t own the bookshop back then.
I applied for a job.
The owner didn’t want to sit in the store all day, especially during the quiet hours.
I arrived at just the right time — don’t you just love how that works — arriving at the right time?
I didn’t mind being there during the quiet hours.
My world was teetering on the edge.
The edge of what, I did not know, but it scared the hell out of me.
The dusty old building was teetering on the edge also. I crawled under it once to retrieve a favourite pencil that had fallen through a crack in the floor.
The foundations were minutes away from not being foundations anymore.
I wasn’t worried, it gave the shop an extra edge — a sense of peppermint danger.
The cracks in the floorboards came in handy during the warm weather.
In the winter, not so much.
I became proficient at rolling up pages out of destroyed books and wedging them into the larger gaps. Old, obsolete encyclopaedias worked best.
I left my anxieties at the door each day. They just dropped away like an old discarded overcoat.
The shopowner, Derick, could not get out of the place fast enough, which was fine by me. He was an ex-teacher and a real pain in the arse who would fire me ten days before a particular Christmas because I missed a shift. I ended up in the Emergency Ward with stomach pains and couldn’t make it into work.
“Don’t bother coming back,” was all he had to say.
I’d never missed a day of work in more than a year, but he didn’t care.
I didn’t know it, but people kept asking him where I had gone.
He closed the business about two years after firing me.
Towards the end of my time working for Derick the Dick, I noticed an uptick in customers — the uptick ate into my ‘quiet hours’.
I guess it started with an old man who lived about half a mile up the road.
I saw him every Thursday afternoon.
We would talk, and he would tell me stories from his days as a Real Estate agent.
“If I had a buyer who couldn’t make up their mind, I would ‘accidentally’ book another potential buyer to turn up at the same time. Worked like a charm. They would panic that someone else wanted ‘their house’. Signed on the spot.”
Henry was at least eighty-eight years old, and even though I would have disliked him if he was my age, I cut him some slack — he told great stories.
Henry told his friends about me.
Most of Henry’s friends were dead, but the ones who were hanging in there came to see me.
“Henry said you are a good listener.”
I’d never thought of myself as such, but there you go. Other people don’t always see us the way we see ourselves.
I found that I could easily remember the stories they told me, and over time I would retell one or two in response to a problem that was posed.
“What an excellent idea,” they would say, “I would never have thought of that.”
For a while, I thought I was hot stuff.
I got all puffed up.
There is a real rush that comes with helping people.
Of course, I came crashing back down to Earth when I got fired.
Fast forward a couple of years, and here I am sitting in my own bookshop, the same building I used to work in, doing my thing.
The shop had sat vacant for a while. It’s off the beaten track, and only dedicated book buyers will find it.
I named the store Twice Sold Tales.
People come to my store because I’m a good listener.
Occasionally, I tell them a story I’ve been told, and it changes their perspective. They are grateful for the direction I head them in, and in return, they buy a second-hand book — sometimes more than one.
I’m never going to get rich, but I do get to enjoy the stories I hear, and there is always the quiet hours.
Aut Virum Aut Murum Oportet Mulierem Habere
“Late sixteenth, early seventeenth century.”
“Mate, I can’t accurately remember the week before last,” I said, and my friend ignored me and kept right on going. He was like that when he had a head of steam up.
“A cluster of nuns in Northern Italy. They wrote and performed beautiful music. The Church tried to stop them, but they kept going.”
“A bit like you, Roman? And I think the collective noun is a superfluity of nuns, not cluster.”
Ignored, yet again.
“Naturally, the music and singing were all religious. I guess that’s how they got away with it for so long,” said Roman. His voice dropped, and I thought he was done, but he was just thinking about something — he was far away, and then he was back.
“Lucretia Borger’s daughter was one of the composers.”
“No shit? THE Lucretia Borger?” I said, and I was getting used to being ignored.
“In the end, the Church caught up with them and the trail goes cold.”
“And how did you learn all this?” I said because I wasn’t listening when he first told me.
“A very old, handwritten book. Beautifully illustrated. Tells the whole story from the point of view of the women involved. I ran across it when I was studying in the Vatican library,” said Roman, and he trailed off again and stared into space. I got the feeling that he was back there, back then.
“So, how come this book was in the Vatican library if the Church was trying to stamp them out?”
“Better for them to lock it away than have it floating about causing trouble.”
Roman had a point, and it unsettled me. I had always thought of Roman as my slightly dotty friend, and here he was making sense.
“So why were these talented women locked away behind convent walls and not out in the world being married and making music?”
“Money,” said Roman.
“Only the eldest daughter would get married. Her dowery would be huge. The family would go broke if all the daughters got married. Convents would take the other daughters for a fraction of a marriage dowery. At that time, around a quarter of all gentile women were behind the wall.”
“That’s a lot of women,” I said, and I meant it. Nuns freak me out a bit. At least they did when I was a kid, and there were a lot of them about, back then.
“Sometimes there would be three generations of women locked away. When a baby was born into a family they would bring the child along and stick it in this kind of revolving door thing that the convent would receive supplies through. Technically, the baby would be excommunicated for going through the portal, but in reality, they weren’t. No one was supposed to touch a nun once she was received into the order. Cuddling newborn relatives seemed to be an exception to the rule. Sometimes, tiny nuns would squeeze through the revolving door and go AWOL.”
My head was starting to spin.
All this seemed so far from the world I lived in. Did women really live like this — separated from the world?
“So what was it like? Working in the Vatican library?” I said.
“Not as much fun as the Bodleian. The Vatican Library is bland and boring, but it does have a bar.”
“Yes. It’s there for the Vatican staff — greatly subsidised prices — but they will serve travelling scholars. I’d have my lunch there and go back to work in the afternoon — technically, the library closes at lunchtime, but those in the know can get a special pass and work until the early evening. It’s very quiet in the afternoon.”
“This book, with the singing nuns, how did you find it?”
“Not sure. You are only allowed three books per day and I think I must have made a mistake when I ordered it. In any case, it was the most important discovery of my time in Italy. You know, I don’t think the book had been opened since it was added to the collection some four hundred plus years ago.”
“Wow,” I said, and I could hear the pages being separated as he opened the book. The rich illustrations and the archaic language — not to mention the smell of the paper and the binding.
“You know, a bunch of nuns banded together and burnt down their convent.”
“No. I didn’t know that,” I said, “you should write a book.”
“I am. But I fear it will be read by very few and someday — maybe hundreds of years from now — someone will find it in a dusty old archive. I wonder what that person will think when they open it for the first time?”
“I’d like to read your book when it’s done, but for now, I need a drink. Care to join me?”
Roman smiled, and we headed for the pub.
As we walked, it dawned on me that my ‘dotty’ friend had seen more of the world than I had and his books took him time travelling as well.
I’m glad we kept in touch — even if he does ignore me, from time to time.
The police officer knocked gently on Madame Olga’s front door.
“What can I do for you, young man?”
“I’m sorry to disturb you Madame Olga, but there’s been a complaint about the elixir you sell at the local market. I’ve been sent to ask you if we could have a sample for analysis?”
This wasn’t the first time Madame Olga had received such a request.
“Come in. Sit. Rest your feet. I get bottle and give to you.”
Proper procedure would have been for Senior Constable Wilson to select a sample at random from Madame Olga’s stock and if asked, that is what he would say he did. Wilson wanted this to go as smoothly as possible. He did not want to upset this old lady any more than was necessary.
Olga returned with a small clear glass jar containing an opaque substance. The jar had a golden lid. When Wilson twisted the cap, a waft of menthol filled the air.
“You dip toothpick in and what sticks you rub on back of hand,” said Madame Olga producing a wooden toothpick from out of nowhere.
“That won’t be necessary. I just have to hand it in to forensics, and if there isn’t anything illegal in here, you won’t have anything to worry about,” said Senior Constable Wilson.
“I make you tea and bring you biscuits. I make them myself?”
Senior Constable Wilson’s partner, PC Billy Pepper looked pleadingly at his superior.
After a pause, Wilson said, “That would be lovely,” and they made themselves comfortable on Madame Olga’s old couch.
After two cups of tea and several biscuits (which were just as tasty as you would expect), the two officers made their leave and headed for their car. They noticed the gentleman next door watching them as they left.
“Do you want to give it a try, Senior,” said Pepper, “you know the boys at the lab will have a go.”
Senior Constable Wilson had heard about the effects of Madame Olga’s elixir.
“Why do you think she calls it Peripeteia?” said Pepper.
“Probably named after a gypsy king or something,” said Wilson, unscrewing the lid. He pulled the top off his pen and delicately dipped the tip in the mixture. He rubbed it on the back of his hand and sat waiting for a reaction.
Madame Olga’s next-door neighbour, Tony, noted that the police car stayed parked outside her house for almost an hour.
What he didn’t witness was the journey that Senior Constable Wilson was taking while being strapped securely into the driver’s seat of the stationary police car.
A FEW DAYS LATER.
“How did you get on with the cops?” said Tony, who was pulling out a piece of greenery from his front lawn. Tony doesn’t like things to be in the wrong place and on this morning, he took a dislike to a dandelion that had the cheek to grow in his lawn without an invitation.
Olga bent forward to see if the postman had left her any letters. She heard his noisy motorbike a bit earlier, and it sounded like he had stopped at her gate.
“They took away a sample of my elixir, apologising a lot, saying that some person thought I was selling LSD. I told them I don’t know what that is — which is not true, I do know,” said Olga holding back a chuckle.
“They haven’t taken you away in chains, so I guess they didn’t find anything?” said Tony.
“A nice cop phone me, say that it only Vicks and mint and something else they don’t know what, but definitely not illegal,” said Olga with a sense of satisfaction.
“So that’s it then. Did you find out who dobbed you in?”
“No, but nice cop said he wants a jar and could he have a few jars for the forensic staff and I said yes, I give them a special price and they are very happy.”
What if it was possible for you to see into your future? What if it was not as simple as seeing? What if you had to choose between a series of possible futures? Would you? Would you want To? How would you deal with all the possible consequences? Madame Olga could help you. That is if you can find her.
a very long short story
There are favours, and then there are FAVOURS.
A cup of sugar is fine, but I’ve always thought that the loan of a lawn mower was a bit too much. It’s all a matter of degrees. You might be happy to do any favour asked of you, or you might have limits based on who was doing the asking.
Boris lives by a strict code, so when Barry asked a favour, he did not hesitate, even when Barry pointed out the danger.
Claudine thought it was an unusual name for a cafe, but my mind was on other things.
“You didn’t tell me I had to wear a hat,” said Claudine. Her mouth worked faster than her brain, and at times it was endearing and at other times not so much.
“It’s not like an entry requirement or anything. It’s just a gimmick, and you know how cashed up city types are — anything for a giggle,” I said while scanning the room for potential trouble. The only potential problem was the bloke wearing braces and a belt. Probably got ‘dacked’ when he was at school, and never got over it. A six-figure salary with bonuses and he’s afraid his pants will fall down. Then again, I’m wearing a red waistcoat with stripes, so who am I to give fashion advice?
“Even so, I’ve got a cute hat I bought at a Thrift Shop. I’ve been dying to try it out.”
“I’ll tell you what, if you stop talking about hats I’ll bring you back here next Friday night and you can show off your millinery to your heart’s content — deal?”
“Deal,” said Claudine, but I could see that she still had more to contribute to the subject, but the thought of a night out ‘all expenses paid’ was too good to pass up, so she gently closed her beautiful mouth and began thinking of another subject — at least that’s what I think she was doing. I was watching the woman with the pyramid earrings.
The cafe was packed with bright young things all semi-drunk after a tough week of playing with other people’s money. The decibel level was beyond the point where a Heavy Metal Band would tell us to keep it down — no chance of hearing what Ms Earrings was saying even though I was close enough to reach out and touch her.
“Step back and bump into her. Let’s see what she does and let’s see who notices,” I said.
“Bump into who?” said Claudine.
“The woman behind you. Purple hat, big earrings.”
Claudine looked over her shoulder and took a step back. Her bump never eventuated because she stepped on the woman’s foot and in her haste to ‘unstep’ she emptied the remains of her Gin and Tonic on Purple Hat and Big Earrings dress.
Claudine was mortified, and even though I couldn’t hear over the din, it seemed that she was apologising and encouraging the woman to head for the Ladies.
I wasn’t game to follow, but I imagined them removing the dress, washing it under the tap and running it under the electric hand dryer. The whole process would take about eight to ten minutes based on my own experience of spilling soy sauce on my pants at the Chinese on the High Street last Easter. I took it as a punishment from God for eating out at a Chinese Restuarant on Good Friday.
I scanned the room, but no one except the woman she was talking to took any interest so I could relax just a bit.
Eight minutes means I have time for another drink.
Right on cue, the two women emerged from the toilets with Big Earrings giving her dress a final straighten.
When Claudine got back to where I was standing, I leaned in close and said, “That was a bit more than I expected.”
“She wears very expensive underwear, she’s not a bit shy, and the colour in her dress didn’t run, even though it should have. Purple is notoriously hard to make fast. Oh, yes, and she slipped away from her minders, ‘I can’t breathe with those goons watching me all the time. Has your fella got a friend? I’ve been living like a nun for the past few weeks, and I could really use a bloody good…”
“Okay, I get the point. Lean over and tell her, yes. I’ll make a call. My boss is going to wet himself when I tell him she fell into my arms without her close support.”
I stepped outside to make the call, and I’m sure I heard my boss squeal like a little girl.
He said he could be there in ten minutes and gave a brief rundown of what he would do to me if I were winding him up. I assured him I wasn’t.
I walked back into the cafe, and the two women were gone and so was the bloke in the braces and belt.
I know Claudine will have an excellent story to tell when I catch up with her, but for now, I needed to exit the building.
I’ll explain it all to my boss once I find out where they went and when he has had time to calm down and dry off his pants.
Claudine may call me later tonight or in the morning, and she may still have Big Earrings without her escort, but I doubt it. Life is never that easy. The Universe is never that kind.
I’ll catch up to Big Earrings eventually, and I’ll find out what she knows — I’m good at my job.
In the meantime, I’m going to buy a hat.
It isn’t every day that you get to come home.
I didn’t expect to find her. I wasn’t looking, but isn’t that always the way?
She can run fast and I can fly, which makes for an interesting combination.
There will be a surprise wedding (not mine) and some time on a train. A visit to the house I grew up in and a quandary about sleeping arrangements. A ride in a horse and cart, and tea in a coffee shop.
And of course, there will be dancing.
Drinking after hours and a mad, barefoot dash for freedom.
All these things and a full heart, then I have to go, but she will wait for me. Wait patiently for me to fly away home.
I loved her the first time I saw her, and that’s all you need to know.
She had hair the colour of rich Belgian chocolate, and recently cut it shorter only to grow it longer again, just for me. A short stay in hospital had left her looking a little pale, and her lack of makeup was not disguising her beautiful complexion. She smiled at me and spoke enthusiastically about different coloured foods. She didn’t see me, not really, and I was determined to change that. Nothing was more important in my life. She was wearing an exquisite gown that showed the curves of her petite body to perfection. She left early with her friends, and I sat in a daze, wondering what had just happened.
It was Scarlett Holmyard who triggered my fitful imagination. It was Scarlett Holmyard who gave my life meaning when things were at their darkest.
I still have the souvenirs. Random memories that, if you put them all together would look like the remnants of a shredded photo album. Fragments of photographs are floating on the water or stuffed down the side of a sofa. Each piece tells a story of adventure, close encounters, triumphs and pure excitement.
I cannot explain the feelings I have when recalling them — the frustration, the hope, the confusion, the anger. Scarlett is the most important person in my life, but I don’t know that yet. She’s that person that you catch sight of out of the corner of your eye. She’s the one whose name you struggle to remember, the torn photograph with not enough detail. She is my nameless champion, my never wavering hero, and I’m the one who is doggedly searching for her.
Sam loves Scarlett, or at least that is what everyone keeps telling him. After the bloke in the stolen car slammed into Sam at a Tee intersection, everything changed. A head injury, a stay in hospital followed by a stint in rehab and Sam is no closer to regaining all his memories. His distant past is clearer than his recent present, and Scarlett belongs to now. Can Sam fall in love with Scarlett — all over again? And what of the bloke who ‘hit and ran’? Will Inspector Blank work it all out, or will Sam have to be his own detective? For many months, while Sam works on his recovery, there will be numerous tram journeys and frequent visits to Dr Doug, the therapist chosen by Scarlett to help to bring her Sam back to her. Who is the bloke in the brown shoes and why do Sam and Scarlett decide that blackberry jam is a good way to put closure to their uncomfortable adventure? Sam Bennett faces his biggest challenge to date — finding his Scarlett.
Publishing date: February 20th 2019
Now available for pre-order.
A chance encounter on a country road and Rufus’ skills are put to the test. Rufus is wiser than his diminutive stature might suggest. Wisdom and size do not always correlate.