This is part of a series- the previous parts can be found here:
John Le Carre. Click. Click. Fifteen thousand and twelve. Don’t look up. Don’t lose track.
The girl who touches books came in the shop fourteen seconds ago just went straight for the thirty thousands. Not sure sure what she wants. Don’t look up. Don’t lose track. Fifteen thousand one hundred and one. Don’t look up.
‘Excuse me’ she obnoxiously shouted.
Fifteen thousand one hundred and eighty two. Don’t look up. Don’t lose track. Finger down. Don’t smudge the page. Don’t mottle the ink.
‘Hello’ I didn’t look up. I won’t lose track.
She wants a book she says. I tell her that it’s a bookshop. She tells me she knows. I wasn’t sure she knew. She is vague.
‘I don’t know what it’s called’ She says.
I don’t know either I tell her.
Don’t look up. Don’t lose track. Don’t smudge the page. Don’t mottle the ink.
Fifteen thousand three hundred and ninety nine.
‘It was my grandfather’s favourite book’. She says.
I consider for a moment if I might know him. I really only know a few people. Enzo. But he isn’t old enough to have a granddaughter that age. Patrick. And he has no children. And I know the old woman that lived next door. But she isn’t her grandfather. Even thinking about those people, I don’t know their favourite books.
‘I don’t know him’.
‘He’s dead’ she says.
Fifteen thousand five hundred and twenty three.
Don’t look up. Don’t lose track. Her voice is too loud.
She’s looking at the fifty-thousands now.
‘I can remember the cover. It looked like a painting by Picasso’.
Fifteen thousand seven hundred and seventy seven.
‘What is the word count?’ I don’t look up, but I think she might be angry. Or confused. I don’t lose track.
‘It’s okay. I’ll look myself.’
She started walking towards the hundred thousands.
Don’t look up. Don’t lose track.
Fifteen thousand nine hundred and six.
She starts pulling at the books.
Don’t look up. Don’t lose track. I try to keep reading. Three hundred and twenty words per minute.
The books are going back in the wrong places.
‘That doesn’t belong there’ I say. She’s not listening.
Don’t lose track. My finger smudging the page. Don’t look up.
Fifteen thousand nine hundred and six.
‘Please Miss’ I get up. I drop my book. I was on fifteen thousand nine hundred and six.
I pick up my book. She put back a -one hundred and twelve thousand- in with the- one hundred and thirteens.
Don’t lose track. I found my place again. I bookmark the page. Flat across the last line. I put my clicker down.
‘That’s a one hundred and twelve thousand’ I say. But she’s not listening.
‘It was a novel’ She says touching everything.
Why does she have to touch everything.
‘An old novel. Maybe from before the War’
‘How many words is it?’
‘I don’t know’ she says.’Why should it matter?’
‘I need the word count to find it’
She tells me I’m absurd. I don’t understand. I am the opposite of absurd. I am highly logical.
‘The books are in word count order’ I explain. ‘This one is one hundred and twelve thousand four hundred and ninety one.’
‘That’s Science Fiction. You should have a section for Science Fiction. People want Science Fiction books in a Science Fiction section’
She pushed the book back in the wrong space.. I don’t know why she did it the way she did, but she was not kind to the book.
One hundred and twelve thousand four hundred and ninety one. I put it back next to McTeague by Frank Norris.
‘It’s sort of like a Science Fiction book. But not quite’ she says immediately proving her own suggested system to be faulty.
‘I can’t help you’ I say.
‘It wasn’t very long. A bit shorter than average.’
‘The shortest story is six words. Largely attributed to Ernest Hemingway. The longest is Artemene by Georges De Scudery. It’s One million nine hundred and fifty four thousand three hundred words’
‘Have you read it?’
‘Is it good?’
‘It’s in French. I don’t speak French’
‘But you read it?’
‘I just said I had read it.’
‘But why would you read something you when you don’t understand the language it is written in. Especially when it must have taken you months?’
‘It look me exactly one week. What do you mean by average?’
She walked off and picked up a paperback from the sixty thousands.
‘Like this’ She said.
Sixty three thousand four hundred and twenty two. Virginia Woolf.
‘About this long’
‘If it’s that long and I have it you will find it there’. I put the book back on the shelf.
Sixty three thousand four hundred and twenty two. Mrs Dalloway. Virginia Woolf.
She walks along the sixty thousands. She touches the books and I wonder why.
Sometimes I have several copies of one book. Unless it is from the same pressing, I read the duplicate copies as occasionally there are changes in the word count.
There are four copies of Mrs Dalloway. Two editions. Same word count.
The girl rummages around through the sixty thousands. I stand near in case I need to protect the books. She touches everything and her voice is too loud.
Sixty-five thousand two hundred and nine.
Sixty-six thousand and sixty-one.
Sixty-three thousand and nineteen. Her logic is absurd.
‘The writer has an odd name’.
Sixty-four thousand two hundred and seven. I look at the clock. I look at my clickers. She touches the books.
‘Huckle. Sounded like Huck.’
‘Sixty-three thousand seven hundred and sixty-six’ I say as I pull Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ off the shelf. There are 3 copies. All different editions. All with the same word count.
‘That’s it. That’s the one’. She starts jumping. She takes it off me and then pushes herself against me with her hand around my shoulder. She says thank you three times.
Sixty-three thousand seven hundred and sixty-six. Brave New World.
‘Thank you’ she says for the fourth time. Her voice is too loud.
Aldous Huxley. Brave New World. Sixty-three thousand seven hundred and sixty-six.
She picks the one with the cover she likes.
I look at the clock. I look at my clickers. Don’t lose track.
Six pound thirty seven. I tell her.
She smiles at me in a strange way and moves her head from side to side. She has a tiny purse and her fingers are too big to get the money out.
I look at the clock. I look at my clickers. I am approximately three thousand two hundred words behind schedule.
The girl pays me the money and leaves.
She is wearing a green cardigan and has blue eyes.