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other notes coverAn excerpt from “Notes from a small bookshop” by Michael Graeme

Available from all good bookshops no time soon:

I don’t know how much strangeness you’re wanting, or how much you can take. It’s a genre thing, I suppose. You come in expecting one thing, like this dusty old geezer sitting in a second hand bookshop pontificating on how things were so much better in the old days, then here he is showing you another thing entirely.

We’ve already had the spy story, the mystery police thing, the love story, a bit of crime thriller – I mean if Milord Milner isn’t a crook, then who is? We’ve even had a little bit of bonk-buster, though I admit I glossed over much of the animal fervour of that in favour of the romantic angle, out of respect for Magg’s privacy and it just seemed like the decent thing to do.

But this is something else entirely and you’re most likely going to find it really, really weird. It’s something you might think is even verging on the speculative, or a bit science fiction-ish, but it isn’t. Trust me, it’s already obsolete, technologically quaint.

Most of us don’t want strangeness do we? We want our days predictable, punctuated by three square meals. We want a thirty minute commute, and a nine to five, then a couple of hours after tea collapsed in front of a predictable Soap while we shovel crisps into our mouths and wash them down with cheap wine from the corner shop.

Then bed and dreams.

Dreams we can do. Dreams are okay, I mean for all their strangeness – and it’s mainly because we forget them so quickly. But that’s about the size of it, isn’t it? Any real strangeness in our waking lives and we’re covering our ears going: Nah,nah,nah,nah,…

But strangeness is everywhere. Every story ever written came out of someone’s head. Did you ever pause to think about that? Isn’t it weird? We make stuff up, make believe it’s real, and it’s okay – people still want to know what happens to these other people, people like me, who aren’t actually real.

But not all strangeness is made up.

I was reading the leftleaning news this afternoon and it was telling me of a town in America, all the jobs moved out and those nine to five people with their family SUVs and their cute little clapboard houses now living in tents along a bleak riverside on the outskirts of town and going hungry. No more wine and crisps for them. This is their new normal discarded, like waste, scrunched up and tossed into the bushes, their own Milord Milners caring little if they live or die. But these are not empty beer-cans. They are people, indeed more than people, they are, in the philosophical, and even in the existential sense, just different versions of you and me.

It will kill us, you know, this thing we have created. And only those of us capable of sustaining our Milord Milners will be allowed to survive, all be it barely. In this respect then, we will be farmed like cows. Some for milk, some for slaughter.

How the Milord Milners are made these days is open to speculation. They are no longer born to it like they were in olden times. I suspect rather they are merely psychopaths, that the system favours their emotionally insensitive natures, and the rest of us are just too passive or too stupid to prevent them gaining power. Shall we merely go on allowing it then? How can we? How can we not? I mean, if we are to survive.

But what is surviving? It’s a subject that needs redefining. And while we’re at it, what is living? I mean truly living.

You can forget the notion now that through diligence, the dream of middle class semi-detached suburbia, and 2.1 children is still attainable. And the working class too, you can forget the notion of meaningful work¬†and ample playtime for afters. You already know this. You’re all in the same boat now, your bright young ones with degrees in this and that, rubbing shoulders with you bright young ones who don’t, and all of you chasing nothing-Mcjobs in the murky, shark infested pool of the precariat, all of you filling in here and there on poverty wages until you’re automated out of existence. You own no capital, you have no provision for old age. Do you think you can still run around a warehouse when youre eighty five with cataracts and a dodgy prostate?

So what am I saying here?

Beyond stating the problem, I don’t know. It depends what you want, what you value, or can re-evaluate in your life. Whether we go on pursuing the thrill of those dubious stimulations promised by Milord Milner’s ultimately empty mouse-clicks, or we set our devices aside, and do something else, something that does not involve staring at a screen and adding to the sedimentary layers of data for others to mine and profit by at our considerable expense and ultimate enslavement.

I have a feeling the answer lies in rediscovering that truer sense of the ordinariness of the world, the purer treasure of it, and yes, the sheer grace in all of that. Only there can we recapture our souls, and live as we should. And be happy.

I don’t know what I mean by any of this exactly, only that in common with the rest of us, I’m working on it,…

Do not go gently.

Be careful what you accept as normal.

No one is a waste of space.

https://www.wattpad.com/myworks/139757309-notes-from-a-small-bookshop

 

 

 

 

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the sea view cafe - smallChapter 22 – first draft

A foul night. Heavy rain rattling at the window and continuing through until dawn. It’s Wednesday. Hermione lies still, cuddling the pillow, not wanting to disturb the delicious warmth of the duvet which has by now settled just right, and ever so sleepy-snug. No need to get up this morning, the Cafe is closed. It might as well have been closed yesterday as well for all the custom she attracted. Things will have to pick up soon or she will be thinking she’s failed, that she will have to go home and listen to her mother say I told you so.

She remembers her mother is dead.

Seven thirty am, then eight, then nine, and still she lies there, drifting in and out of dreams.

There’s a yellow post-it-note fixed to the alarm. It bears the name and address of a man she does not really know. He looked different without his beard last night, so much better, so much more readable, the softness in his eyes repeated about the corners of his mouth as he spoke. What did he say? “Oh, Hi,…” or something like that. Not much in one sense, but a lot more in another because sometimes it is not so much the number of words that conveys meaning as the way they are spoken.

She blushes when she sees him, notices his blushes when he sees her. It means something.

Hush Minnie. It’s nothing, remember?

She’ll run as usual today, but only when it’s stopped raining.

It has rained a lot in Carrickbar this year.

The tide has turned by mid morning and is inching its way back in. Hermione jogs while the cold and the wind washes the sleep from her eyes with salt tears. She runs north, keeping to the sands, wanting to avoid everyone, Finn and Helena especially – Finn because she does not want to want him, and Helena because she does not want her to want him either. And while she thinks on this, she wants only to be a lone figure in the grey.

Jogging.

She has not gone a hundred yards when she spots something washed up, brought in by that morning’s tide. It’s a seal perhaps. Or a sack of something floatable tipped over the side of a boat. She would give it a wide birth but something in the shape of it draws her eye, something deep within that gives warning, primeval in its certainty. And she just knows.

“Fuck!”

She jogs closer, slows when she sees the form a young woman, lifeless, topless like a mermaid, hair matted like weedy fronds about her face, arms outstretched in the sand where the tide has rolled her, a finger pointing. The waxy whiteness of her skin is beautiful, as in way, is the unnatural whiteness of her lips. Hermione stops, hands on knees, silent as a church, unbelieving. What to do? She takes the girl’s wrist between her fingers, thinks to feel for a pulse. The girl is cold, wet, slippery like fish. The deadness in her is obvious.

Someone else is coming now. Running. Breathless.

She turns.

“Finn?”

“I thought I saw from the promenade. I wasn’t sure,… is she?…”

Hermione nods. No need to make a show with CPR. The girl’s spirit is long gone. Gone last night in the deep. Gone for ever.

She’s not sure she wants Finn there, not sure why, not sure about anything now. It complicates the moment, adds tangents to it that she cannot search for meaning. She’s also breathing strangely, too deep, like there’s a scream inside of her that’s trying but won’t come. And the tide is on its way back in.

Finn is calling the police on his mobile. He tries to be calm, precise, measured, but Hermione detects the quiver in his voice of a deep, trembling shock.

Yes, a body. On the beach. At Carrickbar. Young woman. Girl. Drowned maybe.

It seems to take a long time for him to get the message across. He seems to be fighting against an inappropriately cold pedantry. They want his name and address. There are other seemingly irrelevant questions. He keeps trying to tell them: A body. Yes. A body on the beach at Carrickbar. He breaks the call in some frustration.

“What they say?”

“Not to touch her. Someone will be with us soon.”

Hermione drops the girl’s wrist. “How soon?”

“Don’t know.”

“But the tide’s coming in. It’ll have her back out if we wait. We can’t let it take her back out, Finn. We can’t!” She grabs hold of the girl’s wrist again as if to prevent the tide from having her.

Finn is thinking, eyes to the sea, eyes to the promenade and the high water mark. He takes off his coat and drapes it over the girl’s body, as if to keep her warm. “We’ll stay ’till they come,” he says. “Move her up the beach if we have to.”

Hermione nods. He’s a good thinker in a crisis.

Tick.

They begin to shiver.

It’s half an hour before they hear the whine of the air ambulance. Blue lights appear on the promenade at the same time. Hermione cannot remember those thirty minutes. Time is erased. There’s just Finn, crouching by the girl, keeping quiet vigil, and she beside him, the pair of them willing back the tide. No one else from the village comes. It’s too cold a day to be out.

Then the police are there and they are led aside, as if trespassing. The girl is taken from their care and they are resentful of it. Hermione has a parting image of her being rolled without ceremony onto a plastic sheet. Finn’s coat is, sealed in a bag as if accused. Police and noise descend upon the quiet.

Someone is questioning Hermione now. She remembers a fluorescent jacket and a broken nose. She shrugs him off. “We’ll be up the Cafe,” she says, gestures vaguely in the direction of the Sea View, then takes Finn’s hand, pulls him from a pair of officers, leads him away, brushes off their objections. “We’re cold,” she snaps. There’s a contempt in her voice. She can’t help it. She hates the sight of them.

“They took your coat,” she says.

They’re climbing the steps by the harbour. Hermione is still holding his hand, holding it tight, can’t let it go, and his hand feels firm and warm in hers, except she’s not holding it, more holding on to it.

“It’s just an old coat,” says Finn. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Hadn’t you nothing in your pockets?”

He shrugs. “Nothing important. A hanky. An old hat.”

“Not your wallet then?”

“Em,… no.”

“Need to take better care of that.”

“Yes,… look, about that,… about my wallet,… thanks.”

“Oh?”

“It was you who found it, wasn’t it? You posted it through the letter box? Yesterday?”

“How ‘d you know?”

“I could,… smell your perfume on it.”

She’s impressed he knows her scent, impressed that he noticed. “Must have had some on my fingers.”

“But,… anyway,… thanks.”

“S’all right.”

They’re on the promenade now, Squinty Mulligan’s garage across the road, and him outside looking nervous at all the flashing lights. Hermione squeezes Finn’s hand in both her own. Let squinty see. Let Squinty think I’m with Finn.

“You all right?” she asks.

“Yes. Still can’t believe this is happening? Are we dreaming?”

“If we are it’s time we woke up.”

“Who was she, do you think?”

She thinks back to yesterday, to the figures way out on the sands. “Don’t know,” she says. “Not from round here, though.”

Finn looks out over the sea wall, back up the beach from where they’ve come. They are carrying the girl safe from the tide now, laying her down again. There’s the lightning flash from a camera. A private ambulance cruises quiet to the kerb. Hermione feels him far away. They are both of them still down on the beach, with the girl, a half hour of shivering vigil, watching over her. Hermione tugs him up the hill towards the Cafe.

It’s warmer inside, but not much because the heating doesn’t run downstairs on Wednesdays. It’ll be warmer in the flat of course, but she’s not going to invite him up there. It may be perverse but she’s realising there’s nothing like the closeness of death for making her want to feel alive, and if Finn feels half way the same, it’ll only take a knowing glance on his part, and she’ll have him good and hard and be done with it.

They are shivering over hot chocolate when the plain clothes men arrive, ties at half mast and dark trench coats with collars turned, as if in parody of themselves. She notices Squinty at the door, trying to catch her eye. His way is barred by uniforms.

The questions begin in earnest.

She tells them nothing. Knows nothing. Spits her answers.

Finn looks on, wondering, bracing himself at her barely concealed contempt, puzzled by it. His own tone is more polite, respectful. But he knows no more than she. There was a body on the beach. He called the police. No, he does not know who she is, has not seen her around the village before. No, he saw no one else that morning, except Hermione. Yes, he lives in Carrickbar.

Squinty is still at the door, nose against the glass. The officers have finished, seem unperturbed by Hermione’s tone, satisfied with Finn. They have addresses, have handed out cards with official police contact numbers on them. She tears the cards in two as soon as the police have gone.

But she and Finn cannot sit here now, not downstairs in the Cafe with Squinty at the door. He’ll want in. He’ll want the gossip, for nothing like this has happened in Carrickbar before. But she can’t share it yet, and especially not with him. The breaths are coming deep again, the scream building. She can’t let go of Finn, just yet. Something happened on the sands they need to emerge from intact, and they must do it together. She needs him to help make sense of it, fill the gaps in her leaking cognition.

“Will you,… come up for a bit?”

Finn thinks on this for a moment, then nods.

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