Of Bookshelves And Barometers

“Oh good, golly gracious!”

Armies of bottles tremble in response to the shout — the home to antidotes and poisons from times past, stained in striking shades of emerald and cobalt. Fantastically curvaceous women, dancing in the low, orange light of afternoon.

“Victor Travis Mott, you imbecile!”

Mycal looks up, allowing her eyes to part from the soft-edged, freckled pages that had been the focus of her attention for most of the afternoon.

There is a pause.

Suddenly, there is a grunt and Mycal watches as, in a flurry of movement, piles of poorly stacked invoices and statements topple to the ground from their place beside the register.

Humoured, and verging on the precipice of concern, she attempts a question.

“… Something wrong, Motty?”

“You blithering blunderbuss!”

Motty is more of an antique than anything stashed inside his little sanctuary, with a grin and a whimsical nature that never truly faded from childhood.

And he’s apparently just found the notice from the bank.

“You silly, old fart!”

Mycal finds him by the register, his fingers — tired, worn and trembling — are clasped around the notice. As he bristles, Mycal can see the barest hint of angry, red lettering through the clear window of the envelope.

Upon seeing her, Motty softens.

His pale grey eyes plead. His hands, shaking as they turn over themselves, are clasped together in a mimicry of prayer.

“You can watch the shop for me, can’t you?”

As soon as the barest breath of an affirmation is made, Motty rushes from the shop. Mycal watches, dumb with shock, as the silhouette of the frazzled and flustered man trots past the front window and disappears.

Little old man, indeed.

Of Bookshelves and Barometers layout page one

Illustration by Cédalise Mariotti

So far, the bank had sent three notices — three notices that that Mycal was aware of, anyway.

But there was nothing that seemed to fade from Motty’s attention more than a definitive date.

A deadline.

With the slow trickle of passers-by a fair indication of the possibility of customers, Mycal retreats to the very back of the shop, where rows upon rows of old books lie, accompanied by stray pages of early 20th-century sheet music and the odd cobweb.

Before her, the volumes stand to attention. Hardcover soldiers, dressed in splendid tunics of maroon and cerulean with golden titles that gleam like medallions shined to brilliance.

As Mycal returns her book to its place among the ranks, she finds herself musing over the man who spent a great deal of his life collecting these books.

Victor Mott is perchance the worst salesman to ever exist. And yet, he’s perfect. The 70-something shopkeeper never takes the time to organise his files, properly record his sales, or follow up with customers.

But that’s the sheer brilliance of him.

As Mycal studies the gleaming titles of recent additions, hidden clocks tick and tock to each other in ironic impatience, like greying business men with clients on their tails.

Out of the corner of her eye, she watches as a figure steps through the door. The bell is resigned in its cry.

Surprised, Mycal offers him the usual forced pleasantries.

“Good morning, is there any-?”

The words, insubstantial, ricochet off him. He gives no sign that he has heard her; no sign that he is aware of her presence at all.

Imperfections, Mycal knows, are important. It is the imperfections in diamonds which give them their value.

Freckles. Lines of age. Receding follicles. Each perfect in their imperfection.

But the stranger’s imperfections are different.

They’re gaping cracks.

His eyes are dark; his gaze directed not at Mycal, but through her. His mouth is a cruel, thin line; his cheeks are sunken, and his jaw is sharp.

As he approaches the bookshelves, he demands her attention. His movements are deliberate, as if he is performing for her.

His eyes flick over the titles, unimpressed. His mouth twists.

Mycal watches, helplessly.

In the space of a single, breathless moment, a creased finger dips a slender title from the shelf. It is consumed by the inside of his overcoat.

Stolen.

Of Bookshelves and Barometers layout page two

Illustration by Cédalise Mariotti

The moment falls and shatters against the floorboards. In the debris, Mycal finds her voice.

“Excuse me, did you just-?”

His face splinters into a smirk.

And he runs.

Before Mycal can comprehend it, she’s there. Running. Her feet buffet the pavement, her eyes desperately follow the figure. There are more people now. The five-o’clock crowds are beginning to fill the pavement. Soon it will be humming and bustling with activity.

Her mind plunges into the panic of the moment.

Her chest tightens and she takes in forced, gulping breaths.

Occasional asthma, she thinks bitterly. A condition that isn’t even determined enough to warrant a proper diagnosis. She struggles against her body’s objections and watches as the figure slices in between the crowds.

God, she loves those books.

The thief hastens with a certain determination. Within seconds, he is enveloped in a crowd of businessmen and 20-somethings.

Mycal feels like plastic in a crowd of precious metals. Nevertheless, she persists.

Her chest continues to constrict. Within moments, it’s an hourglass filling with sand.

It’s just …

It’s just a book.

Her mind wheezes along with her chest.

And she begins to believe it.

Her feet slow and her arms droop; she feels the eyes of passers-by burning holes into her.

But he’s there.

Opening the door to a cab, the book in hand. He’s bristling and agitated.

But smirking.

And waiting for her.