Tuesday 16 January 2024

Closure by Rob Molan, sweet martini

When I switch on the lights, a fuse goes, and the place plunges into darkness. Very fitting given I’ll be closing the door on the bookshop for the last time at five thirty tonight. It’s been alive for thirty years with shoppers eager to consume the fruit of writers’ imaginations and curious about the human condition as revealed through the characters who grace the pages of great works of literature. But no more after this evening.

Once the lights are back on, I look around the shelves which are still well stocked with unsold books. Offering a fifty per cent discount on everything has not had the desired effect. The e-mail which I opened over breakfast was the final blow:

‘Hi Charles. Sorry for not replying before now to yours of 15 November. I’m afraid we are not in a position to purchase your remaining stock. Our sales are below pre-pandemic levels and we’re planning to shut down one of our shops. Good luck for the future! Raymond.’

He was my last hope. There was no prospect of selling the shop as a going concern and other booksellers had declined to buy the stock, so I’m left with the task of boxing them and sticking the lot in my garage. Frankly, I don’t have the energy for it.

During the morning, a few people drop in to have a look and some make purchases. As I watch the browsers, my mind drifts back to the numerous customers over the years who have sought my opinion on a book. I was the source of literary wisdom who dispensed advice on a light classic that an elderly aunt might like, the author who best captured life in nineteenth century Paris and much more besides. I made profit of the quieter hours behind the counter, working my way through literary masterpieces and freely sharing my critiques with buyers.

Then there were those who confided in me why they had chosen a particular volume. The prim looking lady who told me why she felt like Madame Bovary and the doctor who revealed under his breath how much he enjoyed gory murder stories. At times, I felt like the bookworms’ confessor.

At eleven, I disappear into the back and make a cuppa to perk myself up and help swallow my medication. The side effects don’t kick in for an hour or so and I’ll close for lunch when they are about to ambush me. Stepping back into the shop clutching my mug, I spy my brother Freddy. He’s not been inside for years and the only reason he’ll be here now will be to snap up a few bargains which he’ll probably sell for a profit on eBay. I notice he’s still got that stupid ponytail in his white hair.

He doesn’t address me until he approaches the counter clutching several books.

‘Hello, Charles. Thought I’d drop by to provide a bit of family solidarity.’ He gives me a cheesy grin. ‘Any last minute discounts going?’ I notice his nose has reddened further since our last encounter.

‘No, Freddy. There’s a law against selling good books at rock bottom prices. How are you and the family?’

‘We’re all doing well thanks.’

‘That will be five pounds for that little lot.’ He touches his debit card on my card reader.

‘Sorry, but I need to get off. Mary’s waiting for me in the supermarket.’ He looks a bit shifty.

‘That’s a pity.’ I’m a terrible liar sometimes. ‘Have a good Christmas if I don’t see you before then.’

‘You too. Ciao.’  He plonks his purchases in a carrier bag and slopes off.

So there is no invitation to his house for Christmas. That’s a relief. He only started to invite me out of pity after Geraldine jumped ship ten years ago and sailed off with her paramour. This year I’m more than happy to listen to the King’s speech on my own with my faithful Labrador lying at my feet.

There is a welcome burst of business over the next hour and some regulars are kind enough to say how much they will miss the shop.  I’m touched by one comment by an elderly gentleman.

‘This shop has been like a treasure chest which I’ve returned to again and again to find another gem. I’m so disappointed it won’t be here anymore to brighten up my life.’

I start to tire after noon so lock up and retreat to the back room where I lie down on the camp bed and shut my eyes. The alarm awakens me at one thirty and familiar aromas of chocolate, wood and smoke greet me.  I will miss the smell of the old place.

            I get up and reopen for the final time.  Trade is slow at first and I scribble down some questions to ask the consultant when I see him. There’s always something which I forget but this time I really need to be prepared.

A sense of foreboding takes over as I watch the clock. A few customers drift in distracting me but I wish that one particular woman had not bothered.

‘I hope you get a good rest, Charles. You look like you need one.’ I can’t remember her name but she has a habit of annoying me.

‘There’s no rest for the wicked.’ Clichés provide a good way of avoiding conversation.

At five twenty, the shop is empty and, as I start getting ready to close, a tall young man wearing a grey overcoat enters. He has a chiseled face and close cropped black hair.

‘Can I help you? I’m about to shut.’  

‘Actually, I wanted to speak to you.’ He studies me closely with his blue eyes. There’s something about him which looks familiar but I can’t put a finger on it.

‘Why’s that?’ I hope he’s not some meddlesome official.

‘I’m in the book trade myself. I visited the shop last week and came away thinking the stock would be of value to my online business.’ That must have been when I was receiving treatment at the hospital and Mrs White covered for me.

‘Well, I’m open to offers.’ The likeness is bugging me now.

‘I would be willing to pay a fair price once I’ve had a chance to do an inventory.’

I have to stop myself jumping with joy.

‘But I must confess though to having an ulterior motive in coming here in the first place. When you wrote round the trade inviting offers, your name jumped out.’

‘Why?’ I start feeling uneasy.

‘My stepfather forbade that it be mentioned in our home.’  

‘For what reason?’

‘Because of my mother. Does the name Jennifer Dale ring a bell?’ He looks me in the eye.

That’s a blast from the past. The delicious Jenny who dumped me back in the eighties. The posh girl who fell – or so it seemed – for the aspiring young graduate from the sink estate.

‘Yes. How does she fit in?’  Her winsome smile suddenly reappears in my mind.

‘My stepfather married her knowing that she was carrying another man’s child. She passed away when I was eight and he brought me up, making me feel like his own.’

I sense where this is going. He’s the spitting image of my late father in those photos taken when he was young.

‘He’d asked my mother what the father’s name was and he had you down as the oik who used and abandoned her, and didn’t want me to have any contact with you.’ He watches me for a reaction.

‘I don’t know what she told him but I can assure you I’d no idea she was pregnant when she ended things.’

‘Whatever the truth is, I’ve wanted to meet you for years but didn’t want to upset my stepfather.’

“What changed?’ His forehead is wide just like Dad’s was.

‘He died six months ago and, once I came to terms with that, I realised I was at liberty to find you. I can’t tell you how much it means to finally meet up.’

He pauses and straightens his shoulders before continuing.

‘Look, I know this is a lot to take in. Can I suggest that we have dinner sometime and take it from there?’

‘Yes, I’d like that. What’s your first name?’ My curiosity is now whetted.

‘Ian.’  He laughs nervously. ‘I have to say you’re not what I expected. More Bill Nighy than Ray Winstone, if you follow me.’

‘I’ll settle for that comparison!’ I think we’re going to get on.


An hour after Ian has left, I’m sitting in the shop gazing into the future rather than dwelling on the past. Assuming Ian is who he says he is, there will be no sale of the stock. Instead, I will make a bequest to him giving my treasures a new life in the virtual sales world. I hope our dinner will be the first of several which will help us get to know each other in the time I have left.

About the author 

 Rob started writing short stories during lockdown. To date, he's had a few published in anthologies produced by small publishers. He likes to experiment with different genres and styles of writing. Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.) Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)

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