We’re playing The Muse Wars– and I’m late, in publishing this one. Burst eardrums will do that. Whatever.
She used to sit in the shop every day and ask questions. How much was that, what did you with that. As she grew older, she ate the books on the shelves like food.
Books were always coming and going here. That was what her mother did– books. Newspapers and magazines and stationery as well, of course– it wouldn’t have been much of a newsagent without those– and lotto tickets and birthday cards. But the second hand books were what most people came for. They’d exchange them, drop off box-loads of old, musty smelling novels- spines cracked, cheap mulched cardboard covers; and leave with a new stack of books, new adventures to keep them company on long commutes and lonely nights.
Her mother had read just about every book that came and went. She was an un-ordained literary critic, voicing her opinion on authors and genres, plots and characters. She’d recommend new titles for old customers, divine the perfect pulp fiction for bored housewives. Her daughter would listen, watch her mother wide-eyed; at five years old, at eight years old, at ten years old. By the age of thirteen, she was no longer listening, her nose buried in the same books her mother knew cover to cover. At around seventeen years old, she began working weekends and after school, taking over not only the till but the book recommendations– her mother had shaped her into an ad-hoc, blue collar pseudo–librarian, too.
And it was a blessing, though neither knew how much so at the time. Her mother’s world began to slowly recede. She forgot little things, to begin with– her car keys were always missing. She forgot it was Sunday paper-day, no matter how many times her daughter reminded her. She would put milk back in the cupboard, peanut butter in the freezer.
Her daughter watched, increasingly worried, as her mother’s behaviour grew stranger, her memory thinner… moth–eaten. She swore at customers. She walked naked into the store in the middle of the day. The phone would ring and she’d stare at it absently, as if not understanding where that noise was coming from.
And she forgot the names of books, of authors. She’d twist her favorite plot-lines into new stories, which were recounted as tales of her own life. Then she’d pause, midway through the most passionate retelling. Confusion crinkling her face, tears in her eyes.
The diagnosis of dementia was, by that stage, not a difficult one to come by. It broke her daughter’s heart. She contemplated a nursing home, a full time nurse. A change of location, selling the business. Moving closer to what little other family they had.
In the end, she did none of that. In the end, she and her mother stayed in the little bookstore. And in between serving their customers, the steady clientele that still came and went; she would read her mother books. Page by page, paragraph by paragraph. Receiving no reaction at all.