“Will this do?” you say to your stomach at three in the morning. “Can I go to bed now?”
“Just a minute,” your stomach says. “Have I had enough?”
I know what it’s thinking: too little, it’ll come back for more; too much it will churn out nightmares.
“Perhaps a little more?” says the stomach, looking up at me pleadingly like a cat.
“No,” you decide, “You can have more in the morning like normal stomachs do. Come on.”
“Where are we going?”
“Where do you think?”
And it follows you back to bed, shoulders a little slumped.
You’re tricky, she says, which is sort of ironic ‘coz she’s tricky too; and my best buddy can be very tricky and we’ve come to blows on more than one occasion over our mutual trickiness which is even more tricky seeing he’s in a wheelchair though he gives as much as he gets and tonight we’re over a friend’s place for a fuck-you covid meal and although there are a few tricky moments we manage to get on over pizzas, two bottles of red, Bailey’s Irish Cream and a few espressos which just goes to show what a resilient species we humans are
I would like a copy of Amy Hempel’s Collected Short Stories please.
I’ll just do a quick search, she says. Good news, We have a copy in the system. One copy. We can get it from the Burnside library.
There’s only one problem.
Did you learn any foreign languages at school?
French, Spanish, a spattering of German. Why?
How about Croatian?
The only copy we have is in Croatian.
How did that even happen? I ask.
God only knows. Do you know any Croatian?
My cleaner comes from Montenegro. He taught me a few swear words. Does that count?
Not really, she says. You could do a crash course in Croatian.
No thanks. I’ll wait till there’s an English version.
It could be a while. This version came out in ’96.
Have you got anything else by Amy Hempel? I say. In English.
- have you ever encountered an unusual problem in the library?
- can you speak Croatian? are you one of the readers of that Amy Hempel book?
- photo by Jakub Arbet from Unsplash
Any chance of a coffee, Cheryl?
I’m busy, John. Can you get one from the machine? It does a good job.
Not as good as you, Cheryl.
She smiled but it was no go. So I went to the machine. There was a sign on it saying, Apologies. This Machine Is Out Of Order.
So I went and told Cheryl.
That’s funny, she said. It was working earlier. I’ll have a look.
A few minutes later, she brought me a coffee.
The machine’s working, John but I brought you a coffee anyway.
That’s funny: the sign said it wasn’t working.
The sign was on the side of the machine, she said. Only if it’s on the front does it hold true.
Oh? I said. Oh.
So I thanked her and after I drank the coffee, I left, a little troubled.
At home, I flipped through the community newspaper and found just the course I wanted: How To Read Signs. I filled out the form, sent in the cheque and enrolled immediately.
Never again would I be caught short before a sign.
She hands me the change.
The two coins bounce off the rubbery counter.
I catch them mid-flight.
You should be in a circus, she says.
I am, I say. I mingle with clowns every day, drive around in an old jalopy, juggle my bills, keep the customers satisfied, pop popcorn at night; get up in the morning, put on my face paint and start all over again. What a performance!
She smiles at me nervously.
Anyhow, have a good day! I say.
You too, she says, as I walk away, honking my clown nose.
All quiet on the Western Front? I asked one of the security guards who had been involved in an incident ten minutes before.
Yes, he said but you could tell he was a little jumpy.
He and two of his mates had wrestled to the ground an ice addict who was bothering one of the patrons.
Amongst much kicking, punching and hurling of abuse, he was shoved out of the library.
I pulled out my phone to take a film. One of the guards seeing me, said: No. Put it away, mate.
So I did.
I wish it were as easy to put away some of the stuff that is out there but it isn’t. It isn’t.
My neighbour worried I was having a meltdown. She came by one evening with her three Pomeranians in tow as my brother-in-law pulled in to pick me up for a barbecue at their place. She assured me there was no need to panic, that I could stay as long as I needed till I found a place of my own. The front porch light shone down on us. Wings of light enfolded her as the dogs wound their way around her legs.
Who was that, my brother-in-law asked.
That, I said, was the Archangel Gabriel. Deliverer of glad tidings.
Huh? my brother-in-law said as we hopped in the car.
Good news, I clarified. I get to stay.