lay down and wait like
- Charles Bukowski
THEY'RE LOOKING AT ME AGAIN, as I swing down the street - the
rain playing with my clothing. I'm going nowhere as usual: no job,
no girl, no life.
I decide it's looking like a good day to lose myself in a book.
My hand fumbles through my pocket for money, but all I can find is
a five-dollar note. Shit, I think to myself, that won't buy me
Bukowski, even Fante is out of my reach.
Soon I reach the bookshop, and walk in pleased to defy the
steady rainfall outside.
"You got Bukowski here?" I ask.
"No, was he supposed to be in today?"
"He's a writer, a bad writer."
"Bukowski, eh?" the man replies, starting to think it
Then, he looks up at his palisade of shelves: the books all
covered in that musty smell. Probably spent too long in boxes or in
people's studies, and little time before the eye. There is music
playing on an old tape deck. Sounds like swing jazz from the '30s
and '40s, or Dixieland. I often wished I'd been alive then. It was
the whole affair: big dance halls, boys picking their girls up and
lifting them over their shoulders, always in time, as the beat
impulsively dictated love.
The man's eyes slowly change, as he searches through his books.
Perhaps he was a thief once, I start to think, but no, maybe he's
"Bukowski?" he says again. "I think I've got some of his books
at home, I could take your number, let you know if we get any
"He's an American writer, a real prick. You know, I wouldn't
like to be his girlfriend."
"Most of them are, aren't they?" he replies, laughing and
releasing a harsh cough. Then, turning towards the doorway, he
notices an old man shamble into the shop, his faded clothes
reflecting his temperance, his jacket ridiculed by the rain.
"Gudday, Jack," the man at the counter says.
He mumbles to himself, and feebly stumbles towards the back of
the shop, perhaps after free coffee.
"Go right ahead Jack, Louise is out today, she won't mind you
being back there."
The old man walks on, scans the New Zealand literature shelf,
and then grabs an old book, with brownish-tinged paper, before
exiting through a door at the rear of the shop. My attention
returns to the man at the counter.
"All I can do is check at home, but I'm pretty sure I've seen
some, come back a little later in the week."
He's bluffing, you either have it or you don't. Besides he
doesn't know Bukowski. I wonder if he's lived outside his shop in
the past ten years. Still, he must profess some knowledge of books;
it's his job is it not? Oh well, try another shop, don't believe
him, walk out, the rain has died down a bit.
"No thanks, I'll keep looking, but if you get any Bukowski, read
it. You might learn something and then you might not," I say,
stepping outside and zipping up my coat.
You never can tell with books, I mean there are the covers and
then there are the jackets. But always taste the inside. Food for
thought, as they say.
Bukowski, I thought. Where would he go now? Probably spend his
last few dollars on a cheap bottle of wine, maybe belt out another
tale of ordinary madness, sneer at a few office workers, and make
his way back to the sounds of Borodin.
A man and a woman traipse by, the woman speaking loudly as if
not caring who overhears.
"It's almost four o'clock," she says. "There should be enough
time for another root, yeah whadda ya say? Another root, let's get
drunk again and have another root! Maria isn't back till late
The man smirks, and walks somewhat off to the side. She follows
him talking loudly and excitedly.
"Who needs a job, eh, rooting's better for you!" I watch her go,
swinging her hips, holding his hand.
Soon their voices fade in the distance. I stand there in the
rain, plotting my next move, but gradually the rain starts to get
heavier, so I head off tasting it on my tongue. There are people in
the distance, cafes ahead. One of them must be worth a sneer. Hell,
Hank,'no guts, no glory', isn't that the way it goes?
Short Story © Mark Pirie, 2002