lay down
lay down and wait like
an animal

- 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 through.

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 just bluffing.

"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 in."

"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 tonight."

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