Thursday, April 24

Fire & Bookshops


I’M SORRY: I COULDN’T keep my fire out of the bath. You see, I was making a tomato gravy for some venison meatballs I had bought down the cornershop; special—half-price; a steal. I was about to fry some chopped garlic when the pan fired up itself into an arsenal of flames, all spiking for the ceiling and those kitchen units which none of our guests like, except that man from your work who, coming round to pick up some papers, took an uninvited look around, caught sight of the kitchen and—‘Oh, I like your cupboards in here.’ ‘Really? I don’t.’ Fire isn’t ticklish; it’s the tickler. The fire in all of its instant glory and hey-you-get-down-from-there, went straight for the kitchen units, for a tickle. I dropped what I was doing and grabbed the pan. It was a heavy-bottomed pan; the recipe asked, quite firmly, for a ‘heavy-bottomed pan’. I burned my fingers. You know it isn’t a long walk from the kitchen to the bathroom. The flames were quite tall and had to duck down when we went through the door. I threw the fire into the bath. Fire could never be a pinball. I damaged the bath. I’m sorry I couldn’t keep the fire out of the bath. I could think of nowhere else to put it. I was staring at photographs of you when you were a schoolboy and in front of brick walls, in a paisley shirt with the top button done up, tie-less, the collar standing tall; the sun, a little early morning, is tangled up in yellow on the side of your face. Anyway, I was staring at that when the fire started. I picked the photograph up off the kitchen floor.

THE DOCTOR CUT to the chase almost immediately, giving me barely enough time to take a seat in the chair next to his desk, which was seventies delicious—all wooden frames of coffee-coloured leather that wasn’t leather at all, really, but a trifle kinder to cows. He gave me the prognosis while sitting back in his own chair with his own hands folded in front of him on his own lap. He let the news sink in. I let the news sink in. Then he told me, frankly—‘Miss McKenzie … quite frankly, you need to spend more time in bookshops.’ I asked him whether he had made a mistake and he assured me he hadn’t. ‘No, I haven’t made a mistake. You need to spend more time in bookshops. I can’t stress that enough.’ I drew myself up to interrupt him but his voice and gaze was such that I ceased, and rested back down into the seventies delicious chair. ‘Have you ever been into a bookshop?’ I told him that I hadn’t. ‘They are most wonderful places, even the big chains … you see them, don’t you, on our high streets and even in our villages. A bookshop is a thousand different worlds at a thousand different times, squeezed into one lettable space with an overdoor heater above the entrance. It is a magical place, and I have no doubt that you, Miss McKenzie, need to spend more time in them. So that is exactly what I am prescribing.’ That was on Monday and it is now Thursday evening. Every day at work I go for a walk to a bookshop for my lunchbreak. It beats sitting in the office.

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