Father crossed the humpback bridge and tossed a coin in the tin whistler’s hat; Foggy Dew, not bad, missing a few notes. Up on the bridge there was a stew of faces and the crowd collided like atomic particles. Dubh Linn, a million people, all drowning in her murky waters. Father wondered if the baby was okay; was it a boy (preferably) or a girl? (If need be). Was it injured or a cripple? The whole business of life was ominous. He reached the other side of the bridge, anonymous at last; a drink; one in Kehoe’s then back to Mulligans; then in Duke Street he remembered his task, the one thing she had requested; not flowers, not fruit, no; she on’y wanted a buke. Something to read to take her mind off being at hospital. He searched for the bit of paper in his tweed jacket, the slip where she’d written the title. Did it fall through a hole in the lining? She’ll complain, he thought, accuse me of not caring. He racked his brain for the author’s name, Bobbins? Robert? Harper, something like that, June Harper, no, Harpins, no, think, think.
In Foyle’s bookshop a crashing doorbell announced his intrusion. A girl looked up from the cash register, her face full of annoyance. Hank approached the cash desk and observed the title of the book she was reading, ‘The Troubled Air’, about the Irish Civil War, radiant reviews, brilliant analysis, blah blah blah, all that shite. The girl dampened her forefinger, and flicked to the next page, which she held in place with a twelve inch rule.
Then, with a martyr’s expression she turned her attention to Hank. “How can I help?”
Hank stuttered. ‘I-I-I’m looking for something for my w-w-wife, it’s a recent best-seller but the author’s name eludes me.’
He was annoyed with himself for using the word ‘elude’. There was no need to impress this skit of a thing with her black cardigan, and swollen forehead. Her bookish appearance unnerved poor father, who thought he detected a smirk on the girl’s narrow face.
She slid down off the stool. “I’m sure I know the one you mean. I think we’ve sold out, but I’ll check in the back.”
Father felt absolved. Even if they didn’t have it in stock, once he knew the author, or the title, he could report back that he had done his best to find it. The attendant swam back up the aisle with a lean-to atmosphere in her gait; too brainy to walk like a normal human being. She was holding a cellophane wrapped volume, and she held it out gingerly as if it was an incendiary device.
There was unmistakable look of elation behind the horn-rimmed spectacles. “This is the last copy in stock.” She added, “It’s a selling like hot cakes.”
Hank read the cover. He blushed heavily. “No..no..no, this is not it.”
Shortly after Hank’s foray into Foyle’s bookshop the book was removed from distribution. There was a general consensus of opinion that this was for the best. (Meself included) Some say the damage had already been done. After a meeting of Cardinals in Dublin Castle, a mass was held at Christchurch for the youth [of Dublin] who were invariably soiled by the text. (Editor – Hushna Gub, One of Ireland’s more liberal rags)I
Suddenly, the author’s name bolted back into his brain, (as things tend to do when it’s a matter of life or death). “Robbins! Jack-Jackie Robbins! The newest book!”
The girl exuded an air of disappointment as though father had somehow let her down. She picked up the green telephone on the counter and dialled, sighing heavily while she waited for the other end to pick up. “Dolores, it’s me Divinity; you haven’t any more of that book downstairs have you?
Hank caught the inflexion in that book,
“You know the one I mean, her latest effort.”
It wasn’t hard to guess that a Jackie Robbins romance wasn’t high on her list of priorities.
“Go raibh maith agat,” the attendant said, and she hastily dropped the receiver back in the cradle. She looked coldly at father, “Sold out. Sorry,”
She picked up where she had left off in her big, thick volume. Hank looked wistfully at the cellophane wrapping of the dynamite sitting on the counter. The seductive title leapt out at him again. Hank looked around. The shop was empty. His heart thumped wildly. He reached out and touched the attendant, who screamed.