by Guy Salvidge
Cale sat hunched over his dusty desk at the science fiction and fantasy bookstore, watching the city street outside drain of people as evening turned to night. In another five minutes he could close. Cale had an errand to run before getting on the Currambine train at 8.15. His copy of the newly released J G Ballard: The Complete Short Stories had arrived. He’d have to leg it from here on the corner of Wellington and William over to the Dymocks on Hay Street, buy the book, and make it back to the train station in a little under 15 minutes.
At 7.58, Cale turned the sign to ‘Closed’ and locked the door. He had just started cashing up the till when someone banged on the glass window at the front, behind which the new releases were on display.
“Harry Potter,” an obnoxious female voice cried. Despite the thin glass between speaker and listener, the words were unmistakable. Cale’s eyes shot up to the prominently-displayed hardcover editions of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which had only been out for a couple of weeks.
Obnoxious Teen was joined at the window by Intractable Father. The former begin knocking on the door.
“I’ve closed up,” Cale said from his desk, unsure if they could hear him. He gestured to the ancient till. The pleading and knocking continued for a matter of seconds, before dying away. Cale balanced the day’s take, subtracted his pay and, in time honoured fashion, put the remainder of the money in a paper bag under the till’s plastic tray.
The phone rang. It might be the old man checking to see if he was still there, so he answered it.
“Supernova Books, Cale speaking.”
“Hello? My daughter and I were just there. We want to buy a copy of the new Harry Potter.”
“I can’t sell you a copy now,” Cale said. “We’re closed.”
“I’m just around the corner,” the man said. “It won’t take a minute.”
“Sorry, no. We’re open from nine tomorrow.” Cale hung up the phone, gathered his things, and padlocked the door. He’d lost a little time but maybe if he ran he could still make the 8.15.
Cale wasn’t super fit, even at his spritely age of twenty-one, but he wanted that Ballard so badly that the thought of it spurred him on. He thought of the Ballard stories he adored: “The Drowned Giant”, “The Terminal Beach” and his favourite of them all, “The Voices of Time.” The drowsy protagonist Dr Powers, the inscrutable Kaldren and the girl Coma. The cosmic numbers ticking down until the end of the universe. The first time he’d read the story, he’d felt his mind dissolving.
It was barely 8.05 when he rounded the corner onto Hay Street in the direction of the familiar maroon sign. Sweating now despite the cool evening, he went up to the desk and told them he was here for the Ballard. The shop assistant brought it out from under the desk: a chunky white tome with the great man’s form silhouetted on the dustjacket in silver. He handed over the $70, nearly as much as his day’s pay, and tucked his prize safely under his arm. It was 8.08 and he knew he could make it to his train.
“You,” a familiar voice said. Cale turned and saw Intractable Father walking toward him from the F&SF section. Obnoxious Teen followed closely behind, a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in her grubby paws.
Cale considered the two of them, the shop assistant, the Rowling in the girl’s arms and the Ballard under his own. “It’s $10 cheaper here anyway,” he said. “I did you a favour.”
He ran down the street for his train.