As you glance around the unkempt interior, amid hazardously stacked towers of paperbacks, creeping advancing shelves and cobwebbed crevices, you may not automatically think of love, but a bookshop, even one like Red Books, can be a place of pure romance.
And that’s not a reference to the discoloured leaning tower of Maeve Binchys.
No, this is a place where out dated concepts like hope and empathy and romance still live. It is also a place where intrigue runs riot.
This place can bring people together but it can also divide them. A bookseller must give everything to the cause. That leaves a lot to be desired for relationships.
I spent much time musing about what makes a bookshop. About why most wither away into obscurity but a few shine bright like the sun. Glittering rough diamonds. Cult icons that draw in pilgrim readers from far and near.
The bookshop has to be an extension of the bookseller. As he breathes, so does it.
You may wonder what this has to do with romance? Is this not the very opposite of romance? The anti-romance?
There was the time that Mosley fell in love with Anna, one of the prostitutes from the secret brothel above the bookstore. It lasted months but it’s doubtful that Anna knew of any of it.
“She’s a bronzed goddess,” Mosley tells the denizens of the bookshop one early Spring day. “Aphrodite reincarnated in a Wexford brothel.”
“Can you say a mythical goddess has been reincarnated?” Scouse Tom asks, his mischievous grin hiding any attempt at solemnity.
“She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on lads. I took one look at her and said, Mosley, there is the woman you will marry.”
“Careful now,” I warned. “Mrs Daly the pimp doesn’t like people messing with her girls.”
“What he means is, Mrs Daly the pimp doesn’t like lads on the dole creeping out her girls,” Scouse Tom interjects.
“I’ll save her from that existence boys. I’ll rescue her from that evil old woman and spend the rest of my life treating her like a princess. I’m going up there now, and I’m going to pull Mrs Daly the pimp out over the balcony railings and say, listen here you, coming over here from England with your auld misogyny, that girl is free….so long as she leaves with me like…. And it’ll take more than a jumped-up little landed-gentry pimp like you to stop Mosley when his heart and mind are set.”
When Mosley speaks about himself in the third person, it usually means he’s angry. Or sad. Or lying. In fact, it’s so common place now that those regulars around him have come to disregard it.
“Don’t try to stop me now Wally. Or you Scouse Tom. I’m going up there now and I’m going to kill Mrs Daly the pimp.”
No one makes any attempt to stop Mosley. His face reddens and his eyes dart from person to person. “I mean it now, there’s no point trying to talk me out of this. I love Anna and she loves me.”
“Did she say that Mosley?” I ask.
“Well no. But only because we haven’t spoken. Yet. What I mean to say is, she hasn’t been introduced to me yet because that brute Mrs Daly the pimp keeps her ensnared upstairs.”
“Give her eighty euro and you can meet her pal,” Scouse Tom cries. “Worth a scratch for true love.”
“I’m a feminist and new wave man Scouse Tom. I won’t support the exploitation of women. No, I’m going upstairs to kick the hell out of Mrs Daly the pimp now. Stop trying to talk me out of it.”
Of course Mosley has no intention of going near Mrs Daly the pimp, for Mrs Daly the pimp was what the lads down in Mackens called a “tough yoke.” But Mosley continues to plot and scheme and poetically orate his love for the prostitute he has only ever viewed briefly from a distance.
Weeks and months pass. Mosley’s lust turns to obsessive love and then angry moral outrage.
“How dare that auld chauvinist keep myself and Anna apart,” Mosley would scream in the middle of the semi crowded bookshop, before falling to his knees and crying out to the heavens above. “Why God? Why have you forsaken me? Why have you let Mosley down?”
And then Anna comes into the bookshop one day in the failings of Summer. Mosley falls from his perch at the counter and clambers for cover, like a rat in a kennel.
Indeed, she is a bronzed beauty and even the ageless floating sentience of a bookshop could easily fall in love with her. She approaches the counter with a bold confidence that defies her position in life.
“I need a German phrase book,” she commands.
“Sure, let me have a look,” I reply, buying time as always, trying to calculate the likelihood of the bookshop containing a German phrase book and where it would likely be found if it was here. Organised chaos fails to adequately describe this place.
“I’m in a hurry,” Anna the prostitute barks. Then she notices Mosley peeping out from behind the counter. “Can you look too please? I’m in a rush.”
“I don’t work here actually,” he mumbles, as he climbs from his knees. “I’m actually very busy myself.”
“No, I am. Honestly.” He’s right in front of her now and, to his amazement, her beauty is unblemished, not even pixelated up close. She’s perfect.
“Why are you staring at me?”
“I’m sorry. I just get this feeling that I know you.”
“Oh, are you one of Mrs Daly the pimps regulars? Sorry I’m bad with faces. It’s hard to tell all my clients apart when their clothed.”
Mosley’s face flushes and he starts stammering. “No, no, no. I’m not…I mean, I don’t go near Mrs Daly the pimp. Or anywhere like that.”
Anna the prostitute nods and tries to browse, in the hope that Mosley will go away.
“I’m not gay.”
“I’m not a homosexual,” Mosley insists. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I know a lot of gays. Well, I know two. One is a friend. On Facebook. The other is a bit of a prick but not because of his sexual orientation. He used to report me for using a student card on the bus after I left college. It had nothing to do with him but he still had to report me every time until the driver stopped carrying me….but, what I’m trying to say is, I’m not gay. I like women. I’ve slept with two. Not that I sleep around. One of them didn’t even let me sleep with her. She threw me out of the bed when she woke up. Not that she was asleep when we had sex. I didn’t date rape her. She was drunk but I didn’t get her drunk. Ask anyone. They’ll tell you; Mosley is too mean to buy drink to get any young one drunk. She was drunk and seduced me…but then threw me out when she sobered up. She said I had looked like Christopher Reeves in superman when she was drunk-eyed but looked like Walter from Dennis the Menace when she came round. A cruel thing to say…”
“Excuse me,” Anna interrupts. “Why are you babbling to me?”
“Sorry. Just want you to know I’m not a homosexual. I don’t go to brothels because I’m a feminist.”
“I think it’s wrong the way Mrs Daly the pimp treats you.”
Anna gasps and pokes her finger into Hickeys bony chest. “What are you saying about Mrs Daly the pimp? She is a second mother to me.”
“Ah yeah. She’s, you know, a bit privileged like.”
“Privileged. She lived through two famines. His parents died of starvation when she was a baby. She was left for dead in a terrible mass ethnic cleansing. She had to fight her way out of Somalia after the collapse of society and is treated as a second-class citizen in Europe.”
“Yeah, well I’ve had a tough life myself like. I had to live on McCains oven chips for a week one time in college after I spent all my money at a Sambuca promotion night. I nearly starved.”
Anna sighs and moves towards me. I have miraculously found the book she was looking for. I’m blowing dust off it when I see Anna’s disgusted face and Mosley following after her like a lost puppy.
“You have some weird people in here?” she asks. Probably another rhetorical one.
“Anna, enough is enough, I have to come clean. Tell the truth and shame the devil.” Mosley drops to his knees in front of them both. “I had a dream last night that you came into this bookshop and it’s not by chance that you appear here today. It’s the universe Anna. Destiny has brought us together. Mosley from Wexford and Anna from Brazil.”
“I’m from Waterford.”
“Sometimes people say this is a cruel old world. A cynical place. They say love doesn’t exist and romance was invented by the yanks to sell coca-cola but I tell you this Anna, in the eyes of you and Wally, the Lord God, Buddha and Muhammad, or whoever you believe in. Shiva or Tom Jones. I love you Anna.”
“How do you know my name? Who is this mad man?”
“Shush honey,” he whispers, taking her hand in his. “I know it’s overwhelming. You, a common street whore with no education or culture…”
“I have a degree in Philosophy. I’m saving for my masters…”
“And me, a man of the world, well dressed, articulate, wise, charming. A spiritual mystic, a shepherd without a flock, a Demon fighter. Wally will tell you this, won’t you Wally? I know why you would think you’re not good enough for me….”
“I don’t think that at all….”
“But you are. Yes, I’m from a superior economic and cultural background to you. Yes, I am risking my reputation by engaging in this risky love affair. Yes, you’ll struggle to match me intellectually, but we’ll get through this my love. Mi cielito. Mon amour. Mo gra…..”
“Is this man mentally ill?”
I nod excessively, but Mosley continues. “It’s like My Fair Lady. The musical? I’ve never seen the musical but I’ve watched the DVD seventeen times. Its charming. You see Anna, you’re like Eliza Doolittle, if instead of selling flowers on the street, she was getting double penetrated in a Wexford flat to earn commission off a dangerous old lady with PTSD. Maybe…. maybe we could write a new version of my fair lady. I am a writer after all….”
“Who hasn’t written anything,” I point out, desperate to make the two-euro book sale at this point.
“Yes, I could write it and sell it on to the Abbey. A well-heeled young man, woke even by today’s standards saves a beautiful young Brazilian….”
“Jaysus, I’m from Ballybeg…”
“…from the clutches of a vindictive pimp and, slowly but surely, over the course of several amusing and light hearted episodes, teaches her how to live correctly in twenty first century Ireland. After he brings her to a women’s refuge centre, where he is hailed for his heroism, she realises she has been programmed by human traffickers and falls madly and deeply in love with Mosley…or, I mean, the young man. Yes. A hit for sure. Pretty Woman meets Erin Brockovich.”
“Young? This man is clearly in need of sanctioning.”
“Side note. The young man returns and, after besting her in unarmed combat, convinces the aging pimp that she is suffering from PTSD and post-colonial Stockholm syndrome. He gets her on the anti-depressants and enrols her in a FAS course to be trained up as a….. plumper….no, a baker. And she bakes their wedding cake. Beautiful.”
“I’ve heard enough. Stick your book. This place is a nut house. I’m only glad I’m leaving at the end of the week. You,” she screams, pulling her hand away from Mosley’s grip. “Are mentally deranged and a danger to women everywhere. If I see you again, I will use pepper spray. Freaks!”
After she leaves, Mosley remains on his knees.
“Well now, that went well,” I moan. “Another sale lost.”
“She called me a freak Wally.”
“I mean, she could have been talking about you but….”
“I think she might have meant me. I think she rejected my advances Wally.”
I say nothing, but sweep around Mosley with a half-decapitated broom, hoping he’ll get the message and move.
“After all I did for her. I freed her from bondage….”
“I risked my entire life for our love affair. All for nothing. This is how the modern woman chooses to treat the man Wally. Civilisation is doomed. I tell you one thing, this wouldn’t have happened when the Catholic Church was running things.”
“Plenty more fish in the sea,” I lie.
“Thanks Wally, but you’re hardly Cupid, are you? You can’t get a proper job, yet alone give me advice of the heart. No, I know what this is. It’s an attack on masculinity. A war on men everywhere.”
“It’s the me-too thing. Toxic femininity. Man haters. Oh, it’s cool now but wait until the population drops off and we go into another dark ages. Have you seen the new Mad Max?”
“There you go. And you’re right.”
“About what?” I ask.
“About needing to act. About needing to draw a line in the sand.”
“I… I didn’t say that Mosley. Any of it.”
“Don’t be coy with me. I know. I feel you. We need to act and obviously I’m the one to make the stand. Front and centre. The Spartacus of my generation. A young Mao Zedong. Yeah. I’ll show her deranged. You know what’s wrong of course, don’t you?”
“I’m not sure…”
“Coming over her from Brazil….”
“…and expecting us to objectify and sexually abuse her like the people in her country. Forcing her latent misogyny onto us. Trying to put the fire of progress out with a water cannon of hate. Just like Donald Trump.”
“Can you get up off the floor Mosley?”
“If people like her have their way, we'll be back eating belly bacon and pigs’ feet, putting young ones in laundries and burning down the British embassy within five years. Mark my words.”
“You’re over reacting Mosley. You always do this. Always with the overreaction.”
“When have I ever over reacted Wal? Tell me that now.”
“Remember when you thought AIDs had gone airborne in Enniscorthy?”
“It was on Facebook! Look it, an easy mistake to make. Hardly over reacting to protect myself and my friends from a potential biological disaster.”
“You rang in to Liveline!”
“People had a right to know!”
“And then there was the time you told everyone that I was an IRA commander masquerading as a bookseller.”
“I said you knew a lot of Republicans and, that if I was an IRA commander, a bookseller would make a good cover story.”
“Special branch detained me for six hours.”
“Well, they over reacted then, not me.”
I place my hand gently on Mosley’s shoulder and squeeze it reassuringly. “Just forget about her.”
“I will Wally. I’m done worrying about her. Me too, me hole. Me only now.”
And I believed him. Until I saw that #meonly was trending on Twitter that night.