Weekend Wind Down – A Curious Shop

Being of the wizard race in a world where magic wasn’t supposed to exist wasn’t easy.
Any shop that sold supposedly occult books and magical paraphernalia was a source of amusement to Brandon Grey and having time to kill he’d gone inside. He was browsing in the bookshop, smiling at what he found, when a soft female voice with an accent that he had never come across before had gently interrupted his thoughts
“Is there something in particular you were looking for?”
Brandon had turned, curious to see the speaker, already very conscious of the carefully guarded psyche, something vanishingly rare amongst regular humans which his extended senses told him that this was.
He turned to see a woman who was neither tall nor short, was slender but not slight, with a face that seemed to hold both the wisdom of age and the promise of youth. Her black hair was long, curly and touched with silver, which seemed to gild its richness rather than diminish it in any way. But what commanded his instant attention were the arresting cornflower-blue eyes that met his gaze with a steady near-challenge.
For a moment he was left without anything to say. The psychic strength in this compact and self-possessed individual was unheard of. Such careful shielding bespoke someone who was skilled well beyond the norm and not just a rogue natural talent. But this was no wizard.
The woman smiled very slightly at his reaction and spoke again.
“I was just wondering if you needed help finding a book.”
Brandon shook his head, intrigued by this discovery. Words found him. “That’s kind of you but I’m fine thanks. Just browsing.”
“Ah, you are American.” The woman made it sound more like an explanation than an observation and that had made him smile.
“You have the advantage of me there. My nationality is in my accent, but I can not place you from yours.”
The woman’s blue eyes softened slightly and Brandon noticed the slightest dimple appear on one cheek.
“I am from Scotland – a Highlander.”
Brandon’s surprise must have been very visible because the promised smile appeared in response.
“I have never heard any Scots speak as you do.”
“Well, that will be because most you will hear are from Glasgow or the Lowlands – not true Gaels. And their accents owe as much to the English of the north as to any Celtic tongue.”
That was how he met Ishbel McCrae. It had certainly been unexpected and Brandon had no real ideas as to where he needed to take things.
Over the next few weeks, he had cause to visit the Old Town a few times and he always took the opportunity to call in at the shop. Ishbel had been a source of local information and had helped him find a few books of real value and interest rather than the volumes on candle magic, tarot cards and crystals, or reprints of sixteenth-century grimoires which seemed to be the most popular books she sold.
The spring was still holding summer at bay and although daffodils had turned the roundabouts and embankments to bright yellow, they were worn and weary flags in the brisk wind that blew in from the sea. The Old Town was wakening slowly from its winter near-hibernation and one or two of the tourist shops were only just getting themselves ready for the Easter trade soon to come.
Brandon walked past a few art shops and the inevitable antiquarian book shops exchanging the odd greeting with a few familiar faces who he had come to know in the last couple of months.
He even stopped to help an elderly lady wearing a tweed coat and tracksuit bottoms, fight her basket on wheels and small yappy dog down the small flight of stairs from one of the raised sections of pavement and was rewarded by a short conversation about the weather and the price of things in the shops today as he shared her walk to the post office. Normally such an encounter would have been a delight of human interaction for Brandon to savour, but today it had more about it of habit than pleasure and as soon as they had parted company he forgot about it completely.
His thoughts were fixed on his destination and if he were entirely honest, despite the preparation and the planning he was more than slightly apprehensive. Pausing by the shop door he stared’ without really seeing them’ at the book displays in the window and the trays of jewellery and wondered if he was going to regret this day. So much had changed so fast and now, what had seemed such a good idea last week was beginning to seem more and more hazardous.
But some calls came louder than others and this one Brandon felt the need to answer.
He pushed open the door and pushed his doubts firmly away as he crossed the threshold. A girl in her teens was putting some books on the shelves and turned to see who had come in. Her smile of recognition was cheerful and easy.
“Oh, Mr Grey! Did you enjoy that book? Have you read it already?”
“It’s Brandon,” he insisted gently and not for the first time. “Yes, thank you. I have been enjoying it and no I have not quite finished it yet.”
The girl was uncontrite.
“Ooops! Sorry Mr Grey – I’ll try and remember”
Then she was saying something else, but she no longer held his attention for his focus had gone to the back of the shop where he now saw Ishbel was standing, watching him.
Brandon wondered what she really saw. His lanky body, the rough and greying sandy hair, the eyes one lover had told him were the colour of lapis. It was not a bad body, even if it had seen out nearly five decades – two for its previous occupant and three for himself – and he did his best to keep it in trim.
Ishbel saw his attention shift to her and for a moment she held his look with her clear blue eyes. Then they softened with the warmth of a smile.
“It’s yourself Brandon!” There was a slight lilt in her accent which provoked a responding smile as she came forward to greet him.
“I’m not sure who else I could be.”
She laughed although the true irony could not be known to her.
“And what can we do for you today?”
Branon took the plunge.
“I was hoping you might do me the honour of letting me take you out for lunch. You have been so helpful these last few weeks I wanted to say ‘thank you’.”
He was rewarded by the faintest blush of colour and even through the high guards of her psyche he felt her shock and delight and allowed himself to know relief. It had been a long campaign and one he had been far from certain of winning. He noticed the girl smirking like a Cheshire cat and had a certainty that he had been the subject of more than one discussion between the two women and that this event was one that had been anticipated by at least one of them.
It was the girl who replied as well.
“That would be great. You go and have lunch. No need to hurry back either, I can finish things off and lock up.”
But Ishbel herself looked suddenly uncertain.
“Well, I have those orders to pack and get to the post and some more of those incenses to mix for Steph and Brian…”
The girl made a dismissive gesture.
“I’ll get the stuff in the post and you already said you can’t finish that incense until we get a new delivery of dittany. You go do lunch!”
Out of excuses and outflanked Ishbel finally gave in gracefully. She treated Brandon to a smile of genuine warmth and depth which illuminated her whole being. Brandon felt his heart pause at the beauty before him and something of him cried out for what he was doing.
Steeling himself against that, he led her to his car – and although she didn’t know it yet, to the beginning of a new life.

E.M. Swift-Hook

One thought on “Weekend Wind Down – A Curious Shop

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  1. How often does love at first sight occur? I remember back when I first met my wife, half a century ago. We met in a writing class. (I recall nothing about the class itself.) At break, I followed her out to the vending machines. She bought some Funky Granola and shared it with me. I was smitten. “I have a young daughter,” said she. “That’s wonderful,” I replied. To this day, it’s still about sharing food.


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