When Nicole starts working in her grandfathers book store she meets Florence Potts.

Florence Potts


My grandfather owns and runs a book shop. It is one of those that does not stock new titles, although there are quite a few recent ones scattered amongst the older volumes. It is a second-hand, or used, book store. If it wasn’t for the eclectic mix of titles it would be called an antiquarian book shop but grandfather is not interested in limiting its appeal.


He will scour the internet, read notices of house clearances, attend auctions all to acquire more stock. And he is not picky. As long as it is made from paper, is legible and intact, it meets the criteria of stock. He must have millions of titles on the shelves, in the piles, in boxes, in the stock room. And it is the total random assortment that makes me love this place so much.


When he asked if I’d like to help out in the store over the holiday I couldn’t believe my luck. “I won’t be able to pay you much though, Nicole. You do know that, don’t you?”


Of course I do, Gramps. And I’d love to help you out. Any chance Stella can join me?”


Certainly. It would be nice to add a bit of youth to the place for a while. So long as she understands....”


Don’t worry, Gramps. We’ll be happy just to have access to all those books!”


Business was steady but hardly booming. And let’s be honest – there is really not a lot of money to be made in used book sales. If Gramps hadn’t owned the building, his shop would have closed down years ago. But he had his pension to live off and so long as the shop paid for itself it would keep trading. Gramps said it kept his brain ticking over and he really didn’t act like he was in his mid seventies.


The long holiday had been looming in front of me, filling me with a kind of dread. What was I going to do with myself? And now that problem had disappeared. I’d be able to spend my days reading without feeling guilty at all.


It was during my first day that I got to meet Florence Potts. She was a funny little lady. Couldn’t have been more than 5 foot tall, tops, and it was impossible to guess her age. She dressed very strangely. A big cardigan over a fitted blouse, a long tartan patterned skirt, and runners. It was the runners that set the whole thing to weirdness. I was soon to find that she always dressed the same, but in rain the whole lot was topped off with an old-fashioned raincoat and matching hat! Oh, and Florence always carried a basket for her books!


Ah, good afternoon, Mrs Potts. How are you today? Let me introduce you to my grand-daughter, Nicole. And this is her friend Stella. They have kindly volunteered their summer to help me get this old place in some sort of order.” Gramps then turned to us and said, “This lady here is Mrs Florence Potts. She is my most loyal and regular customer and I expect you will get to know her very well over the coming weeks.”


She did not look that impressed to meet us. Florence Potts stood there and coldly looked us over. With a curt ‘good afternoon’ she dismissed us and turned her attention back to Gramps. He was welcome to her. I’d rather spend my time lost in the pages any day.


Mostly Stella and I sorted through the books. We were supposed to be putting some order into the chaos but it quickly became obvious that that would be almost impossible. We tried sorting by type, by age, by genre but there was just too much. Eventually we settled on fiction and non-fiction – maybe achievable during the weeks ahead. The customers mainly wanted to browse by themselves but if they wanted assistance Gramps was nearly always on hand.


Florence Potts was the exception to the rule. She came in almost every day and each time she insisted that she knew what she wanted. It didn’t take long for me to realise that that was not the case. Florence Potts knew what she did not want and that was as far as it went.


After our first week in the store she seemed to accept our presence. At least she did not spend as much time observing us as looking at the books, which is what happened during the first six days.

And at the start of our third week she would seek one or other of us out to ask advice on what might be a good next read.


It was fun at first. I quite enjoyed going through the shelves, trying to pick titles that she might not have already read but could still enjoy. I’d pick book after book, only to have her shake her head or say that she had already read it. Once it had begun, the morning or afternoon was pretty much planned out! Stella sometimes stood in for me but she didn’t have the patience to stick at it for long.


It was no good! The few times I managed to find a book she was happy to purchase she would be back the following day complaining. It was ‘unsuitable’, ‘too boring’, ‘too modern’, or ‘the language was shocking’. I’d had enough. I started to take precautions, looking out of the windows and at first sight taking myself off to the stock room. Stella joined me. We would, we decided, leave Gramps to deal with his favourite customer himself.


Perhaps she knew what we were doing – avoiding her – because then she started asking for us. To be fair to Gramps he did try to come up with convincing excuses. It wasn’t his fault that she gave such sceptical responses.


Then one afternoon I missed her approach and so did Stella. As the door opened I looked up, recognized that arm, and shot behind a piles of books that reached almost to the ceiling. I grasped Stella’s arm and pulled her along with me. If Gramps noticed, he did a good cover up but she must have spotted one or both of us. And Florence Potts kept asking for us. She did not want to take ‘no’ for an answer.


As the excuses Gramps came up with became more and more outlandish, we started to giggle. We didn’t want to but the more we fought against it the worse it became. Soon we were all but laughing out loud and that’s when it happened. I bumped in to a pile of books.


We stood and stared as very slowly those at the top of the pile started to move, to lean, to knock into the next pile. It was like watching dominoes starting to tumble. And as more piles were drawn in, the faster the momentum became. It was no good, they were going to go.......


Look out!” I shouted, in warning.


And both Gramps and Florence Potts did move but just not quite far enough. One slim volume fell through the air and landed right on Florence’s head. She was shocked, she was outraged. She picked up the book and started to angrily wave it around. And then she started to look at it, to read about the story, to flick through the pages.


Do you know, I do believe this is just what I was looking for.” And from then on for the rest of the holiday, Florence Potts put me in charge of making a random selection for her. Surprisingly, she was more often than not a ‘satisfied customer’ who I no longer dreaded seeing approaching.

Submitted: October 02, 2016

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Lionel Walfish


Sun, October 2nd, 2016 9:48pm


Thank you, Lionel. I hoped you'd enjoy this one!!

Sun, October 2nd, 2016 3:02pm

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