Around the World via an Eight-foot Table

By Beatrice MacNeil

I am standing behind my eight-foot table at the Sydney Terminal in Cape Breton, where I have been selling my books to the cruise ship passengers for nearly a decade. My first destination is to Tasmania, on the rim of eastern Australia.

© Katheryn Gordon

A grandmother bought four copies of my children’s book The Cat that Ate the Moon.  She tells me something about each grandchild as I sign each book. “I’m all the way from Tasmania,” she says. “You’ve no doubt heard of us, surrounded by those growling, ugly devils. They can be quite annoying little creatures, but you would really love the country if you’d come for a visit.” I ask her to keep my books safe from the clenches of the devils as she walks away.

A young woman from New York picks up a copy of the children’s book. She is quite amused by the pictures. They have been done in cross-stitch by a gifted artist on the island. “My father will put this book in his museum,” she says. “He collects children’s books with unusual sketches. The museum is in a large university in Pennsylvania. You will see it on the shelf when you visit.”

An older couple from Northern Ireland purchase a copy of my novel Where White Horses Gallop. Based on the outbreak of the Second World War, it portrays our own Cape Breton Highlanders, with fictional characters, to relate the horrors of man-to-man conflict. The man tells me in a soft Irish brogue that he is quite familiar with wars. “Technology will advance this world, but it can do nothing for human nature,” he says. I look into a pair of old eyes that are fading with grief. His wife asks if I’ve ever been to Ireland. “No,” I reply. “But it’s next to Rome on my wish list.” She taps me gently on the hand and wishes me a safe journey to Ireland. “You’ll love it dear, it’s as green and quiet as a grave these days.”

A middle-aged man stops by and reads passages from my first novel Butterflies Dance in the Dark, set in an Acadian village with three young children being reared by their single mother. The Mother Superior at the school is as tough as a boiled owl. He pauses and puts the book down and walks off without a word. A short time later he is at the table reading from another chapter. Again he slinks away. On his third visit, he nods politely and asks in a quiet voice where had I studied psychology. “On my knees in the confession box, I got my degree in Latin, French and English,” I reply. He is quite interested.  He is a psychologist from South Africa who teaches at a university. “You would make an interesting guest in one of my classes.”

It occurs to me that the gas tank in my RAV was blinking on empty when I arrived at the terminal this morning. Thankfully, I’ve earned enough in sales to fill it for the drive home.

I marvel how far my books can travel to destinations that I, myself, may never get to see.

Beatrice MacNeil will share her new novel, The Box of the Dead, in a round table on Saturday, October 27 and a reading October 28.

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