He rented it before he knew what to do with it. He rented it because he had to own it, to stand in it an owner, before he could know what to do with it.
On a side-street in town he noticed the key left sitting in the lock of an empty shop space. He was sure had not been empty the previous week, but he could not remember what had once occupied it. The letting agent’s sign outside seemed to give him permission to turn the key and enter.
The space was perfect. Fifteen precise square metres of hardwood pine floor and clean-plastered white walls. A discreet, five-foot doorway at the back into unimportant storage space, toilet, kitchenette. There was no shelving, no place set out for shelving. Similarly no set place for a counter or cashbox. No evidence of the previous tenant or his arrangements.
He detachedly negotiated a minimal rent, arguing the local economy and the street’s remoteness from the shopping centre. He paid upfront and signed a month-by-month lease with the landlord. Sunday morning was spent in his garage jigsawing the letters of his name out of inch-thick plywood. With a foot ladder and a drill he fixed the sign above his shop, and carefully painted the slightly uneven letters. By Sunday evening “L. Mooney” hung above the door, and he was ready.
A small desk, a chair, and a reading book was all that he installed. The windows provided excellent reading light throughout the day. On Monday he had very few visitors. Most passersby did not realise the shop had opened, and glanced half-interested through the front glass before continuing. Two or three opened the door and asked ‘When are you opening?’
He would put down his novel and reply ‘We are open,’ and wait expectantly. In most cases the visitors would look around, laugh, and walk on in puzzlement.
‘What are you selling?’ asked one elderly lady.
‘What are you looking for?’ replied Mooney.
‘Well, I’m out for a few mackerel, if I can find them,’ said the lady. ‘And spuds.’
‘Ah, you’ll probably need to go down to Jerry Daly’s for that,’ he said.
The woman narrowed her eyes. ‘I know that. That’s where I was going.’
By Wednesday interest had spread through the town. Dozens of people called in over the course of the day. ‘Are you open yet?’ they invariably asked. Mooney nodded. Hesitant confusion ensued. Word spread.
The shop remained open all year. Monday through Saturday from ten until five. By the time everyone in town had poked their head through the door, earlier visitors were calling in again to see what had changed. Nothing had changed but the book in his hand. If anything its popularity increased after the initial buzz. L. Mooney’s was a recommended destination for visitors to the town. There was no joke. There was no explanation. There was a man reading a book in a clean, warm room. His name was “L. Mooney”. It was worth seeing.