One morning at the shop, Yvonne put her head in the door and called out: How’s Max? How much does he weigh? I told her and she said: God bless his dear little heart.
Well, the other evening, when it was hot, very hot, it had suddenly rained. And I was in the garden with the secateurs and then, when it rained, there was only the dark rich green, the leaves, the water running down the leaves and the silver of the secateurs. That silver under the rain was so silver.
Then it stopped raining so I went inside and brought Max outside to walk through the raining water and the raining garden.
From the doorway, it was too bright to see. So we went the short distance to the lime tree in a tub and looked carefully at the basil underneath. In that wet, hot evening light it was all emeralds. It seemed valuable. I crushed one leaf close to Max, close to his nose and we went on down the wet path, pursued by basil. Then the white cockatoos are overhead, they tear the sky with their screaming joy. Max is frowning and looking up through water and light and we stand for a long time looking up at those scribbling nuisances.
Then down again, down the path, past the Chinese Elm that is not doing well, the lavender, the rogue fig tree that we did not plant, the lemons and then beneath our feet, gum leaves, gum leaves and gum leaves. Then we are at the gate and you might be asleep.
But you are not. Your eyes are buttons, fastened to the rinsed light and the blowing gum trees.
As I walked away from my old life, I wondered if it were true. What my uncle had said. That I was changed and could never lift my head again. So I tried. I lifted it.
Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club
An older lady came in with her husband. He was quiet and he sat looking through the children’s books for a long time. He sat on the cushions for the children and stared at the pages, often he was smiling. She told me that they both loved to read and he was from Latvia. And she described the books she was wanting to read now, they were mostly about the war. She told me that her husband had once been a member of the Latvian Army and had become a displaced person because of this. And that while he was a displaced person he was ordered to go to Siberia and then he would have been shot.
She continued on looking at some books for herself. Her husband, who was much older than her, was now reading Caribbean Tales: An Anthology.
Later, she came out of the back room to continue their story: but luckily he got to come to Australia. He got to come here to live instead of a prisoner of war camp because that’s what they were. But then his wife died. He came to Australia anyway and just ten years ago he married me you see and as I learn his story all I can think is that some people are luckily and some are not.
We went to Latvia two years ago and we went to the War Museum and they asked my husband for permission to record his story, they were passionate to record all of it because they said that much of their history is lost and my husband is a living resource, you see. What happened to him was not very nice. But he has never complained and he has never stopped reading.
I looked at her husband and he is bringing me a book: Australian Working Dog Stories and he says: I really like your Australian kelpies, they are wonderful, beautiful dogs.
Artwork by Jungho Lee
A lady and her daughter came into the shop. They were looking for Dilly Court but I only had one book and they had both read that. The daughter spent some time gently handling a little red leather book called The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis. The mother said nothing. The daughter lit up in defence of the book.
Some of us want to be Christians, mum.
The mother said: your dad would have a fit.
They both looked down at the little book, it was red and gold with a decorative border of the front, lines of ivy in silver and green traced through the design. It was rather beautiful.
The daughter answered: Let him then.
It was very funny the other morning when I was outside giving you a bottle. Because it was a grey and dark morning but it was hot and it was raining. Then the sun returns and glazes everything too sharply with light from just everywhere. You had to stop drinking and stare in outrage because it was light and colours going into you instead of the milk.
A boy, aged about 11 came into the shop and greeted me by name although I did not know who he was.
He said: well I’m just a book reader, I just like all books. So, I’m just a book fan and I love Doctor Who. My mum says I can get any book I will read over and over again, I always read my books again until I get sick of them. Then I don’t anymore.
He went away and crouched down to examine science fiction on the bottom shelves and then came back to the counter.
I just read them over, you know, over and over like that. Like Dr who and other stuff, like about stallions and also Harry Potter. I have read them all seven times. I get into bed and then make a place and just read for ages, I like Skulduggery, I would read those again. I like old books.
He hopped from foot to foot as he spoke and then went away into the back room for a while. When he came back he said: I like this old stuff, you would have to look after these, they have like different materials in them. They aren’t decorated like our books, back in the old day they couldn’t decorate. I really want this. I’m going to save for this, like anything. My mum will let me. Anyway I have to go now so see you later some other time probably.
Photography by Andrew Branch
During dinner last week I looked in on Max twice. This was because I thought it necessary to check on breathing. And he was, of course, continuing on, wrapped up and blowing warmly, strongly, mocking my unnecessary interventions.
When awake, he is reaching out, crowing and singing and winning everybody.
I have finished Cloudstreet and The Joy Luck Club.
A lady said she had just finished Middlemarch and is now looking for Tess of the D’Urbervilles. She has a collection of classics, lined up side by side and looking good.
Thomas has finished Gangsta Granny and now is looking for Demon Dentist. And Gavin has finished a biography of Jimmy Barnes. Lena has finished Miss Purdy’s Class by Annie Murray which was too confronting. She said the English writers really get down to it.
Jay was disappointed that I had no more from The Order of the Stick series; he said where is Amazon at? They aren’t even doing anything to get the books in. Margaret has finished all of the Alexander McCall Smiths and is sad about it. She was going home to have a cup of tea and some toast.
And I have finished Cloudstreet. I need a long time to finish thinking about it. I mentioned it to one reader but he said he could not get on well with Tim Winton. He said he just didn’t agree with him. Although the Pickles and the Lambs were ok, sort of.
I thought that I have finished listening to you but I could not quite say it, sort of.
Photography by Clark Young