Max puts one decoration on the tree.

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And this takes all morning as it is delicate work.

Max’s Christmas decoration is three nappy pins joined together.

He thrusts it into the tree but the branches bend. Other decorations fall down. The tinsel is annoying, it annoys his eyelashes. More things fall. He does not blink and he does not mind, things falling are not his concern.

He kneels on top of the nativity, he does not notice that the whole nativity has toppled, the pieces stare upwards into his concentration.

The room is filled with concentration, Christmas has gone quiet. He has chosen a superb place for the nappy pins to hang, the lowest branch but the lowest branch, although looking solid will not support his clutching fervent hands or his loud breathing. He falls, the pins fall, an angel and three green baubles fall, then some purple tinsel falls with a sigh and he stares at the purple for a long time.

Max is not perturbed, the branch is still there, the pins are still there, the work can continue.

He thrusts the pins onto the lowest branch over and over and suddenly, they stay there. He sits back, regards them steadily. But he is unimpressed. He pulls them off and hurls them to the floor, they make a noise, faint, the faint noise of pins falling to the floor when they are joined together. He picks them up and shakes them, and again, and again.  Now there is new work to do.

He turns his back to the Christmas tree.

 

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A Royal One

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Thelma said she can’t take to Charles Dickens.

David said he can’t find anything in Wilbur Smith.

Ursula said there’s no point in reading Somerset Maugham.

I read a comment describing the pointlessness of reading Great Expectations, as there was no plot.

Tyson said that he lost a few months trying to read Atlas Shrugged, time that he never got back again.

I was told that Middlemarch was not worth finishing and that Dante, even Jesus Christ himself would not read that Inferno shit.

I like to give everything a go. And I like to be free to put anything aside if necessary. I am reading Great Expectations, an unexpected choice and a royal one. It has taken me a long time to get to Charles Dickens and this book, Great Expectations, which I am reading slowly, is proving to be the most engaging appeal to the senses and the most tantalizing description of everybody I don’t like. And the most accurately hammered out observations of what we do and why! I am anxious not to reach the end too quickly; it is an experience that is causing me great joy and consternation….Miss Havisham, the awful and chosen decay…the astounding way the story has been all put together.

Thelma, at the shop today, said that she can’t take to Charles Dickens, never has been able to. She had in her hand Graham Green and Hans Christian Anderson and Hilary Mantel and she was also looking for Colin Thiele. And she also had for me a Christmas gift, she had bought brown paper and painted it herself, in bright purple to match me, she said. She has also painted some string bright gold and made a card with a silver and gold angel on a deep purple background of night sky and stars. She has written on the card in gold. It is an unexpected gift and a royal one.

I am instructed not to open it until Christmas.

Artwork by Pawel Kuczynski

Yesterday was hot.

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Yesterday was hot. Any visitors there were, fell through the shop door and said: it’s so hot. And the summer came in through the door after them. One man held the door open while he told me about the first fleet. He allowed in the hot air, some blowing sand and all the gum leaves that gather next to the bakery along with his first fleet.

But in the evening after I got home, it became dark and cool. We were at the edge of the heat, the very rim of it and then suddenly the evening tipped into rain that fell for hours. And so the house was hot, the brick pathways were hot, the veranda posts were hot but the rain was cold.

My grandson held up his nose into the superb air, he rearranged his face and blinking eyes to take in the cold rain, he knew he was hot, everything was hot, but now he might be cold. He needed to rearrange his senses. He hung on tight to family when outside, consuming the new details of a rainstorm in summer, unsure of the singing downpour, unsure of safety.

Also, the birds were screaming their own deafening joy into the still hot and blue evening.

Artwork by Hajin Bae

We’re going off the jetty..

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There is a family here and they are on their way to the beach. To Second Valley because their Grandpa and Nan live there. The boy has a yellow bucket, a bright pineapple yellow bucket with a crack in the side. He brings me the bucket so we can both examine the crack.

His parents are looking through the cooking books. His younger brother is swinging on a table leg and slowly eating a stick of pink liquorice. Outside the shop there is a service van with a phone ringing loudly into the warm air. The smaller boy nods his head twice to each ring.

The older child is asked if he has found a book. He answers that he doesn’t want one, he wants a starfish. For his bucket.

His mother asks him if perhaps he isn’t being sensible.

He tells me that at Second Valley there is a jetty and they will go under it and find stuff. And then they will go up on it. And then bomb off of it.

His mother asks him if he would like Magpie Island by Colin Thiele.

He tells me that he doesn’t need to even bring a towel because his Nan said not to. Because she already has one there for him that’s orange.

His Nan makes tomato sauce.

When is he on the beach he is going to get a starfish.

An the best thing about this beach is the jetty, underneath is cold, on the top is hot.

His parents call him to come and find a book, but he still doesn’t want one.

They are apologetic; they tell me that all he wants to do is go to the beach. But I remember living by the sea and near a jetty. When I lived across the road from the sea that jetty was miles away. I was five. It took ages to walk there. But last year when I went back the jetty was actually very close to where I lived. It had moved.

I remember the jetty, underneath it was cold, on the top it was hot. The hot planks smelled like fish all the time. There were always sand dunes smoking in the distance. Underneath the jetty, the hot sun came through in gold bars that broke everywhere, the water was deep, it was green glass and all the sounds were deep sounds; even the wood had a deep sound. When it got too cold you could climb up on the steps and sit on the wood that was now too hot. You could shut your eyes and see the heat in gold flecks on your eyelids. And hear the water and the salt and other kids and seagulls, and very faintly you could just hear Christmas. Then we would get up and walk back to the sand and go to the deli on the foreshore for mixed lollies.

The child is still telling me that he will get a starfish off of the jetty. His dad says maybe not and they needed to go now. And then they all left, with some books, the pineapple bucket and an anxious plan for a starfish.

Artwork by Debbie Mackinnon

What do you do….

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There have been very few customers this week.

But this morning there are two husbands here, moving slowly, slowly, around the shop together,  one of them knows every book there is. He tells me about every book there is.

Oh,  and Edgar Allan Poe I know about him, and look at this, Alice in Wonderland, I know about that. I see you have Shakespeare and Monash. Do you have any books by Pauline Hanson…then he laughs, I’m just pulling your leg. His friend laughs and laughs, too,  and he says there are no books by Pauline Hanson, I’m telling you.

Then the first man asks me: do you find that you can’t make a living out of selling books anymore? I mean we can just go to the op shop and get some books for 50c, what do you do about that? And all this computer rubbish, that’s ruined it as well hasn’t it really…what do you do about all of that? I said that I can’t do anything about those things and that my business is not successful.

He lists off every Wilbur Smith book he has ever read. He repeats his joke about Pauline Hanson again. He suggests that the days of reading books are over. He tells me kindly that I have a nice little hobby going here anyway.

Then suddenly their wives are at the door, looking through the glass, looking over their sunglasses, they are not smiling. One of them comes through the door; she picks up and purchases a copy of My dog Tulip by J R Ackerley and tells me that what I am doing is not little, not small, not finished.

Then she sweeps out, leaving the lights all on, and scattering husbands everywhere.

Artwork by Pascal Campion

Digging

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The most important exertion at the moment is packing, digging and throwing.

Max is in the garden, he has found a rectangular brick planter full of lovely earth. At the moment it is only growing some rogue basil. He grasps the earth and hurls it out. He does it again. It is physical and substantial work, and difficult, it requires coordination and regulation. He does it again and yet again.

He regards the thrown earth on the path, he is breathing hard, he dribbles but does not notice the line of saliva that falls, it represents his intense link with living, with movement, with sensation, with the smell of earth, water, basil, sunlight, gumleaf, and the ticking of the summer sprinkler. The dog lies nearby with the hopeful tennis ball, sometimes the earth scatters over her ears, she shakes her head kindly, keeping watch over the young.

Max pulls on the basil leaves, the air is poked through with basil, he grimaces against the basil, it is lovely.

He regards his warm, starfish hand, it is covered with hot soil, he frowns, dribbles, turns his hand over and back again.

Maisie the kelpie is barking through the fence, Max regards the walkers on the dirt roadway also through the palings, his mouth is open in amazement, he slants his baby head to one side, seeking the sliding voices through the hot fence.

It is a warm, gum tree evening, the birds are frantic with this evening, Max stands, covered in this evening, in warm earth, he is regarding the sky, the trees, the galahs, the basil, the breathing of the garden. He cannot close his mouth and does not swallow, this would take up valuable time.

Then there is a voice he knows; his mother, calling for bedtime, he drops to the pathway, preparing to crawl, there are basil leaves clinging to his thighs, he arrows for the door, still looking backwards at the outraged galahs, crawling toward the mothership and clinging with ecstasy to his warm, baby life.

 

 

 

That’s not Obi Wan..

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A father is shopping here with his son and tells him that the picture on this book is actually Obi Wan Kenobi. The book is up high, balanced on the edge of the shelf. The child leans back, arching his back. He lengthens his face, expresses acute and outraged disbelief.

He says: there is no way that that is Obi Wan Kenobi because it’s not even him. His dad tells him that it actually really is. The boy laughs.

It isn’t. I can tell.

His dad looked down at him and said: may the force be with you.