Max is a Pint of Blue

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It is the end of summer and the air is full of that strange, footless summer breathing. Why does my grandson pant in my ear when I hold him? What is he looking at? The oblongs coloured like jewels along the back wall. These are books. The horizontal streaks of the bamboo blinds on the front door framed in lozenges of coloured glass? You sit for one baby minute after another staring at these.

The grape vine, the plum tree, the fragrant basil that froths under the lemon tree. There is too much basil. The died roses, the pegs on the ground, the golden orb webs. We don’t like them, but you do.

Your head wobbles on a stalk not strong enough to hold still. When you have completed your wobbling examination of a thing you grumble slightly. Time to move on. But once you stared thoughtfully at a lemon for nearly three minutes. Drenched in yellow, we could finally move on. Then we are under the wisteria and startled by purple. The whole house is breathing Max: powder, soap and milk, light, shapes and heat.

Yvonne

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Yvonne put her head in the door this morning to tell me that there was a small earth tremor on Tuesday and she knows this because her dog told her. She comes past every morning and always asks me about my baby grandson. She says: How’s that grandson of yours? I bet he’s thriving, the lamb!

If I am busy she looks through the window and mouths the enquiry through the glass. I give the thumbs up. Once I did not respond and she opened the door to say: he’s fractious isn’t he, the pet. Tell that mother of his that all babies become fractious and then they grow out of it.

Yvonne is British and lives alone apart from her Chihuahua Foxy Terrier Cross. She beams benevolence as she strolls along the streets with him. She said she is always up for a good Clive Cussler.

Once she encountered a couple talking to me in the shop doorway. They were displaying for me a printed list of their Agatha Christie collection. They complimented her on Marco’s fine looks. She told them that he can predict earth tremors.

They leaned back, impressed. Their dog Pippa is also a Chihuahua and the vet has just told them she is too fat.

Yvonne said: What a load of rubbish. She said that vets think they know everything about animals.

The husband raised himself upwards and forwards to agree on the arrogance of vets (in Geelong).

Yvonne reminded them that her dog Marco knows when there is going to be an earth tremor. The couple nodded agreeance. Of course they can, they know.

Then we all parted, pleased with Chihuahuas but not with vets.

My friend wrote me a note.

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My friend, who is too full of joy, wrote me a note:

Hi Kerry again. When you choose the glass beads for the bookmark with the bronze clock please make it rich, with a Gothic and Medieval feel to it like when you enter the Medieval Churches in Europe and are confronted by the wonderful stain glass windows that glitter and shimmer as the windows catches the light. May you please revise now already and make 2 bookmarks now and not one, thanks, love Sharon.

Sharon is from Singapore and everything she reads and writes and talks about is full of joy. She comes and goes, spilling books and happiness carelessly and everywhere.

 

The Pulley

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I showed David a copy of Cultural Amnesia by Clive James and he said I was naughty because he had to have that book. After all it was Clive James. He said: Oh God, I don’t know what to do. I am chasing up Rimbaud and now you have me with the Cultural Amnesia. He said that all of his indecision comes from his sad childhood.

A lady bought a copy of Penguin Bloom and then took me out to see her own rescued magpie, perching on the edge of a basket on the back seat of the car. She said that he is blind in one eye and the family just adore him. She said there was nothing they would not do for him.

Sharon rang to urge me to find a volume of the Thomas the Tank Engine stories, all of them in the one volume. She said she is having a bad day.

Robert said that despite his weariness he will never give up the quest for history and the truth of life. He ordered a copy of Aboriginal Men of High Degree by A. P. Elkin.

A mother and her two young children were looking for dinosaur books. They said that they loved David Attenborough. The son said that he also loved dinosaurs, owls and geckos. His small sister said that she loved owls and ballet. Their mother said that there was not much time for her to read much anymore. She looked happy.

Outside the window, there are tradesmen, leaning against their car, drinking iced coffee and smoking. They are arguing about scaffolding. One says that he is sick of all this shit. Then he says he is going back to the bakery. His mates look at him and keep on smoking.

A very young woman showed me her six month old son. She bought a copy of Goodnight Owl and told me that she has just left home to make it on her own. Her pram had masking tape wound around the handles. She said she was going to read to him every night. She gazed at him the whole time, and he, with huge dark eyes, gazed back and he was smiling the whole time.

Serenity told me that she had to leave school early. Her father, who was carrying all the shopping, looked very tired.

Most days, at some time, I run into the edge of the exhaustion shelf and usually I cannot see the reason for it. It is always when I am not in my bookshop.

An old lady went outside and indicated to me through the window which book she wanted. It would have been easier for her to have remained inside and just picked up the volume from the table. It was The Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke. She took it from me and said: this is the one, his will be wonderful and thank you.

It is Valentine’s Day and a man is so happy that I had a copy of Wombat Divine. Later in the day he came back and gave me a red rose because I had a copy of Wombat Divine and he was going to surprise his wife with it.

The Pulley

When God at first made man,

Having a glass of blesings standing by;

Let us (said he) pour on him all we can:

Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie,

Contract into a span.

 

So strength first made a way;

The beauty flow’d, then wisdom, honour, pleasure:

When almost all was out, God made a stay,

Perceiving that alone of all his treasure

Rest in the bottom lay.

 

For if I should (said he)

Bestow this jewel also on my creature,

He would adore my gifts instead of me,

And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:

So both should losers be.

 

Yet let him keep the rest,

But keep them with repining restlessness:

Let him be rich and weary, that at least,

If goodness lead him not, yet weariness

May toss him to my breast.

George Herbert

 

I have a customer who is too full of joy.

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I have a customer who is too full of joy and she causes me joy too; no matter how hard I try to be calm and sensible, I cannot. She stacks her choices everywhere and reads lines aloud and loudly. She has a heavy book of poetry, and she is leaning over the pages, chanting the lines and I said: who is that? And she said: oh my God, it’s Yeats.

But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

 One cannot read everything in a lifetime but we are going to. We are absurd. We will use every spare minute to read. She says that reading divides her in two. There is her and there is her.

She says: do you know…do you have…do you have….do you have…..I am going to find a book of nursery rhymes, you know the ones, the Opies, you know the ones, you know those ones, you must get them….OH MY GOD…what is this book and what is this book?  Should I read the Pepys, do you remember in Charing Cross Road how she read the Pepys…do you have…you know the one….you know the one…..oh my heart. I must just read this out loud.

And then she is sitting on the floor reading to herself, something from Arthur Ransome or Kenneth Graham or Rudyard Kipling or Rosemary Sutcliffe or some other intensity.

‘I fear nothing when I am doing right,’ said Jack.

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“ I fear nothing when I am doing right,’ said Jack.

‘Then,’ said the lady in the red cap, ‘you are one of those who slay giants.”

Andrew Lang, The Red Fairy Book

 

There are three teenage girls here and they are looking at Jules Verne and I am curious. One of them asks for Sherlock Holmes, another has chosen The Great Gatsby and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and the third girl purchases Les Misérables – she tells me she is up for it. They all three of them stand in the door way, the door cannot quite close. They are standing in the doorway and they are looking closely at the Les Misérables and it is 1331 pages long. A man waits patiently to enter but they are so busy. One girl tells her friends she is up for it, this huge book.  The other says well I’m up for this: and she triumphantly shows the Harry Potter volume six, and she explains – I went up for Sherlock but he’s not there. They look at her in silence, considering and then they notice the waiting man. They are mortified and squeak the thousand apologies. They tell him they are going to the bakery and he is smiling, he is happy with their explanation.

When I looked up again from the counter there is a boy suddenly there, aged about 11, staring at me and holding a bag of coins. He said Tintin?  I remembered that he has been here before and that I should know what he needs. He waits patiently.

I have one book – Tintin in Tibet and he relaxes and pours out the coins across the counter and counts them slowly. He says: thank you so much because I love Tintin so much.

Ken told me today about his kids: This morning my kids were talking together, my son he does not want to be at school, you know how they are, but there he was talking with my daughter about the Ancient Greeks and for a long time, too. You know sometimes you think that sometimes the world’s all right, you know.

Then he disappeared into the back room and came back to show me a book about cowboys. He said THIS is a good read. He looked very happy.

A lady told me a long story about her interest in the paranormal. She thought she might have some small powers of her own.

Daryl asks for books about Hannibal, a new book mark and The Family Frying Pan. He tells me that Brother Fish is too heavy to hold. But Hannibal – you know that guy that went over the Alps and conquered the Greeks, can you get me that?

He flexes his tattoos and thinks for a while. Then he asked me for a bookmark with a crucifix on it for his family bible.

Alan and Jenny only watch SBS. They tell me in great detail why this is so.

Maria asked me did I mind if she asked how many children I had and where they all are. I did not mind at all. She said that all her daughters were gone now, left her in the dust and she is pretty happy about that. She has TEN grandchildren. She bought a book of poetry, not too much as she is still reading the Hans Christian Anderson, the delight of her days.

There is a couple in the front room and she reads aloud to her husband to test the suitability of the book. She says to her husband: he’s not six, he’s seven, he’s seven, remember?

She said: what about this one, is it too old for him? Or is it too young for him? Her husband does not answer. They leave without any book.

I, myself read on last night through my Penguin Pocket Anthology. The Reunion by John Cheever, The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin, Mother Savage by Guy De Maupassant, An Upheaval by Anton Chekhov, Roman Fever by Edith Wharton, Paul’s Case by Willa Cather.

A Party Down at the Square by Ralph Ellison is horrible. Where are you Going, Where Have you Been by Joyce Carol Oates is terrifying. Vandals by Alice Munro is devastating. A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Marquez is beautiful.

There is Eudora Wealty and Amy Tan and Dagoberto Gilb and Alice Walker and Louise Erdrich and on and on I go through these stories and I hope they never come to an end. They, all of them decades and decades old but they are all about right here right now.

A man bought a book called Hanging: a History of Execution in Australia. I said cheerily: enjoy your book and he said:  It is the history of hanging.  Not a book to enjoy I don’t think.

I was rebuked. His wife said: Look at this! And she had Murray Bail: The Drover’s Wife. She said: I always wanted to read this.

She glances furiously at her husband.

 

 

The Small Pottery Bird

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An old lady came in and showed me a little pottery bird she had just bought in a second hand shop. It was not a beautiful bird. She handled the small pottery bird like this; she tipped it forward and stroked the beak. Then she tipped it over and examined the flat plate of the underneath. Then she outlined the dents of the wings with her thumbs and looked at it with such delight I thought it might come alive. I could now see that it was a beautiful bird. She fitted the bird into one hand and looked at its eyes. She told me it was the nicest thing she had ever seen. Then she bought a copy of Ring of Bright Water and said goodbye.