When Max came to dinner


Tonight Max came to the dinner table.

It is the first time and he is a little bird perched and watching everything. We are eating noodles and vegetables, prepared by the youngest aunt who is glum and disappointed. Max watches everything. It is loud and hot inside, the fire is roaring and there are sticks and gum leaves scattered across the floor.

The table is chaotic. Max looks carefully across and though glass and plate, noodles and vegetables, baby bottles, pencils, bowls, envelopes, the shining cutlery, a water jug, school papers and disagreements.

He watches his mother eat, he watches, in love, her mouth, he reaches and reaches for the fork, but he mustn’t have it. He reaches for noodles, his mouth moves, he imitates his mother, he allows saliva to fall. He is entangled in eating and voices and gestures.

The youngest aunts have begun an argument; they accuse each other of being freaks and of life wrecking. Max watches calmly, he is impressed by voices and the rainbows of dispute.

Max’s grandfather eats at an alarming rate; he is going back out to the shed to bring back a beer, a home brew that is disgusting.

I am watching Max absorb the evening, I wonder what he wonders. A glass of water is overturned, a fork drops, conversation falls and lifts and falls.

He is lifted onto his mother’s shoulder and is moving away to bed, he is still looking at all of us and he is smiling,  he has one triumphant fist raised in the air.



Where the Wild Things Are


It was quiet last night and I thought I might close the shop early, there was only a taxi waiting across the road, the car park was empty and the whole railway station silent.

But then, a mother and three small children burst in and the children stopped abruptly to tell me some important news. They said that the middle sister was not allowed to have a book today because she had run across the road when they were meant to just walk. The middle child said that this was not true but her mother suggested that it might actually be true.

They worked through the shelves and across the tables and around the stacks and made speedy and loud choices. They were pleased to have found Matilda by Roald Dahl. The middle sister stood with crossed arms and regarded me impassively. She said that next time she doesn’t run across a road she will get Inkheart because she likes the green lizard on the front.

When they all left, pushing out into the quiet, I saw the middle sister dash across the road again and stand by the car, waiting for her outraged siblings and her grim mother.


Duy Huynh-www.kaifineart.com-6

There is a little girl here and she is 8 years old. She has placed a copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on the counter and is twirling slowly around and around, waiting for her sister, waiting for her father, waiting for her grandma. She tells me that she can fly.

But her younger sister, who is 4, is causing a consternation. She has rejected every book her father holds out. Though he is hopeful, she still discards every one. It is easy to think that a small child will read any book. This is wrong.

I think that with reading, with stories, in libraries, in book collections, wherever the books are, there is always someone searching, someone concluding, someone triumphant, someone refusing and someone twirling, who can also fly.

Artwork by Duy Huynh

The Moonstone


A young reader is here, staring through the Oxford World Classics. She puts her bag, which is loaded up with the day, down on the floor. She has rested her hand, palm out, across the spines of the books and is leaning into them. I think she is reading the titles.  For the Term of His Natural Life, The Moonstone, Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, The Red Badge of Courage and she runs her finger down each spine. She is whispering something as she reads them. Then she sighs and says: do you know that I have not yet read The Moonstone.

And there is an old lady, moving carefully from shelf to shelf, she steps around the bag on the ground and brings her book to the counter. It is a Debbie Macomber book, she thanks me for having the book as this writer means everything to her. She turns to move carefully out but pauses to tell me that now, she has two books to read this week. Then she is through the door and moving slowly away, into the dull wind, the cold, the end of autumn.

How Noah and Max Rule This Kingdom


Noah and Max are the small Kings here. We bow down to their every need; we discuss their progress, imagine their development and predict their future. All they want is milk.

We buy them shoes that fit, but fifteen minutes later they no longer fit. We talk about equipment and nutrition and swimming classes. Noah and Max exchange glances of agreed contempt. Where is the milk?

They are busy with work; their bodies are roaring with growth, their brains are ticking,  drinking in faces along with the milk. Their ears must be full of noise and colour and heartbeats, we always place Noah across our heart. Max likes to hold his head against another head, he pushes his small ear against a chin, feeling the words softly drumming on and on…

Max examines his own foot, confounded. Noah’s dark eyes flicker as his ears draw in one sound after another.

We talk about sleep, and about parenting and about bananas.

Max now might go to the toilet and Noah –  he is slipping back into sleep. There is just time for them to glance again at each other, amused.


The Ladder



A young family visited the shop; they are a group of experienced readers. The siblings bunch together, anxious to make the first discovery of Brotherband…eventually, though, they scatter. They, all of them, maintain an exclaiming commentary, to which nobody listens.

Oh my God…

I really love this.

I’ve got that…..and that…

There’s none here. Thanks for nothing. But this is here…

But nobody looks up.

The youngest is reading out loud….an older brother looks down kindly. He says…no….ladder…it says ladder…see?

Undeterred, she keeps reading aloud. She does not say ladder. She refuses to use this word. He attempts to close the book on her nose. He says LADDER. But she wants the word rabbit; it has more value because with this word she can outwit her family.

But her brother has moved on, he has found book one of The Edge Chronicles: Beyond the Deep Woods. He shows his brother a picture of a gyle goblin…and without looking, his brother says: yeah, that’s good!

Their parents are in the other room, I can hear them arguing over the Rutherfurd histories. She is saying: we have ALREADY got this one.

A lady enters, thinking it is the bakery. I direct her around the corner and she says: well, fancy that!

Robert comes for his Bullfinch Mythology but it has not arrived. He looks longingly at the Ray Bradbury but says his pension has not come in yet.

I am asked for Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, The Story of Silent Night by Paul Gallico, Migaloo The White Whale, The Shorter Oxford Dictionary of Historical Principles, (volume two only) and also Pirates Don’t Eat Bananas.

People come in with purposeful lists, they circle around, intent only upon Ruth Rendell, they often leave empty handed, never ambushed by Other Possibilities. They are never lured to a book by its dust cover or seduced by leather or impressed by weight. They leave grimly, no luck today.

The small child that liked the word rabbit is captured by Yann Martel. She traces the lines of colour with her finger, from powder blue down through emerald, to leaf, to clay, to gold. There is a child walking across the gold, she taps him kindly. She bends so that the book is level with her face, there is a monkey walking through the green. She says: that’s a monkey.

Her parents emerge from the other room and remind her to be careful. She says: that’s a monkey,  but they are still wading in argument and do not attend to the monkey. Her mother glances across eventually, though and exclaims: oh that’s Yann Martel, he wrote Life of Pi.  Her husband says: we already have it. The little girl says: can we get a pie?

The brothers come out, they have one book between them and it is volume 9 of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The brothers look at their sister warningly: she is not going to read it.

She says: ladder.



When Emma came over.


Emma came to visit the other night and brought with her the Fairy Canaries. Their names are Jane and Sally and they are 7 and 5 years old. Tonight they walked all the way to our house which is next door. It is baby night and we have two babies here: Noah and Max and the Fairy Canaries came over to examine them both and see that everything is ok.

They are kind and particular and pay attention to details. They consider every question closely and answer with dignity. I asked Sally how she knew that Max would be a boy and that his name would be Max and she told me that it is because she is magic.

They communicate with joyful rare phrases. When it was my birthday, they did not say happy birthday. Sally said: many happy returns. And when Max was born they told me that they were so proud of the mother.

Once Jane saw me at the fence and invited me to come over and see their shed because their shed is pretty good.

In the summer, I often hear them outside,  shrilling to each other over games with the hose or some sticks or with nothing at all. The games are always complicated and important. Once, in winter when I was in the orchard I saw them through the fence and they called to me significantly that their dog, Tucker, is in love with our dog Maysie and that it was possible that they might get married.

This afternoon Sally picked some little tomatoes for us and handed them through the fence. She picked each cherry tomato slowly, looked a each one,  frowning through her glasses for defects and then dusted the tomato and twisted off the stalk. It took nearly an hour to find twelve cherry tomatoes, as valuable as gold or lollies.

On this evening,  the baby evening, late autumn and with the fire lit and cosy inside, I am giving a bottle to Noah. Jane is standing close by and examining his every feature. She tells me that he is like a beautiful cute little baby troll.

She adds that me must always keep checking him, and all babies, that they only ever have five toes. Because this is all they are allowed to have. The adults are all busy talking and talking so she returns to Sally and the ipad game to offer advice on Subway Surfers but Sally says no no no no no no no no no no no.

Then Jane returns to me and suggests that when I have finished milking Noah, she will have a hold.




Rex’s Gate


Rex visited the shop today and told me about his gate. He made this gate for his grandchildren, of which there will soon be ten. The gate is the entrance to the playground, and he made this too.

The gate is the only entrance to The Playground, and even though the playground is not actually fenced, the grandchildren always line up and enter carefully through the gate. The gate is then available to swing on because this is the second best way to use a gate!


I have a Mother


I have a mother who shielded me from the blows of her own childhood. She must have had to kneel most of her adult life, arms outspread and shoulders fatigued, in order to stave off the poverty and sadness of her past so that none of it reached us. Nonetheless, some got through. This is because her past is part of her; some things must get through, the things she needed, like air.

Just enough for me, when I was young, to seize it with relief and lay the blame.

I have a mother who took the blame quietly.

I have a mother who still surrounds the kitchen and criticises my lack of scones. Whose years are numbered but can still allow hours of minutes on mending one torn seam or a labelling the jam or listening without judgement to an announcement of divorce.

I have a mother who gave me the stubborns.

I have a mother, the loss of whom will break granite, easily.

I always positioned myself in the alert; cautiously, to break tradition, and ensure superiority (I will do a better job etc).

No need. This is what she wanted anyway. And after all the hard work, I didn’t do a better job.

Now I must watch my own daughters circle intelligently, alert and compassionate,  impressed by Nanna, but rarely of me. They intend to do a better job than me.

I have a mother who worked tremendously hard and rarely had time to tell me that I was valuable. So then, later I could say triumphantly that I was not valuable.

She told us stories of the past, sorting the lovely from the ugly, shielding us from bad memory as beneath a poor and sagging umbrella.

She carried the milk home from the dairy in a billy can, once she spilt the milk all over the road.

Her father, Ben, was a fabulous gardener.

They were very poor. One day, her mother went to the dentist and had every tooth pulled out. Then she came home and made dinner.

She can remember the first time she tried chewing gum. She always loved reading. I have always carried a memory of early summer, the morning and a pile of red books. There was also an almond tree and warm sand, these things all go together.

She had a baby sister that died.

She was afraid of her father.

She remembers in detail when I was born.

Artwork by Keith Negley

I just want to go on exploring what there else is.


I just want to go on exploring what there else is.

A child tells her father this as she is kneeling amongst spilt horse books. I might want this Arabia Nights. But he mishears her; he refers to the book as Raising’s Nights. He goes off into the other room and is shuffling around in the True Crime. She finds him there and hands him Inkheart and returns to her search. But he leaves Inkheart in Travel. He weaves back into the front room with Lee Child but she is not interested in that! She places of copy of Tales of Deltora on the counter.

He asks finally: do you want this book on Raising’s Nights? But she does not want that book, she has never heard of it.  She chooses instead My Sister Sif by Ruth Park and then, thoughtfully, The Magic Pudding. There is also the Deltora. They have forgotten Inkheart, it remains in Travel.

As they leave and continue down the street, they are each staring down at their own books.