There is a little girl here in the shop whose friend has gone to Venice for a holiday over the summer and she is going to bring her friend back a present. From Venice!
This child, who is looking forward to her present, said that Venice is magic. And this is because there are so many cats there. She has not been there though, but she has been to Victor Harbour. But last year at school she and her friend looked at pictures of Venice and that’s how she knows about it. It has magic colours, magic cats and magic water. Their teacher said she wasn’t sure about the cats.
She and her mum bought three books and then they went to the chemist. As they left the little girl said that she would rather go to Venice than to the chemist.
Artwork by Pascal
Paths are good because they always go somewhere. And if you can’t see the end of it, you can leave that out and just enjoy the moment for the moment, but always holding like treasure, in the side of your eye, the end of the path. That never comes because it is a treasure in the side of your eye. Playing here like a child is child’s play.
Max is just learning to walk, and his feet urge him on and on over any ground he can get. He still needs a helping hand to grasp as he walks, large careful steps with the knees lifted as high as possible in case the shadows rise up for tripping. He is not interested in the beginnings of paths as there aren’t any. He has no interest in the end of paths as he is already there. Everything he can imagine so far has arrived.
Instead, like babies do, he helps himself to every inch of the available minute, the breathing light, the slanting heat, the lawn mower that is not allowed, his pumping legs that cover a mere metre over an eternity and now there are ants.
He toddles across warm bricks and cool decking, through sand and over gum leaves that break and cause him to pause, over wind washed bark, through cobwebs and dropping branches. When he comes to the pot of hydrangeas, he stops and taps the pot. The hydrangeas are drunk with heat, they lean over with their heads against the pot, asleep or unconscious, they do not stir just because a baby knocks on their house. He goals the trailer, the bins, the tool shed and each time is swept back to sensible. He angles for the lawn mower, a favourite magic. But he is guided on and around it, it is not safe. He frowns, rocks to and fro, looks down to examine something he thinks is in his hand, suddens upward to look aghast at cockatoo. Then he drops abruptly to his hands and knees, and moves fluently again in the old language, across bricks, faster than walking, he is breathing fast and making for the tap, remembering that it is the greatest living treasure after all and at the end of all paths.
They are everywhere. Passing, parking, loitering, turning and gathering. The ones outside my bookshop are very beautiful, they are lined up in perfect formation and the riders stand by in black leathers and look over everyone else’s ride. The motorcycles stand in the sun, taking the exam, fearing nothing.
But one rider is looking down at his front tyre. His friend says, a fucking flat! Just what you need.
How’d that happen? They all slowly gather, a leather council, to discuss events. More motorbikes idle past, they are very loud, the riders outside my store stop speaking and watch the flow critically, they look for flaws, for power and for foolishness.
One rider approaches the corner, roaring, he shatters the morning heat, heedless of pedestrians and loiterers. Then he pauses there, enjoying the noise until the driver behind helps him around with his horn. The standing riders, outside my shop, glance at each other and rock back and forth, still listening as that young rider drives off into Australia day.
They are all nodding, unimpressed.
So he reckons!
How about some food…
Claudia is interested in A Series of Unfortunate Events, although disappointed that volume two is missing. She has a feeling about these books that is different from how she feels about other books. These books give her an entirely different feeling. She has read a lot of books in her eight years.
Today she knows that something will be different about these books. She is drawing from the vast and complex knowledge of her own reading, and she is confident. And although there is not sufficient vocabulary available for her to clarify her predictions, she remains at the counter, attempting several times to gently illuminate, for me, the singular knowing that happens when you look at the cover of a book.
As she leaves, she is pointing, pointing through the door, at the warm day, and says: I have been looking for these books for all of my life.
Max is not yet walking. And so he holds tightly to any available support to assist his sideways, stumping journey to here, to there, to Pa, to the biscuits, to a cupboard left ajar, to a fishing reel that he is not allowed to have. But now, his muscles have forged ahead of his balance and his small legs will lift and forage for a hold, on anything that might now lift him upward and onward toward heaven.
His feet have eyes. He does not look where his feet are going: the eyes in his small toes do this. This morning he climbed into a large cooking pot. Then he stood there, jubilant, inside the cooking pot, holding the sides, looking down at his astonishing small feet, feeling the cool metal, stroking the metal sunlight, the straight, pleasing sides, predicting correctly the approaching adult and the lift out and away and back to the ordinary toys.
There is a man outside the shop securing a load of permapine poles onto his trailer, it is hot and he is hot, everyone outside is walking around leaning against the heat and with their eyes half shut. Inside the shop, a man is standing against the counter and complaining that when his wife is finished he will need a trailer for all the books she buys. He calls out the door to the man with the trailer: tie them on tighter than that, mate!
But nobody hears him.
His wife is looking for some really good reading. He tells her to try Clive Cussler but she is not listening to him.
He tells me that there should be a place called book rehab for all the people that cannot stop reading books. He is pleased with this idea and repeats it again. His wife comes back to the counter with only four books and he is disappointed. He had thought she might get more than that! He tells her, anyway, that she might consider book rehab and she looks at him fondly and says: that’s a good one.
Then he is as pleased as anything. He admires her books, he carries them for her, he opens the door for her and attends her through it and into the next hours of their life and as they leave the shop, he is saying to her: do you think that book rehab is a real thing?
And she is looking at him as though he were the king of the world, which he is.
It is nearly the last day of our holiday and we are having lunch, by the sea, in summer, in the heat, under cool glass and next to the blue. Morgan and I have chosen mussels, I remember these from a year ago and they made me happy so I have ordered them again, mussels in shells, a thousand of them, too many, whirling in tomato and garlic and other things with chilli, red wine maybe. I am wondering if the chilli will be real and it is because when we lift the lid, the steam comes out angrily and the chillies lie there, amongst the mussels, obscene and arrogant and not knowing their proper place, perfect.
We are elbow deep in mussels and shells and ciabatta bread and there is too much food and too much sky through the windows and the babies are hooting and eating things and Noah is at the end of the table, between his parents, supreme amongst food and family and spoons and forks and garlic bread.
He and his baby cousin Max are hurling things to the floor and gazing open mouthed at the response from family, they are filing away the satisfying response from family.
I cannot eat any more food, but there is still too much food waiting to be eaten. I can only stare at everyone else. Family, ordinary and ordinary but still defying understanding.
Morgan, is gone, lost in the mussel pot, the good cold beer and hunger, and his son, Noah, is leaning back superbly into the armchair of summer, and his parents gaze over at the floor and the scattered food and the toys and they look down at all of this with joy.
There are two young children here in the caravan park, in the warm summer, on the hot grass and they have a metal detector.
They are purposeful, their backs are bent and their thin arms concentrate on the work. Every patch of patchy ground has potential…. gravel, sand, garden, asphalt, earth, kerb, grass, cement…all are tried and tried.
The detector beeps a small hoot every now and again and they stop and bob about to retrieve the treasure – a bottle top, a slip of metal, a casket of jewels. They scrape sand back reverently but there is usually nothing there. Then they push the sand back into place, gentle caretakers of this unnoticed ground.
But suddenly they have found something, and the detector makes a vast sound.
He says: it’s nothing.
She says: it’s something, look.
And they lean in, knees hopeful and noses together.
He says: it’s metal?
She says: it’s glass. It’s this. It’s this.
She picks it up, a small thing, holds it cupped and close, running eyes over the pleasing magic.
She says: it’s golden glass.
He says: it’s gold glass.
They take it to the tap and rinse the sand away from its golden value and the detector lies in the grass forgotten. The entire day, so deeply entered, is also forgotten.
The tap flashes in the sun, the stream of water flashes in the sun, their blond childhood heads blaze through the water drops, the warm, ticking scrub leaning kindly over them and the sea itself acknowledging the wisdom.
Photography by Yeshi Kangrang
Noah and Max have so much to do. There is an entire landscape of camping supplies to process and record.
They are each making new maps, superior charts that include sound, shape, heat and hunger.
Babies are master cartographers. No corner that is valuable will be missed. Nothing that is useless today need be included. The maps of babies are not cluttered with regret or objectives.
Instead they are inked with the tiny details of small details such as the pull of muscle against saucepan, the tight clang of enamel bowls and the wind under canvas. They both want the broom. They record the hands of each other, sticky on the broom handle. They blink at light through mesh.
Abruptly there is a new sound, it is footsteps on gravel and the pace and weight of this noise has been recorded before. This information has a high yield. It is Pa, passing by with fishing rods and both infants become still, noting the intrusion, mouths remain open and then he is gone. They taste the retreat, process the loss and Max allows a short scream of rage. Noah maps Max’s scream of rage.
Then they press faces against the mesh windows again, snuffle at sunlight and heat, sand and dry grass, three seagulls and the sea in the distance and somebody filling a bucket with water. A plastic cup is breezed off the table. They stare at the cup rolling on the ground.
Suddenly there is no more information they can contain, the maps are full. They reject every new voice and ward off every new idea. They hurl strawberries to the ground and tie their distress to their parents with loud and elaborate knots. For the next few hours they can only be towed.
The thing about Hal Porter is that I do not know why I am reading him. I found him by accident and the volume was dull, without a dust cover, neither new nor old. The title, The Tilted Cross was quiet. It did not look at me.
This book came to me within a library that was gifted to me, an enormous and unexpected gift that will take me the rest of my years to discover. The reasons that libraries are put together and the decades it takes to put them together makes each one its own province with an understood currency and an exceptional climate. This library is a monarchy and this book, by Hal Porter, is now my favourite so far. The library is now blended with mine, and after the usual difficulties of integration and acceptance of minorities, is now settled mostly comfortably. It sheds more light, merged light, so different light and it is very beautiful inside it.
Now I am reading this book, The Tilted Cross, which is bizarre and difficult to read and difficult to understand and set in Hobart Town, Tasmania, convict history and ugly.
But what it is about is just the skin. The characters and the places are all just skin. What happens is just skin. What it holds is really it. It is not entertaining and not reassuring, and it is not clear. What it is, I am not clear on either, but it is important to me. I am unable to analyse the book, I am only able to read it.
It is something like a glass jug, held and turned and regarded in every light, upside down and inside out, bottom and handle, lip, glass, base and translucence. Regarded empty and fallen or full and erect. What is it and why.
Photography by Andrey Grinkevich