Although it is cold outside there are people everywhere, spending a hopeful Sunday not at home. And there are two children here, brother and sister, who came into the shop earlier and who have refused to sit with their father in the car parked outside. They have been here for nearly an hour and have not spoken once.
They have circled and surveyed the displays and the shelves, balanced on one leg, sat under the tables, leaned on shelves and examined book after book in an intense, rich and enchanted silence. Once they met up too closely at the science fiction and they glanced up briefly, and then silently the older brother moved aside.
Once they reached for the same book. Their father came back to see how things were and neither of them looked up at all. Once, she toppled some Ranger’s Apprentices to the floor and they both stared down at them. Once he laughed out loud at Gorilla World and she looked at him, not seeing him, only seeing Con because she is reading The Magic Thief: Home
Once she says: this book is really good, you should see how they make the bridge. But he didn’t answer. Later he says: are you getting anything? But she doesn’t answer.
When they leave, they have not chosen any books, but they have replaced carefully the ones they examined and when they pass me they smile and say: thanks, thanks for the bookshop.
Outside the shop window there’s a bus pulled up, a group of visitors are climbing down the steps into the cold and looking grim. Through the window I can see them taking each step down with great care and encouraging each other to make it to the pavement which is an unreliable three steps down. One man reads out loud the sign on my window which says: Please Come In…
He reads it three times and then says: well, I don’t think so!!!!
Another man agrees, he thinks a cup of tea is more the go.
There are three ladies, now landed, standing in the cold breeze and hanging on to each other, they glance about and laugh, and one says: oh God, bother this wind.
Then a there is a truck coming past, slowing down, and I can’t hear them but I can see them looking through my window and tapping on the glass and speaking to each other, exaggerating the words and looking annoyed at the truck which is stopping, no doubt planning to also have a go at the bakery.
But still more visitors are climbing slowly from the bus. The bus driver stands at the door, offering assistance and looking down toward the bakery in a longing sort of way. One lady tells a man called Colin to get the devil out of the way. Another lady has left her umbrella on the bus and must go back.
But soon they are all moving down past my shop, pulling out purses and aiming for cups of tea, hilarious and making jokes except for one man who comes in to the shop and asks me for a book about the black winged stilt.
I said that I didn’t have one. He said it didn’t matter at all, it’s just that he always asks just in case – because when he was a boy, there were black winged stilts on the lagoon and every morning he would see them, and they were so delicate and fine that he had thought they were magic dragonflies.
Then he smiled and said not to worry, not to worry and went to find his companions and a hot drink.
Photography by Bhanu Kiran Botta
Sarah came this afternoon to pick up her Faber Book of Love Poetry and a copy of David Copperfield.
She said she has a shelf this big full of books as yet unread and it was time now to get stuck in. She looked pleased as she thought about this.
She talked, as she always does about how her mum read all her life, and how it was when her mum died and how it is now and how she, herself, once bought a costume and wore it, walking around the block on New Year’s Eve which outraged her friend and scandalised the neighbourhood.
She said that she has always been a one for standing near the edges of things, and that most of the time she’s had no choice.
She spoke disapprovingly of the Liberals, of Telstra and of Tony Abbott and described her bitterness against Jetstar, whose online booking system is a disgrace.
She said: I’m glad you’re open, it adds a bit of colour to my days, it does.
And this is a bit like Sarah herself, a survivor on the ragged, steep edges of things without a trace of self-pity, armored only with individuality and a love for classic literature and political biographies. And she adding colour to my day.
Soon she announced that it was time to get on home and sort the laundry. She promised to return and tell me what David Copperfield is actually like as there is no point in going by the movie of it. And she left with her books carefully packed, swinging the bag and herself through the door, into survival and the rest of the day.
On one of the days of last week, the beginning of winter when everyone is saying: oh, winter is beginning, isn’t it…. a lady came into the shop and…
she stood for a while looking around in an exhausted and worried kind of way and then drooped across the counter and sighed and sadly she said she needed a gift for a lady, a friend, who does not read books. She asked me would I sell perhaps the wooden cat in the window and I said: no.
She said she thought that I might sell it and I said: no.
She said she needed a gift for her friend because her friend is at this moment looking after her cats. She has 19 cats. I wondered out loud by accident if this was just too many cats and she looked at me in complete rebuke and she said there is no number of cats that is too many.
I thought that it is the same with books and at last we were in agreeance. But I will not sell my cat in the window because it is mine.
I suggested she purchase The Kama Sutra for Cats because it is very funny and is only $4 and she looked at it for a long time. I was impressed at how long she looked at the book and then I realized that she was not that impressed with it at all. She thought that her friend would not appreciate it. She sadly left without a gift or anything for her friend who was at home looking after all those bloody cats.
Artwork by Sylvain Sarrailh
“There’s no spectacle that is as terrifying as the sight of a guest in your house whom you catch staring at your books. It is not the judgmental possibility that is frightening. The fact that one’s sense of discrimination is exposed by his books. Indeed, most people would much prefer to see the guest first scan, then peer and turn away in boredom or disapproval. Alas, too often the eyes, dark with calculation, shift from title to title as from floozie to floozie in an overheated dance hall. Nor is that the worst.
It is when those eyes stop moving that the heart, too, stops. The guest’s body twitches; his hand floats up to where his eyes have led it. There is nothing to be done. You freeze. He smiles. You hear the question even as it forms: Would you mind if I borrowed this book?”
Roger Rosenblatt, Bibliomania