There is a caravan across the road from me, it has parked across the entrance to the council toilets and Yvonne tells me that people are unhappy because they can’t access the toilets. There are arguments and a stack of buckets is flung from the caravan, there is also a broom, a hose and a basket of clothes pegs on the ground. People are standing around in an annoyed kind of way and Yvonne says there are two children in bare feet sitting on the bonnet of the car in the warm sun, waiting for their dad to get the caravan going again, they are going to the beach, a new beach they have never been to and they like the beach and dogs, especially her little dog. Yvonne, who likes dogs and people more than anything else, said it is good to see the young families out and about and doing things together. When she and her sister were young they were always out and about, they looked at everything. That was back in the good old days.
Artwork by Sarah Eisenlohr
This person came in without me hearing, came in and looked first at the doorways quietly, ran his thumb over the wood and the grooves and then examined the room from the doorway with his hands in his pockets and on tiptoes, without going in. He nodded at me, I thought he was going to ask a question, but he didn’t. He wore all black with purple boots and he walked with the bent neck necessary in bookshops, leaning in and over the covers, quietly moving all around the shop until he arrived back at the counter and said: thank you so much. This was all he said, but he still stood there, turning in every direction to see the books leaning about on high shelves, looked at them all one by one and then he laughed and pointed to a copy of The Worst Band in the Universe by Graeme Base and he said: That Is One Great Book, That One There. So glad you have that book…and then he said to me to have a great day, and left quietly and still smiling with it.
These girls came into the shop together, very hot and very happy and they circled in a purposeful sort of way each of the tables and then came over to me and said they were out practising their hiking skills and fitness and that’s why they seemed kind of fit. I said that I noticed that they were kind of fit. The first girl said yes and she bounced in her shoes in strong sort of way. Her friend had a backpack and she was examining closely a copy of Black Beauty. She didn’t say anything, so the first child continued the story: they were practicing for a hike and getting their fitness up. They looked at each other and nodded and said I had nice books in this shop and then they swung out of the door and on down the street to continue the hike, the day and the strength.
Artwork by Gaelle Boissonnard
Reading is a sport that can be pursued anywhere. Questing eyes need very little equipment to locate and roll out the print, the mind will hang on behind, and help itself over the top of sentences, words and things not understood. When we read, we are gone. But then we are here because that is where reading deposits us: here.
Noah reads and breathes in a single motion, staring at possibilities and unconcerned with how he views the page. His baby eyes can round up Hairy Maclary at full gallop, he can sample letters and phrases, kick at the dotty full stops, allow the hairy hair of Hairy Maclary to graze his eyes, so deep is the staring. At his back is his dad, sleeping off the night shift and providing solid backup for when an idea is too astounding to continue.
And Hairy Maclary is a banquet of consequence containing, as it does, danger and friendship; the big ships. Noah’s mind and feet continue to map outward and inward, enlarging and layering: he can never return to a time when he did not know about Hairy Maclary, Bottomley Potts and the knotty full stops.
There are two children here in the shop with their nanna, they are siblings, and the sister is looking at a copy of The Mermaid’s Treasure Hunt and said that the moon is made of cheese but her brother said that the moon is a monster’s eye. His sister looked at him consideringly…he was wrong, and she had to correct him; the moon was a pony’s eye. Their nanna, who was deep in her own books, who was looking at The Female Quixote (I thought with joy) looked up at them and then down at her book again. She was wearing the brightest orange clothes. Her grandchildren moved over to her and stood under this orange light and argued that the moon was delicious. They leaned against her and said that the moon was rice and the moon was a cat’s eye and their nanna looked down on them and their argument with the utmost approval.
Max is outside, there is much to do. He pushes his baby wheelbarrow, leaning forward into hard work, inside it a pair of secateurs that he isn’t allowed to have, a bone, some gum leaves, an iris blade, a bottle top and a feather; a heavy load of world treasure all of which needs to be banked. He pulls at fragrant plants releasing startled beads of mint, lavender, lemon balm into his senses and Masie, the good kelpie, follows behind, a dignified butler, hoping for the ball which is also in the wheelbarrow, taking stalks and leaves in her mouth from him, as delicate as a surgeon. Max gets caught on hot bricks, cries for rescue, he becomes tangled in ants and cannot move, he knows they sting and he watches them swarm, all 2 of them, across his feet and cries for rescue again. He likes the bees which talk to him at head height, he likes the cat who watches him humourless and hidden. He likes water, grass seeds and old bones. It is early summer and the garden must be a thousand miles deep, yields a mixture of prickles, snails, pea straw, charcoal, an old chain, a tub full of strawberries that must be dug over vigorously and quite ruined, Pa’s boots large enough to fall into. Max tracks around and around and around pursuing the work of ten men, attended by one sheepdog, herding her young.
Last Wednesday, this family came to the shop.
Two of the sisters searched for books on their knees while the third stood balancing five paperbacks on her hip, neck on one side, reading sideways at a difficult angle, but she doesn’t know it’s difficult. Her sister says, do you have to read these in order and the older girl says: you don’t have to read anything in order, do you, but I would prefer it. The younger child now walks on tiptoe, stooping and stretching, she has one arm in plaster, she crouches and reaches, bows and bends, she is dancing and she says she is a mermaid and her sister says: get out my way, I need The Maze Runner. The younger girl, who is a mermaid says: it’s not here. The sister says: you wouldn’t know.
The smallest child has horse books which she holds on her back, walking bent over, like a horse. Their mother is sitting in front of science fiction, talking on her phone. She taps her knee with a paperback gently throughout the conversation, her daughters are all gone into the other room, the floor is creaking in there with their swimming around and the oldest girl comes gently back past me, she walks leaning backwards, examining the high shelves, looking now for Pittacus Lore, for Dragon Wings, for Storm of Truth. One sister is telling another that she can’t have those books. Mum won’t let. The oldest girl says: is this really The Hobbit? The sisters all return to the front, shuffling, trying to read the cover of the same book. The oldest girl is jumping up and down in front of her mother, holding out The Hobbit, she is mouthing OMG. Her mother nods. Then they are again gathering shoulder to shoulder, the phone call is ending, they are holding books out to their mother in silence. She nods. The mermaid is swimming upwards, her scooping arms annoying her sisters The oldest girl is showing The Hobbit, but the younger girls are neutral, unimpressed, they shrug, the smallest sister crawls under a table because she is a pony, the middle child is spinning around and round and says she wants chips for dinner and carrots plus fish and the oldest sister taps her on the head with The Hobbit, one, two, three times, and the mother is saying that Lord of the Rings is also a great book and then they are all swimming over to pack up and get their books and go home to the sea.
Artwork by Victor Nizovtsev
This man always comes in hurrying and always, vigorously, inspects even the lowest shelves, that is how he found Ruskin’s Stones in Venice.
My wife, he said, she will want these very things. She reads a lot; I, myself, think she is very good, in my considered opinion, she is really very good, my wife. And she will like these Ruskins in a mighty way.
I think you and I, that we, you and I that is, will make her happy, my wife.
Then he went into another room, coming back after a while and said: when she was young, she had the longest hair. And she could always let herself go in her books, I always liked that. You see. Now of course, I must just get something for myself to read. When he returned, he was holding two books out in front of him, volumes of Freud and Descartes and he said: I’m going to get some fun out of these.
He paid for the Ruskin, the Freud and Descartes. He took out a wad of notes, some train tickets and a letter and a Woolworths docket, he showed me all of them and said, regarding the money, here you’d better take some of that.
Then he said: I have in interest in mining history, specifically the history of mining tools, specifically at Burra – the copper mining there and Broken Hill, silver, zinc and lead, I am in fact, writing my own book. Well then, and he laughed loudly, all good isn’t it, and he swung through the door and he, Ruskin, Freud and Descartes, all left together.
Digital sculpture by Chad Knight
They were moving along the pavement this morning, past my shop, past me setting up the signs, the little boy was running lightly along the air and his father was following, balancing two cups of coffee and drinking from both, holding them at elbow height and leaning back, breathing the relief.
The little boy stopped to check the sky three times. Then he said: I’ll just go this much in front, I’ll just go along out of here and he measured his steps precisely, looking back at his father’s feet and keeping in front just a little way, then more, then more, breathing the happiness. Then he was miles in front and heading for a caravan parked down the road and the father following with his elbows out. Two ladies were passing the other way and looking on critically and one said to the child just watch yourself and then they were level with me, looking past me into my window and one said to her friend, don’t think we’ll get much in there. And then they were finished and passed by me too, breathing the discontent.