The Digger

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There is a family gathering at the end of summer. The oldest of this bowlful, the great grandparents, look benignly down across everyone. The youngest on the playground, the two year olds,  look up in astonishment at everyone.
Noah and Max aim their cousinly flights through two things only. Matchbox cars and slices of bun. There is a tiny digger of monumental value. This is because it is a digger, a tiny yellow plastic digger that they both want. The digger. They can both say digger. This word, for Max and Noah, lives in the cave of their mouths, already there, a solid, tasteful item. Digger. And there is the added delicious conflict that there is only one toy and two of them. This conflict provides enough material to enrich the entire afternoon.
They zone from table to garden and back again. They have stolen a thousand pieces of doughnut and bun. Great Grandma encourages the thefts, she looks on with approval. They are able to carry an entire theft in one fist. Mashed in with the cakes are the digger, the bulldozer and the cement mixer. The cement mixer is full of doughnut.
They have found a patch of garden that contains loose dirt; wealth equal to gold, diamonds or cordial.
Here they sit serving their own version of refreshment by the fistfuls until suddenly they both stare at the digger. There is a lurch and a chase, but they are only two years old and the purpose of the conflict becomes lost in the joy of muscle, movement and a snail.
(Reminders of toilet, safety and manners flick at their ankles and are ignored, lost).
There is another chase that ends suddenly because nobody has the digger now, it is lost. They stand perplexed. Suddenly they forget the toy and there is yet another race, wobbly, wild and scribbling, but the nappies weigh heavily, ballast is out of balance and there is a fall. There is exhaustion and despair and then finally, tears. It is time to go home.

Straight up and down

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A child visiting the shop told me that her best book is The Stones of Green Knowe. It’s an old book because the pages are yellow and bent and it was her mother’s book. It’s about ghosts. It’s a straight up and down book and is about ghosts.

When she told me this, she made straight up and own motions with her hands. The ghosts are good and come forward in time to meet Tolly. It’s about Saxons. She said that it’s an up and down book like stones are. And that you could not forget Roger because for one thing he was a ghost and also he was old and from the olden days in history, one thousand years ago when there were stone castles. That’s how good this book was. It stayed in your mind like a stone or a pot.

Remember that pudding…?

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There were two people outside the shop one afternoon, on the edge of the footpath and unable to cross the road. They were loaded with bottles of coke, a bag of ice and packets of corn chips and they were handling each item separately, they were very loud.
The traffic was not considerate of them, it just kept passing by and their heads were going from right to left and right to left and they were getting mad. So, when the sheep truck bellowed through and shaved all their supplies the woman said: fuck that stinks, and withdrew back onto the footpath and against my windows where they repacked their evening supplies. There was also a carton of beer that I hadn’t noticed, it was standing against the wall, waiting to be carried.
The man said: look at that cockhead! And they are watching the motorbikes now leaving across the road, leaving in a group which they consider necessary and holding up the traffic so they can stick together.
The woman said, what a twat, and they both nod, their heads turn from right to left and right to left and they note certain cars, frowning, interested. He says, that’s a shit car. Mum had one.
The woman agrees.
Remember that pudding she made? With all that cream…and chocolate milo or something? Yous all helped.
Yeah. Not milo.
Yeah.
Look at that. They are watching a toddler unwilling to climb into the family parked car, roaring, kicking, alive with rage. The couple look on approvingly. He says, look at that little bloke.
She suddenly says, this a book shop here, and he says, no don’t go in for Christ sake, let me finish me smoke, then we’ll get going. She says, I read that, that there, see it, the billabong kids.
He says, no mate, no billabongs here.
She says, god you’re a fucking moron. I read that, these kids. Hot country.
But he is standing, gathering the ice, the beer, the corn chips and the afternoon.
So, they are ready to go, all the cargo is steady and they approach the kerb. But there is a misjudgement and he sets sail but she doesn’t.
He reaches safe harbour across the road but she is still docked.
She yells, fuck, I’m comin’ over, just wait! And he waits, waving and hilarious, watches her make the crossing and when she leaps to the other side, with the ice and the bottles they embrace and say, fuck, did you see that… and then they walk off hand in hand into their good billabong, chocolate pudding evening.

The raspberry saddle

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There are three of them here in the shop, a family, an adult daughter and her parents and the father is silent and examines the door locks. The mother looks at the books, closely, with her eyes half shut. The daughter carries books around. The daughter tells me about a copy of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising that she had once, the glue let go, it unglued itself, the binding fell apart. She said it was her mother’s fault for reading it aloud so much.

Her mother said, what was the accusation? And the daughter said, without looking up, you know…

The mother leaned back and looked into the past with pleasure. She said yes, it was our fault, our generation did it, read like that. I remember. Remember Lord of the Rings? And you used to be into the unicorns.

I’m not into unicorns, I never was.

You used to be.

I never was.

Then the father said: yes you was.

The daughter looked at me and said, see, I had a mum who read to me like anything.

The mother thought about this with her eyes kind of half shut and then said, thanks babe!

After they left, they stood in the alcove outside the door for a long time. The daughter was telling them a story about a unicorn, she said it had a raspberry saddle, she said, do you remember it mum, do you remember that, and the parents were nodding and nodding and trying to remember it.

 

Artwork by Emma Ersek

Hey, little fella

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There is a family meeting outside the shop but it is not a meeting. It is a farewell, gathered around a car because some of them are leaving. They have all packed the car, very slowly. They are slowly still packing, sometimes they take things out and put them in again. They have been at the bakery but that’s over now. They have been leaning and waiting against the windows here. There is a small child and one man picks him up and says, hey little fella, hey little fella, hey little fella.
And the child, the little fella, puts his very small arms around the man’s neck and holds on as though to something very important. And the man holds onto the child in the same way. And there is a woman there looking at the child. She says,
They have to go now.
The young couple are not ready. He is packing the bags slowly in again. Then he takes two of them out again.
Keep us in the loop.
Where are you meeting the others? Is it Williamstown?
Let us know what happens.
Yeah, mum.
Everyone moves together toward the car and the older man says, traffic jam, traffic jam.
Thanks for having us, mum, been great.
See you soon.
Ah well, good on you, you know.
Well, off they go. Strap that little fellow in properly.
He’s in, he’s all right.
They’ll do.
I know, I know.
It’s been great.
They are great. The lady said this in a sort of whisper, I couldn’t hear it properly, that’s what it looked like, it would have been something like that, a whisper because the rest of your voice has gone for a bit. She was holding on to the fence.
Then they joined hands and went across the road together, looking at the ground.

Sculpture by Wil van den Hoek

The boy who bought his friend a bookmark

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These children come into the shop on weekday afternoons, school bags, drink bottles, friends, phones, everything. They had been looking at the bookmarks and talking about their lives. On other days they stand by the tables or the windows and talk about their lives. Sometimes they stand outside and look in and talk about their lives.

One day one of the girls asked me to put aside a bookmark for her as she didn’t have the money. So, I did. Then, some days later, one of the boys came back. He had a job now, mowing lawns and he said he did a pretty good job with them.

He would like to get that bookmark for the girl, his friend. A gift. And he did. He looked pleased with it but while he was looking happy, staring down at the bookmark, thinking about it, she came in!
Then they both stood there looking at the bookmark. It was a silver pirate sword with blue glass drops and silver swirls that sparkled or maybe it was their faces that sparkled, was hard to tell.

Artwork by Pascal Campion

Ebb and Flow

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There are two children in the playground here.
Two children on a metal whirler with bars for hands and bars for feet and around they go. A girl and a boy, he’s smaller. But with a hoop and a swoop that child was down and it was a beautiful down.
There he lay, stretched out soft as cotton across the bark chips.
His sister kept spinning. And singing. She swirled her spinney hair in patterns, first one way, then the other and her brother watched. Then he stood up and said, let me. She said, it’s my moon.
She swirled three more times for authority, then another and another and he waited round and round patiently round.
Then she stopped and allowed him on. They whirled together, locked eyes, orbits on, leaning back, caught in roundy rings and sibling hoopy blur.

Sculpture ‘Ebb and Flow’ by Alison Bell

God you’re an upper case!

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Two people are here in the shop arguing over the Douglas Adams books because they disagree over his first book. They are friends but they are experts. The first man lists off everything written by Douglas Adams and then comes back to the first book.

He says; not radio work, not Dr Who stuff, not short stories, only the books – so it is The Hitchhiker’s Guide. And he was drunk when he thought of it in the first place.
His friend says: God you’re an upper case!
And the first man says: victory.

The Dog Man

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He is always out there. He is always laughing.
He is always talking.
Sometimes he is with a quiet group at the bakery; they line up along the windows, everyone with morning tea and a dog. Many of the dogs have a mat and a bowl and are important. Some just have the ground, and these dogs are also important. Everyone talks about their dog and how they manage. It is a happy group. The dog man sits here and his laugh scatters and scribbles up and over and up and over, sailing and swooping and interested in everyone and really liking dogs. Everyone smiles, even people are who not in that group.
To me, hearing from inside, the dog man’s space always seems to get bigger. He influences the air across the motorbikes and the galahs, the traffic and the parking dilemmas and the bus queue. His laugh folds out and up, it concludes over the top of everything and then returns to him, like a lasso, ready for the next go.

Two motorcyclists outside my shop window are shouting: do you need fuel, do you need fuel, mate… three times they roar at each other over their engines, they won’t turn them off and nobody can hear anything. But the laugh of the dog man is even louder, it touches them like the end of a whip and their heads turn sharply toward it, they are silently trying to locate it, that loosening knot of mirth that punctures power with a new authority and then slides away from them again before they can place a boot on it.

Artwork: A Man and His Dog by Gary Bunt

The Beetles

 

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One lady came into the shop but not to look for books. She leaned in and told me a long story about genealogy and gardening and this story went for a long time. I wondered if it would end. The trouble is that she is angry with a neighbour over a broken piece of fence and I am pinned to the counter with the golden spikes of someone else’s enthusiasm.
She kept drumming her nails on the counter to remind her of the next part of the quarrel. Sometimes the finger nails drummed a path directly toward me and then pointed at me as though warning me not to think of doing the same thing as the neighbour.
After a while the scraping fingernails started reminding me of some kind of scratchy beetle and I was aware of wanting to smash the hand flat with a massive Oxford dictionary that is next to me. A lightning (painless) but powerful strike that would flatten the beetles to a paper-thin preserved indifference. So flat that she wouldn’t be sure of the difference between her hand and the Jehovah’s Witnesses flyer next to it.
Imagine if she walked out with the Jehovah’s picnic invite instead of her own hand. Imagine the new outrage.