This morning when I was outside the shop sweeping, a man stopped to commend my work but thought it was a waste of time until at least we get some rain. He had a tray with four coffees and was walking back to his car, parked across the road. There were three people in his car, looking out at the coffees.
But he stayed to chat for a while, talking about the rain that was coming this week, how the ground needed a drink, about his garden back home, his dog, his library and the dust in the air and how he could tell his wife was getting mad because now she was winding the car window down. He turned to go and said, well, you know what they say about the rain, it always buggers up a good drought!
Quiet inside, but outside the shop a commotion because there is a family crossing the road and scattering in all directions; they can’t find the bakery. There seems to be about 20 people in their group, all ages, many children, prams, a dog. The group gathers and swells and somebody unseen is calling directions and one child has seen the cat in my window and wants to come in.
He is told no, no time, no time. He says, on the way back? He is told, no way!
Another child stops directly at the door and says she needs a book about stones. So that next time they go to that beach, they can keep building. Two more children press close, leaning on, breathing on the window. The adults, the pram and the dog have moved on a little way, we can still hear them. Someone is calling, just get coffee, Brad, just get coffee. The children are silent, staring sideways, looking at the voices. The oldest child taps the widow in front of the wooden cat. She says, are you coming back next year? The boy says, yep. A smaller child says, if mum says. His brother says carelessly, I’m going anyway.
The oldest child says, quick, they’re coming. Then suddenly the children are gone. Quiet again.
Artwork by Jimmy Lawlor
During the school holidays, a young father came in with his children who did not want help. One boy chose Star Wars and one chose Tintin. They made their decisions in minutes but dad dithered in art and then swung uselessly about in crime. Still no choice. The children, authorities, sat under the table and read patiently. They talked amongst themselves about The Tree House, then about Bigfoot, then about Harry Potter. They were eating lollies from a plastic bag. Finally they all gathered around me to purchase their books. Dad had not found one and the children looked at him kindly. Outside, they hopped about and up and down and I heard them singing out, can I have my Star Wars, give us my Tintin, give it dad, come on, let us have it…as they tripled down the street, joined in a rope of family, school holidays and licorice.
“Sometimes glass glitters more than diamonds because it has more to prove.”
Terry Pratchett, The Truth
Artwork by Bing Wright
Two ladies, friends, came in together and split immediately into classics and crime. A third lady entered, passed her friends without greeting and folded herself into young readers; horses, ponies, Australian classics, where she sat with The Silver Brumby until the others had finished. She looked up once to say that I did not have the complete series here. She said she thought that I would have that. And Tennyson.
One of the other ladies had worked hard to bring down a volume of Heinrich Boll, short stories from the top shelf – she was delighted because as a young girl she had read this book in German. She’d had to translate one of the stories from German to English at school. If only she’d had this very book she could have cheated the whole assignment through. Both ladies leaned in and laughed darkly. The Silver Brumby lady read on silently.
The friend who had read Boll in German brought the book to me and described one story, a girl who crossed a bridge halfway but would go no further; she had never forgotten this story. They prepared to leave, rustling, packing, removing reading glasses.
The third lady brought her books to the counter and reminded me that I didn’t have the complete set (or Tennyson) and that she was disappointed.
She said, you’ve probably not read Tennyson.
She said, you’re a thousand years too young. I looked at her, delighted.
Artwork: Old Woman Reading, Boris Mayorov
The jumping pillow is where all the kids in the camping park go to jump. They park their bikes there and hang up helmets, shoes and adult advice. And the parents stand watching and looking and remembering. The kids are like thistles or bits of foam or something, weightless, agile, arms and legs all over the place and always six feet in the air without even trying. When they land they bounce again, at least as high as the moon. When one kid bumps another kid they always say “sorry.”
Gravity lets them stay on their toes. Adults who try it out, however, thud heavily downwards and then head off disappointed for another beer and a new hip.
One kid ran from one end to the other in big moon strides. He was about 8 and master of gravity. He ran into Noah and Max, my grandsons, and said, sorry, with an encouraging face. This is because my grandsons are only two and even a tiny blow to that jumping pillow will refer them sideways, backwards or skywards. Their heads and necks bend like reeds and their hearts go with their bones. It is as though being only two means that the moving surface of anything will still send you in the richest and most rewarding direction.
Like Water For Chocolate. A reader visited the shop asking for this book, I didn’t have it, I have never read it and he was delighted. He said, oh mate. There were no words for it, so, suddenly, I wanted to read it. He found everything he could about the book on his phone for me, he didn’t say much himself except, oh mate. He just stood there, not needing to do anything. There were no words for this book and I understood.
He looked here and there just in case the book was here and I just didn’t realise. But it wasn’t. He said that I must read it because I just must. There were no other books at this time that he wanted to mention, just this singular book, for which he had no words. He said, we are going to be good friends, mate! He said this as he left, back to work, back to life, back to water, like chocolate, and I thought, no wonder we read.
This morning, when I am unlocking the door of the shop and balancing books and tasks, there are three friends waiting there, leaning, waiting for another friend who is at the bakery. They wear school uniforms but not of the local school. They are all watching their phones. The missing friend arrives while I am setting up, he carries a guitar case. One of the boys says to him: are you playing tonight? And he answers, yes, but not basketball. The other boy leans backwards and angles his phone as though to take a picture of such folly. He says, you are man! You have to play. The boy with the guitar says, I am, but not basketball. Playing this, by myself.
Artwork by Pascal Campion
There is an old man here leaning into the biographies while his wife searches for something significant in the spirits. She calls it exactly that, the spirits. She told me later that what she hoped for was some useful reading in numerology but at this stage does not know where to begin the quest.
Her husband does not say much, he spoke to me about the weather and the dust and then turned back to the biographies. He is looking at a biography of Russell Brand.
His wife returned to ask him what he has found and he silently holds up the Russell Brand. But she says, well, we aren’t reading that are we…
He doesn’t reply so she slants in silently, moves in on the shoulder where he is not expecting an approach. She says briskly, not that book! And he, weaving backwards in alarm, farts loudly enough to wake the dead (this would please Russell Brand no end) and hurls the book back onto the display, and she backs off in disgust and they leave abruptly, purchasing nothing, and leaving me with numerology and Russell Brand.
There is a new customer here today, a child, a boy who has sat reading though three volumes of Minecraft while his mother is in plays and poetry. He eventually came to the counter and held up the books. He said that his brother reads them but really only looks at the pictures. He smiles at me, thinking of someone so little as to only look at the pictures.
He tells me that Minecraft is about Vikings and swords and armour and trading. You have to trade. He says that it’s history without you knowing. His face is lit with ideas and kindness, wanting to share, hoping I would get it. He said that reading the Minecraft books made him want to read Emily Rodda and Rowan.
He tells me there are stones and ropes and you have to help yourself, it’s about the old days and it’s clever. Some kids just play it. But you have to know that it’s history without saying it. I know about the history. Then you will get it. You can build with it, build things like Rome.