The ladies on the corner

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There is a commotion on the corner outside my shop. I am out emptying my bins so I can observe. And I will take my time.

There are five ladies there of a brilliant age. They have met because they were going to see something. But it is gone. It has been shut down.

I linger, cleaning my windows, taking part. Because, what has been shut down?

One lady is too close to the road. She is holding forth, outraged. Her handbag is livid. Because, it’s been shut down. She looked at each friend, until the disgust had registered on each face (which it did) and one friend said, never mind it Sandra, there’s plenty of other things to do.

One friend said, get back from the kerb, come, you girls.

One friend obeyed.

But Sandra, with the angry handbag, uses it to indicate the entire town. What’s the use of coming here then? I ask you. Strathalbyn.  It’s always been here, that place. It’s the council as has done this.

Let’s get a cake, I’ll have a tea.

I wouldn’t mind a look up High Street. What about the gallery? Is that still there?

It’s the council. It’s typical. They don’t care about people. That’s it.

Check the brochure.

But the ladies remained knitted in a tight and useful square, too close to the road and unwilling to navigate the pattern of a new plan. The traffic edges wisely to one side.

(I don’t want to go inside, it seems dull. The discussion is small but it is an opera. And their facial expressions are scorching the failed council, which, as usual, is never good enough).

One lady is called Mavis. Her shoulders are urging the bakery. She has a fabulous hat of scarlet felt. But nobody listens. She turns so magnificently that the others pause and check for offense. Then they all move away from the edge of the road and look unwillingly through the window of the bakery. They look in a critical and unforgiving way because it will not suffice.

(They do not see me, or my shop, or the traffic. They only see each other, they make eye contact with each other’s eyes because, despite the years, these are still brilliant, smoking with ideas and resources, scornful and powerful.)

But they are moving on now and I have to go inside. It’s cold. They are not interested in my shop; they haven’t even looked my way. But there they go, moving up and down as they walk and checking for handbags and outrage. I hope they find something wonderful to do to replace their plans that were so thoughtlessly ruined by the council.

 

 

 

 

 

Rendez-vous With a Beetle

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Rendez-vous With a Beetle:

Meet me in Usk

And drone to me

Of what a beetle’s

Eye can see

When lamps are lit

And the bats flit

In Usk

At dusk.

And tell me if

A beetle’s nose

Detects the perfume

Of the rose

As gardens fade

And stars invade

The dusk

In Usk.

Emile Victor Rieu (1887-1972)

Winter and reading and a glass of wine

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Under the door of the shop there is a gap, and a thin straw of cold enters quietly, all day long. I have fingerless gloves. Excellent for typing. For looking up any possible gossip about Virginia Woolf that I may have missed. Winter is always bright with possibility because to stay in is acceptable.

One couple came in this afternoon and said, it’s warm in this little place.

He looked like Terry Pratchett, sort of intensely occupied. She looked like Vita Sackville-West, so was probably looking for Virginia Woolf.

They stayed in the room furthest from the warmth for ages, but didn’t seem to notice it. They had, each, a mighty selection when they finally came to the counter and noticed me. I said wisely, ah, the winter reading….

He straightened up in surprise, well, yes of course. He had three Terry Pratchett books.

I said, with a glass of wine….

He straightened up again, this time with joy, well yes of course. We have the place for it at our house, an old place, space for books. The shelves are all bending. Her stuff. He looked at her with an expression of acute happiness.

She presented her Margaret Atwoods and nodded, nursing that private power that comes with Margaret Atwood and husbands like him, and said, it’s winter, time to stay in.

They bobbed back out into the weather, serene, parting the winter into two fields with their own bright path right through the centre of it.

 

Old House in Stepney, Adelaide (photography by me)

 

 

Edgar Allan Poe

 

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“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more….”

From The Rave, Edgar Allan Poe, 1845

A solid winter’s day, with sun

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Three children are passing outside, it’s the end of the afternoon, school is done. My door is slightly ajar because at the moment, it won’t shut properly. One child makes a graceful leap at one of the spinning balloons and knocks it to the ground. And stands aghast.

His friend is outraged: You put that back up! You just put that back up, now. Quick, do it. Before they see.

A third boy is looking through the glass door and is amused: Yous, she’s just sitting in there reading a book. Look, she’s just sitting there. Oh my God.

I look down quickly, not at a book, but at an electricity bill. Hopefully they will stay a little longer. But they are anxious to be gone. One child has put the balloon back very gently,  upside down.

The all regard it seriously. He explains: I can’t reach it. They nod because it’ll do.

They all turn in a single movement and leap in various angles down the street, lightly, like grasshoppers, scratching gently at the surface of life. I can still hear them, one is telling the others not to touch the posts because he once put chewing gum there.

 

Go inside a stone

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Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in the river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill –
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.

Charles Simic, 1971

The grandsons come for lunch

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Noah and Max are here for lunch. And now they have their own table. Away from authority. They have the table that holds shells, stones and sand, seemingly underwater.

I saw them pause and look down into it, into the bits and pieces, roundies and pretties and apparently, snakes!

I asked, but where are the snakes?

Noah said, gone! They have quick eyes, the two year olds.

There’s a tiny glass bottle, bent in a curve. As though it turned to peer at something and was caught in the furnace of its own curiosity. It melted in a curve like a fried banana, the colour of burnt sugar, yellow lights still winking through it.

Max said, lollies! But there’s no lollies.

Just cool polished agates, malachite chunks like sugarless jubes, a slab of rock layered with such precision that the praline, sandstone and bitter caramel ribbons seem preserved, a slice of glass, a piece of something to be chosen and placed in a paper bag.

The boys, pausing, holding their bowls of food, run their infant eyes over all of these ideas and thought…. what?

What data from this trading table of family and geological history downloaded itself into their galloping infant minds? We won’t know. They have found that they can roar and spit cake at each other. An unalloyed joy.

The starfish, the pieces of amber and the green light of malachite sink to a deeper level. They’ll return to it.

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Murdered by a gopher

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There are two men outside the front windows of the shop. They have stopped, are leaning over to read the titles of the books.

Now, I have read that… but what on earth was it about?

He swings his bag at the window and the Lee Child book that sits with its chin on the window, facing the rain.

Don’t know what’s wrong with me head, must be the rain.

His friend looks through the window, at Nelson Mandela: Conversations with Myself. He says, look at that one, that’d be good. Yeah, the rain.

Go in?

Yeah, why not.

But they don’t. They turn instead and look toward the bakery; their wives are out and approaching fast. But suddenly all four of them are pressed uncomfortably into my doorway, needing to let a gopher drive through and one of the men says that the footpaths are damn stingy in this town.

His wife has recovered, she asks if they’ve had a look at the nice little bookshop and he says they’ll have a go at some morning tea first, better get it down before the bloody gophers murder them all.

Guard well your spare moments

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“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Queen

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There’s a family at the front window of the shop. The child, a granddaughter, presses her nose to the glass, breathing fog. There’s a grandpa who does not want to come in.

There’s a grandma who does. She opens the door part way and says, are these new books do you think? He says, yes, meaning, so let’s not go in.

But she creaks the door a little further. He looms up unhappily behind.

You’ve got enough.

But Grandma indicates their grandchild. I mean for her.

He subsides. The grandchild (the Queen) squeezes between them, through the stone pillars of the family, through the gap, and passes regally into the shop. She asks me for Cat Royal. She is up to volume seventeen. But I only have volumes four and eleven.

Grandpa looks relieved. Let’s go then.

But the Queen has found Goodnight Mr Tom. She won’t budge for now. She repeats the title in a sing song (they have read this at school). She thinks she might read it to Grandpa, because it is about a Grandpa. He is standing near the door but she commands him toward the cane chair next to Gardening. He breathes out, longing for a coffee and one of those cream buns next door, and accustomed to his way. But the Queen slices his power into cubes and leaves them kindly on the floor. She will read and he must listen. He takes the cane chair, organises his enormous outdoor boots out of the way. The book is only some three hundred pages and will not take long. Grandma, in Art, looks at them and turns back to Hans Heysen.  Their granddaughter chooses Mr Tom and Grandpa, stiff with sitting, thanks me kindly, thank you very much, they all read except me, and then they all leave for the bakery, coffee and big cream buns.