The meeting

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There is a meeting outside the shop.

It makes steady progress, everyone is loaded with pies and coffees and cakes, but they move slowly on and on, past the window, stopping briefly, talking and talking, moving on again, then circling back to my doorway.

Winter’s over, mate.

Two men face each other, take a few more steps, stop again. They gesture with paper bags. Several others join them, backs to the cold. They look through my door, but don’t come in. A few more steps, talking and arguing, faces muffled through paper, sighing over the coffee, the coffee’s good.

Need to tie up loose ends…

I’ve zero tolerance…

120 bales..

Get your invoices in…

Worst thing ever…

There are always two people in front of each window. Some men are strolling up and down. I can’t work out where they’ve all come from. There are no vehicles parked outside.

No, mate, never heard of it!

Works really well.

Seven days a week?

I’ve a grandson back there though.

There’s no right way.

They are still coming out of the bakery, the group stretches past my shop. There are calls for more coffee.

Here, Ian. Someone tell him to get a carton of milk.

When I bought that spirit level, might have been a good ten years ago…

Everyone stops talking to stare at a truck that has stopped across the road. The driver jumps out and heads to the bakery, leaves the engine running.

He’s keen.

There was a guide, some sort of guide…wasn’t there?

No, there wasn’t.

All the shit you have to go through…I could tell you…

There’s a shout from down the street, out of my view. Everyone turns.

Is that Charlie?

There are footsteps, calling, movement, everyone preparing to leave, looking for a rubbish bin.

Weather’s coming in.

Don’t use the government guide.

Government? Is there one?

There was a turning of heads and a general, agreeable dismissive noise of contempt.

Government!

 

Gone

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Scraping softly across the top of the soil, they found it. The worm. They gazed down at it in astonishment.

Worm.

Noah, see.

Worm.

Where Pa?

Worm.

Worm. He’s in here.

No. Not.

They shuffled and dug and lost the worm. Great Grandma came out.

They said, Worm.

She said, Is there? That’s good.

They dug and pushed and piled things up. They breathed in garden, worm and disappointment.

Worm gone.

Great Grandma went past the other way.

They said, Worm gone.

She said, Oh well, there’ll be another.

They watched her go up the path and along the veranda.

Pa went past.

Max pointed downwards. Pa said, Good work!

They squatted down and inspected the soil. They put their noses down to the surface (just in case). Noah laid his head flat to the ground, ready for any possibility.

They waited.

 

 

The man who forgot his glasses

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How we rotate our faces! Try to add levers to the eyes to push them further out – work properly, for God’s sake. Draw the mouth backwards, teeth forwards,  screw up the eye sockets.

‘What’s that one?”

“That’s Kingsley Amis. That’s Bennett…but I don’t think you agree with him.’

“No…no, indeed.’

This couple are examining the top shelf of Classics, but he can’t see properly.

‘That’s Enid Bagnold.’

‘Who the devil?’

 ‘National Velvet.’ And that’s James Baldwin.”

‘Silly writer.’

‘I don’t think so.’

They continue on, murmuring, agreeing and arguing.

‘No. Listen, I said…Bellow. Saul Bellow.’

‘Well, I don’t like the young writers. Is that Dickens?’

‘That’s Dickens.’

‘Ah…David Copper?’

‘Oliver.’

‘AH….My God, is that Durrell? Which brother?’

‘Lawrence.’

‘God, really? What have they got?’

‘All of them.’

‘…I’ll take Justine.’

‘I bet you will.’

They moved to Art. I can’t hear what they are saying, but I can hear the click and whir of the interested eye sockets, the loaded brain, the immense experience. He turns around.

‘Damn those glasses.’

‘Well, go and get them.’ She glares him into a decision.

He made one.

When he came back to the shop, he stood outside in the cold, pinned to the window outside, looking through at a Roald Dahl biography that he could have looked at in the warmth inside.  He peered, turning his head back and forth to get the details. He finally came in, and bent a brief sideways glance on me, his eyes, now magnified, were enormous, a three dimensional glare. But he was pleased. He continued onwards.

He forgot Art. He got caught in Young Readers.

He examined Swallows and Amazons. He said, ‘Ah.’

He looked at Geoffrey Trease, No Boats on Bannermere, and said, ‘Ah’.

His wife called out, ‘Look here.’

And he said, ‘EH?’ He didn’t move. He was back with Durrell. ‘Ah, goody, good and good,’

His wife called again, ‘Look at this.’

But he didn’t move.

She said, ‘Are you coming?’

He lifted his shoulders and shuffled past me; he said, ‘There’s no peace.’

 

Artwork by Shishkin Andrey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The little boy who looked through the window

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They were running past the window, a group, against the wind and streaming. The little boy, about six, darted at the door, bent low to look through, his face for a second right against the glass, fogging up, owl’s eyes, not blinking. He disappeared behind his own breath and then tapped the glass and flew away.

But he came back. His face, pressed to the door again, was all eyes and ideas. His family must have stopped and come back because somebody, suddenly, opened the door and in he fell.  There was a little sister with rainbow gumboots just behind. She put one finger in the air and said, Harry Potter. Her brother, breathing hard, said, book two or one. I gave them the books and they took them under a table to have a look. The parents drifted.

It was getting darker, quieter , and it began to rain.

There was a young woman here that afternoon, too, who sang while she searched for books. I remember the children gazing at her shoes, and then looking at each other. She didn’t know they were there. She sang on, they drew up their knees and hugged their hiding place, the parents drifted and outside, it rained on and on.

Artwork by Rebecca Dautremer

This Couple

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This couple came into my shop but they weren’t walking on our earth. It was cold, freezing, but they weren’t cold.

They seemed to tread a path across some other realm of private joy, with all of tomorrow’s ideas.

They sing. Exclaim. They howl with joy. Call out to each other, did you see this, babe?

Do you want that? You should get it! Get it!

They remember yesterday, and the day before.

Look at this. This is great. This is so funny. They look at each other.

She kneels in art, bending over the books with the most tender attitude. He strides around, invincible. They look for each other.

‘When I was a kid, I looked up and up at books on a shelf. Now I’m that height. We’re going to have shelves. I love cats. This is how we’re going to be. Our kids are going to have books.’ They look at each other.

The shelves, the books, everything, leaning forward, listening in astonishment. The windows change colour.

Winter withdraws, a gracious defeat.

 

It’s harder with a piano: The old couple who read a poem out loud

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Have you ever seen a mind thinking?

A couple read this line out loud from a poem I have taped to the wall in the shop, bobbing about, delighted to find a poem on the wall and looking at each other with amazed, hilarious eyes.

(They are side by side, leaning in, shoulders touching, experienced and fearless).

Out loud, they read it to each other:

Have you ever seen a mind

Thinking?

It’s like an old cow

Trying to get through the pub door

Carrying a guitar in its mouth;

Who are they reading it to? Not to me. They haven’t even noticed me. It’s to each other. They sway about and laugh and keep reading: HA, HA, HA, this is brilliant!

I agree; it’s Chris Wallace-Crabbe, and it is brilliant. It’s just that nobody ever noticed it before. They turned around, and said to me, we like your bookshop!

Have you ever seen a mind

thinking?

It’s like an old cow

trying to get through the pub door

carrying a guitar in its mouth;

old habits keep breaking in

on the job in hand;

it keeps wanting

to do something else:

like having a bit of a graze,

for example…

And they keep reading, down, down, and down, dropping through the poem, which, being Chris Wallace-Crabbe, is astonishing and endless, right to where the cow gets through the door but doesn’t know how.

Because, how do minds (with guitars) get through doors?

Anyway, the cow has to know that it’s harder with a piano.

It’s harder with a piano.

When they read this, the delicious middle line, the wife shrieks, and says, briiiiiilliant. She looks at her husband: oh, don’t you remember? I do.

 

 

Introspection by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

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Outside the window

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There is always, always something going on outside the window.

Today is waiting day. People are climbing off the bus and waiting for each other. They wait next to my window because I am next to the bakery. They tap the window and point and cough and wish for summer.

This morning, two old ladies are waiting for their friend who is over in the art gallery.

They look through my window at a biography of Kevin Rudd. One lady speaks, but I can’t hear, she is looking away, across the road.

Her friend answers abruptly.

‘No. No, that is not right.’

She bangs her umbrella tip on the ground three times.

‘He was not right. ‘I will not have that book.’

The other lady sights their friend and gives frantic signals.

The lady with the umbrella is looking through the window, through the reflection and the unusual sunlight, and directly, piercingly, at me.

When they move away, she continues to watch me, all the way past the windows, until completely out of sight.

Thanks a lot, Kevin.

 

Book Painting by Mike Stilkey

Poor Wombat

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The tradesmen outside my shop need the bakery. They glance in at me, continue past (‘wrong place, this isn’t the food’) and one of them says, ‘lawn weather!’

The rain is blowing sideways.

Back at their ute, the tradesmen, who are wearing shorts and t shirts, stand there with their food, serene, not hurrying. They watch an orange traffic cone skid past them on its hip.

‘Council! They can afford it!’

On the ute, the passenger side windows are all the way down, swallowing rain. But the drivers lean over the ute tray, examining things, passing things, balancing pies and coffee. One man pulled at a rope, help up the end of it. They all look at it and shake their heads. He thumps it against the side of the ute. They discuss something fervently, probably the rope. One man, the youngest, wraps one end around his waist and performs a kind of dance. The oldest man there turns his back and comes to stand in my doorway. The other two laugh. The rain continues – surely they are getting cold…

They are.

‘I’m outta here.’

‘I’ve seen Wombat drive one of them.’ They all look across the road. ‘Wombat is a fool. I told him, too.’

‘All right, Murray Bridge, it is.’

And they all climb into the ute, wet seats, wet clothes, the rope packed in again.

I think, well, goodbye… good luck to Wombat.

 

Artwork by Pascal Campion

What people say when they see me sweeping

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Which is most days because there is always a drift of sand along the pavement outside the shop.

Sweeping is safe. It’s harmless. It’s familiar and comforting. Seeing a sweeper hard at it seems to give everyone a feeling of goodwill. They say:

‘You’re doing a good job.’

‘It’s endless, isn’t it!’

Some people, extra witty, and always male, say:

‘Come do my place next.’

Some passers by stand and watch, and offer emotional support:

‘I wouldn’t bother with that, if I were you.’

‘Just blows straight back again. It’s the wind these days does that!’

‘Well done, you.’

Some people take an elaborate detour:

‘Don’t want to interrupt your good work.’

‘We won’t get in your way.’

One man said, ‘Pretty place this. My mum had one like it. Of course that was back in the fifties. May have been this place. You won’t believe the books she read.’

Some people linger, get involved.

‘It’s the weather for it!’

‘I think there’s something wrong with your broom.’

‘My dad used to make brooms.’

‘Some places around here don’t even  sweep.’

This morning I am outside, hard at it, and taking the cobwebs off the windows. It’s raining lightly, not many people about. Then a man approaches from the Woolworths side, and slows down. This usually means there is something significant about to be said.

‘Be careful with the broom or you won’t be able to get home.’

I said, ‘ha ha ha ha ha.’  (Get fucked).

And he walked on, pleased with his quick thinking and razor sharp jocularity.

Who needs his advice! I have a spare one to get home on anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The man who had no money for his books

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A visitor to the shop had no money for his books, and he asked me to wait while he went to find the wife. As she walked through the door she was saying…and then you expect me to pay for everything…

She looked at his books on the counter. Then she said she’d have a look around. She stayed for ages, moving around slowly and finally came to the counter with My Family and Other Animals, To Kill a Mockingbird and three books about cake decorating.

When he came back in he said, struth!

She told him to mind his own business.