“And softness came from the starlight and filled me full to the bone.”
“And softness came from the starlight and filled me full to the bone.”
When I put my grandson, Max, to bed tonight here, he said, ‘But this smells like Noah.’
Noah is Max’s cousin, the same age, three, and a strong significant presence, like breakfast, or mummy, or love.
He indicated the quilt. ‘This is Noah. It smells like her.’ Him.
It does. It smells like the washing detergent that Noah’s family use, and it is Noah.
Then we read about dinosaurs. He falls asleep, strongly living, and asleep. His hand is still reaching for the lamp dial, an Ikea lamp with a brass dial that controls the light.
Then I go and look at some books given to me by a friend who is 94 and can no longer hold the books upright to read them. Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong; a set of four volumes dressed in pale green watered silk, announced in gold, housed in a slip case, and volume one with a large grease stain on the sublime watered frontage from when he last read it, propped at breakfast.
My friend, Richard, who can no longer hold the books up, is lying strongly, asleep.
All is life.
There is shouting directly outside my shop door. Two couples conversing powerfully from one side of the road to the other, over the traffic. They are discussing a baby seat. It is important. The women quickly take over. The far couple have the baby seat, but the near couple need it, urgently.
‘How can we…?’
Some children pass, then a truck, then a couple with a dog, then another truck and a series of annoying cars.
‘What are you going to do…?’ Called strongly from this side.
The couple over the road dither on the kerb. They are talking to each other.
The couple on this side stand against my door.
‘Doesn’t matter. Leave it Di, there’s too much traffic.’
‘They could go and get the thing. It’s our grandchild too.’
They stand side by side looking across the road. The couple across the road wave strongly and cross over, a diagonal path that avoids my shop and leads straight to the bakery. Inside, with me, a child is choosing a bookmark. She does this by staring at them all without blinking, twice choosing, twice changing, finally selecting a gold one with a cat and beads of raspberry glass. Her dad pays without looking at it, and she holds it in front of her and gives little hops all the way to the door. Over her hopping head, I see that the couple who needed the car seat are gone.
Inside, a lady says, ‘Brian, not in there, your books are not in there. Those are the kiddie books. Your fiction is in this room.’ But Brian remains in the wrong section.
Soon he is called again, ‘Brian!’ He obeys. In the other room, I hear her say, ‘Don’t stand too close to people, love. Here’s the Westerns.’ Then she says loudly, ‘Don’t be a pain in the neck.’ He comes out with Clive Cussler (but no Westerns). He opens the door and waits. He and I both watch three boys pass by. One is saying, ‘Yeah, they flogged Hahndorf!’ They are all eating from paper bags, looking happy.
Artwork by Cornelius Jetses
“Sometimes when you read, it’s like certain sentences strike home and knock you flat. It’s as if they say everything you have tried to say, or tried to do, or everything you are.”
Gunnhild Øyehaug, Knots: Stories
Outside the shop, this morning, there was a clang. Five ladies all bumped into each other, unexpectedly.
‘Well, ha ha ha, how are we all?’ Somebody took charge.
There was also a little dog, Marco. Yvonne and Marco pass every morning. Yvonne once gave me a picture (on a glazed tile) of a bookshop she thought looked like mine. This was when I first opened, and it made me very happy. Yvonne grew up in England and said she was quite a dish when she was young.
Everyone laughed and leaned in. There was discussion about an email.
‘It took me 20 minutes to open it.’
‘Ahhhhh. Well. Technology!’ They all agreed on technology.
Through the window I could see bright jumpers, shopping bags, a rose coloured beanie, and Marco, the patient gentleman.
‘The sun, isn’t it good.’
There was more discussion, low voices and leaning in. Laughter.
‘Catch you next time.’ Laughter. ‘Isn’t this funny.’ Laughter.
‘See you, girls.’ Laughter.
‘Yes, see you next time.’
‘Yes, and I’ll get that email.’ Laughter. They part. They move, and they let each other go.
‘What’d she say? I missed that bit.’ This is Yvonne to her friend, moving slowly on. ‘Didn’t she say something about dogs?’
‘I don’t know, I missed that bit.’
And on they go, past my door, past my window. Nobody looks in. I imagine the outside of my shop as if in a dream. I imagine it as beautiful. But nobody looks in. Life is so urgent.
“I have often wondered whether especially those days when we are forced to remain idle are not precisely the days spend in the most profound activity. Whether our actions themselves, even if they do not take place until later, are nothing more than the last reverberations of a vast movement that occurs within us during idle days.
In any case, it is very important to be idle with confidence, with devotion, possibly even with joy. The days when even our hands do not stir are so exceptionally quiet that it is hardly possible to raise them without hearing a whole lot.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters on Life (1875-1926)
Painting: Tea time with a Hummingbird 2 by Jai Johnson
This reader has been visiting for years. He always came with his wife, but now he comes alone. They both loved to read. They always bought a stack. They would look at me over the top of the stack and say, ‘Oh yes, it’s the first of the..…’, and then forget what they were saying. Distracted.
This time, he came to the shop alone. He carried a shopping bag, empty.
He is short sighted. He bends over the art books, lifts them close to read the titles. He always did this, I remember it.
He came to the counter to talk about Seneca the Younger. He loves the ancient Romans, the ancient Greeks. The Persians. The mathematicians. The astronomers. He breathes out all the names. There is so much to read. He has a copy of The Mikado in his hands, elegant, slim, green. He looks down at it, ‘Yes, yes, this, you know…’, and then he forgets what he was going to say, lost in Titipu.
This is what happens. We step into Titipu. We go down and down; there’s no stopping it. We can end up anywhere.
He has a stack. He places them on the counter, says, ‘I always find some things…’ He also has The Complete Father Brown and Wind in the Willows. He presents the shining coins.
Then he leaves, wrapped against the winter in brown scarf and beanie, corduroy pants and the good strong shopping bag full of Titipu.
The Steps of Montmatre, Paris 1936 by Brassai (1899- 1984)
There is no agony like having an untold story inside you.
Zora Neale Hurston (author: Their Eyes Were Watching God)
Walking along in Goolwa, suddenly hungry, and a little place leaps right at me; so there we eat. It is beautiful. It is warm and sunny; it feels as though summer is approaching again, but this is just a memory in the wrong place. Summer is a while away yet.
But it isn’t just me. Everyone is ambling.
Motherduck has a sign right in front of their door. We bend down to read it and puzzle it out. We can’t get in. We dither and wait. And someone comes.
‘Can we sit here (outside)?’ We can. ‘Of course you can.’ She bows us to a table right in the sun, in the warmth, in the middle of what seems everything.
The coffee is proper. A punch from a good friend.
Our food is simple and divine and gets its picture taken.
There is time to watch the passing by of the passers-by. People approach this little place with enthusiasm and bend down kindly to read the sign. Some read it, and their lips move. Some read it out loud, loudly. Only ten people allowed inside, only eight allowed outside. We apologise for any inconvenience. But there is no harm done. People turn and count. And dither, like we did. Then the kindly young waitress comes and beams everyone upright, and they are happy again.
One man tried to get in without waiting. His wife pulled him back. She said, ‘You can’t go in.’ He is genuinely perplexed. ‘Why?’
‘You know, it’s the virus.’
‘What, in here?’
‘Just get back, here she comes.’ The waitress approaches and gathers them in. The cross husband beams.
A couple have a table, a high one, but no chairs. A man, dining alone, gives them the chairs at his table, including his own chair. They all look at each other. They beam.
Two ladies pass that know each other. One calls out shrilly, ‘Jan!’
The other turns and scans us all. ‘Who…’
‘Jan, it’s me.’
‘God, you gave me a shock. How are you? Been ages.’
They look at each other. ‘Well, you know, with everything…’
‘I know. I’m on my way to see the grandies, two of ‘em now. Guess you haven’t any yet?’
‘Hell, yes, four now.’
They looked away from each other so there is no need to acknowledge a winner. They win. They beam.
‘Keep you busy.’
‘Yes, yes. Yes. Well.’
‘Good to see you, Jan.’
Behind them, a man was bending solicitously over the sign. ‘It says only ten people, Bridget.’
‘Just wait dad, there’s people leaving.’
We start to eat faster, feeling guilty.
The waitress flew, carrying coffees, a pepper grinder, beautiful little rounds of gentle, soft bread, burgers clasped within a shouting sourdough that wins every time. Beetroot dip in a bowl: a bowl of blended jewels.
A man sipped coffee. The waitress beamed. A couple sat on stools at a thick wooden bench, leaning over each other, melting.
We finish our food. Honoured. Give up our little table.
An older couple stop abruptly, ‘Albert…here..’
Art by Yelena Sidorova
He couldn’t leave because his wife was talking to me about Fiona McIntosh.
Whenever she paused, he turned to go. But then she remembered something else and turned back again. ‘Fiona McIntosh, I love her.’
They gradually edged toward the door. She turned back, ‘I love Di Morrissey, too’ He turned back, too, leaning against a shelf. Looking at her. Her books, her passion for reading, her face. Her strong Woolworths bag holding apples, eggs and now books as well. Her shoes picked for walking. He was smiling, looking at her. She began to tell me about D’Arcy Niland.
He held the door open, gently holding the door frame, then he closed it again. Looked outside, looked inside. He nodded. He laughed. He shone. He looked at her.
Painting by Gilles Sacksick, 1942