Cartoon by Dan Shanahan
Cartoon by Dan Shanahan
I wrote this two years ago, when the cousins were a year old.
“Max and Noah, who can now pace steadily and productively across all floors, are together before dinner in the library corner, and they have found two small horses with riders and lances.
One horse is on the windowsill and the other is caught between a stack of Robert Louis Stevenson and an armchair, and this one they have captured. The boys communicate using strong sounds of enthusiasm and query. They share the most significant messages this way; sounding out wordless acknowledgments of discovery. Once they have read each other’s faces, they turn back to the horse, itself now an object of great value.
Max can see that the lance and the hand of the knight go together. He puts the end of the lance in his mouth and tastes the problem. Noah holds both hands poised in front of him and feels the problem. They both stare at the radiance of the knight and the lance and the horse.
Noah does a small dance with his feet, and they both stare down at Noah’s feet.
The horse falls to the floor. The knight falls behind the books. Only the lance remains. Noah moves his hand toward the lance. Max moves the lance away, and they gaze at each other for a long moment. One lance, two infants.
They both stare again at the lance, which has now, in their budding world, become complicated.
Suddenly they are being called to eat, and the lance is cast aside. They launch into a vigorous rocking trot toward the dining table and they breathe loudly to show the vast distance they have just traveled.”
Max and Noah are now three, and still playing in library corners.
“The most extraordinary thing about writing is that when you’ve struck the right vein, tiredness goes. It must be an effort, thinking wrong.”
Three families came up from Adelaide and visited a book shop! There were so many kids staring at the shelves that had my shop been a boat, it would have tipped up and sunk at the Enid Blyton end. The mothers, commandos, moved supremely, directing, agreeing (about Roald Dahl), settling issues (pocket money), herding, narrowing eyes when necessary, agreeing to purchases, handing on a legacy.
The smallest child carried around a bear. She gazed at Dr Who, unhappily I thought.
A boy bought an Atlas of the World, and said, ‘Thanks, it’s really pretty here in a good way.’ I gave him a discount because he was a gem.
A man, unrelated, bought one book, sulkily I thought, and asked if I thought that these kids would actually read any of the books they had. I gave him no discount because he was a dickhead.
The children hummed and bobbed and jogged and said, ‘I’ve already read that, it’s about a cave.’
Their mothers looked at titles, heads to the side, lips pursed. They snapped books shut, and said, ‘Ok’. They were efficient. They didn’t need a bag. They commanded for someone to hold the door. They glided out into the cold, all the bobbins following, saying, ‘But you know how in Percy Jackson, his mum is called Sally…’
This morning, two young girls with beautiful shoulder bags visited the shop. I don’t remember them here before. They settled in. I sat back with respect. True readers.
‘Lord of the Rings…. look at these…do you have The Sils?’
‘Yeah, ages ago…’
‘Every book that he’s written…’
‘I know, right!’
‘Do you think I should get something about…’
‘I shouldn’t be looking at this, but I love roses…’
They are young and can kneel easily. They can include the bottom shelves. They are not fatigued by high shelves. Reach and lift. Scan books on their knees and get up rapidly again. Their shoulders are not rounded. Once a lady told me she cannot read the titles on any books above her head or below her knees, and I needed to get rid of everything on the highest and lowest shelves. She was really angry. She had shoulders that were argumentative.
One girl cradles, then hugs the book about roses.
They can both walk and read at the same time. I used to be able to do this. The angry woman had said that my shop would cause injuries.
‘Look at this.’ The girls whisper darkly and laugh and laugh and laugh.
They sit on their heels, easily.
Once a man said I needed to do something about my doorway.
‘You need to do something about this doorway. Bloody ridiculous.’
The girls are are counting coins on the floor.
They stand up and look at each other’s armloads, then look down to examine their own cuddled stack. Then they move to another shelf. They have not yet got enough.
The angry lady had said that she would not return.
One girl said, ‘I’m going to fly with these. Just got The Last Unicorn.’
‘Did you get that?’
They pay and leave, hugging their books. Hugging their books. When they floated past my window, they were hugging their books.
Wild Swans by Arnaldo Mirasol
This morning, a ute stopped right outside the door. Tradesman climbed out, all noise and energy, boots huge, dressed for the cold in t-shirts and iPhones. They looked through my windows and saw me looking out – at them. They both nod and look politely away. To the bakery, relief.
A family came in, dad and two young children. The little boy pleading, dropping with hunger, daddy…..can we get something to eat….his sister wearing a summer dress, but also a good winter beanie, relaxed, holding a copy of Charlotte’s Web, fortified.
A young man bought three books for a young niece. He relaxes, relieved, a very difficult gift achieved. He says, ‘Thanks, thanks, God, thanks.’
Outside it rains and rains and rains. Traffic swishes. Car lights. People hurrying.
A family are caught in the doorway, and they stand shoulder to shoulder waiting for the rain to ease. The toddler, held in his father’s arms, strokes his mother’s shoulder with one hand and his father’s ear with the other; a tight knot of absolute warmth.
There is an argument about lunch in the back room, ‘We can always have lunch early.’
More talk. ‘Have it your way…’
A young man comes in, thinking me the bakery. He swings through the door strongly. He wraps his arms around himself and backs out. He looks down the street toward friends, ‘Guys, what the fuck..?’
A man comes in to tell me there is a water leak in the car park. I said, ‘Yes, but SAWater, they know about it… you know.’ He understands immediately, ‘SAWater…!’
My friend, Callie, admired his hat. He turned and said, ‘Yes it’s a great hat, pity about the head in it, har har har.’ We laugh. We like him. We all agree on SAWater.
Sarah came in. Alan came in. Leah came in. The rain came down. Neville chooses his usual selection of unusual, diabolically brilliant books. People climb off the bus across the road. The water leaks across the footpath. I talk with someone about Mark Twain.
John comes in. Rita and Don come in. We agree the weather is slightly foul.
The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.
Three teenagers outside my shop on kick scooters, one wobbling, the others adroit, all watching the ground carefully and weaving in and out of passers-by, graceful in winter.
Two people pass, loud, as people usually are in the mornings. There was a flash of checked shirts and jeans, a tap on the edge of the door, that’s all. But their voices, loud, loud, floated back, hanging in the doorway:
‘I saw a wagon type one the other day.’
‘Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…’
‘It’s really good shit.’
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’
Lena visits wearing gardening gloves. Safe.
Terry, in a sapphire blue beanie, reads out loud to me from a little joke book he has just bought. He reads about twenty jokes to me, and says, ‘This is great, it’s just the one – thank you so much. Gunna give these to my grandkids.’
His face is a lit lamp.
Illustration by Jean Jacques Sempe