You’re not going in there

A young man says this (loudly) to his friend outside my shop. He is out of the car first. She is out of the driver’s seat second. He is joyful. ‘You’re not going in there!’

She stands in front of him, hands raised, palms outward, uncaring, ‘Get out of my way.’ She, languidly and easily, gazes right into him.

‘All right, you can go in there.’ He spins, grinning, round and round as though on roller skates. She remains motionless, content. I looked at her looking at him doing his thing.

‘Well, go on. In you go.’ He clattered past my door, tapped the glass and disappeared toward the bakery.

She came in, still unhurried and still content.

Young Woman Reading by Samuel Melton Fisher

No, that’s not what I’m saying

There’s an old man who comes into the shop from time to time – he buys gardening books. Once, last month, when I was glum, and it was cold, and the sky had its eyes closed, he came in. He found a gardening book so big that the cover had a handle. He picked it up and carried it round, he kept saying, ‘Look at this!’

He bought it.

He carried it around the shop a few more times. ‘Look at this, this is great! Good on you for having it. Good on you for having this place.’ His face is a smile, it stretches, every kindly muscle of it, into a single malt smile.

Then he saw the bookmarks and went silent. ‘Look at these.’

‘Look at this.’ He handled a little silver dragon, screwing up his eyes to see it properly. His hands are huge, gardening hands, at rest but alive as if still holding the secateurs. ‘Look at this. This is marvellous. It’s a little dragon. Good on you.’ His nails are dark, holding soil from the beans he probably checked this morning.

When he first visited the shop, he wanted a book of jokes, not rude ones, just quick ones, for entertaining the grandkids. ‘They like quick jokes these days.’ When he spoke of his grandchildren, his eyes moistened and an orchard grew there.

Did they know? Those grandkids? If they don’t, in time they will. When he’s not there, and a small corner of warmth, tomatoes, the washing pegged carefully, the careful attention to what matters – is gone.

When he left, I followed him out. I don’t know why. No, that’s not what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say is that the sky had opened its eyes and was looking right at him.

Nathan, I’m going back to the car

A man put his head in the door of the shop and called, ‘Nathan, I’m going back to the car.’

But there was nobody in here. I didn’t get time to tell him though. He backed out and got into his car and waited in the driver’s seat. Soon he got out and rang someone on his phone. He moved against my window to talk, ‘Well, where are you then? And where’s the ladder?’

Outside, the air is gold, with splits of light and leaves moving all through it. It’s warm. Visitors say, ‘It’s glorious outside.’ I sit and look out at it.

There’s a baby in a pram in here, singing, and the mother is looking at the books, tapping a water bottle. She has brown hair and so does the baby. Can she hear her baby singing? It lays there, making soft noises all on different notes, looking at the mother, one foot hooked over the edge of the pram.

Over the road a bus driver is helping a lady in a wheelchair onto the bus, and someone has reversed has into a rubbish bin in the car park behind the bus stop. Doesn’t matter; it’s glorious out there. A young woman is crossing the road slowly, despite the traffic, and the light is all over her clothes.

Painting by Diane Leonard

Tonight

I bought Anthony Trollope’s Castle Richmond on Ebay for no reason. It’s for myself, a Folio edition, slip cased. I need it. He wrote a lot of books – Barchester Towers the most famous, and the funniest. Apparently the stories he set in Ireland, like this one, were not so popular. I must find out.

But when it arrived, I couldn’t get it unwrapped. It was covered, smothered, tied up in brown paper, string, bubble wrap sticky tape, more paper, more tape. Took me twenty minutes to strip it. But then, there it was, the captain, in black and gold, coffee and cream, the pages smooth. The words, mine. The slip case has strong shoulders, the book came out grinning.

Tonight.

I should get this

‘I should get this.’

‘Why?’

I could see the person asking why, but not the person he was talking to. She was in a corner of the shop, muffled in books, piling them, talking to him from general fiction where she was sitting on the floor.

‘Because remember how I stole your sister’s copy after the funeral.’

He looked startled. He made a shrugging kind of face, alarmed but preferring to know nothing else about the matter.

‘All of us have got vascular problems.’ This was a lady passing outside who had paused to examine the biographies through the window. She was speaking to a companion.

He laughed, or someone did. Then they moved on. I heard her say, ‘Wasn’t that book about Julie Andrews? God she’s a diva.’

Then funeral couple left too. She (carrying a stack) now satisfied, he, still mystified.

Later, Robert and Sarah met at the counter and exchanged a remedy for a tooth abscess. I don’t know how this conversation began but it increased alarmingly in volume and gale. I was concerned, the clashing of some personalities can trouble the stratosphere, especially unapologetic characters such as these. Sarah, holding that window biography of Julie Andrews, and Robert writing on a piece of paper, oil of cloves, oil of thyme, oil of (other things) and unable to finish lettering the words because now they are also arguing about Jerusalem, Centrelink, Rudyard Kipling, the government, woollen beanies, vaccinations, Russia, The Talmud. The Catholic Church (nest of vipers).

I have many customers, unconventional, uncomfortable, writing it their way. Lonely. Passionate readers. Gracing me with their presences, their turmoil, and their them. Difficult, refusing to not ask the questions. What I’ll remember in twenty years’ time as most real. So, I have to get it now.

Robert said he attended the gardening club in the little place where he lives, but found it confronting. At the meeting they gave him a slice of seed cake. He said that the people alarmed him, but the cake was nice; he wished they had given him a second slice.

Sarah was enthusiastic, she said, ‘That’s nice.’

He told us that every night the Queen drinks a glass a champagne and Sarah was overjoyed.

‘She’s earned it. She’s earned it, God bless her, she’s earned it.’

After Robert left, Sarah said, ‘what a nice chap!’

Sculpture by T F Lazeroff

It is good to know

Natacha Einat (2)

Last night there was a slice of light balanced on the horizon just before the sun set. Max said, ‘Is that the morning?’

It is good to know things.

A little girl in the shop, who darts into the shop after school and stands silently staring at the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, leaves without saying anything. I don’t know anything about her except that she reads. This, by default, makes her enormous. Which books, and why? She looks at art books, kneels next to, handles, frowns at those glossy slabs; the pages of the art books. She sits on her knees, a book laid flat on the carpet, bends over it, hands on the floor, looking and looking. Seeing…what?

It’s not just the page we see.

 

Artwork by Natacha Einat 

How to be stung

2b87f31d9162e10bd916d920c4e4a395 (2)

Words have shapes. The word naked has a spike in the middle. This causes my three year old grandsons to freeze and lighthouse my face. They have heard the word and have become uncertain. I say naked. Naked? I plant the k firmly in the ground because it is important, and they rock about, filling their mouths with two year old laughter, powerful with innocence.
Cereal. Difficult because the r wants more attention that it needs. Ce-re-ral. Difficult because it is uttered so early in the morning, hungry, and hoping for exciting ce-re-ral, the stuff I buy because my mother never allowed me to have it.
I can’t write Australia without an error amongst the vowels.
I can’t type possibly because the y won’t appear.
I can’t say minimalist without losing a shoe and having to go back.
Bum. This is a satisfying word, like a stone thrown into a deep pond. Ripples. Causes hilarity for three year olds.

Mine. Powerful and causes consternation. Different powers according to where it is uttered. And who hears it.
The word freezing is nice to say. The grandsons linger amongst the long sounds and stretch the word, reining in sympathy and attention. Squirted is hilarious but tricky, the t softening into a d, and parents lurking in the car park, saying ‘Are you being rude?’
Bursted. Many things are bursted. A powerful and rich word that describes the world of the three year old more than what it is actually applied to. ‘What happened to the snail? It bursted.’
Sour is puzzling because it is a bit abstract. But is easily learned because of the accompanying flair of lips away from teeth. Three year olds are quick to utilize these performances. Anything can be sour, including vegetables, the sun or a library book.
Biscuit is buttery, baked, soft with kindness, and breaks up in the teeth amongst the actual sentence. Biscuit can stop a runner making for the back of the orchard with a toy truck they have taken from someone else.
Broken has authority. My three year old grandsons use it to blame, condemn, weep, console, manipulate and explain.
Spicy is abstract and unusual, but useful if you have accidentally tasted a chilli. It is immensely satisfying to linger twice amongst the tender skin of the ssss sounds, remembering the burn.

Yellow is simply too difficult. There is too much information thrown by the experience of yellow to waste time forcing the tongue. So, lello fills in, like a relief worker paid a lot but not really part of the plan. Lollies is always managed with skill, precision and desperation.
Buttons is exciting and authoritative and causes things to happen, such as the reprimand, ‘Did you press that?’
Max tried out Mr Archimedes, remembering the story, the bath, the wombat, the spilt hot water, the mop. He managed Mr Medes. It will do. He climbs over the words and continues with the story, ‘The water went all on the floor.’
I said monumental to someone in a thin fussy tone. Noah said, ‘Yeah,’ in hot agreement, the three year old taking part in family affairs, already reading politics with alarming accuracy.
Chippies is flinty and nice, salty and comforting, and rectangular, ‘We went to the shop and got some chippies with mummy.’ Devastation that at the time of the memory, there are no chippies anywhere.
Sting. This is rich and alarming. The s is loud and sharp, a warning. It is freighted with memories of stings. Toys are put down. Little boys gather to talk. ‘Did Noah get stinged? Where did the bee go? Once I got stinged on my thumb.’ The speaker holds up his foot as he says ‘thumb’. They stare at each other, concerned.

They keep on playing, talking, arguing, shouting –  squeezing and pushing at bits of language, every word a biscuit, a rich drench, a sting.