Burlesque, or what really happens in my shop: part three

But the Virginia Woolfs have begun. Dancing deeply, touching hips, smoking, and laughing lightly in a deranged and fabulous way, bowing toward Cosmo Cosmolino. The Maya Angelous with joined hands: Byatts, Dillards, Padmanabhans, Miles Franklin, all the Grenvilles, the Dumonts, the Lucashenkos, a grid of lights, a festival, a refusal to wait.

The crimes and thrillers start a weird kind of line dance with revolver displays that nevertheless looks dull.

The Text Classics, in a grid of hot yellow, perform a dance with neutral expressions. Janet Frame, Arnold Zable, Boyd Oxlade, Patrick White with a slight smile, stepping and side stepping and stepping, not agreeing, but at least stepping.

Groups straggle forward, looking nonchalant, looking for a gap.

Joyce and Proust, in different groups, passing back to back, palm to palm with the next dancer.

The McCarthys moving carefully around the Hellmans.

An FBI History and Charles Bukowski eye each other. The Bukowskis move to a different bar.

 ‘Listen to this, boys.’ It was Cubanisimo!  It prepared a sentence, opened its covers to read aloud. Everyone cheered. They all liked the Cuban, who waited for quiet.

…and I went my way, which means preferring nights to evenings, choosing night instead of day, living by night and squeezing my memory, I mean my life, into a glass with ice or into a negative or into memory.

There was a pause. The dancing continued slowly, but heads and book covers were turned toward the Cuban. There was the chink of an icecube into a glass from somewhere in the shop.

‘Thanks Guillermo,’ someone said, and everyone cheered again.

Now, a set of Great Journeys coming through. Shouting, having their first drink, consulting maps, checking Trivago, a journey always on the horizon. James Cook and Mary Wortley Montagu arguing ‘There will be no hunting pigs in this dance’. Olaudah Equiano looks at them both, says nothing. The Yutangs smile as they pass, impassive.

‘Look at the Thrillers, Eastwick. Every day, a brilliant story.’ The classics were back on the counter, breathing too heavily in my ear, becoming annoying. ‘Thrillers take you West, further each time. But so what! West is a cliché.  It’s East where we want to go. Look at the Virginia Woolfs. They’re drill bits, boring East in search of the truth. Think East, it’s sunrise. God, Eastwick, have you read anything? You know what Woolfy’s doing now? She’s writing a biography of herself writing a biography of all the biographers who’ve attempted to write a biography of her so far. And what’s Tom Cruise doing?’ They all snigger, looking at the Lee Childs, who are trying on bowties.

‘It’s not Tom Cruise,’ I said patiently. ‘He doesn’t write books. Its Lee Child.’

‘Eastwick, we know you’re going East, we saw you reading Helen Garner.’

I look at them all. ‘What will you do, all of you if I have to close? There’ll be an auction.

‘Well, actually some of us are staying. We all love Thai food.’

‘You don’t need me.’

‘Never did. Sorry Easto. We’re made of writing. Indestructible. Go read like hell and write your shit.’

‘Well, I’ll see you in the morning.’

There was no answer. The books were moving around me. The shop was all horse, flanks, and hinges, spinning and reeling, smoking, coughing. They were putting out chairs, tables, moving the smoke machine, setting up a market.  

I moved slowly to the entrance, pausing at the door.

‘Why the buckets of water?’ I ask.

‘So we don’t catch on fire during the party.’

‘Who’s on duty?’

They looked toward the buckets. The Greek Myths was on duty, leaning over the pails, gazing rapt into the pools at their own reflections.

‘God, they’re useless’. The New York Reviews shot off, rising furiously in the air to dong the Greek Myths back to the present.

 I left them to it.

Burlesque.

To be continued…

Burlesque, or what really happens in my shop: part two

In the afternoon, everyone began drifting off to form a dance committee. They were determined to hold their burlesque.

An hour later I found a crowd of  books clustered around a YouTube video. They shooshed me. They were watching a demonstration on how to build a perfect guitar pedalboard.

‘What about the dance? Are you still doing it?’ I asked.

‘We’re doing it, East. We’re downloading Spotify.’

The Dickens collection had formed a considerable troupe and were ready to practice. ‘Here come the Dickies,’ everyone always said, whether it was Oliver sprinting across to the Beast Quest games, or old Pickwick waiting for the pub to open. Sometimes Charles himself came out, usually with Ackroyd, leaving together furtively, to avoid the vulgar Americans.

The Antiques and Curiosities were lining up cautiously, with bow ties, dusty coats, and mildew on the collar. Don Quixote and The Three Musketeers were setting up tables and arguing over a three sword centrepiece.

They all watched with thin faces, a Barry Oakly and a biography of Stephen Fry being sold.

The place was getting hot and busy and smoky.

The French women had set up a discussion table. Sagan, Sarraute, Beauvoir, Reza. They smiled graciously as the Canadians passed by. The smiles hardened though, when the Canadians had moved on, I saw that. 

The fantasies were stringing lights. The biographies had started drinking. The craft sat in silence because the main lights had been dimmed, and nobody could see their instructions for scrapbooking or how to make soap. A fountain had been found at the back of Art. ‘Who the cuck brought in a fountain?’ The Skulduggeries were dragging it out. ‘Cool. Get in’.

They argued over music; it was too loud, too strong, too low, too dark, not cultural. They wanted Spotify.

‘Gentlemen, we have Spotify’.

‘No we don’t, Maugham, the account’s been fucking locked.’ There was a collective and dismissive curse on technology.

‘Perhaps everyone can just dance their own dance.’ This from the Atwoods, I sat up to listen.

The political biographies moved in speechfully but were hushed by basically everyone. An Australian autobiography offered some kind of infrastructure promise and was told to fuck off out of it.

The Saddleclubs stood still with mouths open and ponies reined in, silent. They were called out of it, too.

But there was an unlikely agreement, fused out of fatigue, alcohol, and fear (of the Atwoods).

I soothed the political biography, and he said, ‘We believe in women too, of course.’

 I said, meanly, ‘Indeed. Although the menopause is a difficult time of course.’ I saw his eyes flicker upward. Hermione Lee was up talking with the Greers on the front table. They looked down. I wanted to laugh. But I didn’t.

Some books could not get a place in the dance.

No one liked the ex-library books much – this was because of the mess of stickers and tape that covered them.’ Sorry mate. Not in our group.’

The Ian Welshes laughed too loudly. They jumped too high and hard. They were embarrassing to dance with. Samuel Pepys, a massive biography, sat taking spiteful notes on everybody from the ugly angle and called for beer and oysters every ten minutes.

In the back room the Westerns had eased themselves around a small fire. They listened to music coming from the Natural Histories who were putting together The Dance of the Chiasognathus Grantii, which was some kind of weird stag beetle. The music came at them like chimes through smoke. They began to talk.

‘The thing is, I was normal. But did my father have time to look at a kid? No.’

The others looked out and away to give privacy. They stared into the firmament.

One shelf above, a lone book stirred, an Edward Abbey. Said nothing.

‘…and what have you ever done except murder all the losers?’ This was History, climbing down in an ordered line, harping at each other all the way.

‘Endocrine, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, hematologic, pulmonary, urinary, reproductive, gastrointestinal….I could keep on but I don’t want to bore anyone…’

‘Neither do we.’

‘In ancient times, reading was one of the most….’

‘The witch is here; the witch is dead…’

‘Begging pardon my lady.’

At the counter, the little science fiction paperback had returned, was talking again, ‘We won’t end. Even pulping doesn’t end us. Look at old Gilman Perkins. There’s five of her in here. Look at Mockingbird. Can’t end her.’

To the Lighthouse was on the counter with me, lying on its back and writing, writing, writing, to the beat of a migraine. It said to me, ‘Did you know that manuals on life always subside after the preface? There’s a reason for that.’ Bang, bang, bang. I could hear her migraine. Still she wrote on.

But meanwhile,  the front room was not doing well.

The Algonquin group of classics was being forced to come up with their dance plan.….and they had to do it sober. They sat, sullen, not even one useful verb to be had.

Someone was on at the piano. The books had ransacked the music shelves and dragged out anything with music in its title. They had found a pianist. The music was coming from the top of a shelf, a beautiful little piano by the sound of it, and a cello, that ran barefoot and lightly underneath and then over the notes of the piano.

There are books gathered up there. I can see them listening to the piano.  A copy of Cards of Identity, gazing away into some unknown basin of solitude.

The German classics, dancing, elegant despite their rectangular suits. They bob and dip, a court dance, touch hands, exchange longings, move out again.  The others watch.

The Saul Bellows sitting back, shading their eyes from the melody, and needing a drink.

Someone shouted, ‘Piano Man, play Piano Man, man.’ They are getting mellow. As usual they then begin to discuss things.

Jeffrey Eugenides held forth on The Pilgrim Hawk. He likes books with animals in them. He says, ‘Wescott has courage. And in the morning, I can only open one eye. Also, a dog got to me once.’ He repeated this three times.

I pictured a dog eating the book, biting into the soft ideas inside of it.

But the Murray Bails liked The Fish Can Sing. ‘Iceland is perfect, he said.

But someone answered, ‘Who wants to read about that frozen slab of geyser holes?’

The Murray Bails became bitter. ‘You are all afraid of Iceland.’

The Kenyon Review suddenly opened its covers. ‘Serendipity is no accident.’ it shouted.

‘Shut up Friedel.’

‘That wasn’t Friedel, that was Butler.’

Nobody liked being corrected. The conversation broke up.

Poetry and Plays were still arguing (because Poetry has more shelves). There is nobody else in the store even remotely interested in this conflict. Mostly because they can’t understand anything that the poets are saying, even in an argument. On the way back to the counter, I saw the Shelleys, sitting on the edge of the sea, smoking and not taking part.

The Shakespeares have joined the conflict. This always causes uneasiness because everyone claims to have read Shakespeare, and this makes any argument risky. When Robert was here once, sorting through Astrology, he overheard the Shakespeares quarrelling. Robert said, ‘Good on you all. Fuck Centrelink.’ The Bard was immediately interested, and they had a long dark discussion in the corner.

‘Look at the Lemonys. Aren’t they adorable!’

I stood up. The whole set of Lemony Snickets was moving into the middle of the room, into a square formation, Hostile Hospital at the front.

 ‘STOP!’ commanded Hostile Hospital. ‘You are all wretched. You are all woeful.’ They continued on, happily.

‘Weird!’ Said Salinger. ‘But I like them.’

‘Great dance guys!’ This from the Vladimirs, who have painted themselves black. They are pleased, and in a mood to be kind. Vampire books were selling well.  The other groups looked at them blankly. ‘Can we even see you?’

The horse books were dancing in dressage under the window. Very impressive. I went to have a closer look.

‘Watch it East, they’ll trample you.’

‘Thank you, Philip. But they won’t. I tell you that horses can dance”.

“Not these ones.”

The horse books stopped and announced that they are heading for the lodestone. There was an uneasy pause – this meant the greatest book in the shop. It was agreed that there was one, but not who it was.  

The horse books all turned in a single movement and cantered over to Pinocchio. Most of the books in the shop, I knew, had read Pinocchio, and still remembered Pleasure Island.

‘Carlo Collodi you old….’

‘What are they playing at! Bloody little Saddleclubs! They haven’t even read Pinocchio!’

And then Ibrahim Nasrallah stood up and said, ‘God made horses from wind, my friends.’

 Nasrallah’s Time of White Horses is a beautiful book, dressed in gold, cinnamon and black, a wrought iron spine, and always with a layer of fine clean sand following its leather shoes. The other books came forward, made to shake hands, backed off, move in again.’ Hello Ibrahim. Nice coat, man.’ They all nodded quietly, ‘ok, man’. Nasrallah smiled and moved gently over to examine the horse books.

We are, I thought, a perfect representation of lust, gluttony, loneliness, sand, aggression lunch and nomads. There is nothing from life that is not in here. No wonder it was so hot in here. We will be thrown out one day. There had been nine customers all day.

A few Saddleclubs, forbidden to take part in the dance, have moved sulkily back to Young Readers. I see them angle in behind the Enid Blytons to take off makeup and change clothes. Obviously, the riding teachers have forbidden certain outfits.

But the Virginia Woolfs have begun. Dancing deeply, touching hips, smoking, and laughing lightly in a deranged and fabulous way, bowing toward Cosmo Cosmolino. The Maya Angelous with joined hands: Byatts, Dillards, Padmanabhans, Miles Franklin, all the Grenvilles, the Dumonts, the Lucashenkos, a grid of lights, a festival, a refusal to wait.

To be continued…

Burlesque, or what really happens in my shop: part one

I always liked the word burlesque. I thought it meant a horse when I was little because it sounded smooth and flanky, with nostrils somewhere and legs on hinges. Like this book shop. All angles and legs and flared outraged noses. I first read of a “burlesque” when I was fourteen. It’s a type of show, one that is provocative, comedic, and distorted. In the book I read, somebody danced one in protest against a ruling establishment. Something about it made sense. They danced it as if they were a horse. And it trampled the thinking of the day.

Is this story inside or outside of my head. Is it distorted? I wouldn’t like to say for sure because I work in this bookshop by myself.

There’s an alcove directly outside the door, a dip in the shopfronts where people stop to search bags, answer the phone, eat food. They look through the windows and say things:

This place won’t last.

Doesn’t look like a bakery to me!

Sandra, get a kindle.

But when you come in, it’s beautiful. The books are lined up, tight, obedient. They look organised, oblong rows of colour and form, table sales of language, literature, and scorn. But really, there’s no obedience in a bookshop, and nothing lines up. 

The books here are spiteful little bastards. They are self-centred, arrogant, and alive with gossip. They are shelved in such dense slices that I can smell them.  They call me ‘Eastwick.’ I know they also call me ‘Updike.’ They think my husband left me and I let it go. Keeps them predictable. There’s 18000 of them, and it’s hard to stay in control.

Each morning I clean up from the night before, fix the counter, check the shelves, rewrite the signs, and make sure each section has gone home.

I hear the books talking behind the customers’ backs as they enter the store. The customers tell me about Their Best Book. From the shelves comes sniggering and derision. Sometimes the books come out of the displays and do a physical imitation of the customer, legs up, elbows out, a mini burlesque of the eager reader.  Everyone cheers. They topple deliberately, high dive into a customer’s nerves and drown the day. They encourage the encyclopedias to put out a hip, cause a fall – they have a tally for injuries. The winners have their name put onto an old library card which curiously, the entire shop regards as some kind of holy relic.

The classics are the worst. They think they have the most experience, are derisive of every other genre (this is mutual), and they drink too much. In the morning, I hear them coughing, and as soon as the first customer comes in they start on what they know about that customer, which is nothing.

But now we have a new problem. My lease is ending and my anxiety about this dilemma is not shared. The books don’t care that the landlord may have a new, more lucrative client. But they should. Especially as each book also has its own anxiety – that it hasn’t been sold – which applies to every book still here. They call out to each other:

‘Are you sold?’ This is vindictive.

‘Wyndham’s been gold sold.’ – this means traded or swapped.

‘Keneally just got dumb sold.’ – this means discounted.

To be thugged (or stolen) is the highest honour.

‘You’re sold.’ This is ‘congratulations,’ but said so mockingly that the receiver wishes they were unsold.

They call the landlord a ‘Scudderless Old No Read’, or ‘Moby Dick.’ When he came to fix the door lock, the shelves rocked with high pitched invective, the anthologies loudest of all. The anthologies here are called tradies. This is because when you talk to an anthology you never know who will answer. You have to ask, ‘Who’s saying that? Who’s opinion? Which author?’ The tradie will say, ‘That was James Thurber’ or ‘Ezra Pound’. Or ‘Cynthia Ozick.’ Finally they’ll say, ‘Who fucking cares?’ Sometimes the tradies get witty. They say, ‘Enid Blyton,’ to everything. Then they want me to get them a beer or a gig.

The books, as a collection, are openly contemptuous of people who come in with other books to sell. They call out, ‘Go back to your own place. Not enough jobs here.’ They hate people who ask for discounts, ‘Get out, you bloody riptides.’ I am never sure what these insults actually mean.

One day a young reader bought twelve horse books at once. They lay in her arms, breathing warmly, whiskery with happiness.

The others watching with curled lips of derision.

Today, I have ideas of my own. ‘Let’s clean up and look good. A tourist attraction. We need a good month. We don’t want this shop becoming a Thai takeaway.

The books become interested.

‘What sort of takeaway? Genuine or that noodle box shit? Eastwick, got a menu?’

I am disappointed. I sit there. I tell them that the world thinks the days of books are numbered.

‘What will you do, Eastwick?’

‘Write. Write about how none of you give a shit.’

‘Why not! Do it! Put me in it’. This hooting came from the classics who were drooping about, leaning over the edge of the shelves, examining their leather shoes, and looking for trouble.

The Henry James stand up, regarding me. ‘Literature cannot end, Eastwick.’

‘Shut up Henry, you old bookend.’ It was H. G. Wells, behind him, a copy of Boon, stiff with delight.

The Henrys step back, outraged. The European classic paperbacks begin to cheer and chant, to taunt the science fiction, and push each other from shelves. The Steinbecks begin writing. The Encyclopedias begin to drink.

‘Why do you call me Eastwick?’ I asked the Wordsworths, who were filing past into the back room.

‘You know.’

‘No.’

The Witches of Eastwick. God, do you read?’

‘Not that. Have you?’ (The classics all claimed to have read everything).

‘Saw the film. Liked Cher in it.’

‘Still don’t know why you call me Eastwick.’

But the Wordsworth were moving on, heading to their editing class. They had been told it was healthy to cleanse. It was actually a writing class. I’d helped write the flyer for Carmel Bird. The Wordsworths thought they would show these Australians a thing or two. Once I heard an Upfield ask, ‘what’s Langley doing?’ And the Wordsworths said, ‘Picking Peas.’ Then they laughed unkindly, until silenced by the Tennants.

It was already late morning. A few browsers. I imagined myself without a bookshop – this bookshop, that the books referred to as trade school. Preparing them for life. ‘Not an academic life’, they said with contempt, ‘A working life’.

I said, ‘you don’t work.’

‘We’re not labourers, no.’

I ask, ‘What are you, then?’ There was a chorus. I suspected they been on the internet.

‘Powerhouses, Millwrights, Riggers, Tools, Marble setters, Commercial pilots.’  The Fantasies called their vocation Magnetized Pointing. The young readers were all going to be Pirates, or Jon Snow. The encyclopedias, already rinsed in gin, did not see themselves with a future. They did not see any need for this conversation either. The art books refused to answer. The poets were quarrelling amongst themselves.

‘Where’d you get this information?’ I asked.

‘We are the information. Information is everywhere, Eastwick,’ they said, as if I had just said it wasn’t.

 ‘A Gale is Blowing in From the East.’ This was shouted from the Travelogues in the next room. The Classics leapt up in delight. The Travels were always good for illicit alcohol and a few other things. There was an exodus.

The yoga books began to chant. The Biographies went on with speeches, research and looking out the window. The Spike Milligans told the Yogas to shut the fuck up!

When the shop was busy, I could still see them going at it, regardless of customers. Fighting, running about, organising demonstrations, meetings, strikes. Cocktail parties, Comicon announcements, and today, a dance.

‘What sort of dance?’

‘A burlesque.’

I was startled. Had I said that out loud?

‘Not appropriate at the moment’, I said. ‘We need to be serious; we need bookshops. We’re dying out.’

‘We won’t die out. Although you might.’

‘What is that supposed to mean?’

There was no reply. They were all busy.  The Fantasies had put out all the shelf lighting because the Vampires were trying out a play. At the front, C. S. Lewis, and Dr Seuss, smoking pipes and criticising even though the play hadn’t started yet. The others all ignored me and began arguing amongst themselves.

Strangely though, there were three customers who could see them, and hear them; Robert, India and Dave, and there were certain customers that silenced them; Glenda and Morgan.

When Glenda comes in, there’s a pause. This is because she wears dark glasses. They can’t see her eyes. The Joan Dideons look at her and smile and lean against each other. In Poetry, the Anne Sextons nod, yes. Glenda. The classics are still and quiet, uneasy, unwilling to be clever. Glenda says, ‘Oh God,’ and they all shuffle slightly, hoping she is talking about them, which she isn’t.

When Morgan comes in, the biographies (near the door) shout Ancients as warning. This allows the ancient histories to get organised and display themselves to be sold. They stand tall, flatten stomachs and lick at turned down pages, aiming for the big turntable, or, in their words, a proper library.

I learned later about the bribes offered to door books to give a signal for certain buyers. I also learned of the resentment toward the no foes, or the Fucking Ciceros, which is considerable. They tell the penguin Ciceros that they deserved it (to die). They say that Morgan is Moving On and wants Russian history for now on. The Russian histories stir and try to sit up against last night’s vodka but can’t.

When India is here, they all stand to attention, straight with chests powerful, stretching their narratives until the muscles give way. India is kind. She strokes their spines and murmurs, reading their backs out loud. She is thirteen. She chooses books with strong women. She loves Pippi Longstocking and Tiffany Aching. The Viragos look at her with approval.

Dave, they make fun of. They don’t like his anxiety; they say he is Wrong about Art. They don’t like his shoes. Dave is mostly glum, his life as a psychiatric nurse has bled him dry. When he comes in he says, ‘Restore me for God’s sake’. He says, ‘Writing is for what you can’t say’. The books agree with this but just don’t want him saying it.

Robert, they watch carefully. Sometimes I see them twitch with admiration. I am not surprised that Robert can hear them. He lives on the outskirts of the appropriate. On the edge of a lake, in a rental, without a car, a phone or the internet. He has a staggering library. He has read everything. He is writing a definitive work, a history that will expose the source of all evil, which is Moses. He will also bring down Centrelink. He knows the CIA have him under a radar and he has been the victim of magic attacks, twice.  I like him so much.

One morning he was kneeling down in Ancient Histories, hunting for a copy of Western Asia, India, and Crete by Bedrich Hrozny. I didn’t have it, and he said, not to worry, he knows the government are hiding these books. The Ancient Histories gaze at him in amazement. I look at them, noting their interest. Robert came over to talk to me about Marie Louise von Franz. He steps over a pack of Connelleys and Baldaccis leaning against the doorway, and says, ‘Watch out boys.’ They nod, and keep smoking, eyes thin and ready, looking around for the next murder.

The books, although careless of their future, were fastidious with their insults.

‘Eat your kids, here comes old eat your kids’ – to Johnathon Swift, who pottered around, deep in thought. He called them all ‘filthy lawyers.’

‘In your raft’ – to Colette, although said with a respectful tone.

If I ask, ‘Where are the Whartons?’ They yell, ‘In bed writing.’

They called the Coleridges, ‘Old Kublas.’

They called Mazo de la Roche, ‘The Whiteoak Madam’, or ‘Madam Sixteen.’ She is popular though; all the Canadians are.

They called Virginia Woolf, ‘Landscape.’ Landscape upon landscape of dreams ideas pain life and breathing.’ This had been said to her in a drunken moment by the Fitzgeralds, who had been uneasy about it ever since. This is because the Woolfs were best friends with the Atwoods. The entire shop was careful of this women’s group, who could silence any of them with one considering eye.

Once an old lady went past the window very slowly. She was completely bent over. The Atwoods, who were down browsing, looked through the glass. So did everyone else. Looked out at the entire life that was being carried along. The Atwoods bowed. Everybody else, including me, also leaned over, making our own small movement of honour, to her, the old lady passing my window, carrying fatigue and a Woolworths shopping bag.

But still they wanted a Burlesque.

‘You ought to be serious,’ I said.

The classics were going out, it was nearly lunchtime.

‘We are serious. We’re everywhere. There’s no map on this planet we’re not on. We’re inside your shop, but read us, and out we go. The classics were gathering and swaying and shouting and stoned, like a weird dried out paperback version of Woodstock.

The art books, who were hanging around doing absolutely nothing, were tired of the classics and now wanted their stroke. They called the classics, ‘jam jars.’ This is why I had shelved them away from each other. Only the De Bottons could calm them all in a fray, but the De Bottonswere busy tending their website and couldn’t help. So the art books commanded the lit to clear off.

The classics clamoured through the door, shouting, and aiming kicks at a pram parked in the doorway outside. They liked Strathalbyn. There are four good pubs here and some decent coffee places. They were all, except the health books, into good coffee.

I know they often jogged down to Jeff’s books. Or to the booze shop. There was a work experience student at Jeff’s Books they liked. I said, ‘thanks for abandoning ship, guys.’ They said gently, ‘it’s not a ship Eastwick, it’s a bookshop. And their shop is better.’

I said, ‘there’s such a thing as loyalty.’

 ‘Whatever.’

This from Hunter Thompson who is always nursing a hangover. Later he will stand at the bottom of Vintage Beverages and shout for the cocktails to wake up and get on with it.

‘We’ve done some improvements to your shop though’, said Art. This was true. The Westerns had even tried gun twirling demonstrations until I had put a stop to it.

‘It’s not enough’, I said glumly.

‘Maybe get rid of…’

‘Let’s not go there again.’

Each genre thought itself the most significant and enjoyed advising me on which collection should not be here – shelf stealers. There was once an ugly scene in war history when the French Grammar decided to take one of the war shelves. Eventually Crowded Hours got told to back off and was flung from the cupboard. Was told he had a crowded arse. They had all looked at me sulkily – deal with that!

They played a game called Bolt which I didn’t like.

Chanting always precedes a game:

‘There was movement at the station,

For the world had gotten round,

And the BOLT from old Egret had gone away.’ Chanted faster and faster

On the word bolt, the participants dashed for the centre and collided front on. The fallen are then dragged out to be reglued. The David Attenboroughs run about taking notes and interviewing the losers. Today would be a short match because the Asterix books were lining up.

 I said to the Atwoods, ‘This shop is a story.’

They agreed.

‘But I may have to close.’

‘That’s also a story.’

 ‘Why do they want a burlesque?’

‘It’s for balance. Burlesque is an interlude, a jolt.’  

‘I don’t get it.’

‘It’s what art does. It’s what literature is for. The nudge. The jolt. The lightening – the bolt. We would die without it.

Weeks ago, a young mother browsing instructed her children to purchase Christian books only. Not C. S. Lewis or Lewis Carroll (who was a paedophile). There was a hoot of laughter from the shelves. I looked up sympathetically. The Sendaks were leaning over, pretending to vomit. They all loved this because they loved difficulties and controversies. There was nothing (they said) that could not be written about, nothing that is not already in a story. This included the end of books, a story that all the books here weirdly loved.

They also adore commotions in the street. They rush the windows, hopeful for a fight, and there often was – over the carparks. Today one motorbike had taken the entire space. The books rocked with the potential of it.

‘Look at that fuckhead’, said a copy of The Clockwork Orange, limp with admiration.

There were more annoying Classics milling around the counter.

‘No matter what East, we’re serious. Burlesque is serious. We make everything serious. If a burlesque isn’t serious, it’s to make something serious. You’ll get it. Time to get going.’

‘Are we going to the desert?’ This from a little set of Spiderwicks playing on the mat and listening to everything.

The Antiques looked down kindly. ‘No, little fellows! But I suppose you mean Ayer’s Rock!’

‘What’s Ayer’s Rock?’

‘God, do you kids know anything?’

‘We just want to look at Uluru.’

A Pascoe came out of the back room.’ Everyone ready?’ There was a galloping from the front room. Droves of young readers, novels, flats, and vintages crowding for a place in the line.

‘Where are they going?’ I imagined the art gallery or the visitor information centre across the road. Education.

‘Across to Woolies. Doughnuts.’

 ‘Burlesque is science fiction too.’ The sci fi who had spoken from behind the classics was young and hopeful. He continued, ‘Burlesque, the dance – this is what science fiction is ALL about.’

‘NO it’s not. Get out of it you bloody little silverspines.’ I looked at the shouting classics. They looked at me looking at them and slid out of the door, suddenly in a hurry as though late for lunch.

‘We’ve done everything in our genre,’ the science fiction paperback said softly to me.

‘You have?’

I didn’t read much science fiction myself. He began to list everything.

‘DNA. Done it.’

‘A history of witchwork? Done it’

‘Utah. Done it.’

‘Salt? Done it.’

‘Is that meant to be a summary of the world? Because I like it,’ said an Oscar Wilde Complete Collection in One Volume who had been listening from one of the counter shelves. It leaned down kindly, ‘Don’t listen to anyone.’

‘Oh, there’s more,’ the science fiction book said carefully.

‘There always is,’ said Oscar Wilde.

Although always claiming contempt for science fiction, the classics were always hanging around them, borrowing their devices to look up old quarrels, best seller lists, and Wikipedia to find the mistakes. They all claimed to be big in the digital underworld. They were all best friends with biographers. They loved iPads with those glowing clean clickable entries. They loved all devices except the kindle which was boring. Who wants to read!

They all knew every cliché in the book and what page it was on. They said this warily though, out of hearing of the older classics who claimed to have no clichés, and from the women’s lit who actually didn’t. But for some reason, be still my broken heart, raised respect throughout the shop. They all argued authorship of it.

In the afternoon, everyone began drifting off to form a dance committee. They were determined to hold their burlesque.

…to be continued

Alan

Alan always talks to me side on. He stares through the door while telling me the story. Sometimes he breaks off before finishing and leaves to talk to someone he just saw over the road. But he always comes back to tell me the rest. They are excellent stories, and all of them true. He adds sound effects, especially when he is cross. He can do an excellent imitations of ducks. Some days he doesn’t come in but will always knock on the window as he passes. He doesn’t want any books from here. He has other things to read, and a family that is always giving him ‘a hard time of it.’ They don’t listen to him! They don’t respect him! But they’ll learn! He wonders about the government. This morning he said of someone that they didn’t know bullshit from vegemite. Then he said sorry, didn’t mean to swear.

Child reading

It’s a summer day, but cool outside and blowing rain. She’s in here. She’s silent. Such silence: her hair a polished curtain which swings once. I can’t see her book. She leans over the page. She leans back and gazes up at the page. She sits. Swings her feet. Stands thinking. Replaces the book and selects another one. Stands thinking. Her mother returns to tell her there is a magnificent dog outside, a wolfhound, a real one, a beautiful one, and the child shakes her head, the curtain of hair sways, the mother withdraws.

Stands thinking, sits, reads.

Christmas when you’re little

It was always really good. There was snow and lights at night even though the days were 42 degrees and leaned sideways to get out of their own sun, and it didn’t get dark anyway. Santa came in a front end loader down one end of the wide dusty main street where I lived. The front end loader was a sleigh. The sleigh must’ve landed on the beach. The reindeer were resting in the stables at the back of the bank. Santa was real even though all the farmers standing on the edge of the pageant made out they knew him.

We had a school concert and sang, ‘Turn on the Sun’, as loudly as possible, and the teacher said, ‘Not so loud but very good’, and looked tired, and we were told to wear orange T shirts for the concert, and one kid wore green anyway. And at school, we made coloured cellophane stained glass windows that always looked magical even if you messed up the glue and got told off for taking more than your Fair Share of the slipping cellophane that drenched the world in hot emeralds and lemonade and made the teacher not be there.

There was always snow, snowmen, lanterns, bonfires, and mice that delivered peanuts. We decorated the classroom with paper chains made from brennex squares from that cupboard, and the teachers talked in the corridors, watching their classes through the doors, ‘Four days to go, ladies,’ and us kids kept on snipping away trying to make the longest chain which was always won by Jennifer, whose dad was a doctor so that was why.

I got a copy of Heidi, from my Nanna, brand new, and I lay on the couch willing it to not disappear. The decorated tree caused sickening sensations because it was behind a closed door, and only glimpsed if the door was snapped open, only giving the mind an overheated look at broken rules, ‘You at that door again?’

‘I’m not.’

We drove to nativity services in all the neighbouring places because my dad was the minister, and we went past paddocks and farms and silos and sand dunes, staring through the car window at the impossibly black blue sky with too many stars, scoping for the sleigh which was following our car anyway, too close to be seen. At the little peninsula churches, the warm stone sitting comfortably against all the hard work, the back hall all lit up with the people making food, the tree decorated with their paper loops that were not as good as ours, and the service that you sat through waiting for your name called so you could go out and get a Christmas stocking that might have the glory of glories, a bubble blowing kit. It did. And the carols piled up massively with that many voices, and no one said, too loud to Silent Night, and all the adults quiet for once. And the nativity, the real hot blowing animals, the sheep with hooves that dented your ears, and wise men wearing magic genie colours and proper shepherd’s stuff and a baby doll that was ok, and Judith as the Mary (her again), and the stink of it all, and it shot through your body and your mind making it into your bones so you always had it in you, and you looked for it every Christmas.

‘Come on, we’re going home now.’

‘Can’t.’

Trying to get at the lamingtons, knowing you’d get another one because the minister’s kids always did. And beating Susan, whose dad had the bank who had the reindeers but so what.

Next year, all again.

Softly, softly past the bookshop

Softly is what the footsteps are as the walkers approach my windows. I can’t see anything, I don’t hear anything – and then they burst across the glass in swinging lines and elbow angles and singular bobbing heads, and there are swirls of conversation bits that all go upwards.

‘It was like, fifty bucks, on the sale section. I was like, yeahhhh.’

People walk past in rows and clots. A slow plodding adult will be followed by totting small shapes with softly moving spokes; I see their eyes flash enormously at the wooden cat in my window.

‘Quickly, come on…’

Bright orange blooming briefly against the glass indicates workers moving and eating and reading phones at the same time, even while crossing the road. They stop and start and spill soft drink.  ‘You got my keys? Troy, where’s the keys?

Once a lounge cushion was thrown out of a parked ute which then backed over it and drove away, leaving the cushion to be flattened again by the bus behind them. The bus driver looked out of the window and shook his head, not smiling.

A still shadow means someone has stopped and is probably peering in. A lady once stood writing the names down of the books in my window, but she didn’t come in. She kept biting her lip and frowning to see the titles.

Large groups are usually heading somewhere together. They darken the whole window and deafen even the traffic beside them. They make jokes, ‘Look, Joel, there’s a book about you here.’ Everyone looks at The Dork Diaries in the last window and exchange a bit of laugh with each other, then move on, anticipating the pub. The Dork Diaries will be hilarious then.

Older people go steadily and stop often and turn to each other to talk, sometimes for a few minutes. They check bags and tissues at the same time. They rarely check a phone.

‘Yes, yes, yes, yes. I heard her say that…she should stay there is what I think.’

‘It takes all sorts.’

‘Well I suppose that’s true in its way…’

This moving activity, like a single day-length message, never ends. It is endlessly comic, delicate, and alive.

Sculpture by Jurga