There’s a meeting out in the bay

There’s a meeting out in the bay. I saw them in the water, five or six women all wearing hats, and in their midst, an esky floating. Some were sitting and some lying down, the water lapping at shoulders. What age…it is impossible to know. But all made strong outlines; the circle was a strong circle. The sun shone, and the bay was quiet and held its waters evenly so as not to annoy the speaker.

When the speaker spoke, and this could be any one of them at any time, the others listened as women who are friends do. I guess they talked of nothing less than life as women do. I guess the rummaging in the esky paused for the important bits. On the shore a fisherman stood at a stone sink and looked at the group every now and again. Another man stood in the doorway of a shack with a beer and a lightly anxious expression. In front of one of the shacks, a child, a little girl in bathers and one red sandal, scoped the group fiercely through a pair of binoculars.

The boy turning rocks over

There’s a boy turning rocks over in the bay. I noticed because of the way he balanced himself on two larger rocks and then leaned to pick up smaller ones, one after another. He inspects them with his nose almost on the smooth skin of each stone. The bay he is working in is silent and hot. The child labours on. I can hear the soft click of each rock as he replaces it. Every now and again, the plop of a stone sliding into a rockpool. There’s the horizon, a bar of blue above him, the black spoky jetty to one side, and a row of shacks, oblongs of colour, holding the other side. And him right in the middle.

The unique texture of caravan parks

Caravan parks have a sizzling texture. They are warm and busy maps, put together with crayons, crayfish, late bookings, barbeques, and ice melting on the ground outside the kiosk. They are mostly pretty much the same, especially in summer.

‘Hellooo, it’s just teatime, love.’ This was called out next door to me. Next door means just three meters down, past the tap, the hose, the flapping towels, and bathers and two upturned eskies draining last night’s philosophy.

Everywhere there are kind bowls of clean water for dogs. Family pets that sleep exhausted under the edge of every second annexe. Hoses, camping chairs, fishing rods, bathers hanging in trees.

There’s a pink surfboard leaning against the shack across the track, and three children sitting at a table in bathers playing cards and eating chips. It is so quiet that we can hear the seagulls on the beach, and the  people on the jetty.

‘Beautiful.’ This is yelled out across a warm evening, along with the snap of beer caps.

‘You’re going the wrong way.’ Called out hilariously to someone backing a boat slowly down the wrong track. ‘Yeah, yeah, sorry mate.’

‘I’m going the jetty,’ Children calling back to parents.

‘Hello, how are ya?’ Called out by everybody meeting anybody.

‘Mal. Where are the frozen chips?’ This conversation shattered the stillness of the hot afternoon when most campers were slewed about in camping chairs, eyes shut, mouths open (‘Not asleep, Di, just resting’).

‘Mal – did you get the frozen chips?’

 ‘The what?’ The man was half in the car, searching frantically through the shopping.

‘The chips, the frozen chips.’

‘I dunno.’ She turned and went back inside. She banged the shack door.

‘Who left the fridge open?’ We heard this from three rows down. A gaggle of children running past in thongs and clutching streaming ice blocks looked back and kept going without answering.

‘And I said…and I said, well it’s your marriage. It’s your marriage. What’d you expect? It’s your marriage. I mean, he was like fordy. What’d he expect? I know. Yeah. I know.’ This from neighbours on a warm and still evening, sun streaking across barbeques, and the wine flowing.

At our backs, the beach, empty and clean.

It gets dark. It’s still warm. In front of us, children zig zig and dart about on bikes and scooters in and out of light and shadow like soft moths in flight.

The browser

A young girl in the shop is browsing. Browsing means to take a leisured survey, and in a bookshop, browsing is a slow dance, unique to the reader, the shop, and the shelves.

This girl takes a book, examines the spine, the pages, the top, the bottom, the back, the front. She carefully balances three books flat on her left hand, while turning to look for some more.

The lady next to her stands as straight at a doorway

The man behind her is bent like a bow. He is reading on the lower shelves.

The next man holds his hands and his phone behind his back and leans forward. Protrudes his head even further forward and reads titles with screwed up eyes, and every so often, nods. His partner follows behind him looking at her phone.

The browser, the first one with the careful balance of three books has added a fourth. A couple enter and turn in circles looking for the Covid thingo. They hold their phones and sunglasses in front of them. After checking in, she turns to the biographies and says ‘woooooo’. Her partner looks at her and then goes back out. A child going past says loudly, ‘Hairy Maclary.’

The movements of bookshop browsers can be almost imperceptible, but the flickering muscles of the eyes tell the real story.

Painting by Casey Childs

Clear night

“Clear night, thumb-top of a moon, a back-lit sky.
Moon-fingers lay down their same routine
On the side deck and the threshold, the white keys and the black keys.
Bird hush and bird song. A cassia flower falls.
I want to be bruised by God.
I want to be strung up in a strong light and singled out.
I want to be stretched, like music wrung from a dropped seed.
I want to be entered and picked clean.
And the wind says “What?” to me.
And the castor beans, with their little earrings of death, say “What?” to me.
And the stars start out on their cold slide through the dark.
And the gears notch and the engines wheel.”

Clear Night by Charles Wright 1982


Painting by Devin Leonardi

Hairy Maclary breaks into the new year

Yesterday I put out all the Hairy Maclary books on the front windowsill. This display faces everyone who is walking fast toward the bakery. (Anyone walking away from the bakery faces the political biographies, dull by comparison).  

Hairy Maclary catches people’s eyes. Hairy Maclary needs to be said out loud, or sung, or shouted.

‘Hairy Maclary….number six…see that?’

‘Hairy Maclary shoo!’

‘Hairy Maclary hat tricks!’

Some people are talking loudly about something else, and Hairy Maclary overrides their conservation.

‘She obviously had two accounts. It’s all very suspicious, and I don’t think Tic Tok can keep that. Hairy Maclary sit. Hah! Hah! See that?’

‘You’re learning about it…and we’re learning about it. We’re on the same ride together… aren’t we, buddy… Hairy Maclary’s Showbusiness…’

Inside the shop, children pull them down, read them and replace them gently. One child said ‘Scarface Door, Scarface Door’ as he walked around the shop.

A grandmother bought three of them. ‘Lovely’, she said.

A teenage boy stood outside the window wearing headphones and eating a pasty. He stared at all the Hairy Maclary books, nodding his head, eating, and nodding and nodding.

Inside, a lady asks me if I sell books for kiddies.

On the footpath a family walks past, and Hairy Maclary downloads himself right into their conversation.

‘Do you want to go to that rabbit place? Or do you want vegemite and toast? Quickly please. Hairy Maclary’s rumpus at the vet… we do need to get to the vet as well. Might go there first. Quickly now.’

Hairy Maclary books and illustrations by Lynley Dodd