Unsquared again

There is a piece of music called Unsquare Dance, by David Brubeck (1920-20120). According to Wikipedia, ‘his music is known for employing unusual time signatures as well as superimposing contrasting rhythms’.

Anyway, when I play Brubeck’s Unsquare Dance in the shop, the shoppers stop and shift their eyes slightly. It’s very subtle. As though trying to find something. Irritated? Needing to separate the music from the air. I know what it is. Absorbing though the shelves of books in the shop are, Unsquare Dance breaks though everything. Superimposes itself? I don’t know. Bu unless you allow some part of yourself to travel with the Unsquare, the rest of you can no longer find anything else you want.

This is true. One morning I let the song out and watched its deep rubber bands step hopping all over the shop. One old guy, leaning in to read the titles on the books and fogging up the spines, got snagged on David Brubeck’s contrasting rhythms and began a slow smooth dance of his own right in front of New York Review Classics. He didn’t have a chance. When the piano part started, he started too, beating the shelf with two fingers, both ears caught between the drumbeats and his shoulders no longer his.

Is this because of the pace or the rhythm?

He left eventually, with two books, and all the air around him unsquared and bits of jazz bass still in his ears.

One of my grandsons dances to “Unsquare” frantically because his legs can’t keep up with the beat that his blood and bones can realize. Can he see the squares refusing to square in the music?  He is only two years old and so can unhook his knees and allow his lower legs to extend at fast true right angles as he dances. The rest of his self becomes rubber. Whatever he can see, it’s clear to him what he has to do to get from the beginning to the end and remain in one piece. He works fast. He claps until he no longer can, and then gives the rhythm to his head. When the head has done a share, his hips move in to help – until, overloaded with data, he unhooks his knees and downloads everything he has. This is when he turns to rubber and twists himself amongst bass, piano and snare drum without touching any of them. Arrives intact and asks for it again. It’ll be a long time before he finishes playing with this.

Midnite

Two friends came into the shop and browsed heavily. This means they browsed deeply, and with energy; it means drooping down to the things on the bottom shelves which many people don’t do. This is how one of them found a copy of Midnite. He was pretty happy. He came back to me and put it on the counter. He said, ‘There’s a reason I need this.’ He didn’t tell me what it was. He went back to Australian fiction. Then his friend came out with his books. Mostly history. He looked at Midnite on the counter and picked it up. Then he put it with his own books.

When Midnite’s finder came back, he found his book on someone else’s damn pile. They looked at each other. Their eyes went narrow and serious.

The book lay there on the top of the wrong pile.

The door opened, and a couple came in and passed the counter without seeing us.

‘I thought this book was up for grabs.’

‘I don’t think so.’

There was an agreement. Midnite went back to its finder. They left – by turning right – to the bakery for consoling coffee and cakes.

The kids

Came in to the bookshop all at once. Twenty five of them, or maybe six. I couldn’t count them. They talked so hard. They were never still, roaming and picking books up, tapping and turning, and squatting down, three of them, over one book as though it were a map of the evening’s plan. Were they one family or a group of friends?

They turned out to be both. Two families, all friends. Because later, the mothers came in and did the same thing. Than a husband – who could not enter the conversation of the mothers, and so returned to the bakery.

But the children. They had read everything. I caught the tail ends.

‘I might get that.’

‘That’s the second book.’

‘I know.’

‘Where’s the other book?’

‘There’s no what?’

‘I’m not gunna read it.’

‘Oh my god.’

‘Trilogy…The Hunger Games’

‘Oh my god.’

‘Ok. First book good, second book ok, third book I actually liked it.’

‘But it wasn’t a satisfying ending.’

‘I know.’

‘I got halfway.’

‘Yeah. Same. I’ve read that though. And that. But not that.’

‘It’s good.’

‘They should do another one.’

‘I know, right.’

‘He should write the next one.’

‘I wish there was more of them.

‘Have you ever read all night?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Same.’

‘Look what I’ve got. I’m getting it.’

‘Look at this.’

On and on they went. There were sudden silences when everybody was caught in something at the same time. Then on they surged.

‘Hey.’

‘Woah.’

‘Look.’

‘Wait.’

‘Hey crazy guys. Let’s just read everything here.’

‘Except the gardening books.’

‘Oh my god, yeah. Not them.’

Suddenly they began to leave. There was someone outside tapping on the window. He called though the door, ‘Where’s the rest of you?’

They answered, ‘The bakery’.

Image by Hajin Bae

pulled the knife out, and he was still bleeding

Sometimes the street outside the shop is quiet. There is no movement, no noise, and nobody passes the shop. Sometimes I go outside and look up and down the road. Then I go back in and get on with things.

Today, it was chaos out there. People crowded past in groups with maps, bags, and phones. The traffic on the road equalled this, stopping, starting, parking, arguing, sounding horns, calling from car windows. And today, the groups on the footpath were so packed together that I heard them and saw them. Every now and again I looked straight into a face that was looking straight back at me.

Somebody yelled, ‘Got to call in here on our way back.’ I didn’t see them. They moved too fast. I hoped they’d come back.

I saw the next couple because they paused at the door. He peered in with screwed up eyes.

‘What is it?’

‘Dunno. Medical place I think.’ He looked right at me and abruptly pulled away.

I’m not a medial place.

The next burst of information came a little later.

‘…pulled the knife out and he was still bleeding…’

‘Silly.’

The first speaker turned and looked right at me looking right at him. I thought, ‘Shit!’

Then,

‘You want something to eat, mother? All right, but I’m not fussy about going back to that cafe though.’

‘That wasn’t here, Ed. That was another town.’

He (who wasn’t fussy) humped his shoulders and looked in at me. I looked out at him, sympathetic. I know about getting the right doughnut.

Painting by Charles Hardaker

manycoloured

“The phrase and the day and the scene harmonized in a chord. Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue: sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure of waves, the greyfringed fleece of clouds. No it was not their colours: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language manycoloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?”

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Painting by Guillermo Marti Ceballos

The pantry

I read all of these books. In one of them, the naughty little sister and Bad Harry go to a party. They find the birthday cake, which has been hidden from the children. Between them, they eat all the cream and the lollies (called sweets) that decorated the cake. I remember there were jelly babies treading through the cream. And silver balls. They ate until they felt ill. Then the mother found them in the pantry. The pleasure of the stolen cake and the jelly babies treading through the cream. The tiny silver lollies in the dark pantry. What was a pantry? Suddenly, when I was seven, I loved pantries.

The lovely ongoing enthusiasm of readers

In the shop, I get told about things in bits and pieces. There is never enough time for customers to explain the whole story – which in their minds is one complete coherent and catastrophic realization- but it only gets to me in fragments.

‘The Russians are a cruel people. I prefer the Druids. King Arthur, for example. And Lancelot was a complete arsehole. You can’t tell me he didn’t have something strange going on with the Danes.’

Readers are always enthusiastic and visionary.

‘Easter is for throwing things out. That’s how I was raised. Read Winnie the Pooh, and you’ll understand.’

And emphatic.

‘I had to confront the manager about the hot cross buns.’

And they are mysterious.

‘I’ve read all of these. Brilliant books. I might get that one anyway. And you’ll see something across the road in a minute. At least you will if you’ve read book 4 of these.’

And they are confident.

‘Did you know that the writer of Tarzan made it all up?’

A reader brought a copy of The End of Certainty by Paul Kelly over to me. He said, ‘There’s a lot we can learn from the Americans. But as for Blair, just leave him out of it.’ He bought three other biographies. He said, ‘Luckily, there’s no end to it.’

Children try harder. They watch your eyes when they talk and gauge your enthusiasm and your comprehension accurately. They tell the story properly, loyal to the facts and inventing nothing. In ‘Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll’, Kelsey lives in Pakistan and needs a friend. Her and her Nanna get her a doll. Called Amy Jo. They have a hard adventure. But they are all right in the end.’

They explain succinctly why they want a particular book.

‘It’s because I want it.’

Illustration by Inga Moore