The dad

I remember him because he asked me if he could come in with food. He was carrying brown paper bags and coffee. His teenage daughter was already inside. She’d been looking at science fiction for the last half hour. When she heard him, she appeared in the doorway and nodded. He came in.

I said all food is ok. I was eating a doughnut. He stood behind her nodding and listening and drinking his coffee, and he bought every book she wanted, which was three. She said, as they left, ‘I love bookshops,’ and he nodded and held the door, still eating his pastie. Then they went out into the rain.

Illustration by Johanna Wright

…the lithe black form

“Scratch my head. Prr. Mr Bloom watched curiously, kindly the lithe black form. Clean to see: the gloss of her sleek hide, the white button under the butt of her tail, the green flashing eyes. He bent down to her, his hands on his knees. —Milk for the pussens, he said. —Mrkgnao! the cat cried. They call them stupid. They understand what we say better than we understand them.”

James Joyce, Ulysses

Painting by Katya Minkina

The family

A family of three came through the door but all at different times so I didn’t know they were together.

They scattered at first but then gathered as a group in front of Classics, and therefore, in front of me.

When I looked up all three were standing there. He faced one way, reading. She faced into him, reading. Another knelt at their feet, reading. None of them seemed aware of the others. They all had strong hands holding those books.

It looked very serene.

the off-season of winter

“No animal, according to the rules of animal-etiquette, is ever expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the off-season of winter.”


Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Illustration by Pascal Campion

In autumn, colours change

There’s a couple outside my book shop. They are standing at the kerb looking into the boot of their car. She has lost her bag.

 ‘I’m looking. I’m looking.’

She has striped hair; pink, purple, white and silver and it is beautiful. Her shoes look like running shoes, and they are striped with pink, purple, white and silver.’

She says, ‘Give me the keys.’ He does. She disappears along the street. He comes into the shop. He says, ‘I’m retired now, and I have a shed full of engineering books where I spend all my time. There’s not enough time.’

He muzzles along the shelves for a while. ‘Very nice here. What made you do this then?’

‘Don’t know really.’ I have to put down Elizabeth Jolly to answer. Elizabeth Jolley has just said that old age is like flipping  over pages in a book at a deafening rate and not reading any of them. I am shocked because this is true.

‘Don’t really know.’

‘Well. It’s nice here.’

Suddenly his wife blooms against the door with a sacred pink purple white and silver presence.

He shouts, ‘Are you lost, lady?’

‘I’ve just been over the lady’s toilets over there. I have to tell you what I saw.’

It’s cold. Her breath frosts on the door. They leave.

Yesterday at home I noticed that the windows have changed colour. I mean, the glass in the door holds different colours because it’s autumn. Maybe the light has a different angle. Maybe the temperature of the light is different. It was morning when I looked at the glass. Hot grape becomes cool rose. Thick sage thins. Hot lemon chills to its rind. Pink fades and becomes tough. I look at these pieces of glass all the time. With Elizabeth Jolley.

I went walking. It rained a bit. There is only six minutes to the edge of town. Then it’s paddocks.

On the way back through the short streets I saw the empty wheelie bins wearing their lids like yellow capes down their backs, and they sit there, mouths open drinking in rain that lands in their bin throats with tiny fast liquidy thumps.

A  man is standing at the counter in the shop in front of me with Gail Godwin. I say, ‘Oh, she’s GREAT’. He asks me for Haruki Murakami because ‘He’s GREAT. Look what HE does with reality.’ I say, ‘Oh yes’. And decide to start reading Haruki Murakami. The man stands there beaming. There are no words to explain Haruki Murakami. This man has grey hair, worn long, and he wears a sapphire blue sweater and good boots.

In autumn where I live, the evenings are grey like steel and beautiful.

In autumn, unnecessary belongings start bothering decent spaces. We sort and prune like mad. I fill the green wheelie bin’s mouth with green stemmy food.

The grape vine is as yellow as a pair of bananas. Soft, and with conversations going on in black ink.

It’s not possible to keep up with autumn. The windows are an authority on what’s out there. Each colour has an opinion.

The Umbrella

There is a young girl sitting cross legged in the corner with an umbrella rising up and over one shoulder, the curved handle announcing exactly her small neck.

There is her mother with a rucksack over one shoulder, standing nearby and looking at book after book in Health.

There is silence in here, but outside raining like mad loudly and cars swishing past then stillness and people running across the road trying to be fast because of the rain but they all do the rain dance. This is a highstep dodging the traffic jump sideways kinds of dance where you end up next to a caravan that’s not yours and rain everywhere anyway.

There’s mud all over the footpath;  every time the door opens I can see it. And wet paper bags and a coffee cup blown across from the bakery.

It’s getting darker and darker even though it’s the middle of the day. A couple look in and she says, ‘Want to have a look, Neil?’, and he says, ‘God no, can get them for half the price online.’ He keeps on peering in, looks right at me. She looks at him. They move away.

The mother and daughter are both kneeling next to the shelves. The umbrella has been laid aside. I can still see its curved handle, a perfect expression, holding its ground and not available online.

A car has to brake suddenly right out there next to my shop. The sound of brakes makes me look up. All the occupants have been jerked forward. I can see mouths moving, heads turning all about.

Mother and Daughter are shoulder to shoulder looking out of the window, and the umbrella is still on the floor in the corner, looking warm and useful.

When I look up a little later, the girl is in the chair. Her mother is kneeling next to the umbrella. It looks after her knee. The rain is coming down. The windows are cold dotted with it.

A couple cross the road come towards me. They break into a sprint for three steps, then calm it into a fast walk, avoiding the water in the air but ending up soaked anyway. They don’t come in. They go to the bakery.

The mother and daughter come to the counter. They look happy. The umbrella is hooked over the girl’s arm.

Hey, the bookstore’s open

It’s the long weekend, and I’m open! There are passers-by; the windows are dark with them, all full and knobbly with long weekend plans.

‘Hey the bookstore’s open. Not going in there.’ They don’t even look in. But I see them.

Some old ladies come in and look around, pleased. One says to me, ‘We have to dress up, and I’m going as a sorcerer.’ They don’t tell me what they have to dress up for. The other says to me, ‘I’ve got so many thousands of books at home.’

I say, ‘So do I’, but they don’t hear me. They move away chatting to each other.

‘I read Harry Potter. And I read Terry Pratchett. I wasn’t sure about them.’

‘Yes.’

‘What on earth are these?’

‘Oh, Enid Blyton. Yes.’

‘I think I’ll have to get this, The School Bus, it’s a bit tattered, but I guess it’ll do.’

She brings The School Bus back to me, and together we look at its tatteredness. Her friend emerges.

‘Shall we walk back to the museum in the hopes that it’ll be open, or shall we not bother?’

‘These small towns.’

‘Yes.’

They move slowly out of the door. ‘Will you carry my books?’

‘Guess I’ll have to’.

They drift up the road toward the hopeful museum, and two men take their place, looming up and leaning against the glass, peering in.

‘It says come in. but it’s pretty dark. Says open.’

‘Dunno. Rekn it’s closed.’

They turn away from the OPEN sign and slowly walk away, still talking. ‘And then I said to him, just get it done, mate.’

A family take their place at the door. They have climbed out of a parked car.

‘Get off the road,’

‘Get in here,’

‘Mal, I’m going in.’

In comes Mal, his old mother and the grandchild who had previously been on the road.

They buy three Penguins and Tough Boris by Mem Fox.

Someone buys Jules Verne.

Someone buys Anthony Trollope.

Someone buys Agatha Christie.

Someone asks for Kate Grenville.

A lady asks for books about fish. She said she loves fish.

I read Elizabeth Jolley.

The Rudyard Kiplings fall to the floor. All 16 of them.

I sell Horton Hatches the Egg.

Someone offers to buy the wooden cat.

There is some shouting outside over a car park, and then motorbike zooms away outraged.

A family buy Ballet Shoes and Pinocchio.

(Illustration Finding Your Fish by James C. Christensen)

The unread story is not a story

“The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places

Photography by Jonathan Wolstenholme