Trying to cross the road with children who go faster than you do

Red hair. They all had read hair, so I knew it was a family. It might have been dad there, but I think it was Grandpa: the authority was different. Not so intense but equal in concern.  Bright with pride rather than ire. Grandpa needed to cross the road: he had all the bakery food.

It’s a grey day. Rain in the distance, and customers telling me as they come in, ‘there’s rain coming’, or ‘good reading weather’. Which it is. I, myself, have just started the mighty Quincunx by Charles Palliser, and it’s difficult to concentrate on the normal day.

Against the grey air, the read haired family are flames on the road. One child leapt off the footpath and then abruptly returned to Grandpa, who has the food and who isn’t so fast. He calls –

‘Watch the road.’

‘But he said to go.’

‘He’ is a brother, and he’s carrying a can of coke and looks at his brother without saying anything. Then he walks across the road.

Grandpa follows, but younger brother remains on my side of the road. Grandpa comes back and they hold a brief talk. Over the road, older brother is now leaning against the car and drinking his coke. Then mum appears, approaching silently from the council toilets, and older brother seems to be galvanized into some kind of explanation. Then another man appears and listens in.

I watch them standing together and staring across the road at the missing ones, who are still talking, the man with his arm around the boy’s shoulders. They are both looking at a phone.

Up the road, the police have set up a Breathalyzer station. The cars move slowly in and out. I can see Sarah over there, talking at an officer who is listening and nodding at the ground.

In front of me, a young man is buying Gabriel Garcia Marquez and George Orwell.

Outside, it’s quiet now. The traffic has vanished. Grandpa and grandson are walking across the road together. The rest of the family are sitting in the car. It’s still grey out there, but it isn’t.

The two people who passed each other in front of the counter in my bookshop

They didn’t know each other. They were attached to two different parties. One party, a family, efficient, searching purposely through the shelves. The other party, a couple, browsing randomly and quietly.

Then, readers from each party met accidently right in front of the counter and had to weave around each other. That’s when I looked up. They avoided each other with expertise: each man gliding efficiently around the other. I caught their expressions. They were both carrying a small pile of books, and they both nodded to each other as they swerved.

They glanced at each other’s books as they passed. I saw that. Readers do that. I do it: someone may have something I need. Obviously, they must hand it over.

One man, as he veered, was grinning, triumphant. This made me look sharply at his books in case he had something I wanted. But it was fine. He could have those. The other man was holding a book up to another person in the distance, who called out:

‘You got one?’

‘Hardback.’

Everyone dispersed back to their proper groups. It was a readerly and complex exchange and worth noting.

Then, the family group finished up, brought their choices to me and paid for them and clustered through the door, the child asking on the way:

‘Hey dad, how come you choosed a army book?’

‘Hey?’

But then they were gone, and I heard no more.

The man who was giving useful advice

The man, and his much younger companion, passed the shop window together. Both were wearing fluorescent orange work clothes, which caused the window to suddenly flash orange. They were walking rapidly toward the bakery.

The older man was leaning in to give advice. The younger man, a boy really, was nodding.

‘Whatever gear you’re in, the cogs should be driven by the driver, not by the….’

Then they were gone.

But they returned shortly after, laden with paper bags and drinks. This time the boy was talking, and the older man was nodding.

‘Yeah, but it didn’t work.’

Then they were gone again.

Everything Is Waiting For You by David Whyte

Your great mistake is to act the drama

as if you were alone. As if life

were a progressive and cunning crime

with no witness to the tiny hidden

transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny

the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,

even you, at times, have felt the grand array;

the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding

out your solo voice. You must note

the way the soap dish enable you,

or the window latch grants you freedom.

Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.

The stairs are your mentor of things

to come, the doors have always been there

to frighten you and invite you,

and the tiny speaker in the phone is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into

the conversation. the kettle is singing

even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots

have left their arrogant aloofness and

seen the good in you at last. All the birds

and creatures of the world are unutterably

themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

David Whyte

Painting by Montserrat Gudiol (1933 – 2015)

What’s in this room tonight?

An island cupboard placed at an unstraight angle because a mishap with spilt milk caused a white lake to flood underneath. My sister in law and I had to push it around and mop and clean. Soft cloths on the floor. The job still isn’t finished.

Light split by blinds. Colour.

Cups and bowls. A large, washed glass jar empty of olives and waiting its next task. A chair hung with bags. A kettle. A chopping board not doing anything. A chewy twist of black and white leads and chargers. A bunch of dried chillies. An old tablecloth used for glue guns and painting.

Books everywhere. A paint set, a pencil case, an air conditioner remote. A freshly finished lego house bought on eBay and missing 4 pieces. A dried lizard and 16 shells. A scented candle with a disappointing scent throw. A pair of child’s sandals and one set of heeled strappy evening shoes and a mop grouped together around the fire place.

An empty egg carton, an empty wine glass, and a full washing basket.

You can walk home if you’re going to get that

This was excellent. A man wanted to get a book. It was Modern Ballroom Dancing. But the women with him said, ‘No.’

One said, ‘Please don’t. Don’t get that.’

The other lady said, ‘No, you’re not going to get it.’

I was curious. I wanted to know more, but there was someone in front of me wanting to know about the masts on tall ships. I didn’t know anything.

One of the ladies by the door was saying, ‘If you get that book, you’re going to walk home by yourself.’

I leaned toward their conversation, ignoring the one in front of me.

‘There’s a book somewhere about the masts, you know the ones.’

‘I won’t walk with you either.’ The group by the door was a bonfire. The man was holding the book at an angle. He wanted it. He looked at me, hilarious. His glasses were circular discs of sunlight. The women looked at him, equally hilarious. One lady held onto his elbow.

The person in front of me clacked on. ‘If you find anything about the conifers, cylindrically rounded of course…’

The man by the door had given in. He put Ballroom Dancing back on the shelf, where I will get it to read for myself later. They left, still arguing. Tall ships also left.

In front of me, now a teenager in a cotton dress, flushed with enthusiasm.

‘My list grows; it never shrinks. Do you have Shirley Jackson.

I do have Shirley Jackson, but at home. It’s mine. We began a conversation about Shirley Jackson that neither of us could end. The girl bought Patrick White’s The Vivisector; she was willing to give it a go. I admired.

She bought Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family. She piled the books up, her own mother following behind, admiring.

Outside, it was hot. Later, when I finally brought my signs inside, a family was siting in the shade outside the bakery, a small dog at their feet. They were leaning back against the heat. The footpath, the tables, everything hot. I caught a chuck of conversation:

‘Yeah, but it’s not worth that much.’

‘That’s what I told him.’

‘Ort to reconsider.’

‘That’s what I told him.’

‘You want another coffee?’

‘All right.’

Keeping quiet

Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
And we will all keep still

For once on the face of the earth
Let’s not speak in any language,
Let’s stop for one second
And not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
Without rush, without engines,
We would all be together
In a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
Would not harm whales
And the man gathering salt
Would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars
Wars with gas, wars with fire,
Victories with no survivors,
Would put on clean clothes
And walk about with their brothers
In the shade, doing nothing

What I want should not be confused
With total inactivity.
Life is what it’s about;
I want no truck with death.

And if we were not so single minded
About keeping our lives moving,
And for once could do nothing.

Perhaps a huge silence
Might interrupt this sadness
Of never understanding ourselves
And of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
As when everything seems dead
And later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
And you keep quiet and I will go.

Painting by Zoey Frank