The book had been written

“…the book had been written with winter nights in mind. Without a doubt, it was a book for when the birds had flown south, the wood was stacked by the fireplace, and the fields were white with snow; that is, for when one had no desire to venture out and one’s friends had no desire to venture in.”
Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
Painting by Brad Relish

Easter. While in Quarantine.

At Easter, Saturday evening,  warm and still and evening. Next door the neighbour’s boys, who are children, are being wolves or something. I can hear them.

‘Ooooow. Owwwwwww. OOoooow.’ And so on. It’s so still I can hear them talking when they are not being wolves, in other words, behind the scenes.

There’s also one bird making the same long sound over and over again which interrupts wolf world for me. I can’t see the bird, just the bird sound like a liquid jet of news about my garden, not intended for me.

In front of me a wheelbarrow full of earth. Next to me a bucket of chalk in thick pastel sticks and a pile of 8000 shoes, none mine.

The bird makes the same long sound again and again. Can’t get it over with. Next door the wolves. Over the road the jackhammer has stopped. In the orchard the midday complaining crow has finished. Cigarette smoke coming from somewhere. My grandfather maybe, but he’s dead.

I used to play in a pile of sand with my brothers at my grandfather’s place in Richmond, but then he got hit by a car on Richmond Road and died. He had a garden set out in precise plots like you did in the old days, and also an almond tree. Under the almond tree a dog kennel with a long chain attached to nothing because the dog had died. My grandfather grew a hot and shocking plant called horseradish. He used to polish pieces of wood with sand paper, and then pieces of felt and talc powder until the wood became a screen, reflecting back his failed alcoholic world war two face.

Ooooow. Owwwwwww. OOoooow’. Well, the wolves next to me are still alive and going for it. Nothing in the world can stop play. That bird livestreams more new. It must be worth hearing. The galahs dripping insult from every gum tree. The wolf boys next door shout, ‘Get off, it’s mine’ through the wisteria, which is chucking its leaves into the driveway, not even caring.

In front of me there’s a cardboard box holding a wooden train set but all of the trains have gone to another house in a grandson’s pockets. Our garden in plots. I can smell kerosene on the evening air waves. Reminds me of something. My grandfather didn’t fail.

The ice cream: was it necessary?

Another window scene delivered with clarity and precision. A couple pass the window fast. It’s a warm afternoon. They are speaking in small shouts, which is why I look up. I look up in time to catch a still. Then they’re gone.

They were leaning forward in hurrying positions. She said, ‘Well, did I need to buy that ice cream?’

His head was turned to her. He said, ‘Well.’

She said, as though he’d said a lot more, ‘No. No. No. I just spend that $10.00. Did I?’

He said, (his voice fading) ‘it’s all good.’

So, the ice cream –  it was necessary. And good.

Then, inside the shop, an lady bought a copy of My Goblin Therapist by Morgan Taubert, and said, ‘I shouldn’t come in here.’ I looked at her and her face was a lit lamp. Then she said, ‘I’ll be back on the weekend for the Vera Brittain. I said, ‘Ok’, my face, a lit lamp.

I had stopped my chair

“I had stopped my chair at that exact place, coming out, because right there the spice of wisteria that hung around the house was invaded by the freshness of apple blossoms in a blend that lifted the top of my head. As between those who notice such things and those who don’t, I prefer those who do.”


Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
Painting by Alina Maksimenko

On the street this afternoon when I was leaning against the fence with a coffee

Nothing is so satisfying as seeing what people do in autumn on Saturdays when it’s warm and nearly Easter, and we know that the warm weather is nearly at its finish line. It’s done a good job here. The fence is warm. Over the road two people are lying on the lawn. They have their phones on their chests, not looking at them because they are kind of asleep. It’s quiet most of the time, I’ve hardly had any customers. So I went outside and leaned against the warm fence.

First of all a ute and trailer went passed. Huge rolls of straw like golden Swiss rolls. And then a truck with sheep, so everything smelt like hot sheep. And then a ute with black smoke at the exhaust, so everything smelt precisely like …. that.

I moved down the fence, sticking to the sunshine because I like it today. It doesn’t have its February commitment.

A father and child pass me close. They’re silent. They walk exactly the same way. Their ankles turn in at the same angle. The child walks behind, then side by side, then in front, carrying paper bags of food from the bakery. The father adjusts his pace to avoid collision and to look after the truth.

Another younger couple come the other way. The young dad is wearing a backpack with a rope tied to back. The other end is tied to a go-kart. The go-kart burrs along behind him with a small child in the driver seat. The child is pedalling furiously and breathing hard but only goes at the pace of the parent pony anyway. The mother, turning back to look at them, looks pleased. She turns her head to one side to get all the information in and looks pleased. The father plods along. The child pedals. The child raises one hand in the air. The father, sensitive to the air, looks back and says, ‘Nearly there’.

Across the road a four-wheel drive pulling a trailer is trying to exit the carpark. In the trailer is a neat little dog kennel, tied in with a thousand straps and ropes. It will not fall out. The man, an older man, is talking to another man in the passenger seat. I can see them talking hard. I think they are father and son.

The reason I think they are father and son is because when the car behind them sounds the horn (this is because they are so slow the exit the carpark) they both jerk to look behind them in the same way.

Right in front of me a man has parked a motorbike and left two helmets dangling from the handlebars along with a beautiful pair of lime green gloves. It’s the gloves that make me stare. And the phone left on the seat. Sitting there on the bike seat and shining in the sun Not important enough to take to the bakery. Good.

Across the road a man climbed out of his car and walked across the park to the toilets. He walked with a stiff gait. He looked as though he’d been driving for a long time. He came back via the rubbish bins and threw something away. Then he stood with hands on hips and looked at the bin for a long time.

There’s a huge group of people coming up the road, and I might go back inside the shop. There’s about 12 of them. But when I look down the road again, they have all disappeared. Then a car passes and I see a face at the window smiling and smiling, apparently at me, but I don’t know who it is. I just remember the mouth and the smiling teeth that caught me in their beam.

That’s how people drive past. I just see an intense flash of person. Drivers slumped back. Drivers upright or leaning forward over the steering wheel, urging the engine onward. Masks hanging from the rear vision mirror. A passenger talking and talking at a driver, whose face over the steering wheel is frozen.  I can see the talking mouth of the passenger, like energetic moving rubber describing too many ideas.

There’s a man crossing the road straight toward me. He looks left and right, checking traffic, and continues on straight at me. He looks left and right and then at me. I think, do I know you? But I don’t. He looks determined. I think, why is he aiming right at my piece of fence. He strides on and gets to the kerb. I think, turn left you dick. And he suddenly does, not even seeing me, aiming clumsily for the bakery and stumbling a bit over the kerb and me backed against the fence thinking I’m going to write about you.

Two young men pass with masks, keys, wallets and phones in their hands, jangling all their necessity. A car passes with one person inside: the driver. She stops to give way at the intersection. She is talking away at something and gesturing, as though trying to understand it. Like I am.

Sculpture by Elizabeth Price

Every book should begin with attractive endpapers

“Every book should begin with attractive endpapers. Preferably in a dark colour: dark red or dark blue, depending on the binding. When you open the book it’s like going to the theatre. First you see the curtain. Then it’s pulled aside and the show begins.”
Cornelia Funke

A group of tourists passed the door this morning

There were about six of them, they’d all been to the bakery, they all had hot food and coffee, and they’d parked outside my shop.

One man read aloud the sign on my door: “Second hand books. Something for everyone. Please Come In.” He read it in a sing song voice. Then he said, ‘Awwww. No way. Do you think anyone ever goes in?’

They all clattered past to their car, parked just past the verandah. Someone had on bright yellow, and one of them was trailing a bag with a long handle on the ground. One of them, an older man, had a newspaper.

There were two patient dogs on leads tied up under my verandah. They belong to a frequent bakery customer. They are very good dogs. One of the group, a lady, stopped to pat them.

She said, ‘Must belong to the bookshop. Not very nice having them tied up here all day.’

Then she looked through my window and saw Callie, who was working away at Young Readers, tidying up, and putting everything back into alphabetical order. The lady said, loudly, ‘Well there’s someone in here, the owner, I’d say.’

The don’t know we can hear them. We hear everything in here. The alcove doorway scoops up the sounds and delivers them to us in a teacup.

Callie keeps on shelving.

I smile and keep on reading.

The money exchange and the man who only got a coffee for himself

A reader in the shop needs money for her books. She calls her husband from the back room, and he comes slowly because he is carrying his own books. But he offers his wallet. Then he says,

‘You just snatched. You just took a whole hundred.’

‘Well get some more. Go get some more.’

The husband looks at me and says, ‘Oh My God.’ Then he leaves his books on the counter and goes out.

It’s a slow day. Two other people are talking about land development in the front room. One says, ‘Yes, but that’s very sensitive information.’

Browsers are moving slowly. We all have the autumn slows. The money lady is checking her phone against the books she is holding.

A group of three ladies, all wearing black jackets, pass the door, all talking fast and loudly. I hear one sentence:

‘How does she know about it none of us talk about it I mean settle down.’

Then they’re gone.

Then the husband comes back with more money and a coffee. His wife, the one checking her phone, looks at the coffee. He says, ‘Oh My God,’ again, and looks up at the roof, and then gives her his coffee.

Then they pay for all their stuff, all good books, even a copy of Cosmo Cosmolino, and go back out in the sun to the bakery to get another coffee probably. When they walk away, they are both looking down at their books and she is drinking the coffee.

Painting by Im Buchladen