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The coffee people

Come into the shop with extra muscles and more blood than other people. Come in grinning. Eyes sparking humorous energy. Can get down to the bottom shelves even when balancing hot coffee; the bottom shelves are fun. They get the music I’m playing, sometimes executing a few imperceptible dance steps next to Biographies.

When the sound of motorbikes shaves the air away from the inside of the shop, the coffee people don’t notice. Coffee is a hot fragrant cushion. The young couple nursing steaming hot coffee look at me and nod happily. There’s another family in here too this morning, flushed and fresh from cold grass and junior soccer. They are on their way to get coffee.

One of their children bought a book about chocolate to the counter. His two golden coins were hot clutched. He handed them to me, hot, clutched, melting.

A smaller girl appeared at the counter, just her face. Then a five-dollar note flapped onto the counter in front of me.

Then her book poked up slowly and was laid next to the five dollar note: Lego Star Wars. I gave her back a coin and her eyes widened, then softened.

The coffee people cross and re cross the floor, going from room to room beaming light, carrying Ernest Hemingway and Chaucer. Reaching for Johnathon Swift, The coffee illuminating and warming sudden new interests.

I can hear children quarrelling smally in the back room.

Now the green grass soccer family are leaving, everyone with a carefully chosen book, and mum with a paper bag, a newspaper, her book, and a son burying his head into her stomach as they bundle through the door and into the cold which isn’t cold for them.

The coffee people continue, ‘What about the collected works of Charles Dickens..?’

‘We’ve got most of them.’

She nods and dives at the lower shelves. Something else.

Why are people so quiet when they look at books?

Sometimes customers are so quiet, I forget they are there. They’re in danger of being locked in, something that’s happened in bookstores before. But never here (yet). People can be silent when it’s necessary.

Browsers of books are always moving; it’s just that you can’t see the movements; imperceptible downloads of information and ideas so astonishing, that on the outside the reader appears as though paralysed. They move from shelf to shelf, giving back only delicate breath, and sometimes not even that.

An arm reaches. A finger touches a spine, asking something. The book is grasped and held, examined. Rejected. Or, held while the reader’s head tilts back, giving ceiling to the eyes, which need it because the memory they are interrogating is too large for this small shop.

Sometimes the paperback is placed under one arm and carried softly along.

Readers gaze into long barely lit thoughts which are ignited and hiss briefly before going out again, sparked by pictures on covers, images on spines, the dry smell of paper, the thick loving waist of a paperback no longer new, the cough of an opening sentence that you remember icily from high school.

Small children are the stillest. All the action happens in the small roaring rooms of their minds. Sometimes their eyes go wide and their lips compress. Then back to normal, all in a second. Once a child shook his head sharply as though trying to dislodge something back into the book.

Some readers press hands to hearts while they read. Others go up on toes and down again. Men jangle keys and coins and say, ‘HA!’ to the page. Readers come and tell me what they just found, and others place their books before me apologetically, as though admitting inferiority of choice. There’s no such thing.

 Sometimes readers just gaze at a book, neither touching nor opening the covers. Why? What are they thinking? They might turn their heads just slightly, and that’s all.  

Notable incidents about today

Robert came in. I was talking with someone else, a fabulous pair from Clayton, but I saw Robert outlined against the brightness outside the door, and I knew it was him: he has a spiky electrocuted outline and eyes like gimlets.

The pair from Clayton left on a bark of humour. We’d been talking about vaccinations. He reckoned he’d been vaccinated with the Calicivirus, but she said that was rubbish. That was when Robert loomed up behind them like a bolt of electric heat from Tutankhamen’s tomb, which was precisely what he was there to talk about.

He tapped the counter and gave me a list of books to find. He is currently reading Zecharia Sitchin. We discussed the possibility of getting the books. He said obscurely, ‘Imagine people thinking money is the thing. Don’t they know it’s books?’ We laughed darkly over anyone thinking money is the thing. Then he said, ‘Leave them alone. Best they keep thinking that. Leaves more books for us.’

Then we became hilarious. Robert laughed his high pitched laugh. It’s a thin voltage, admirable and richly unhinged. People turn around.

Behind Robert I saw Russell looking through the window, and behind him, a brisk lady who called out, ‘Hello there!’ in foghorn font causing Russell to jerk toward the window and nearly collide with the cold glass.

‘Very good thanks.’

In front of me, Robert continued on. ‘I’m getting Herman Hesse. He’s significant and I’ve only got The Glass Bead Game. I need all the rest.’

We googled Herman Hesse. A noble prize winner.

‘Really? Wow.’

Robert always utters really and wow in reverent deep tones, which drop deeper as he talks. Suddenly I, too, am desperate to read Herman Hesse.

I ask, ‘How did you find him?’

‘Don’t know.’ We look at each other and Robert laughs, high pitched and lunatic, and people turned around.  Then we settle down to the real business of the day, which is criticising people who don’t read and Telstra in that order.

Behind Robert, a tradesmen in orange and blue strides toward my door, grabs the handle and swings it competently open. But we are not the bakery, and he reverses, turns skilfully, lifting a phone to his ear at the same time.

Robert continues. ‘I wouldn’t mind a copy of The Master and Margarita’, and I promise to comply. Two ladies have bloomed fragrantly behind him, and he straightens up to leave, courteous.

‘Ok, see you later.’ He is briefly outlined in the doorway. Then gone.

The man who wanted a book written by an old Australian rabbiter who possibly never existed

I remembered him because he stood so close to me when he asked me about this book written by an old famous rabbiter. He’d had the book a long time ago. Lent it out. Never been able to find another copy.

He came around to my side of the counter and peered at my computer screen. Told me that his old grey matter wasn’t working any more. Said that the book may not have existed. He wasn’t sure anymore.

We couldn’t find the book. I said, ‘Never mind,’

He nodded and went into the back room, and I heard him talking to his wife. She was back there with books under one arm. She had a turquoise blue jacket and iron grey smooth hair and bottle green winter weight trousers.  Her face was strong and humorous. I thought this because she when she looked at me she was there.

Some people aren’t there. They look at me with half of themselves. The other half is busy with something else. That’s ok because I’m like that most of the time.

But she was there. She said, ‘We’ve come in before. We always come in to stock up again. It’s part of our trip to drop in.’ And I thanked them for it. Then she looked at me again, and that’s when I saw something else, some extra energy or a decision reached, or a way of going about things that was actually working.

Her husband came back and stood behind my counter again. She said, ‘Rex, come over here.’ He did. He picked up her books and took them over to the door. She said, ‘Bring them back, we haven’t bought ‘em yet. What have you got?’

He looked at me seriously and then asked me about a book he used to have about a flock of sheep. Probably can’t get it any more. I looked it up and he watched closely, but nothing emerged on the internet that was of any use. He said, ‘Well that’s technology for you.’ He said, ‘My old grey matter’s not working anymore.’

He and she looked at each other. She said, ‘Come over here.’ And he did and she squeezed his elbow. She bought the books, and then they left. When they went out of the door he was looking at her and she held his arm and their hands were clasped together.

The people who walked past the shop and who were obviously all in the same family  

I was outside. I was leaning against the fence next to the shop getting some good weak afternoon sun. This family came from the bakery all loaded up, and they passed me slowly all in a row. First son: an adult walking gracefully. More like loping, so that I looked down at his ankles, automatically wondering where the loping came from. It was his ankles. They weren’t tense. This is unusual. It meant he wasn’t in a hurry. It’s been many years since I’ve seen someone walking who is not in a hurry. Most people beat past with every bone tense and fulfilled, eyes stiff, and a list somewhere.

But he didn’t. His ankles were fluid so that his feet turned in slightly with each step, a small dip, as though acknowledging something hilarious and hopeless about the footpath. He had time to notice the footpath. He didn’t even hurry toward his car.

He wore charcoal jeans, shirt and shoes and had textas and pens in his back pocket. He held paper bags and coffee. He was followed by a small child, maybe 6 years old who had the same stride and the same ankles. The child turned with every step to survey everything being offered. There was the fence, some falling sunlight, a wet pudding of leaves rotting in the gutter, and me, looking on. But it was enough. The child’s head swivelled greedily from sight to sight. He walked with his small feet turning in on warm fluid generous and tiny hinges.

Then came Dad, or Pa, or Grandpa. He walked with the same lope. But there was stiffness in the joints. He carried more paper bags and a coffee and a small fruit juice. He wore the same jeans as his son but they were deep ancient green. They were new looking and very clean. I looked at his boots because his boots seemed to demonstrate the strange family ability to walk. This unhurriedness he’d given his son and grandson. I guess it’s passed from generation to generation: the ability to not hurry.

The thing is, it was actually their faces that stood out. They all had the same mouths. They had three generations of identical jaw. Their heads turned from side to side with a smile lurking behind the jaw muscles. Their faces were smooth and the teeth slightly protruding, as though acknowledging something humorous about to happen.

I heard Dad say that he couldn’t manage the car seat buckles for Grandson. Dad climbed slowly into the front seat. Son deposited paper bags onto the driver’s seat and jogged back around to the child. He buckled him in easily, and the child was saying that he had a giraffe in his hands, and he held his small hands up to show the giraffe. His dad said, ‘I can see it. Let’s get buckled in.’

Then he closed the door. They all drove off, and I stayed leaning against the fence to get a bit more sun.

Art by Roger Wilkerson

The ballad of people walking dogs past the shop door

I get plenty of time to observe. Most people with dogs go past the shop slowly. They look at the books in the window and their dogs stamp the doorway with nose prints and understand information left by previous dogs.

 Some dogs know what to do when walking along. They lead and owners follow. These dogs don’t stop at my door. The owner’s arms are stretched out and they walk jerkily, eyes on the ground, going faster than they really want to. These dogs are usually small with snaky sharp faces and blurry moving feet.

Other dogs pump it along the footpath turning back and forth following every noise and barking at other dogs and side leaping away from traffic. They have worn out leads and owners on phones. They piss on the side of my door, and the owners don’t notice.

When crossing the road, some dogs lead strongly and owners follow. Some sit and await owner signals and then stand and walk smoothly, often leaning into their owner’s thighs to feel for the next signal.

Dogs leap and writhe and stand upright on two legs when other dogs pass. Some dogs stand with eyes closed and doze while owners look through my windows. Sometimes a back leg shakes slightly and then goes still again.

Some people carry their dogs. I just see them as puddles of fur moving horizontally with flopping paws and the ears pointing backwards.

Some people don’t have dogs and go everywhere alone.