Today

Not a lot happened. People came in and whispered and left.

Some rain came down.

There was an argument at the intersection. I watched. A young man got out of his car as he waited to turn right. The ute in front was too slow. His shoulders were upped and roundy, threatening, like cat’s fur hit by electricity. The young men in the ute watched him with narrow eyes. Just as he approached their car, they accelerated, leaving him there, middle finger raised. Alan was at my door, watching. Delighted. He laughed his laugh, no doubt wishing it hadn’t ended so easily.

Fred knocked and waved.

Sarah came in and complained. She’d been thrown out of the craft group. She showed me her botanical colouring book. I admired the hot pink petals on all the roses. She was pleased.

Alan came back, peered through the door and left again. He and Sarah don’t always get on.

Some rain came down.

A man came in looking for Dr Who. He said, ‘I daren’t get any of those, they might be wrong. I’ll wait till she’s out of school.’

Someone phoned to book into the history tour, but ‘all the tours are finished now’. They hung up abruptly.

I shelved a few books. Thought about Edith Sitwell and Vita Sackville-West. Virginia Woolf. Leonard Woolf. I have been tugged down a rabbit hole; I followed a biography of Edith Sitwell, and now it is hard to recover. Nobody has heard of Edith except Virginia Woolf.

A young woman came in, looked about and left in a rush. She said, I’m sorry.

Some children come past. A boy is pushed, and he falls into my doorway.

‘Get him up.’

The child is hauled to his feet. ‘Shit, sorry. God. Why’d you even fall? Did a trap get you or something?’

Another child screams, ‘There’s someone in there. Get the police.’ They all look at me, and then they are gone.

A truck goes past.

I sort things. A woman comes in with books to sell, but I can’t buy. I have no space. She looks around with a tense mouth. She says, ‘OK’, and leaves.

Lovely Marion comes in and checks Fantasy. She’s collecting Terry Goodkind but has just discovered he died last year. She is not impressed. We talk about Sara Donati and Diana Gabaldon. She waves. ‘Bye, dear.’

There’s a crash of plates from inside the bakery. We hear it inside my shop. A customer says, ‘Jesus!’

I remember yesterday, during the rain, a grandson came in. He’s two. There was a crowd (unusual for May), and Finn called, ‘Nanny, Nanny, Nanny’, over the conversation, over the hustle, over the entire planet, and I heard, easily.We locked eyes. Kin.

Last night I read him ‘Hairy Maclary’, six stories, till he fell away, but I kept reading the seventh before switching to Edith Wharton because there she was in the same stack of books I made last week when I was reading to a different grandson.

A customer nearly buys a book about Yoga.

A young man buys a pile. He can’t speak. He just looks at his books. He chokes and says, ‘these’.

Yes.

The child

Came in just before closing time. It’s cold. We’ve got autumn now. She is about nine. She has that child’s mouth where the teeth lead the entire face. She is picking up a set of Percy Jackson books, a huge stack, and she can’t stop grinning because they made it in time. She said, ‘We made it in time.’

Then she bellowed through the cold door, ‘DAD.’

I could see him through the glass, on the footpath and sorting through his wallet, finishing a smoke.

He came in, ‘Don’t get excited’, he said, wanting her to get excited.

She was.

‘Don’t put them in order because I already know how they go. This.’

She rearranged them slightly. ‘I’ve already read them. Dad, get them.’

He took out his wallet again and got them.

I offered a bag, but she would not part with them. They were in her arms.

‘No way,’

I understood.

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

I was here

I was here. It’s the Watsacowie Brewery in Minlaton, SA.

It’s autumn and warm. We went down an endlessly wide street in a tiny town on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, and there it was, amongst the paddocks, a brewery, and busy. The locals have brought their dogs. Families have brought their kids. The drinkers crowd an exhausted little food van next to the fence. Mexican food. There’s a band. The toilets are super clean, and children are playing everywhere.

And the work that’s been put into the place! The colours. Somebody has chalked up all the choices in pink, red, blue, green, and amethyst chalk, with the wines set out above that, and a gold light illuminating everything.

We ordered fast, wanting to get on with it. People knew each other. We sat outside in a wooden cathedral, looking out at autumn and a good weekend, with a public holiday lurking somewhere in the dust, and in front of us, the band, still setting up and talking to the locals.

Then they start, used to it, relaxed, and ready to play the favourites. There’s a child sitting in front of them playing with something in a cardboard box.

People and dogs sit together. Kelpies with serious faces, judging the music. The Mexican food van runs out of food within the first hour. But people are mellow, the band is playing John Farnham. Locals go up the road to get food from the general store and bring it back. But then there’s an altercation at the van; somebody didn’t get their nachos. The tables are a small lake of onlookers, and they look on at the argument benignly.

Near us, a young man is talking to a young woman, and an older man next to him is listening in, not looking happy. The band play Cold Chisel. The unhappy nachos lady nurses a grandchild, and sways along with Cold Chisel.

The tables, as one, break into a chorus, then just as abruptly, stop and dip back into their drinks and their lives. The band plays on. The food van is closed. The van workers are all slumped against the side, smoking.

It’s getting hotter. The tables are wine barrels. At the barrel behind us, the men, wearing farmer’s shirts, are discussing something. One man hits the table with the palm of his hand.

‘That’s what I told him. That’s exactly what I told him.’

At the toilets, a youth in black, leans into the tangled ivy and talks urgently into a phone.

The brewery staff work on into the afternoon, tireless, helpful, obliging, brilliant. When we leave, we pass all the inside tables There’s a man asleep on one, a dog asleep under another one, a family gazing at the chalkboard in astonishment, and a young girl cleaning tables; she waves madly, ‘Thank you, good bye, good bye.’

That’d be a good read

b523b862730550592088e601cebb861e (2)

People are looking in my windows again, reading the titles of the books aloud, passing  divine judgements.

‘Churchill: The End of Glory. God, look at him.’

‘Gandhi Before India. That’d be a good read.’

It’s cold outside. The leaves continue to slide in under the door. People walk to the bakery and take food back to their cars, lean against the doors, blinking at the warmth. Gaze at my displays.

‘I think they’re all new age books.’

‘Want to go in?’

‘Nope.’

Small groups cross the road cautiously, lighting up when they see the bakery open and only a small queue. They tap my window kindly on the way past.

‘It’s open again.’

Another pair talked loudly as they sped past.

‘And we went around and around all over the place, and then we said…. stuff it. Nothing’s open anyway…’

‘Fair enough.’

A couple come in and ask me for permission to browse. They showed me their hands as though for inspection. I said, ‘Yes, please do. Take your time (take a year).

Andrew, who is 92, picked up his copy of Exactly, and said that it’s a strange time right now, but he’s known worse.

A lady came in and went out again. She said to her husband, who was still browsing, that she was going for a large bun so they didn’t turn up empty handed. He didn’t answer.

Each time a car passes, sunlight strikes its windscreen and sends a brief oblong of light against my door. This heartbeat is interrupted only when someone walks past. Footsteps, a cluster of shoulders across the window, a cooling of the light, someone saying, ‘Come on, you don’t need any more books.’

But they do, and they come in and ask for Predator’s Gold by Philip Reeve or anything on mushrooms.

Please come and look at these books…

Still Life with Quinces by Van Gogh (2)

I did go and look at those books. It was a library of a woman who had died.

The lady spoke of her mother. We were standing outside the garage, shielding our eyes from the afternoon sun. There were fruit trees and two dogs, cardboard boxes, and a horse behind a railing – it was warm and quiet. I could hear the horse breathing. She was telling me about her mother; all the things she used to do, the gratitude of communities, the reading, her passion, her; the mother.

I could smell quinces.

‘The things a person loves are always, always recorded in their library.’ The daughter leaned back in amazement and pride as she said this. It was a delicate opera of grief, sung outside (to me) next to a bucket of yellow quinces. The daughter was wearing pink and white. She said, ‘Don’t lift those heavy boxes, you’ll hurt yourself.’  Her mother, Barbara, was one of my first customers. She read Don Camillo. And there they were, the books she once bought from me, right there in a box, in the sunshine, next to the quinces.

 

Still Life with Quinces by Vincent Van Gogh

Noah and Max plant daisies and tell me that these WILL grow…

048 (2)

Autumn, and here we are in the garden, there is stuff to do. Dig.

The difference between a weed and a flower is nothing.

Noah wears only one boot. The other one is gone. They lose their spade. Somebody loses an entire pair of pants. We find a tiny bulldozer, folded into a crunching mud pastry underneath the blackberry. These little boys, my grandsons, roll and stride and fly from one end of the orchard to the other. They find worms. These are treasures. They find weeds. These are treasures. They find snails. These are beyond treasure, there are no words. They lean in over the tender stalk of eyeball that moves underneath their scorching breath and outraged curiosity.

‘What’s his eyes doing?’

What’s him looking for?’

They carry their luggage with them, a pot, a spade, a tiny bulldozer, a scooter with a bead necklace tied to the handlebars, a snail, a plastic dingo, and a piece of wooden train track. They drop everything.

They squabble over the tiny bulldozer. Their small muddy hands must hold that bulldozer.

They arrive at the foot of the old yellow daisy. It is huge, it lives without aid all year round. It finds water for itself. When everything else wilts, it rears in contempt.

They consider the whirring flowers and snip off a few and stand there, looking at the scatter. Then they remember. Planting. It’s easy. They run from here to there, tying the tender stalks to the earth, ungentle and urgent. They step backwards and trample their work. They fall. They sit on their own gardens. They lose each other.

‘Where’s my Noah?’

Finn (the youngest) has taken all the best toys, sits alone and supreme. They don’t realize.

The tiny yellow daises, rumpled and torn, cut with no stalks, limpy, bruised and shorn of petals take their place in the richness. They rear (with interest). The gumboots thunder past. A small shovel is hurled, no longer needed.

They shout, ‘Finn, not yours.’ Finn (the youngest) sits unperturbed. He grips the tiny bulldozer, prepared.

The tiny yellow daises, rumpled and torn, cut with no stalks, limpy, bruised and shorn of petals take their place in the rich. They roar (with pleasure).

On the beach, yesterday

010 (2)

It was cold. The stone seat was cold. Everywhere uninterrupted; just cool spaces without argument. There were signs describing the rules; keep your distance…be respectful. The paths ran just above the beach in both directions; walkers trudged by with a kilometre between each of them, everyone leaning into the wind, wearing good coats and sporty shoes. There are seats along the paths. Someone has tied a bunch of flowers to one. An old couple stand near one seat, hanging onto the back of it while they hold plastic cups and open a thermos. My daughter and I take the sand, and we sink into it awkwardly instead of joyfully because it is not summer. The houses are all silent. I name all the trees wrongly. I note the plants that survive here, the seaside varieties with thick ankles and bright sparky flowers, relaxed in the salt wind. There is rain. Then sunlight, metallic, so that we are suddenly hot.

We pass a tiny bay with a danger sign at the top. This makes us look down to find the danger.  Over the other side, two ladies are also gazing down into it. It’s a tiny bay with nice rocks and stones, and waves coughing in and out of its narrow throat, glassy and cold.

There was an old couple near the toilets. She told him to go and move the car, perhaps bring it closer. Because it was cold. He shuffled off slowly, dressed warmly, his hands hanging down, checking now and then in his pockets for the car keys which were in his hand. While we were at the toilets, he drove back, slowly, slowly, the only car in the whole area. We watched them greet each other again, slowly and unperturbed.

The happy couple who jumped about the shop (despite their advanced age)

Anton Pieck 1895-1987

When they came in, they said, ‘Sorry’ and ‘Thank you’, both at once, although there is nothing to be sorry about. I have been open for two days. I don’t put my signs out. It is very quiet. People still want to read.

A man came in and said, ‘Do you do printing?’

Another man came in and said, ‘Sorry, I wanted the bakery’.

An old customer from Milang opened the door and said, ‘GOOD ON YOU, YES!’

People are very kind. They comment that we are lucky here. They ask for books that I mostly don’t have and are kind about it. They choose other books. People come in that I’ve never seen before. They look at my bottle of hand sanitizer and use it with kind faces.

A lady stood and looked out of the window at the empty street for a long time.

Then a couple came in. They looked carelessly happy. I have not seen this for a long time. They said, ‘Ah, sorry…thank you. We’ll just look about.’ They are the only ones here, but the shop seemed full, so much conversation, so much noise, so much crossing paths. He said, ‘Good find, good find.’ She said, ‘I know’. On they went, around and around.

Some people passed the window, very fast. Tradesmen. One said, ‘A book, a book, you want to buy a book?’

‘Don’t think so. What’s a book keeper?’

‘Dunno’. ‘Not a good day to go to the beach, though.’

‘Yeah, I know, and then I look up, and there’s this bus, like, right at my side, and I’m like, move over mate’

‘Yeah.’

They are gone. It’s quiet again. Just leaves blowing, red and gold disks snapping under my door, a nuisance, and very beautiful.

But the couple are still here. Beaming, joyous. They had discussed bird watching in the back room. They asked for a certain book which I did not have. Never mind. Because instead, they had some very fine histories. They lingered, undecided. Maybe they had missed something. They said, ‘we always get something good.’ She gave a jump, ‘look at this.’ He spun around, ‘What?’ She jumped at the shelf. ‘My God, I’ll have it.’

I wondered about them. Whey were they so happy? Had they been here before? Why were they so happy? Where did they live? I wondered where they lived. I imagined a house with many books.They stacked their books and paid, and I stood up. So much happiness, it was at chin level.  I had to stand up.

 

Artwork by Anton Pieck (1895- 1987)

The Mulberry Tree

010 (2)

The mulberry tree arrived as an infant. We planted it in the centre of the orchard. It placed its toes in some source of life that we couldn’t see. It grew.

It towered over the cousins from the time they were born. They ate its soft red ideas all through their first two summers and presented themselves, stained and fat at the back steps for cleaning up.

Now they have found it. They climbed it. It has branches placed at cooperative intervals which allows small muscles and hands to leave the ground behind and discover a whole new interval. They become monkeys. They scream a newly minted monkey sound. They hang over a branch, speechless.

They are full of mud and welts. They refuse to come down. They say there is a tiger. There is a good branch close by. They grasp it. They are birds, they are not birds, they are new. They stare at each other. They stretch their mouths open and make no sound. There is no sound sufficient.