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 lovely ongoing enthusiasm of readers

In the shop, I get told about things in bits and pieces. There is never enough time for customers to explain the whole story – which in their minds is one complete coherent and catastrophic realization- but it only gets to me in fragments.

‘The Russians are a cruel people. I prefer the Druids. King Arthur, for example. And Lancelot was a complete arsehole. You can’t tell me he didn’t have something strange going on with the Danes.’

Readers are always enthusiastic and visionary.

‘Easter is for throwing things out. That’s how I was raised. Read Winnie the Pooh, and you’ll understand.’

And emphatic.

‘I had to confront the manager about the hot cross buns.’

And they are mysterious.

‘I’ve read all of these. Brilliant books. I might get that one anyway. And you’ll see something across the road in a minute. At least you will if you’ve read book 4 of these.’

And they are confident.

‘Did you know that the writer of Tarzan made it all up?’

A reader brought a copy of The End of Certainty by Paul Kelly over to me. He said, ‘There’s a lot we can learn from the Americans. But as for Blair, just leave him out of it.’ He bought three other biographies. He said, ‘Luckily, there’s no end to it.’

Children try harder. They watch your eyes when they talk and gauge your enthusiasm and your comprehension accurately. They tell the story properly, loyal to the facts and inventing nothing. In ‘Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll’, Kelsey lives in Pakistan and needs a friend. Her and her Nanna get her a doll. Called Amy Jo. They have a hard adventure. But they are all right in the end.’

They explain succinctly why they want a particular book.

‘It’s because I want it.’

Illustration by Inga Moore

I reckon you’d enjoy that one, Trevor

Yesterday there was a couple at the front window. They were unusual because they stayed there for so long. I could hear them. They couldn’t see me. They wore sensible caps, and shoes made for long walks in the evening. They each had a shoulder bag and a water bottle. And good sunglasses, too – this is why they had to peer through the glass to get at the titles.

They screwed up their eyes and read the titles out loud, slowly, and very seriously.

‘I reckon you’d enjoy that one, Trevor.’

‘Not with my reading I won’t.’

‘I think you would.  It says please come in, there on the door. What do you reckon that means?’

‘Means come in.’

‘Come on then.’

‘Look at this. Is that Leonardo Da Vinci?’

‘History is it?’

They leaned in with difficulty. They made the shape of difficulty with their mouths, and their eyes and foreheads agreed in thin lines.

‘That’s not Leonardo Da Vinci.’

‘Well. Who is it then?’

‘Some chap. Could be anyone. Let’s go in. You never know.’

‘Don’t know if I can be bothered. Looks expensive.’

‘Well, have it your way. Let’s get a bun round the corner there.’

And they left.

Leonardo Da Vinci watched them go; a nice hardback, dustcover in good condition, tight kidneys, no sciatica in the spine, born out of wedlock, never went to school. A master in the guild. Buying caged birds and releasing them. Coming up with the Mona Lisa. He watched them go.

It’s all right, just done me hands at the doctors

A couple came into the shop together, but he tried to leave. She said, ‘No, stay, Frank’, and he did.

She said to me, ‘It’s all right, just done me hands at the doctors, Frank, do your hands’, and he did.

Then she said, ‘This is very nice here, but I’ll think we’ll go get a cup of coffee instead’, and they did. But they came back.

She loved books. ‘Vanity Fair, I loved that on the television, the blond guy. That actor, he was gorgeous, do you know the one?’ But I didn’t know it.  

‘I’ve read 22 biographies of the stars. Now that Yoko – she was a terrible, terrible person. It’s now wonder he was the way he was. It’s because she was terrible to deal with.’

She stood at the counter, dignified and straight and kind, and told me about various things. She bought Vanity Fair, a biography of Vanessa Redgrave, David Copperfield, The Harp in the South, The Constant Gardener and Pinocchio. Then she turned to find Frank, but he had left the shop.  

She said, ‘He’s got hearing aids, but I swear he still can’t hear anything, especially me.’

I thought that this was probably true. She darted out of the shop, was swift in the doorway, she flitted past the window to their parked car. Here, through the window I could see Frank, leaning against the passenger side, smoking.

She said loudly, ‘Frank, you have to pay for the books, that’s what I said, remember.’

He said, ‘I’m ready. Where’s your stuff?’

They came back in, and she picked up her books from the counter, he handed me a credit card. She sighed and frowned, but he looked unperturbed. He winked, paid, and said, ‘All done Mrs.’

Illustration by Marius van Dokkum

Three ladies look through the window at the political biographies

Pat Brennan.jpg

The political biographies occupy the window in an arrogant and useless kind of way.

Three ladies are out there, together, come off a bus across the road. I can see the driver sprinting for the bakery.

I can hear the ladies. They are bent over, peering in.

‘Sue was reading one of his books…’

They laugh wildly. (I wonder, who is Sue…?)

‘Caroline read it, too. When she…you know…’

I knew she wouldn’t lend me, so I asked for it at the library.’

‘They take an age though.’

They all agreed that libraries take too long. I still don’t know what they are referring to. I remain still. Eavesdropping is rude. It would not do for people to know. Is it Paul Keating? Surely not.

‘I wouldn’t mind it. She said it makes you feel good.’

(Paul Keating?)

‘You know you can read it and…’

‘Enjoy it.’

Whee yes! That’s what she said.’

‘I’m going in.’

‘Anne’s going in, bless her’.

“Anne” poked about amongst the political and knocked Keating to the floor. She picked up The Happiest Refugee and brought it to me. She said, ‘A hardback, no less. That makes me happy. It’s Anh Do!’

She opened her kind handbag and found the money. She looked at me and said richly, deeply, ‘Read it read it read it! You must read it. It’ll make you feel good.’

Then she left, thrusting the book at her friends, who bobbed up and down and exclaimed, ‘Anne, you’re a one!’

And they walked on, Anne with the book, and the others talking about having a colonoscopy.

Artwork by Pat Brennan

I’ve got two impatient men out here

f3920925a62e0455309193f6a035c0f7.jpg

A lady visited the shop this morning and stayed mostly with the biographies. She circled around briefly, noting this and that, nodding and looking, but always returned to the biographies. She said, ‘I love them.’

Then she said, ‘I’d stay longer, but I’ve two impatient men out there.’ She wagged her head from side to side and raised her eyes to the roof. She remained looking thoughtfully upward, as though seeing some solution up there.

Then she looked back into the biographies. There was a tap on the window and an urgent face appeared.

She said, ‘Oh damn them.’

She opened the door an inch and stared out, and they stared back. She said, ‘I just told her in there that I’ve got two impatient men out here.’

They jumped back in alarm. One said, ‘Well that’s not true is it. We just want a cup of tea. You go back in there to your books and fancies. Can’t she Frank! Why can’t she do that!

But Frank was not helpful. He had turned away. A cup of tea! He disappeared from view.

She joined them outside, sighing, suffering, and I heard her say, ‘Well, my goodness”, as they continued down the street.

 

 

 

 

Wheel of Fortune

Dimitar Lazarov

Two people came into the shop and left again after about half a minute. This is because the Kevin Rudd biography was NOT the one they wanted.

They’d stood outside and argued about it for half an hour. Bending to examine the book through the window where it sat in the sun, doing nothing. Rapping the window, right in Kevin’s face. They moved away and came back. Once she partly opened the door, but the argument pulled her back out again. Finally, they made it inside. But it was the wrong book. He said, ‘Not to worry, not missing much with that fool.’

‘As if you’re going to win Wheel of Fortune, Trevor!’

The man, Trevor, said he thought he WOULD win Wheel of Fortune. He said that if he won a fortune, he would give it to the birds.

Artwork by Gerhard Gluck

Russell Brand

ef8e2ee1f30d43b52e6b0c477ef666dc.jpgThere is an old man here leaning into the biographies while his wife searches for something significant in the spirits. She calls it exactly that, the spirits. She told me later that what she hoped for was some useful reading in numerology but at this stage does not know where to begin the quest.
Her husband does not say much, he spoke to me about the weather and the dust and then turned back to the biographies. He is looking at a biography of Russell Brand.
His wife returned to ask him what he has found and he silently holds up the Russell Brand. But she says, well, we aren’t reading that are we…
He doesn’t reply so she slants in silently, moves in on the shoulder where he is not expecting an approach. She says briskly, not that book! And he, weaving backwards in alarm, farts loudly enough to wake the dead (this would please Russell Brand no end) and hurls the book back onto the display, and she backs off in disgust and they leave abruptly, purchasing nothing, and leaving me with numerology and Russell Brand.