The excellent argument

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While I am at the window, watching the foot traffic, putting the science fiction back into order, I am thinking that I might go to the bakery. But I can’t. There’s a group of ladies at the door. They don’t come in. They are reading my sign aloud, please come in, and looking through the glass.

They don’t come in. There are about seven ladies. They move up and peer through the larger window; I am right there, but they don’t see me. The sunlight on the glass makes them screw up their eyes and look cross. They are cross. One lady says the books are second hand, another lady, Joan, says they are new. She makes a shrugging movement with her handbag.

‘At any rate, we’re not going in. It’ll be expensive.’

‘Well. Well, I might. I just might have a look. It says, “used books”’.

‘They’re not used, they’re new. We don’t have time. Get the timetable.’

Another lady produces a pamphlet folded in an efficient way. They all lean in, but only one lady reads it.

They all look at each other. Then the lady who had argued with Joan sails for the door, and there I am, opening the door, please come in, indeed, we look at each other triumphantly.

One lady comes up behind the troublemaker and says, we’re going on, Gwen.

Gwen nods.

Outside, the group hesitates, wavers, moves to one side, watches a child on a small bike ride past. They move on slowly. They have rallied, they look good. They have a list of things to do, a timetable, and time.

 

The visitors

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Noah and Finn visited the shop this morning. They are packed with energy, ideas, and water bottles. They picked up the pottery cat and put it down. They read the robot book, the dinosaurs book, the wildlife book, and A History of Great Australians. They moved the owls and the clay bird, and put a copy of The Complete Angler in the back room. They smudged the glass, and opened the door, moved the teddy bear, shook the gem tree, sat up at the counter. They picked up the pottery cat and put it in a different place. They are wearing good autumn jumpers. They are grandsons. They are everything.

Black Beauty, Monty Roberts, and champagne

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Yesterday afternoon, a man came in with a bottle of champagne. He had seen a copy of Black Beauty in the window. He left the bottle on the counter and examined every book on the window table before returning with Black Beauty. He said he was also hoping for books by Monty Roberts, and that if I wanted to know about horses, I had to read Monty Roberts.

There was another customer here, looking through The Counties of The United States of America, and saying out loud, ‘This really is the nuts and bolts of the USA. It’s so complicated. Look at it. Look at this map.’

The other man said, ‘Have you read Shy Boy?’

‘This is the only book that actually shows how the counties have further subdivisions.’

The other man said we should all read Shy Boy: The Horse That Came in from the Wild, by Monty Roberts. He stood thinking, tapping the top of the bottle, and said that a couple of years ago, he –

Two people passed the door, walking fast. One said, ‘Well, we don’t have to worry about getting married.’

The man with the bottle of champagne turned abruptly and watched them walk by.

The other man said, ‘Look at this statistical table, it’s really up to date.’

 

 

 

Inside, Outside

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There are two ladies here discussing Things. First they talked about their children and then about Woolworths. Then, a water meter (broken). They have not looked at any books yet. Maybe they won’t. It often happens this way when people meet unexpectedly in a shop.

Today, my quiet door is hard at work. Earlier, a young man had thanked me for alphabetical order. He had held both hands out and said, ‘Thank you for alphabetical order…you’ve no idea what a difference it makes!’ His friend said, ‘Let’s go’, and edged the decision toward the door where the talking ladies moved aside without seeing him. But the young man was not ready to go. He was at Poetry. He suddenly said, ‘Get me out of here, I can’t go on’, and his friend said, ‘Thank God’, and they went outside to check phones, holding the door open, and we heard one of them say, ‘Sue isn’t a real vegan anyway.’ We could also hear a man in a suit standing next to his parked car with a coffee, and saying into his phone, ‘Do you want to drop those ladders off? Just go to my house then. Just bloody do it. Yeah….. yeah, ok…..yeah, I know….God. Why?’

The door closed

It opened. It was Don, hoping for his book on the Australian cameleers, but it was not in yet. As he left, he shouted back through the slowly closing door, ‘Off to Moonta with the Mrs, can’t wait. There’s history up there.’

The door shut. It opened.

‘Hello, hello, can we browse? Just been in the bakery. John’s still finishing his bun.’ Then she shouted back to someone else, ‘Get John.’

Outside, the man in the suit was saying, ‘And at the end of the day shit happens. I know that for a fact. Have you heard from your lawyer?’

The door shut.

The talking ladies moved comfortably into the doorway again.

A man asked for Lee Child. A lady asked for Sue Grafton. A couple asked for The Diary of Anne Frank (the uncut version). They told me that when they went to Amsterdam etc.

The man outside finished his call and began another.

People came along the footpath from both directions. There was a wild commotion of dogs. Everyone stopped and apologised, and said that their dog doesn’t usually do that etc.

The man outside is repeating into his phone that at the end of the day, shit happens, and he has always known this.

A child in the front room is standing motionless with a copy of The Hobbit on her head and staring through the window. She says to her mother, ‘Can we get this?’ and her mother nods without looking up.

The ladies in the doorway are leaving. I can hear them going up the footpath, ‘Well, I just tried it with beetroot, and the results were fair at least…’

You’ve been here a donkey’s age

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A couple came into the shop. He stopped at the window. He swayed back and forth, thinking and thinking. He stood in the same place. He wasn’t looking at the books. He was looking at something else, but I couldn’t see it.

His wife beamed and beamed at the shelves. She hurled her approval, but quietly, and everywhere. She said, ‘I like Fiona McIntosh.’ She came back slowly with three books. There was no hurry. There was time.  She said to her husband, ‘What else?’

He said, ‘The devil if I know!’

He swayed back and forth, looking at her. He shone his own approval all over her. She was already bent over, but she bent over some more, laughing slowly.

He said, ‘You’ve been here a donkey’s age!’

He said to me, ‘She’ll be a donkey’s age.’ He nodded silently, agreeing with the end of a vast argument that was flung back over a long time, perhaps a century.

She nodded, agreeing with the end of a vast argument that was flung back over a long time, perhaps a century.

He swayed back and forth. She beamed.

 

 

On the jetty, Edithburgh, at dusk

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I’m just watching. It’s all I want to do right now.

The jetty is warm.

The fisher people are patient, they move in and out of all the rooms of the evening. They are on the jetty looking for squid. One man handles his rod as if it is a pencil. He only needs one hand, light, delicate. He writes on the water. He leans over, frowning, as if looking for mistakes.

There is a child who is running in circles with a green bucket. The father says, ‘Here, bring it back.’ The mother continues to hold the line, staring downwards. She is wearing raspberry coloured sports shoes. She is blown about, swaying, and looking downwards, into the water, looking for signs in the green, green water, wondering how to improve things.

One man sits in a chair. He wears shorts, a singlet and rubber boots. He says, ‘Away then, away then, come on you.’  The next man is motionless.

The child is chasing seagulls. They hop backwards, an inch, another inch. She is so fast; they must hop back…two inches this time, hop, hop, and then they tilt their heads. She stretches and dips. Maybe she will put a seagull in her bucket. But she can’t, her father is calling and calling, ‘Here…. where’s me bucket…?’

The jetty is warm.

My family land a squid and it releases its life, in ink. Heads turn. Heads nod.

They are going for green tonight. They only want the green jigs. The information is passed on.

The sun settles, depressed, smoky. It can’t get clean. The eyes of the squid are wet emeralds, soft and gone. More fisher people pass us, heading for a place on the jetty, finding it, a precise place, a warm spot that works for them. They stop to prepare fishing rods, put down a plastic bucket and kneel to the sun.

My family land another squid; it releases another finale, across the jetty, ink, fire, a catastrophe, whatever. The running child with the green bucket pauses, glances across the stain,  reads it, moves on, calls back, ‘Got it’. She runs and leaps, entirely alive.

I am only watching.

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Reading a children’s book slowly and reluctantly

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A lady had bought three children’s books (for grandchildren) and tried to leave. Christmas things to do etc. But she was sabotaged on the way out. The Smallest Bilby and the Midnight Star on the window shelf stopped her exit. She came back and picked it up. Looked at the cover. Brought it to the counter. Outside, people rushed past. She read it though slowly, thoughtfully. Then she said, ‘Damn.’

We looked at each other understandingly. The book had won. She carried it out, I watched it go.

 

Three ladies look through the window at the political biographies

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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

The kids in the car

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Outside, in a car. There they are! Two children having to wait in the car for a parent who has rushed to the bakery.

I watch the car windows go up and down. Up and down. Spindly arms flicker. They are calling to each other, their little voices like recorders, fluting.

I watch an old lady pause and look in the window. The front passenger offers a small hopeful wave. The way children do. Unsure if it’s ok, but offering anyway.

Then he leans back, stretches forward, leans back again, with those little stalky arms up and touching the roof.  He checks that a smaller sibling in the back is attentive to his rather magnificent stretching. That child is nodding, nodding, nodding, but is looking out of another window.

The sudden grill of motorbikes makes them pause and stare at each other. The younger’s face is stretched downwards in that way children do, to fit itself around approval and joy.

The front one goes swish swish with his hair. He reaches out and flickers both hands right to left in an abrupt and convincing parody of a pianist thinking before descending.

He is singing.

Suddenly he reaches across to the back and offers a packet of something. He puts the packet gently into the sibling’s face to properly display the feast. They eat in these positions, together.

There are two small bikes strapped to the roof. I see now that there is also a dog in the back. I stand in the doorway of my shop, enjoying the sun and everything.

The front child returns and begins playing jazz piano on the back of his seat. The audience (of one) gazes forwards, rapt. The thin arms bounce and run, hover and dive, his fingers stripping the upholstery as he releases some ribbon of sound he has heard on YouTube or somewhere, somehow. His thin frame quivers across his own deadly reach. He must stop now, panting.

Another child goes past, staring in. Mr Front Seat disappears from view. Then his eyes appear. He points over the sill with his finer. Is he a sniper? Nearly as deadly to humankind as a jazz pianist. The passing child continues past. Walking and looking backwards at the car, eating biscuits.

Mum returns.

They talk, nod, seat belts, more nodding, a long conversation, she is holds the packets of food in mid-air. There is a long story from Mr front seat. Mum is interested, listens right to the end, then she leans back and kisses Mr Backseat. He leans back, replete. She deals out food, fastens her own seat belt, pull gently away from the kerb, eating from a paper bag bag, the children likewise, like little horses, noses out of sight and eyes closed.

Artwork by Pascal Campion