Life is so urgent

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Outside the shop, this morning, there was a clang. Five ladies all bumped into each other, unexpectedly.

‘Well, ha ha ha, how are we all?’ Somebody took charge.

There was also a little dog, Marco. Yvonne and Marco pass every morning. Yvonne once gave me a picture (on a glazed tile) of a bookshop she thought looked like mine. This was when I first opened, and it made me very happy. Yvonne grew up in England and said she was quite a dish when she was young.

Everyone laughed and leaned in. There was discussion about an email.

‘It took me 20 minutes to open it.’

‘Ridiculous!’

‘Ahhhhh. Well. Technology!’ They all agreed on technology.

Through the window I could see bright jumpers, shopping bags, a rose coloured beanie, and Marco, the patient gentleman.

‘The sun, isn’t it good.’

There was more discussion, low voices and leaning in. Laughter.

‘Yes.’

‘Catch you next time.’ Laughter. ‘Isn’t this funny.’ Laughter.

‘Bye.’

‘See you, girls.’ Laughter.

‘Yes, see you next time.’

‘Yes, and I’ll get that email.’ Laughter. They part. They move, and they let each other go.

‘What’d she say? I missed that bit.’ This is Yvonne to her friend, moving slowly on. ‘Didn’t she say something about dogs?’

‘I don’t know, I missed that bit.’

‘Yes.’

And on they go, past my door, past my window. Nobody looks in. I imagine the outside of my shop as if in a dream. I imagine it as beautiful. But nobody looks in. Life is so urgent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover…”

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The divine Italo Calvino identifies the real trouble with bookshops….

“In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you.
But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extends for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written.
And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid manoeuvre you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books Ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too.
Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:

the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages,

the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success,

the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment,

the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case,

the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,

the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves,

the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified,

Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time To Reread and the Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them….”

 

Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler

Catch you…

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Certain people have been visiting my shop for a long time. Nothing will stop them now. In my final days I have had to keep the door locked, and we all stare at each other through the glass. This morning, an old lady came by with her daughter. They were both young once. Now they are themselves. The mother loomed up to the door, looking for me. Her daughter said, ‘She’s not there, mum’. Her mother said, ‘She is. She’s right there.’

And I am there. I come to the door, and we all stare. On the mother’s face, joy blooms.

‘I told you. She’s there.’

I call through the glass, ‘Hello”.

They are delighted.

I call, ‘Did you want a book?’

They both nod. But I know they don’t. (Their gift to me).

I say, ‘I’ve no books left, go away.’

They laugh, delighted.

‘That’s not true.’

The daughter pulls her mother back.

‘Come on’.

The mother, who is kind, is also powerful. Wealthy in the new ancient currency. Kindness.

She looms up to the glass, simple, worried, looking for me.

‘Catch you in better times’, she shouts.

The whole empty aching street, turns, listens.

 

 

Written for the both of you who will never know what your visit meant to me.

The meeting

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There is a meeting outside the shop.

It makes steady progress, everyone is loaded with pies and coffees and cakes, but they move slowly on and on, past the window, stopping briefly, talking and talking, moving on again, then circling back to my doorway.

Winter’s over, mate.

Two men face each other, take a few more steps, stop again. They gesture with paper bags. Several others join them, backs to the cold. They look through my door, but don’t come in. A few more steps, talking and arguing, faces muffled through paper, sighing over the coffee, the coffee’s good.

Need to tie up loose ends…

I’ve zero tolerance…

120 bales..

Get your invoices in…

Worst thing ever…

There are always two people in front of each window. Some men are strolling up and down. I can’t work out where they’ve all come from. There are no vehicles parked outside.

No, mate, never heard of it!

Works really well.

Seven days a week?

I’ve a grandson back there though.

There’s no right way.

They are still coming out of the bakery, the group stretches past my shop. There are calls for more coffee.

Here, Ian. Someone tell him to get a carton of milk.

When I bought that spirit level, might have been a good ten years ago…

Everyone stops talking to stare at a truck that has stopped across the road. The driver jumps out and heads to the bakery, leaves the engine running.

He’s keen.

There was a guide, some sort of guide…wasn’t there?

No, there wasn’t.

All the shit you have to go through…I could tell you…

There’s a shout from down the street, out of my view. Everyone turns.

Is that Charlie?

There are footsteps, calling, movement, everyone preparing to leave, looking for a rubbish bin.

Weather’s coming in.

Don’t use the government guide.

Government? Is there one?

There was a turning of heads and a general, agreeable dismissive noise of contempt.

Government!

 

The man who forgot his glasses

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How we rotate our faces! Try to add levers to the eyes to push them further out – work properly, for God’s sake. Draw the mouth backwards, teeth forwards,  screw up the eye sockets.

‘What’s that one?”

“That’s Kingsley Amis. That’s Bennett…but I don’t think you agree with him.’

“No…no, indeed.’

This couple are examining the top shelf of Classics, but he can’t see properly.

‘That’s Enid Bagnold.’

‘Who the devil?’

 ‘National Velvet.’ And that’s James Baldwin.”

‘Silly writer.’

‘I don’t think so.’

They continue on, murmuring, agreeing and arguing.

‘No. Listen, I said…Bellow. Saul Bellow.’

‘Well, I don’t like the young writers. Is that Dickens?’

‘That’s Dickens.’

‘Ah…David Copper?’

‘Oliver.’

‘AH….My God, is that Durrell? Which brother?’

‘Lawrence.’

‘God, really? What have they got?’

‘All of them.’

‘…I’ll take Justine.’

‘I bet you will.’

They moved to Art. I can’t hear what they are saying, but I can hear the click and whir of the interested eye sockets, the loaded brain, the immense experience. He turns around.

‘Damn those glasses.’

‘Well, go and get them.’ She glares him into a decision.

He made one.

When he came back to the shop, he stood outside in the cold, pinned to the window outside, looking through at a Roald Dahl biography that he could have looked at in the warmth inside.  He peered, turning his head back and forth to get the details. He finally came in, and bent a brief sideways glance on me, his eyes, now magnified, were enormous, a three dimensional glare. But he was pleased. He continued onwards.

He forgot Art. He got caught in Young Readers.

He examined Swallows and Amazons. He said, ‘Ah.’

He looked at Geoffrey Trease, No Boats on Bannermere, and said, ‘Ah’.

His wife called out, ‘Look here.’

And he said, ‘EH?’ He didn’t move. He was back with Durrell. ‘Ah, goody, good and good,’

His wife called again, ‘Look at this.’

But he didn’t move.

She said, ‘Are you coming?’

He lifted his shoulders and shuffled past me; he said, ‘There’s no peace.’

 

Artwork by Shishkin Andrey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I went to Melbourne to buy books for the shop but it was too hot so ended up drinking chilled white in the suburbs instead.

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It is too hot. I got the books for the shop but it is too hot. We packed the books into the hot, hot car. But the weatherman had minced the carpark with the asphalt and the gum trees and when somebody backed their car into another car, a Mercedes, everybody stood and looked at the incident through the heat with narrowed eyes and hot feet and then turned away to swim through the heat to find their own car and get on home and the owner of the stoved in Mercedes looked at their car through the heat and just got in and drove away with their shoulders raised and ears flat, easier to get through the Melbourne heat that way. Who wants more things to do…
But then I am back in the suburbs of Melbourne, the hot- heated gold dust suburbs alive with weatherboard and coffee and jacaranda and heated evening and I am eating steak and salad and iced cabernet sauvignon and looking at the Melbourne city shape that is welded across the horizon and listening to family gossip that is all true but you didn’t hear this from me…
I did get Wide Sargasso Sea, the Gormenghast trilogy in three penguin volumes and the David Malouf Complete short stories.
It was worth it. What’s heat anyway.

Things people say when they walk past my bookshop

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What’s in there do you think? Parents say this cheerily to small children and then fall over their mistake.
Keep going, just keep going. Spoken in urgent tones by friends who don’t read to friends who do read.
Look at this Frank, look at this pretty place. Said to husbands who look across the street instead.
Like video shops these places are, won’t be around for long either. Comments by people who won’t be around for long either.
Is this the bakery? Every tourist.
I hope you are taking part in the Tour Down Under display otherwise I won’t bring you doughnuts or coffee or anything. Said by my friend, Zoe, who works at Incredible Minds around the corner when she brought me an iced mocha.
Where’s the bakery? Every tradesman.
I love this place, they had Black Beauty and one of the Ella Diaries, number five. Children say this in various combinations every day, leaning against the glass and looking though and shading their eyes from the glare of so many choices.
Pointless sort of place, everyone reads online now. Older people predicting the future.
Is it open? People who look through but can’t see if I am there because the open sign is in their way.
I used to put in computer systems though. This place should be in a computer system, be easier that way. A man who stood outside for a long time and told his friend that my shop needed a computer system.
I’m not even going to think about going in there. Retired men who want to come in.
You’re not going in there. Wives of retired men who want to go to the bakery.
This place won’t be here long. Kindly passers by who hopefully can’t foresee the future.
I’ve never been in here, we should go in one day. Frequent visitors to Strathalbyn who never come in.
We are allowed to park here mate so get the fuck out the way. Motorcyclists who park outside my shop and take up the whole space so no cars can get in.
This is bullshit. Motorists who wanted that same car park.
Is it ok if I bring my dog in? Everyone who wants to come in and also has a dog.
I wish that I had this many books in my room, I would put them all over the place same as this because I love this. Children who look through the door and stop to open it a little way and put their flower faces against the gap and call through to me.

Photography by Doreen Kilfeather

British Tits

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I made a window display after Christmas and lined up the books in an amusing way by accident. Many people stopped to comment. Some leaned back and leaned in and read and re read. Some people have taken photos. One boy said to his friends: omg, look at this: British Tits or something. Is that what it says? But his friends have walked by.
One lady said: oh well, that’s a funny old set of books.
One man stopped and pointed, he tapped the glass over and over and his laugh split in pieces and dropped all over the footpath. But his friends, one with a walking stick, had moved on.
One lady rode her bike across the footpath and stopped at the window and took a photo of the display.
Some older teenagers lingered there, and all worked hard to say the funniest thing. One boy said that his tits had thrush and his friends looked at him politely but without enthusiasm.
One man parked his motorbike and took ages to stow his helmet, fold his jacket, haul out his bag, find his wallet. He stood packing things in and out and regarded the display impassively. Then he went to the bakery.
A child said: look at the cat.
On man said: British Tits to his wife, twice, and she looked at him and didn’t smile.
Two old ladies together read out the titles and looked at each other and laughed like anything. One of them said: what’s wrong with Australian tits. Her friend leaned back and laughed about sixty years of life easily up into the sky. They walked away arm in arm and triumphant.
Some high school aged students, two boys and a girl walked past and one boy read the title in surprise. He read it out loud but the other boy didn’t hear and the girl raised her shoulder against the joke and so he could not continue it.
One man roared out: British Tits to nobody and nobody responded and he continued on to the bakery.
Sometimes I feel as though I am on a houseboat. And life gently gulps past the window, removing and returning, on and on, and never really stopping, not even for British tits.

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These will last one week

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They are standing very still, this couple who came into the shop in the early morning and she examines the books leaning first on one leg, then the other, still, always still. She holds one book against her waist and reads the back of another. He says something and she looks up at him, stares at him, doesn’t answer, they stare at each other. She looks back down at the book she is holding. He rocks on his heels and whistles a little. She has raised a stack. He looks at her as though she were raising hell and he looks proud, he looks at me to see if I have noticed that life today is a masterpiece.
When they came in, she came in first. She plunged into the books, into the choices, leaving the bright summer day outside easily and gliding in without looking at me. I thought she scanned the perimeters of possibility within a few seconds and favourably too because her face went from holiday to intense. Maybe he recognised the flags because he squared up and rocked on his heels and made ready to carry the world.
He carried some of these books over to me, set them neatly on the counter and looked at me and said: this isn’t all. And they’re not for me because I’m not that clever.
Then he went to retrieve more and suddenly he appeared backwards through the second doorway, just half of him because he was leaning sharply back and he said again: that’s not all. That’s not all – and those books for her will last……ONE WEEK.
When she came out to pay for the books, he was already stacking her world into his arms. And she looked at him with her head on one side, considering something and then they left, and she was leaning closely in with her arm across his shoulders so that they could not get through the doorway easily and had to jostle and wedge and they are nearly dropping the books and he is saying: don’t worry, I’ve got ’em.

You only need to look with one eye.

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Now I am in Melbourne, in the city centre and in a bookshop myself and there are two notable things. Next to the political histories, two men are arguing over a book and the book is about the history of water, it is called Elixir, A Human History of Water by Brian Fagan. I know because after they had left I went over and looked at the book they had left there. There is trouble because both men are expert water historians and also expert readers and they are interested in everything. They left together, they walked with great energy, their faces, unhappy, showing the strain of maybe having to be interested in everything.

The other thing is in the area for comics in this shop. There are two boys there, about ten years old, they are sitting under the display of comics and reading one each, cross legged. One boy said that he didn’t get it. He didn’t get why they sank everything and how come the two main guys lost all their powers. How come that happened? How come they just didn’t take the rucksack with them the whole time? The other boy said that, no, that didn’t even matter, just keep reading, it’s pretty cool how the map comes back and it all makes sense, it’s pretty cool. What you have to do is only read out of one eye, just shut one eye as well. If you read out of one eye, you will get it and see the main things, you don’t have to see everything, just the main small things that you hardly see, like that door and how it points to something. Then he said: when you get to the end, tell me all the stuff you see because I need to know some more stuff to get the powers back, ok? They agreed. They both looked pretty happy.