What was said this morning

I’ve been away from the shop because I’ve had covid. I drooped at home and read books. Sometimes, I went outside in the rain and looked up and down the road to see what other people were doing. I mostly ate instant noodles. I read a book about Queen Elizabeth I caught in the tower of London and doubting the future. Now I’m back at the shop and watching people pass the door, sometimes coming in but mostly not.

Visitors approved my covid reading choice. There’s something about Queen Eliz 1 which catches the ear. ‘Oh yes. She was amazing. And that Mary Queen of the Scots. Were they related?’

A man bought all my Asterix books (except the one in French) and said he’d inherited a stack of Tintins from his dad. He told me about a lecturer who did a thesis on Tintin. He went all around the world to investigate the stories and research Herge, or Georges Prosper Remi, who wrote and illustrated the Tintin books. He said, that’s a thesis people would actually want to read. Probably the only one.

A couple passed the window and stood in the doorway to make some adjustments. He said, ‘The trouble with these straps is they don’t work’, and she said, ‘You’ve got something on one of your thongs.’

A child went past, holding a parent’s hand and wearing a beanie with rabbit ears. They turned their head and I saw their eyes bobbing along, looking in at me before disappearing past the window.

A couple told me about the difficulties of teaching: there’s no support. Someone they knew had a pair of scissors thrown at them. They left their school. There was no support. They said the most destructive thing about schools now is the media. Once they get hold of a story, the truth will never be known.

A woman turned in my doorway and called loudly to someone out of sight. ‘Leave it there, we’re getting lunch.’ Then she walked back towards them and disappeared.

It’s cold and dark. People are dressed thickly. I saw a dad walking past my door, rugged up, scarf, beanie, everything, and his son next to him in shorts and t shirt. The child said, ‘I’m getting chips.’

Colin came in for a while and said he was getting into digital photography. We watched a couple cross the road in front of the shop: they began it together, holding hands, but then parted in the middle and went in completely opposite directions. He looked back and she waved him away. They went into separate chilly areas of the park. He sat down on a bench and she went to their car and threw her bag on the front seat before getting in.

A young man stared down at a copy of Moby Dick.  He had a bottle of coke clamped under one arm. His friend came over and they both stared down at the book. Then they went into the back room, talking about whales.

A very small child handed me a book and told me he liked peacocks. When his family left, sweeping him out through the door with them,  he was singing: dad dad dad dad dad. His dad said, ‘Come on mate. Back to the car.’

The excellent and very precise things we do

I saw and heard three things happen while sitting here in the shop and looking out the door. They all made sense.

A man was walking past the door. He pulled off his mask, but the mask was caught around his sunglasses. He shook the mask madly, and the sunglasses landed on the footpath in front of him, got caught on his foot, and flew across the footpath. He yelled out, ‘Get back here.’

Across the road a bright red car towing a very vintage caravan has stopped. A man has raised the bonnet and is looking at the engine. There’s a bucket and a bottle of something next to his feet. He walks around and speaks to the driver. Then he walks to the back of the car and opens the boot. He pulls out two camping chairs and throws them on the road. The driver looks in the rear vision mirror and then looks back at his phone.  The man at the boot throws a pair of shoes on the road. Then he slams the boot down and goes back and sits in the passenger seat.

A very small boy, about 3, stops outside the shop to look directly up at one of my hanging balloons. He says, Is that a horse?’ His dad, who is eating a roll, says, ‘It might be. You reckon?’ The child nods. It is a horse.

Illustration by Pierre Renollet

Casual conv at dinner: how to find out all the important things

It’s just the three of us: Finn, Noah, and me. They’ve assigned superhero names to the family, and I’m Captain Library. Noah told me and waved toward my bookshelves with his spoon.

‘That’s why, Nanny, because you have too many books.’

I agreed, but not that there are too many because there’s no such thing. They look at me politely. (Maybe Captain Library isn’t very powerful.) I must have looked doubtful because they assured me that he is powerful.

‘He’s strong and looks after all the books.’

I point out that you can’t get rid of libraries because they just come back, so Captain Library is possibly the most powerful superhero of all. They look at me politely again and keep on eating.

I ask for their superhero names and they fill me in seriously.

‘Finn is Hulk. I’m Black Panther. Max is Falcon, Abbey powers the Falcon, and Great Grandpa is Iron Man.’

Finn says, ‘I’m Hulk, but not yet.’

I ask them about their mum and dad.

‘Who are they? What’s their Superhero names?’

‘Dad’s 29.’

‘Mum’s Black Widow.’

‘Pa is War Machine.’

‘Dad’s 29, and he’s Batman. Mum’s older, but sometimes dad’s 29 and older. Dad’s got new garden equipment.’

Finn says, ‘I’m Hulk, it came yesterday.’

‘My best friend is Max and Gracie.’

Finn says, ‘My best friend is Max’.

‘Max got kicked in the eye by a bird. The bird kicked a berry in his eye. When he was digging his trap.’

I asked them how they knew about that. I remember Max telling me about it. A bird (last week) had deliberately kicked a mulberry right in his eye and on purpose when he was digging a bird trap under the mulberry tree. After a solid day’s work the trap was half an inch deep and going well. He plans for the trap to catch either a million birds or fifty.

Noah told me they had blackberries at their house and birds got them, and mum said she’d get those birds so they couldn’t do it anymore.

I asked how she might get them.

‘Mum’s a sower like Rubee. That’s why.’

I agreed that this might be effective.

‘And Elsa’s got a good bike but kids can’t ride it yet.’

‘I can’, said Finn, but Noah corrected him.

‘You can’t.’

‘You need muscles. You need a muscles to get on it and get birds. Like in Max’s trap.’

Then they were quiet and eating for a while. Tapping spoons and wondering about dessert. Eyes lidding downwards. They told me that the windows were changing colour. They reminded me they were sleeping over and that Max might come over.

Finn asked me if I had a dinosaur, and Noah said that his friend Mylo has a Margo, who was little in their family, like a sister.

The Book Keeper and grandsons, sometime before Christmas when I wanted to organize the Christmas tree

They only live in the absolute present, the three second crystal lens that they are consuming and digesting every moment. So, Christmas trees are interesting, but as there are none here(yet) the Christmas tree lost out to a plastic horse with a bent leg, a crane and bedtime looming darkly within the adult conversations.

They didn’t want to go to bed.

Everyone one is out here. The evening is too warm and too light to be proper night, and young parents are sprawled, complaining gently about everything and looking forward to the next day.

I have a promising stack by my bed and have no problem with the night, except that it is too short.

But the little boys are unsure. There’s a matchbox car and three difficult blocks that won’t become a shed. Things to sort. The monkey tree is bent. A log of wood dragged inside to be a fence has shed bugs into the carpet. Someone tore Hairy Maclary, it wasn’t me.

It was Finny.

Is it Christmas outside?

Am I sleeping here?

I’m going to childcare party.

I haven’t got any apple.

Nanny, I haven’t got any apple.

Where shall we put the Christmas tree, do you think?

Can I have any of some more apple?

Pausing at the door to get the mask on properly

Visitors to the shop now have to pause and fumble about at the door before they come in because we all have equipment to manage.

‘Dale, your mask.’ This couple had to go back to the car. Then they went past me to the bakery and got coffees. Then they returned and came in, looking refreshed, and asked for good Australian political biographies and anything about breeding poodles.

‘Forgot m’mask. Gotta go back.’ This man left and came back with his mask in his top pocket, and left it there while he browsed.

‘Got yr mask?’ This man, who didn’t have his mask, was sent back to the car by his wife. I saw him reading the paper in the front seat. She browsed the shelves for another half an hour. They both looked happy.

‘Oh my god, where’s my mask?’ A young mum, who found it in the pram wrapped around half an apple.

A car went past and turned at the corner. The driver wearing a mask hanging from one ear.

A man passing the window wore a pink mask with a devil’s face, hanging sideways from his sunglasses.

A child walked by with an adult mask over his entire face, hanging onto the side of the pram so he could walk straight.

We wear them upside down and inside out, with faces drawn on, and the elastic knotted and twisted to make a snugger fit. We wear them as chin straps and wrist wraps. In pockets and wallets, in phone cases, shopping bags, shoulder bags and looped around coat buttons, thrust through belts. Clutched in one hand while the other hand manages the phone.

One girl wore an emerald green mask that was covered in gold and blue butterflies. She talked to me through the butterflies about reading and about the Divergent books, and she described her bookshelf at home.

A couple walking by paused at the window to take off masks and undo drink bottles for their small children. One child asked if you have to wear masks on the jetty.

Then he said that he’d lost his bucket on the jetty. The parents, still drinking, looked down at him. They were leaning against the window, and looking down at him, not saying anything, just looking at him with besotted faces because he is theirs.

Painting by Claire McCall

Nanny, are you growing a beard?

Two grandsons stayed last night. It was hot. They moved from sandpit to orchard to the place with two snails, one of them dead, and they played with a small rubber owl that represents them and is always in danger. They fly it from one end of the orchard to the other using swoops and dives and other very powerful ideas. There is a larger owl, too. This one, a plastic model purchased as a bird scarer, only takes part in some of the story. It saves the baby owl. Then it was abandoned under the bonsai tree table. Once it brought some food. Then it was abandoned at the shed door. Once they couldn’t find the parent owl at all, and everything stopped. Completely.  

They played bikes. This means Noah riding about for a bit, and Finn following on foot because he is too small to find the pedals. It also means stopping still and talking to each other earnestly about many things. Once Finn acted out a message with moving robot arms and a slight klinking of the head from side to side, which Noah understood and answered in a similar way.

Once they met on the lawn and Noah asked, ‘Did you get any snails?’ and Finn answered, ‘Sometimes.’ They always park the bike across the gate to the orchard, which is the gate to soccer parkland.

They asked me to ring Max and find the lost part to the forklift and they asked me about gallstones. Noah showed me his moth bites and asked if he would die, and then he asked me why I was growing a beard.

Hmmm.

How did that get cracked up?

That’s grandson 1, looking through the door and noting how the hot coloured slabs of glass bake the light into something we can digest.

I said, ‘That’s from the door slamming.’

‘I do that. And Finny and Noah’, he says, pleased.

‘Maybe close the door a bit more softly.’

He considers.

‘Maybe. Where’s all those bits of glasses from?’

From Bridgewater.

‘From a bridge?’

‘Near a bridge.’

‘It’s good how that glass looks like superhero clothes.’

Then he lays his head and shoulders on the table in a dramatic gesture to show me that he is under the light, and the light is on him and he is not melting, but maybe some of his bones are melting, but luckily it doesn’t matter because they will just grow again. And we sit there together under the evening light melting.

Lads on the footpath

I was helping a couple stack and pack their choices; science, Robert Louis Stevenson, an atlas, bird watching, and pure maths. We all looked up when the clatter happened because it was right in the doorway, and it was significant. It was a family. The parents walked on, firmly and with purpose, I saw their faces; it’s the school holidays.

The clatter is a mixture of three small boys, a dog, a leash, a soccer ball, and a Spiderman drink bottle that is balanced delicately on the kerb. The old couple move to the window, interested onlookers. The man opens my door and calls out, jovial, ‘Where are you going?’

The little boys are untangling themselves. Two standing, one sitting. Their shoelaces are undone. They are hot and covered in mud, and about seven years old. They look at the man, startled.

He says again, ‘Where are you going, and what do you wish?’ He looks back at this wife, and they share something silent. The little boys have no answer. They are winding in their little dog, whose leash is too long. One screams, ‘Leo’s fishing.’

The parents are calling. One boy grips another by the neck and they fall to the footpath, wrestling, like puppies, and the old couple close the door and watch through the glass, joyful, approving. One boy stands up with a drinking straw stuck to his hair. The Spiderman water bottle has rolled backwards and I can hear it tapping against my door.

But the parents have caught on. They come back and take charge. The lads are gathered up and sent onwards, back to the car, seatbelts, home, dinner. Bed.

The little dog is carried, the leash trailing. The Spiderman water bottle taps away desperately but is forgotten.

The old couple leave softly.

Life goes on. Regardless of what is going on.

Painting (Wynken, Blynken and Nod) by Maxfield Parrish

The grandsons get parsley

An entire washing basket full. Roots, leaves, bark chips, a gum branch and two wooden pegs. The little boys all soaking wet.

‘You can have this. For frying, Nan.’ The parsley is flushed with rain, cold and fresh. I remove a small white snail. The smell of cold torn parsley went everywhere; we had to talk through it. They notice it because they flare their nostrils without realising.

‘I’ll have him.’ They want the snail, and they take it carefully. They plod back out in mudding gumboots.

 So much to do.

The stuff we find at home when there’s time

I found a tiny plastic box with tiny library cards that I made for my dolls. There was a tiny pencil and erasure. There was obviously no greater outing than the public library. So my dolls must’ve gone there and borrowed stuff.

I found a large mandarin coloured glass ball that my brother dug up in our chook yard and gave me. He said it probably had something to do with Merlin. I tried to glue it to the end of a long slender piece of wood, but no amount of aquadhere would do that. But what can you know when you’re eight years old. Except that I wasn’t eight. I was about fifteen. Weird.

I found an old diary with “I wish I had a boyfriend” on the first page. But there was no one interested in me, except maybe useless Merlin who didn’t even bother to turn up. Bastard.

I found a little jam jar full of pebbles from Lake St Clair in Tasmania. I found gumnut cups that I’d kept as proof that the Banksia Men were real. I found three matchbox cars and a cloth bag with a coat hanger about one inch long. A daughter made that. It was to hang up  a mousie’s jacket.

There are marbles, nappy pins, pieces of glass, pencil sharpeners, memory sticks and nail files. A man made from a cork with clothes glued on and a nail coming out of the top of his head. A box of little fragrant candles too valuable to use. A jar of sapphire blue glass too beautiful to give up. Photographs. A tiny metal duck. An essay written by a 7 year old about why we should never give pins to babies.

There’s a glass jar filled with strips of paper carefully cut out. On each one, a thought printed in black pen. It was a birthday gift. I pull one out:

“Dear mum, thank you for the glasses gene.”

There are cross stitch kits, embroidery books, mosaic instructions, packets of seeds, knitting needles, a long stitch kit never even opened. My mother saying, ‘Finish something.’

There are about 12000 books.

Have a clean out. Declutter. As if.