The Umbrella

There is a young girl sitting cross legged in the corner with an umbrella rising up and over one shoulder, the curved handle announcing exactly her small neck.

There is her mother with a rucksack over one shoulder, standing nearby and looking at book after book in Health.

There is silence in here, but outside raining like mad loudly and cars swishing past then stillness and people running across the road trying to be fast because of the rain but they all do the rain dance. This is a highstep dodging the traffic jump sideways kinds of dance where you end up next to a caravan that’s not yours and rain everywhere anyway.

There’s mud all over the footpath;  every time the door opens I can see it. And wet paper bags and a coffee cup blown across from the bakery.

It’s getting darker and darker even though it’s the middle of the day. A couple look in and she says, ‘Want to have a look, Neil?’, and he says, ‘God no, can get them for half the price online.’ He keeps on peering in, looks right at me. She looks at him. They move away.

The mother and daughter are both kneeling next to the shelves. The umbrella has been laid aside. I can still see its curved handle, a perfect expression, holding its ground and not available online.

A car has to brake suddenly right out there next to my shop. The sound of brakes makes me look up. All the occupants have been jerked forward. I can see mouths moving, heads turning all about.

Mother and Daughter are shoulder to shoulder looking out of the window, and the umbrella is still on the floor in the corner, looking warm and useful.

When I look up a little later, the girl is in the chair. Her mother is kneeling next to the umbrella. It looks after her knee. The rain is coming down. The windows are cold dotted with it.

A couple cross the road come towards me. They break into a sprint for three steps, then calm it into a fast walk, avoiding the water in the air but ending up soaked anyway. They don’t come in. They go to the bakery.

The mother and daughter come to the counter. They look happy. The umbrella is hooked over the girl’s arm.

Midnite

Two friends came into the shop and browsed heavily. This means they browsed deeply, and with energy; it means drooping down to the things on the bottom shelves which many people don’t do. This is how one of them found a copy of Midnite. He was pretty happy. He came back to me and put it on the counter. He said, ‘There’s a reason I need this.’ He didn’t tell me what it was. He went back to Australian fiction. Then his friend came out with his books. Mostly history. He looked at Midnite on the counter and picked it up. Then he put it with his own books.

When Midnite’s finder came back, he found his book on someone else’s damn pile. They looked at each other. Their eyes went narrow and serious.

The book lay there on the top of the wrong pile.

The door opened, and a couple came in and passed the counter without seeing us.

‘I thought this book was up for grabs.’

‘I don’t think so.’

There was an agreement. Midnite went back to its finder. They left – by turning right – to the bakery for consoling coffee and cakes.

Notes on the year right now right here

The year went fast. It hopped about with anxiety many times. People came to the shop even when I was closed. People rang me and emailed me and texted me. People kept reading, increased their reading, and many people began reading.

Classic literature and poetry were purchased the most followed by history. Self-help sold the least. Fiction outsold nonfiction.

Locals and regulars became more and more important whether they purchased a book or not.

My landlord made it possible for me to stay even when I had to close.

Young readers bought the most books. Children still knelt on the floor and shouted to me that they had already read Peppa Pig, the same way they did last year.

Some customers purchased enormous stacks of reading to help me out, and thought that I did not notice this, but I did, and it did help me out.

Many of the visitors who came in angry in April were not angry in November.

It took three times longer to order in books for customers, but not a single person complained about it except me.

My fantasy and science fiction shelves need restocking. Everything by Anh Do sold out. I sold more Charles Dickens than ever before. I hardly sold any biographies except ones about dogs. I couldn’t get in any Asterix books.

I listened to a podcast about ancient Rome and took all the Roman history books home for myself. I discovered Iris Murdoch (and took all those books home too).

I was asked for Moby Dick about ten times.

A mother who loves reading came in with her son and said that mothers who read always have sons that read. Not so with daughters. Until much later.

Two customers died this year and left two holes there.

I never saw young people work so hard as the young people did this year in Woolworths across the road. This is not a reflection on Woolworths. It’s a reflection on those young people themselves.  

I cleaned about 3000 little handprints off the front door, same as any year.

Trucks still park across the driveway, same as any year.

People still come in thinking I’m the bakery, same as any year.

None of these things annoy me anymore.

That baby seat

Cornelius Jetses (2)

There is shouting directly outside my shop door. Two couples conversing powerfully from one side of the road to the other, over the traffic. They are discussing a baby seat. It is important. The women quickly take over. The far couple have the baby seat, but the near couple need it, urgently.

‘How can we…?’

Some children pass, then a truck, then a couple with a dog, then another truck and a series of annoying cars.

‘What are you going to do…?’ Called strongly from this side.

The couple over the road dither on the kerb. They are talking to each other.

The couple on this side stand against my door.

‘Ok, then.’

‘Doesn’t matter. Leave it Di, there’s too much traffic.’

‘They could go and get the thing. It’s our grandchild too.’

They stand side by side looking across the road. The couple across the road wave strongly and cross over, a diagonal path that avoids my shop and leads straight to the bakery. Inside, with me, a child is choosing a bookmark. She does this by staring at them all without blinking, twice choosing, twice changing, finally selecting a gold one with a cat and beads of raspberry glass. Her dad pays without looking at it, and she holds it in front of her and gives little hops all the way to the door. Over her hopping head, I see that the couple who needed the car seat are gone.

Inside, a lady says, ‘Brian, not in there, your books are not in there. Those are the kiddie books. Your fiction is in this room.’ But Brian remains in the wrong section.

Soon he is called again, ‘Brian!’ He obeys. In the other room, I hear her say, ‘Don’t stand too close to people, love. Here’s the Westerns.’ Then she says loudly, ‘Don’t be a pain in the neck.’ He comes out with Clive Cussler (but no Westerns). He opens the door and waits. He and I both watch three boys pass by. One is saying, ‘Yeah, they flogged Hahndorf!’ They are all eating from paper bags, looking happy.

Artwork by Cornelius Jetses

 

Everything for eyes

Maia Ramishvilli (2).jpg

There’s a lady here at the shop choosing books for her foster daughter. She is piling up a hopeful stack, a rainbow lot. Actually, the lady is all colours herself. Crimson, blue and garnet and lemon; this is her dress.

She describes the books she needs. Fantastic, romantic, historical, significant and beautiful. Not rubbish, please.

And her hair and her shoes, and her bag and she… swirl, keeps swirling from shelf to shelf. Everything offers something for the eyes, a dazzle of glass and hope and a foaming of light from the skin of the sea. She keeps adding to the pile, colour upon colour, her razzle raspberry hair warming the shop. I am drinking the colours, thinking of mandarins and deep richy hazelnuts and outside lavender, delicate, rough. Then she is standing there, ready at last. Choosing bookmarks to go with the books, and then, unapologetic for the richness of her presence, pays and leaves, ink, silk, burst and gone.

Artwork by Maia Ramishvilli

The Mermaid

The Mermaid

Last Wednesday, this family came to the shop.
Two of the sisters searched for books on their knees while the third stood balancing five paperbacks on her hip, neck on one side, reading sideways at a difficult angle, but she doesn’t know it’s difficult. Her sister says, do you have to read these in order and the older girl says: you don’t have to read anything in order, do you, but I would prefer it. The younger child now walks on tiptoe, stooping and stretching, she has one arm in plaster, she crouches and reaches, bows and bends, she is dancing and she says she is a mermaid and her sister says: get out my way, I need The Maze Runner. The younger girl, who is a mermaid says: it’s not here. The sister says: you wouldn’t know.
The smallest child has horse books which she holds on her back, walking bent over, like a horse. Their mother is sitting in front of science fiction, talking on her phone. She taps her knee with a paperback gently throughout the conversation, her daughters are all gone into the other room, the floor is creaking in there with their swimming around and the oldest girl comes gently back past me, she walks leaning backwards, examining the high shelves, looking now for Pittacus Lore, for Dragon Wings, for Storm of Truth. One sister is telling another that she can’t have those books. Mum won’t let. The oldest girl says: is this really The Hobbit? The sisters all return to the front, shuffling, trying to read the cover of the same book. The oldest girl is jumping up and down in front of her mother, holding out The Hobbit, she is mouthing OMG. Her mother nods. Then they are again gathering shoulder to shoulder, the phone call is ending, they are holding books out to their mother in silence. She nods. The mermaid is swimming upwards, her scooping arms annoying her sisters The oldest girl is showing The Hobbit, but the younger girls are neutral, unimpressed, they shrug, the smallest sister crawls under a table because she is a pony, the middle child is spinning around and round and says she wants chips for dinner and carrots plus fish and the oldest sister taps her on the head with The Hobbit, one, two, three times, and the mother is saying that Lord of the Rings is also a great book and then they are all swimming over to pack up and get their books and go home to the sea.

 

Artwork by Victor Nizovtsev

The Man Who Reads Sir Walter Scott

book

Well, he came into the shop and stood bowed in front of the old books, the ones with print that is too small, old novels and histories, poetry and commentary, sets dressed in red and gold and dust and that lean and sink and look out at modern paper with contempt. This man frowned into the shelves and scratched at faded titles and had he had next to his feet, a motorcycle helmet and six cans of beer. He had no hair and he simply blazed with tattoos and earrings. He was looking for Sir Walter Scott. He had completed an arts degree and his thing had been Sir Walter Scott, a great, plain, brilliant hell of a man. He had thrown all his books in the bin and was now visiting every reading joint to get copies again. He didn’t get any from me (he apologized) but the print was just too small and now that his eyes were rooted, he needed the bigger writing, but thanks anyway for having a bookshop!

Taylor and Jake

J and T.png

…are the remarkable remarkables. They heave the door open and gust through, no time for greetings. Taylor considers all books, particularly horse books, Jake considers large books, particularly (today), books about The French Revolution or Madam Pompadour. They sail back and forth in the wind, hailing Grandma who waits on the beach and who greets all interests, all choices, as fine and wise. And so there is no place in literature where these children will not venture, and no shape, proportion, heft, vintage or bay that will stay unexplored. When they call out from another room, they call from far away, because they are. They are wise. They read what they want to read and reject what they don’t. The spread the books out and announce each title kindly for me. Their faces are lit lanterns.

No, I won’t read all of that, I only read bits…

carry.png

A lady is offering her husband this book and that book but he doesn’t want them, he says: I’ve no use for that! That one will go nowhere! No, leave it!

Still she keeps trying. Later, she tells me that she isn’t a reader and has always felt bad about it, all she can really do is try and help others.

Soon he brings The Complete Dorothy Parker to the counter, he tells me about the Algonquin Round Table and that she, Dorothy, was the loudest voice of them all…. he said she was great! He also had Ronald Searle and he tapped the cover, kept tapping for a long time thinking about Ronald Searle. Then he told me that he doesn’t read very fast but when he’s on to a good thing he goes like a dream. Then he turned and went back to the shelves where his wife was waiting with a new pile to offer him.