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.

 

Christmas is quiet here

A man walked past this morning wearing a green shirt with a printed Christmas tree and headphones with a long chord and the chord hit each post as he passed it and I heard the clinking each time until he picked it up and wrapped it around his neck. He has a newspaper and a coffee and when he stops at his car, his friend who is waiting, says: turn it off now, man and the kerb next to them is hopping with sparrows and they both look down at them while they drink their coffee. Inside, a man has paid for his books and said to me that Christmas was a quiet one this year, he was off to get a pudding or something and some beer, it would be ok.

There is a young girl drifting around, lost in some place, not here, and a lady near her has red tinsel tied to her glasses. She says she can’t come at second hand books for Christmas herself but her friend, Dot, always gets some but she is silly as a wheel anyway. Eventually she tells her friend, Dot, who is silly as a wheel, that she would wait in the bakery. And she passes the young girl who is drifting around like slow music and she snaps the door shut and goes away from the second-hand books. The young girl is carrying plays, poetry, short stories and a complete volume of Edgar Allan Poe, and as she leaves, she tells me she is on holidays and this is why she has bought too many books. Then she has to wait in the doorway to let a man pass by carrying a wooden window frame containing rectangles of coloured glass; he says sorry there, sorry there, nearly there and the footpath is stained with lozenges of red and green and yellow and a child crouching down holding out both hands to the sparrows at the back of the ute receives coins of coloured light across his forehead and the girl with the poetry walks the other way and the crouching child’s mother calls him away from the car and the child says that the birds are magic birds who only eat twisties and water.

Merry Christmas from The Book Keeper

Finn making eye contact

 

Finn is tangled up in a family Christmas event where there are four generations ploughing gently through the afternoon; eating, arguing, drinking, thinking. Finn, whose needs are profound and simple, seeks eye contact and joy. Luckily, he receives both at once in dizzying measures right across the afternoon and evening, each dose causing his legs to rise up, the bones to grow, his ears to fill, his head to balance and his hands to reach out and hang on to the day. A proper Christmas.

Raining on a warm day

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Warm and quiet and raining here. A child, here with her parents looks at the sheep on the front of a nativity story book and says “lizard”.
There is a Christmas tree in a trailer parked right outside the shop and the little tree is held under yellow straps and is glistening with rain. Next to it is a box of tools and a grey water bottle and some metal bars wrapped in a striped towel.
A child presses her nose against the window and stares fiercely at the wooden cat.
A mother, passing by with her family, tells her two small sons that they don’t need books. The smallest boy sets his bottle of coke carefully on the edge of the kerb while waiting to cross safely. He holds on to the trailer with the Christmas tree and when he looks over at the tree he laughs. He says there is rain on the tree eyelashes. When they can finally walk, he forgets his drink and leaves it balanced there on the edge of the footpath, with rain on its eyelashes.
A young tradesman leaves his ute engine running while he jogs carefully around to the bakery and an old man, passing with a bottle of milk, taps the window, trying to find the driver. Then he turns and says to the street, “that’s careless!”
Three boys stand at the door and knock before coming in. The smallest one tells me he came here before and now he is back. He is holding a handful of coins – he asks me if I have any fly spray, but I don’t – I tell them where to go and they say love your shop by the way and they all bump out, leaving fine handprints on the door and lifesavers wrappers on the floor.
An old lady has come in for Christmas presents and tells me that when she taught high school, she rebuked any child who had not written in their text books. She said: make it yours, make the play yours, make the ideas yours. Why are you saving that book you silly child? I want to see it written all over, it is your notes the next person will want. She asked to see any copies of Shakes that I had and she bought four of them for her grandchildren, all of them written through with the furious pencil of previous students, and she was delighted. She bought a copy of Denslow’s Night before Christmas even though he had been a drunken old fool. Then she said she was going back to the bakery for a cup of tea, wasn’t the rain lovely, the lovely, lovely rain.

At the end of the day I have made $29 and get for free a lifesavers wrapper, some handprints, eyelashes, carelessness,  the lovely, lovely rain, directions to Shakespeare and a lizard. So an intensely rewarding day.

Looking through the window on a hot evening in December

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When I was a child, colours in glass meant Christmas, but I don’t know why. I know we lived next to a church with stained glass windows that would have shouted their outrage all through the summer. Colours of boiled lollies. We sat on the smooth wooden pews in church every Sunday morning, already hot, already ready to leave, across the road the sea went on and on and didn’t even care about Christmas. Our bikes leaned against the gate close by because we only lived next door. Once my brother threw a brick into the outside church toilet and busted the porcelain bowl and we sprinted without stopping all the way home which was only ten metres. Because the minister’s kids shouldn’t do stuff like that.
Christmas time was rich and heavy and brilliant with the sea across the road, Santa in a front end loader and it was a real Santa not some bullshit farmer dressed up and riding in their own front end loader. This was a real one and his reindeer were in the old stone barn at the back of the bank. The kids whose dad ran that bank said this was true and I remember that girl, Susan, in my class, had a dragster bike with pink things on the wheels so it was real what she said. Christmas was stained glass and the nativity, a brilliant tranquil story fired though with candles and sheep, lit up at the back with a stained glass window of another entirely different story, set on fire with the summer, threaded through with the last days of school where we made lanterns with green, blue, red, orange, yellow cellophane, the classrooms blazing with tinsel, the final concert where we sang too loud and the infants teacher was tired and said keep calm and that family that lived in the sandhills in a shack that had no electricity and sand going in the front door. And then we ran home fast as anything because if you were outside when the sleigh went over you only got a bag of sand. The green and blue bottles at the window reminded me of all of that.

Captain Cock

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Outside my shop window, passers-by linger, waiting for friends, for carparks and for arguments. My bookshop is on a busy corner, opposite a carpark and a train station and next to a bakery. Most people don’t come into my shop.
But I can hear everything:
Are you buying a book, Raymond? There are two men outside, one is looking through the glass, they have parked a caravan at the kerb, it shadows the window, everything is in reflection, they can’t see me.
God no, can’t read a book when I’m driving… you dumb idiot, but I’m just looking at this thing about Captain Cook, I always wondered about –
His friend, who is trying to read the titles, says: Who’s Captain Cock?
The man who wondered something about Captain Cook, said: Jesus, you’re a dumb prick, you need to read some stuff.
They moved away from the window and into the afternoon, still arguing, looking for lunch, placid with holiday.

It is Christmas…

Denise Johnson

There are two teenagers here, two girls and they are scared of vampires. They say that it is not a good state to be in, the fear of vampires, they talk urgently. They hold one hand  over their hearts and one hand around their bicycle helmets, holding each safely.
One has given the other a book as a gift, it is wrapped in a page torn from a magazine and they huddle over it, delighted.
They read the list of recommended fantasy series. They check the poetry shelf and wonder about the books, they say the books on the poetry shelf are really old. One girl reads something out loud and they say they don’t get it. They keep reading it.

They never stop talking:
I need to buy all the Harry Potters.
I need to buy the rest of Bitterblue
I need to buy actually all of these
I wish my room looked like this.
I might get these Minecrafts.
I have to get this Pippi Longstocking, I think I need to buy glasses.
These fairy lights are adorable.
I need to get these Inkhearts.
Oh my God I need to get these.
I need to stack mine like this.
I’m kind of like, literally, I would read all of these all the time.

They step around other customers, they can only think of the books.

People say, like, Zac Powers and I’m like: I read these all the time.
My mum would kill me if I had this many books.
I’m like, literally, why are there so many books I need to read. I’m like, waiting to get all of these. I’m going to come back and like get all of these, it’s not personal but I like these dragons.
On the back of these it’s like, listed all the other Cat Warriors and, oh my God, don’t kill me.
I saw The Hobbit and I could have died over that.
I know.
It’s going to take ages to get all of these.
I know.
I might get these. I didn’t even know about these. I hate the way that happens. It’s literally like, I don’t get it.
I know, right?
Shall I get these….this is such an achievement….I might of gotten them already though…my mum hates my room right…
Oh my God, I know, my books go literally out the door, at home, in my room.

They are discussing nightmares and drink bottles. They are checking phones. Soon they are going to the beach. They look for a book to take to the beach, swaying between choices and possibilities and it is summer and it is Christmas.

Photography by Denise Johnson

 

Noah and Max and Christmas

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Noah and Max are under the Christmas tree.

Max emptied the lower branches days ago and Noah gazes through the empty spokes with interest. He accepts an angel to chew. Both babies can now sit on a firm base with no toppling, they have crushed the nativity under their bottoms, they have pulled down the silver tinsel and it is their first Christmas. There is so much to do.

Wrapped gifts are, as yet, dull. Those smooth surfaces offer no angles or handholds, they contain nothing that can be seen and therefore nothing that they want.
An emerald green bauble that hangs from a branch, however, holds movement. And also light and shine that keeps changing. It has a promising surface that can be tasted. There is often an accompanying spoken warning which is predictable and comfortable.

The wooden Santa that contains another Santa inside it and yet another inside that is delightful. One piece can astonishingly go inside of another piece and come out again.
There is a bottle of good milk lying nearby which nobody wants.
It is possible to pull the loop away from every hanging element so that they can no longer hang at all. Max can jolt a decoration downwards with superb strength, it knocks him backwards and he must rebalance each time. Noah sits close by, supporting the work, a team.
It is hot, there are lists of things to do, there is still a week until Christmas, there is complaining and rushing and not enough carparks.
But Noah and Max are travelling Christmas from a stronger position. Willing to be grazed by new ideas, able to breath in colour, calling for contact and exchange, uninterested in efficiency.

Max is discarding each broken and lovely decoration to one side, he is sighting up the tree, reaching for higher profits, still out of reach. Noah is examining each shape consistently and carefully, tasting the edges, processing the contours, understanding the value.