Checking in

Everybody’s fluent entry into the shop is checked now. The door is darkened with hopefuls doing their phone. They are, without exception, patient and kind.

‘Shall we check in?’

‘It’s not working.’ A lady swayed and bent over her phone, but her group were looking into the windows, faces on the glass, eyes screwed up.

‘Look at this.’

‘MARK TWAIN.’ Said in a scream.

‘Weird guy him.’

‘For sure,’

‘This isn’t working. The lady on the glass is turning her phone around and around.

‘Turn it this way. What are you doing? Turn it this way.’

‘No good.’

‘God. Government probably changed it.’

‘It’s worked.’

‘Get in then.’

‘I think that lady at the counter’s going to give me a dirty look if I try and take this coffee inside, so I’ll wait out here.’

I heard her say it, as I pretended not to hear her say it.

Then she crept in. ‘Can I have this?’

I said, oh yes, drinking my own.

They all stood and whispered. The rain banging away outside. Everything dark. I couldn’t place them, family or friends, hard to tell; a kind of magical people, especially the lady with the orange coat because the others all gathered about her, and they held up books for her to see, but she only wanted Charlotte’s Web; I heard her say it.

‘These are good.’

‘So are these.’

‘Look here.’

Are you getting that Twain?

‘Nope.’

Charlotte’s Web?’

‘Yes.’

And they all laughed.

Illustration by Outcrowd

At Motherduck

Yelena Sidorova (2)

Walking along in Goolwa, suddenly hungry, and a little place leaps right at me; so there we eat. It is beautiful. It is warm and sunny; it feels as though summer is approaching again, but this is just a memory in the wrong place. Summer is a while away yet.

But it isn’t just me. Everyone is ambling.

Motherduck has a sign right in front of their door. We bend down to read it and puzzle it out. We can’t get in. We dither and wait. And someone comes.

‘Can we sit here (outside)?’ We can. ‘Of course you can.’ She bows us to a table right in the sun, in the warmth, in the middle of what seems everything.

The coffee is proper. A punch from a good friend.

Our food is simple and divine and gets its picture taken.

There is time to watch the passing by of the passers-by. People approach this little place with enthusiasm and bend down kindly to read the sign. Some read it, and their lips move. Some read it out loud, loudly. Only ten people allowed inside, only eight allowed outside. We apologise for any inconvenience. But there is no harm done. People turn and count. And dither, like we did. Then the kindly young waitress comes and beams everyone upright, and they are happy again.

One man tried to get in without waiting. His wife pulled him back. She said, ‘You can’t go in.’ He is genuinely perplexed. ‘Why?’

‘You know, it’s the virus.’

‘What, in here?’

‘Just get back, here she comes.’ The waitress approaches and gathers them in. The cross husband beams.

A couple have a table, a high one, but no chairs. A man, dining alone, gives them the chairs at his table, including his own chair. They all look at each other. They beam.

Two ladies pass that know each other. One calls out shrilly, ‘Jan!’

The other turns and scans us all. ‘Who…’

‘Jan, it’s me.’

‘God, you gave me a shock. How are you? Been ages.’

They look at each other. ‘Well, you know, with everything…’

‘I know. I’m on my way to see the grandies, two of ‘em now. Guess you haven’t any yet?’

‘Hell, yes, four now.’

They looked away from each other so there is no need to acknowledge a winner. They win. They beam.

‘Keep you busy.’

‘Yes, yes. Yes. Well.’

‘Good to see you, Jan.’

Behind them, a man was bending solicitously over the sign. ‘It says only ten people, Bridget.’

‘Just wait dad, there’s people leaving.’

We start to eat faster, feeling guilty.

The waitress flew, carrying coffees, a pepper grinder, beautiful little rounds of gentle, soft bread, burgers clasped within a shouting sourdough that wins every time. Beetroot dip in a bowl: a bowl of blended jewels.

A man sipped coffee. The waitress beamed. A couple sat on stools at a thick wooden bench, leaning over each other, melting.

We finish our food. Honoured. Give up our little table.

An older couple stop abruptly, ‘Albert…here..’

 

Art by Yelena Sidorova

 

 

The Queen

wolf.png

There’s a family at the front window of the shop. The child, a granddaughter, presses her nose to the glass, breathing fog. There’s a grandpa who does not want to come in.

There’s a grandma who does. She opens the door part way and says, are these new books do you think? He says, yes, meaning, so let’s not go in.

But she creaks the door a little further. He looms up unhappily behind.

You’ve got enough.

But Grandma indicates their grandchild. I mean for her.

He subsides. The grandchild (the Queen) squeezes between them, through the stone pillars of the family, through the gap, and passes regally into the shop. She asks me for Cat Royal. She is up to volume seventeen. But I only have volumes four and eleven.

Grandpa looks relieved. Let’s go then.

But the Queen has found Goodnight Mr Tom. She won’t budge for now. She repeats the title in a sing song (they have read this at school). She thinks she might read it to Grandpa, because it is about a Grandpa. He is standing near the door but she commands him toward the cane chair next to Gardening. He breathes out, longing for a coffee and one of those cream buns next door, and accustomed to his way. But the Queen slices his power into cubes and leaves them kindly on the floor. She will read and he must listen. He takes the cane chair, organises his enormous outdoor boots out of the way. The book is only some three hundred pages and will not take long. Grandma, in Art, looks at them and turns back to Hans Heysen.  Their granddaughter chooses Mr Tom and Grandpa, stiff with sitting, thanks me kindly, thank you very much, they all read except me, and then they all leave for the bakery, coffee and big cream buns.

 

Breathing the Coffee

chalk

They were moving along the pavement this morning, past my shop, past me setting up the signs, the little boy was running lightly along the air and his father was following, balancing two cups of coffee and drinking from both, holding them at elbow height and leaning back, breathing the relief.

The little boy stopped to check the sky three times. Then he said: I’ll just go this much in front, I’ll just go along out of here and he measured his steps precisely, looking back at his father’s feet and keeping in front just a little way, then more, then more, breathing the happiness. Then he was miles in front and heading for a caravan parked down the road and the father following with his elbows out. Two ladies were passing the other way and looking on critically and one said to the child just watch yourself and then they were level with me, looking past me into my window and one said to her friend, don’t think we’ll get much in there. And then they were finished and passed by me too, breathing the discontent.