Grab a sentence by its shoulder

I hear sentences spoken aloud inside the shop and outside on the footpath. Pieces of sentences that are like lengths of rope moving through the air, or a loop of thick tinsel just waiting for an answer, or twisty string with two small knots at the end. The ends of sentences whip against the window, or lace about and pause mid speech, and I listen to them all.

Some sentences are rather beautiful.

‘This is like my kind of day, like overcast, and soda like.’

‘I told the fool to stop ringing all the time, told him to leave it, leave things, leave everything, and just leave.’

Some sentences are festive, cheerful.

‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.’

Some sentences are short spokes.

‘You promised. You promised.’

Often, I hear an entire story, complete with beginning, conclusion, and a small satisfying plot.

‘She says I’m always getting books and stuff. Too many. And I’m like…yeah, I do…so what.’

Action sentences:

There was too much on the back of the ute. It hit the corner and overleaned. All on the road then. Fukn idiot.’

Occasionally, sentences contain a small warning sting:

‘Do YOU have a Covid check in? Can’t see it.’

Speakers toss mixed meanings at each other, coated in slight annoyance:

‘I’ve got a lead light with Pooh hanging from a kite string.’

‘Why would you even want that?’

‘ Winnie, you idiot. Winnie the Pooh.’

‘Ok…I thought you meant an actual shit.’

The best sentences come from visitors who call them back to me just as they are leaving.

The Magical Book Store. Like it very much. Had one of these when I was a kid. Somewhere. Might have been this shop actually.

And many conversations are already knotted when the speakers come in.

‘Some idiots can’t park.’

‘That would be you. And I just cracked both knees out because of that.’

People stand in the doorway and complain loudly on phones. I receive complete responses to exactly half a conversation.

‘Then she put milk or something all over it, made it uneatable, now why would you do that to a perfectly good…..well it’s not perfect anymore is it!’

Couples discuss their adult children right in front of me. They speak sentences that give out another rich layer of excellent information.

‘She needs to slow down. I’ve said that.’

‘You have.’

What people tell me

One man gave me his name and address. ‘Remember us,’ he said, ‘We have an interest in the history of Victor Harbour.’

I often hear about local councils, bus services, and Woolworths. I hear about local doctors and what they say. Some conversations begin without preamble, ‘Kate Grenville, my God she’s a good writer.’ And others are carried on through the door help open.

‘I need the next Lee Child, you got him?’

Visitors show we their art, their families in London, their gardens, and their pets – we gaze together at the little pictures on phones until a text message flashes across the top, where r u did u get bread. One lady knew my family from a long time ago; her daughter had gone out with a very distant cousin of mine. He is now dead, but she isn’t. I learn things about autism, cancer, dementia, death, suicide, and English teachers.

Customers talk to each other while they wait, ‘Is that your own company? Do you do gutters in Mt Barker too?’

I am told about books that should be banned, and why they don’t agree with Harry Potter. They ask me what to do about books they lent out that are not returned, and if I think that books make good gifts. Do I know any editors? Do I bind books myself? Do I live here? Do I know anything about heart disease?

Today someone said there aren’t enough carparks here. Then he told me about the local council again.

A child told me that it’s nearly Christmas. Then she smiled, hugged herself and went back to the Asterix books.

Painting by Henri Matisse

My artery

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Two men met up with a crash in the doorway of my shop. Neither had been expecting the other. It was cold; they were hurrying. They shouted at each other to stop.

‘What’s wrong with your gopher?’

Here? Needs a seat belt. Going down Mitre 10, getting some screws, see it’s come away again.’

‘Oh yeah.’

‘Piece of shit.’

‘Ha. Yeah,’

They sort of settled in. One leaning against the window. One sitting.

‘What’s been happening.’

‘Me artery, thickening they said. Or something.’

‘You going in?’

‘Yeah. First available appointment. Fukn Royal Adelaide.

‘Yeah. Gees.’

‘Doc said I better.’ I didn’t even know I had that.

‘Pain in the arse, mate.’

Yeah, bullshit, isn’t it.

They were motionless for a minute, watching people go past. Watching people come in here. Watching a man standing next to his car and hand each of his children a pink iced bun from a cardboard tray. Through my door I can see coconut all over the ground.

‘I used to have a really good health.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Take it easy, mate.’

The window darkens, shadows, then I look up again, and they are gone.

The man at the car is bending to speak through the rear car window, ‘They only had pink ones, I’m not going back.’ Then he straightens up, drinks all the rest of his coffee and walks back past my window toward the bakery.

 

Photography by Charles Millen