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 family who read a lot

Two women and a heap of kids came into the shop. One of the women hugged an atlas. She kept looking at the front of it, turning her head to one side. A little boy chose one small Zac Powers book at a time and ran it over to me. Then returned for another one. Sometimes he took a book and flew it from room to room like a plane before adding it to the stack in front of me. He added 11 Zac Powers books. A little girl removed half the Zacs and put them on the floor in front of the counter. The boy added another one.

The women with the atlas passed the counter again in a serene ordered way. The other women had novels. She said, ‘I love novels’. Another child watched the atlas float by at her eye level and found her own atlas. She added it to the stack, standing, I think, on the Zac Powers pile, luckily left there for her small sandalled foot.

An older child piled a series of novels she’d found on the top of the Zac Powers.  ‘I’ve been looking for this a long time’. She added a Minecraft book. One woman said, ‘I don’t really know what this Minecraft is, but she does, so we’ll get it. The older child’s face became a lit lamp. The little girl added a book about snakes. Then one about frogs. The atlas passed us again, now with another smaller art book lying on top of it like a slice of something else. The Zac Powers boy zoomed and swooped and added a copy of Possum Magic. His mother said, ‘Oh good.’ And his face became the second lit lamp.

The ice cream: was it necessary?

Another window scene delivered with clarity and precision. A couple pass the window fast. It’s a warm afternoon. They are speaking in small shouts, which is why I look up. I look up in time to catch a still. Then they’re gone.

They were leaning forward in hurrying positions. She said, ‘Well, did I need to buy that ice cream?’

His head was turned to her. He said, ‘Well.’

She said, as though he’d said a lot more, ‘No. No. No. I just spend that $10.00. Did I?’

He said, (his voice fading) ‘it’s all good.’

So, the ice cream –  it was necessary. And good.

Then, inside the shop, an lady bought a copy of My Goblin Therapist by Morgan Taubert, and said, ‘I shouldn’t come in here.’ I looked at her and her face was a lit lamp. Then she said, ‘I’ll be back on the weekend for the Vera Brittain. I said, ‘Ok’, my face, a lit lamp.

People leave their engines running while they run to the bakery

But then they’re disappointed because when they get to the bakery there’s always a queue. Sometimes they come back and yell to the passenger to ‘Switch off the car. There’s a wait.’

Sometimes the passenger comes back and tells the driver to ‘Turn it off. No point hoping.’ Then they get in the car, and I can’t hear them anymore. Often they drive off, sometimes slowly and once, a lady, really abruptly so the passenger, a man, lurched forward into the dash.

Truck drivers don’t come back if there’s a queue. And when they do they aren’t in a hurry. The trucks sit there chugging softly away for ages.

A lady and her dad came in this morning because there was ‘a bit of a queue at the bakery’. She said, ‘You have a look, dad. I’ll go back and see how mum’s going.’

But she came back immediately. ‘Dad, you’ve got my bag.’

Dad had the bag over one arm. ‘I’m causing trouble, aren’t I!’

She agreed. ‘And my mask’s in the bag.’

He said, ‘Ah.’ Then he said, ‘Where’s my mask?’

‘You’re wearing it.’

‘Yes. So I am.’ He smiled at the bookshelves.

Then his daughter rushed back out to the bakery to check on mum who was still in the queue, probably in front of the truck driver whose truck was still rumbling gently right at my door.

Young people when it’s really hot outside

Slide and glide. That’s how they come in, and when I look up, there they are, pale and cool and never complaining. Young people stand humbly, looking up at the shelves, and then glance quickly and apologetically at me as if they shouldn’t be in here. Unfailingly polite.

It’s very hot this morning. But you’d never know it. Young people don’t comment on the weather; they just let it lie around outside and pile up at the door if it wants to.

A boy wanted a love book by an African writer, but I didn’t have it, and we couldn’t even order it, except from France. He looked at me sadly. And a girl swung about with a pile of 7 waiting for her grandmother who only had 2.

And another younger girl sat in the bird books just reading them as if they were novels. She was about 13, and wore a curious beanie, and she bought 3 books, one about The English Plover, because she loves birds.

Then it got hotter, and all the young people left, passing out into the heat without comment, and the bird girl carrying her three books in a pile on her head.

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

The couple who showed each other every book they found

I recognized them, they’ve been here before; they come through the door nonchalant and smooth, and head straight for their shelf.

They both lean into the shelves the same way, head on the necessary angle, flip the pages and look closely at the back of the book. If it suffices, they straighten and hold the book up for each other to see.

They lean back and grin at each other. They whisper and nod and examine book after book.

They cradle the chosen ones in their arms and move on to the next shelf.

Painting by Edward B. Gordon

Ma’am

Two gentlemen at the front window of the shop:

‘Don’t rush me.’

‘What about that there?’

‘No, don’t rush me. I’m not one for reading. But what do you think of this fellow?’

These gentlemen, obviously friends, were outside and leaning over the sill display. The lucky “fellow” was Lee Child. They came in, and one of them picked up the book and brought it to me. They adjusted their masks trying to speak clearly.

‘Lovely day, Ma’am.’

It is.

‘Can you look after this for a bit?’

I can.

I looked up later and saw them in Cooking. Silent, both reading standing up, hats held under an elbow, breathing quietly, as you do. Later again, one of them in the chair, the other leaning against the shelf, still reading, still reading.

They finished eventually and returned to the counter with The Book of Sauces.

‘This is wonderful. Will you put these through?’

I will.

The man who paid handed the Lee Child to his friend.

‘Here. Happy birthday. Didn’t get time to wrap it.’

‘Wrap it. You better wrap it for me.’

But he was already reading it as they left. No time for wrapping.

They said, ‘Thank you Ma’am, much obliged. A lovely day.’

It is.

What I did in the bookshop today

Shelved vampire books. Sorted the Cat Warriors. Put the biogs back into alphabet. Gave Robert a mask because his got lost. Bought a pie. Ate it crouched against a fence on the way back from Pestka’s because it started to rain again.

I listened to most of a furious theory of a one world government, which the teller didn’t finish because I put Gregory Porter’s Liquid Spirit through the speaker as a soft drowner. It worked. The angry person moved their head backwards in a slight duck movement. This is because Gregory Porter sings jazz, and jazz is already angry.  Liquid Spirit outranks any other noise; it is organized.  It pricks at rich rage and lets it all out with brighter and more useful colours.  The arguer against masks and government, who is actually a really nice (and tired) person, looked at the dictionary they’d just bought and said that it was a really good dictionary. Then they nodded a couple of time, and they nodded in time to Liquid Spirit. That’s ok; how can you not. Whatever they are, it’s probably me, too.

Another man near us began drumming on his book. He’d been looking through engineering. He tapped his credit card on the books. In time. And banged his books together. In time. How can you not.

Some kids roared past the window, going back to school? and one of them yelled, give it back you fuckhead. Well, why not!

The other person left without finishing their story. It wasn’t that they were wrong.

It’s just that Gregory Porter tells it a different way.

Portrait of Gregory Evans by Colin Able

The dad

I remember him because he asked me if he could come in with food. He was carrying brown paper bags and coffee. His teenage daughter was already inside. She’d been looking at science fiction for the last half hour. When she heard him, she appeared in the doorway and nodded. He came in.

I said all food is ok. I was eating a doughnut. He stood behind her nodding and listening and drinking his coffee, and he bought every book she wanted, which was three. She said, as they left, ‘I love bookshops,’ and he nodded and held the door, still eating his pastie. Then they went out into the rain.

Illustration by Johanna Wright