The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

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This morning, a ute stopped right outside the door. Tradesman climbed out, all noise and energy, boots huge, dressed for the cold in t-shirts and iPhones.  They looked through my windows and saw me looking out – at them. They both nod and look politely away. To the bakery, relief.

A family came in, dad and two young children. The little boy pleading, dropping with hunger, daddy…..can we get something to eat….his sister wearing a summer dress, but also a good winter beanie, relaxed, holding a copy of Charlotte’s Web, fortified.

A young man bought three books for a young niece. He relaxes, relieved, a very difficult gift achieved. He says, ‘Thanks, thanks, God, thanks.’

Outside it rains and rains and rains. Traffic swishes. Car lights. People hurrying.

A family are caught in the doorway,  and they stand shoulder to shoulder waiting for the rain to ease. The toddler, held in his father’s arms, strokes his mother’s shoulder with one hand and his father’s ear with the other; a tight knot of absolute warmth.

There is an argument about lunch in the back room, ‘We can always have lunch early.’

More talk. ‘Have it your way…’

A young man comes in, thinking me the bakery. He swings through the door strongly. He wraps his arms around himself and backs out. He looks down the street toward friends, ‘Guys, what the fuck..?’

It rains.

A man comes in to tell me there is a water leak in the car park. I said, ‘Yes, but SAWater, they know about it… you know.’ He understands immediately, ‘SAWater…!’

My friend, Callie, admired his hat. He turned and said, ‘Yes it’s a great hat, pity about the head in it, har har har.’ We laugh. We like him. We all agree on SAWater.

Sarah came in. Alan came in. Leah came in. The rain came down. Neville chooses his usual selection of unusual, diabolically brilliant books. People climb off the bus across the road. The water leaks across the footpath. I talk with someone about Mark Twain.

John comes in. Rita and Don come in. We agree the weather is slightly foul.

The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

 

Four things notable about today

Jean-Jacques Sempé

These were:

Three teenagers outside my shop on kick scooters, one wobbling, the others adroit, all watching the ground carefully and weaving in and out of passers-by, graceful in winter.

Two people pass, loud, as people usually are in the mornings. There was a flash of checked shirts and jeans, a tap on the edge of the door, that’s all. But their voices, loud, loud, floated back, hanging in the doorway:

‘I saw a wagon type one the other day.’

‘Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…’

‘It’s really good shit.’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’

Lena visits wearing gardening gloves. Safe.

Terry, in a sapphire blue beanie, reads out loud to me from a little joke book he has just bought. He reads about twenty jokes to me, and says, ‘This is great, it’s just the one – thank you so much. Gunna give these to my grandkids.’

His face is a lit lamp.

Illustration by Jean Jacques Sempe

 

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

 

Down and down

The Steps of Montmartre, Paris, 1936, Brassai

This reader has been visiting for years. He always came with his wife, but now he comes alone. They both loved to read. They always bought a stack. They would look at me over the top of the stack and say, ‘Oh yes, it’s the first of the..…’, and then forget what they were saying. Distracted.

This time, he came to the shop alone. He carried a shopping bag, empty.

He is short sighted. He bends over the art books, lifts them close to read the titles. He always did this, I remember it.

He came to the counter to talk about Seneca the Younger. He loves the ancient Romans, the ancient Greeks. The Persians. The mathematicians. The astronomers. He breathes out all the names. There is so much to read. He has a copy of The Mikado in his hands, elegant, slim, green. He looks down at it, ‘Yes, yes, this, you know…’, and then he forgets what he was going to say, lost in Titipu.

This is what happens. We step into Titipu. We go down and down; there’s no stopping it. We can end up anywhere.

He has a stack. He places them on the counter, says, ‘I always find some things…’ He also has The Complete Father Brown and Wind in the Willows. He presents the shining coins.

Then he leaves, wrapped against the winter in brown scarf and beanie, corduroy pants and the good strong shopping bag full of Titipu.

 

The Steps of Montmatre, Paris 1936 by Brassai (1899- 1984)

 

The man in a striped jumper who kept trying to open the door and leave

Gilles Sacksick 1942

He couldn’t leave because his wife was talking to me about Fiona McIntosh.

Whenever she paused, he turned to go. But then she remembered something else and turned back again. ‘Fiona McIntosh, I love her.’

They gradually edged toward the door. She turned back, ‘I love Di Morrissey, too’ He turned back, too, leaning against a shelf. Looking at her. Her books, her passion for reading, her face. Her strong Woolworths bag holding apples, eggs and now books as well. Her shoes picked for walking. He was smiling, looking at her. She began to tell me about D’Arcy Niland.

He held the door open, gently holding the door frame, then he closed it again. Looked outside, looked inside.  He nodded. He laughed. He shone. He looked at her.

Painting by Gilles Sacksick, 1942

But then he came back

Joseph Lorusso

‘Thanks man. Thank you kindly. God bless.’
When this young man came into the shop, I asked him, ‘Are you a teacher or a student?’
‘No, actually, I’m a Christian. You gotta read, man.’

I agreed.

‘Occasionally I’ll drop in, for now on, and I’ll get something, ok?’

I said that that would be great, and he turned to leave, but came back to me.
‘This is great, good on you. This’ll do me for the winter, great stuff. And I want to thank you for being open and being here because we still need books.’
He stood there, a tall bonfire. Gesturing. Holding Plato, Jonathan Swift, and The Lives of the Poets. Trying to find sentences. Unable.
Me, trying to find sentences; unable.
Then he was gone, walking past my window, strongly with his head down, swinging the books in front of him where they admired the winter and dismissed the cold.

Painting by Joseph Lorusso

The small hand waving; a moth’s wing

Alexandros Christofis (2)

This family; three adults, one child. Spent a long time here in the bookshop talking, nodding, browsing, talking more. And the child – I hardly saw him. He was quiet, absorbed in a book about rockets. He sat in the cane armchair under the heater. His family circled, murmuring, calling out to one another. One of them took a phone call, which was mostly laughing in low tones to the caller.

The child read.

The phone call ended.

‘What’d he say?’

‘Said it’s still on.’

‘No way.’

‘Yep.’ More laughing.

The child read laying back, head relaxed, the book held up in the air.

They gathered to go. Suddenly they were all in front of me, tangled, talking and jostling, trying to get out of the door. I said ‘goodbye’. But they didn’t hear me.

But the child did. He had one finger looped into the pocket of his mother’s jacket. She was pulling him along, gently. He looked back; looked at me. His other hand, down at his waist, waved, a wing, a fin, held up in acknowledgement and kept there until I saw it, then lowered. I looked at him. He looked at me. Then they left.

Boy Reading by Alexandros Christofis

I might start reading Hemingway. I might start reading him. See what it’s all about.

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Men in orange work overalls, two of them, came into the shop. I had The Beatles playing, and one said, ‘Penny Lane!’

They had bottles of coke, they wore beanies and silver earrings. They consulted smartphones.

‘I might start reading Hemingway. I might start reading him. See what it’s all about.’ His friend nodded, ok.

They handled the classics. Alex Garland’s, The Beach made one of them put down his coke. He read the back of the book, kneeling on the floor.

The other man disappeared into the back room.

He came back to science fiction.

Leans back to see the top shelf, hands crossed across his front, holding the coke by the neck. Leaning now in front of art. Trying to see the bottom shelves.

Now, leaning into fantasy, resting a shoulder. The other man is still on the floor, his boots are tremendous; clutched by mud.

‘Cheers mate. Better go.’ They move quietly, slowly.

‘Do you take card, mate?’ (to me). One is buying Dexter. ‘I’ve seen this series.’

‘Cheers.’ They turn to leave, but one comes back. His friend treads patiently from side to side.

‘I’ll just get this as well. It’s reasonable.’

He says to his friend, ‘It’s reasonable. Need my wallet.’

He dashes out to a car, then back in, ‘Sorry mate (to me), didn’t have enough.’

His friend stands patiently, holding the door with outstretched arm, head resting on the arm, one boot on top of the other, gently.

‘Better get back.’

He pays. They leave quietly. Out into the bright cold.

Small things like shapes

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I wrote this in January 2017, on Australia Day. It was summer. Now it is winter, which always makes me think about summer.

“A child said to me that he likes my glass lantern because he likes small things like shapes. He said that when he looked into the glass he could see cars going past, and that the cars looked better in the lantern than they did going along the road as real cars. His mother told him there were Beast Quest books on the shelf, and he said, ‘Maybe’.

She said there were also some Star Wars, and he said, ‘Maybe’.

A lady was pleased to see a copy of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. She said it is on her to read list which has a thousand books on it already. She said the list is wearying. She did not see the lantern.

It is Australia Day. The family with the small boy who likes shapes are across the road; they have been to the bakery. The father is trying to interest the child in some food but he is standing with his nose pressed against the fir tree, he must be looking at more shapes. The father looks weary. The child drops the paper bag on the ground and looks down at the spilt food. He makes binoculars with his fists and looks down at the broken food. His knees are bent with concentration. The parents are having an argument.

Just outside the door of my shop a man has opened his esky on the pavement, and there is no ice. His wife asks him why he can’t even pack an esky properly. He raises both hands in the air and stands there motionless, but she has gotten back into the car. Then she locks all the doors.

I wonder if anyone else will come in for a book today. Then I remembered the small boy who likes shapes; he had chosen a book called Pharaoh’s Boat which had pyramids on the front. So I did sell a book today!”

I couldn’t get into it

Paola Grizi

People who love to read speak more eloquently of it than they realize.

Two ladies, friends, came into the shop, and one said she was not going to buy a book –  she didn’t need one. But her friend bought two. One was a murder mystery. She said, ‘This is something I’ll get into.’

Her friend read the back of it, and said, ‘Woo.’ Then she said she might get one. ‘I have a library book, but I can’t get into it.’

They both spoke of the act of reading as physical and immersive.

The other lady replied, ‘Why’s that? What is it?’

‘Oh, some mystery. I got lost.’

‘What happens?’

‘Don’t know, couldn’t follow it.’

‘Yeah. Hate that. This looks good, though. Once I’m in, that’s it for me.’

‘Like Sue Grafton.’

‘That the ABC lady?

‘Yeah. I’m really into those. And J.D. Robb. Takes me out of here.’

‘Yeah, yeah.’

 

Sculpture by Paola Grizi