On this day

A customer asked for a copy of The High Cost of Living by Marge Piercy and published by The Woman’s Press. I don’t have it, but I’m interested in it because everything published by The Woman’s Press is excellent. So now there’s two of us need a copy.

I read another chapter of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara; a Hawaiian author new to me. It was recommended, and it’s brilliant.

People are sitting outside the bakery, enjoying the warm day and talking very loudly. Here are the topics I’ve overheard so far: the dam in Echunga, the price of fuel, the rain coming next week, where to buy tickets to the Strathalbyn show, why Coles have put their Christmas decorations out already, and if the trains are running this weekend. Two men also discussed heart surgery and how their mate, who isn’t there, ‘isn’t seeing the whole picture’.

It’s warm today. Short sleeves and older people in caravans put on sun hats to go to the bakery. It’s the October Labour Day long weekend, a celebration of the eight-hour working day won for us in the 1850s.

Motorcycles are passing in long noisy chains.

Robert came in for Mysteries of the Dreaming, but it hasn’t arrived. He said about Labour Day that people will celebrate anything as long as there’s a drink in it.

A man came in and asked if I sold tickets to the Strathalbyn show, but I don’t.

A family came in and bought all my Eragon books and one DK Book Of Flight.

Two ladies came in, turned around and left immediately. One said, ‘See you when I’ve got my glasses.’

Someone wanted Anne Cleves mystery books. A family came in needing tickets to the Strathalbyn show. A man outside told someone on his phone that there was no way he was returning to that construction site.

I gave directions to the art gallery (across the road), the public toilets (across the road) and a good pub (up the road and around the corner).

A dog urinated under my window. It saw me through the window but just kept doing it anyway.

I sold a copy of Seven Little Australians. Then I went outside to stand in the sun and feel good.

It’s too cold if anything

There’s a man out there trying to get into his car via the passenger side, but it’s locked. He’s rattling away at the door handle looking puzzled and peering through the window into the car interior.

Now he’s standing looking up and down the road. Then a woman appears, coming from the right at a fast pace and slowing down. She’s wearing everything in blue.

‘Where’d you get to?’

‘Around the corner.’

‘I’ve been waiting.’

‘Rubbish. Here’s the keys.’

There are two people wearing masks at the door but not coming in. Just looking through the glass, their faces side by side and close together. She says,

‘What a beautiful place.’ They do come in. She has beautiful leather shoes and a moss grey cardigan and a pink bag, which she abandons on the floor next to Vintage Classics, and he goes over to Art.

An old couple pass my door, going toward the bakery. She’s laughing the whole time. She can hardly breath for laughing. The sounds fade away, but soon they come back. He’s carrying a loaded cardboard tray. She’s laughing and puffing. She says, ‘

‘Not a day for getting married. Too cold if anything.’

He says, ‘What’s it matter?’

She laughs and laughs and has to hold onto the edge of my window. Then she rights herself and they continue on with linked arms.

Inside, the girl with the soft leather shoes has Dante and seems to be holding her breath.

Mum came in and admired my shoes

It’s still raining. Mum came in with a chocolate cake and a bag of lemons, and said, ‘Well those shoes are bright indeed.’

I said I was sick of the rain, and she said a bit of rain doesn’t hurt. Then she went out again and over to Woolworths. It takes her a while to get across the road now. She doesn’t stop at the bakery: she doesn’t agree with their scone recipe.

Outside the door, a couple on pause and examining the window display:

‘I’ve never read that one.’

‘I got sick of it.’

A couple of teenage girls: ‘You never know what you’ll find in here. How good is that?’

There’s a fevered discussion going on about Netflix and Tom Hardy. Everyone is damp from the rain. Outside a horn blast across the road. An old man walking along our side calls out, ‘Ok. Just keep your shirt on, pal.’

An old lady paid for her books with an Apple watch, deft and efficient. Then it’s quiet again.

People pass the window: I hear them: footsteps on wet pavement and black moving shapes against the light. I think about it, what my eyes catch and interpret as a person. How the shapes erupt and then regroup when two people meet and pass each other. Then I see bright pink, a beanie, paper bags, a swinging a dog lead with no dog on the end, cars hissing wetly behind them.

In the afternoon, it becomes so quiet, I can hear the clock ticking on the wall next to me. Every now and again a blast of rain.  

Ian came in for Carol Ruiz Zafon’s The Angel’s Game. Outside the sun came out brief and hot, and across the road a long line of people are standing in the buzzy sunlight. I go outside with my coffee and lean against the fence.

There are nine people and they need to cross the road. Five have walkers and one man has a walking stick. He is too far away. He’s going the wrong way. A lady yells, ‘Get Pops back.’

A young man jogs down to Pops and manoeuvres him across the road, his arm curved protectively around the old man’s back. Rain again, but the sunlight remains, flicking the air with gold and briefly turning the shower into cascading tiny bubbles of light.

The other people are still lined up on the kerb, all talking to each other as they look first one way, then the other and then pausing again to say something to each other.

A man passes me with coffee, and says, ‘That looks like an event trying to happen.’

But they are off, crossing slowly and all in a line. A ute slows and then stops.

They are nearly to the kerb. They are at the kerb and turning toward the bakery, and I have to go back inside. The sunlight is gone. There’s a couple inside waiting for me and one is saying to the other, ‘That history book there, the big one, you can get that for me.’ And he answers, ‘What on earth you want that for?’ And she says to me, ‘My God, great boots.’

The Queen died

We got the news Wednesday, and everyone wanted to talk about it. Or at least mention it. And it was cold and raining again. Christine stopped her gopher at the door and yelled ‘Did you hear?’, and I said I had. She mimicked herself crying and then zoomed on toward the bakery.

Alan had a dilemma with the bakeries: he wanted a pasty and a piece of pavlova and didn’t know which bakery to go to.

‘I don’t want any bakery to see me go into the other bakery.’

‘The Queen has died.’ I said, a bit unnecessarily.

‘Oh God, Sarah will be in a shit now.’

‘She’s bearing up well.’

‘No she won’t. Well I’m going for my pastie. Need a feed.’

But Sarah did bear up well. The Queen had died on her birthday, but she’d already stopped by to tell me that, and to pick up a Sir Alec Guinness biography. She added that the Queen dying on her birthday was an omen of some kind. Robert was here too, disappointed because his order, The Lost Book of Enki, still hadn’t arrived.

He and Sarah stood back to discuss things.

A customer asked me for Mukiwa by Peter Godwin. I didn’t have it. Sarah told Robert that she didn’t hold with that women, Camilla.

Robert said that his family, the Grimshaws, extend directly back to King Charles I of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and that one day there would be a reckoning for his execution, which never should have happened.

Sarah looked enthralled.

A couple bought a stack of Ben Elton books.

Liz came in for A Fortunate Life and said, ‘Isn’t it awful about the Queen.’

Sarah said that she didn’t think that Charles was in good health.

Robert said he threw the oracle last night and the cards said that Charles would soon succumb to gout, which got all of them in the end.

Anne came in for her cookbook and for tickets to St Andrews on Sunday. A lady came in and bought The Handmaid’s Tale for her sister in hospital. They said that it was sad about the Queen.

Then Robert had to go and reckon with the bank, who were deliberately trying to erase him from their system.

Sarah went to Woolworths.

Still raining.

Painting by Karin Jurick

Pieces of cause

The cold is losing interest; turning slightly to ease its aching self. People notice it.

They meet outside my door because it’s an intersection; there’s carparks, a bus stop, the train station, toilets, a bakery, Woolworths, two bookshops, a good solid rubbish bins: a small and complete town.

People meet in person, not intending to, but prepared to follow it through. They recognize someone, lean slightly backwards, make a small movement of the head and neck:

‘It’s you. How are you? Not see you for ages.’

‘Oh yeah. Same day, same shit. You know. Sick of the weather. You know.’

‘I know. I know.’

These two moved together past my door and stood at the window. They are older than me. He is asking her things. She points left, then right and grips her purse. I hear her say,

‘They’re only going to take his stitches out. You want a coffee or anything?’

He does. The conversation has warmed. They change directions, moving back the other way, leaning toward each other. He is saying,

‘Oh well, oh well.’ Then they’re gone. A fragment, no, an edge of the vast.

Then, just voices. I’m busy and can’t look up. But it’s a song of consolation in two parts, but I could only hear one part.

‘Ohhh, ok.’

‘Ohhhhhhhhh yerrrrrs. Ok. Oh I know.’

‘Ooooohh ok. Omg. Goodness.’

Then silence. Then fresh strong new voices: two men with iced coffees, ‘Fuuuuuugn hell. What a pair of fugn morons.’

Then an ambulance siren coming past and a pair or travellers coming through the door, and one saying, ‘They’re second hand books, but that doesn’t bother me.’ And she asked me, ‘Are these second hand books?’ and I said they are, and she said, ‘Well that doesn’t bother me.’

Behind them, two old men walking side by side past my door, one holding the shoulder of the other, and both of them rocking from side to side but making progress anyway.

Sarah dropped in to tell me that phones are going up, ‘Someone bought one for $150 the other day. Ridiculous.’

She told me that politicians give her the shits and that Scott Morrison has made a mess of things. She likes the bit of sun that’s coming through at the moment. ‘But it won’t last.’

A lady asked me if my shop was a library or a shop, and her friend said, ‘No, it’s a bookshop, a second hand bookshop. Don’t be silly.’

A lady said, ‘I want to inhale this music.’ The music was Bill Evans, Peace Piece, way too dense to inhale. But she stood leaning backwards and took the music in through her bones anyway.

‘This GPS is still telling us we’re still coming into Strathalbyn. But we’re right here. ‘Friends shrieked, laughing at technology, which strives, but can’t quite capture what is really happening.

‘I only have the classics now. Everything else is on my kindle.’ A customer, apologetic. No need though.

Two teenage girls clambered behind my counter to get at the Billabong books, Anne of Green Gables, What Katy Did. Their mother horrified. ‘What on earth are you doing?’

They said, ‘These are here.’

A good explanation. I approved. They paid with coins, cradling the volumes as young people do because the books are alive full of blood and future, which causes them to cradle the volumes. Lovingly.

‘I don’t know if anyone ever goes into this shop. I shouldn’t think so.’

This wiry, rusting observation was made right at my shop door. And loudly. The speaker was an old lady, bent over a walking stick. So that’s ok. I respect age at all times, especially as I’m gaining so rapidly in it myself.

She was talking to her husband probably. He looked startled and looked through the window with rapidly moving eyes. He made a peaceable remark, and soothed, they continued on with the hundred mile journey to their car, which I could see from my counter.

It was cold. There were drops of rain on the spinning balloons outside my shop. One person over at the bus stop, huddled against the cold pole of transport that isn’t there yet.

Inside, a man sitting in the waiting chair, lurched up at his companion and said, ‘What’d you get this time?’ and his companion, who had a biography of Christopher Wren in one hand and his phone in the other, said, ‘Got a biography of Christopher Wren. And this here is worth a read.’

 He was pointing to a biography of Winston Churchill on another shelf. ‘This one is a goer. I’ve read it.’

Outside, the car with the elderly couple slowly, slowly pulled out gently into the traffic, still participating well despite everything.

I looked at the Winston Churchill. ‘Should I read it?’

‘Do.’

I made a half hearted promise. But I had The Root and the Flower including The Near and the Far with an introduction by Penelope Fitzgerald next to me. And it’s next. Sorry Winston.

The men left on a note of blue happiness.

The Root and the Flower is by L. H. Meyers. I’d read about it somewhere else, never heard of it or him. Published in 1935 and apparently a minor classic and astonishingly imagined. That was enough; I decided to crack it and see what’s inside. It’s about India.

A child came in and gave me two books for the shop. A Beatrix Potter and a Little Golden Book. Both hers. It was raining outside.

‘For you.’

‘Really?’

The child doubled in intensity. ‘Yes.’

I stared at the books, emblems of fortune and compassion.

‘Really?’ Outside, the rain dropped and swam in its own disbelief.

‘Can I keep them?’

‘No, you sell them. Here.’

‘Of course.’

The child’s mother arrived, damp and busy, ‘Come on. You done?’

I looked at the child. ‘Thank you.’

But she’d gone, out the door and into further worlds and busy with them.

After that I drooped softly at the counter; people do come in!

Illustration by Di Fournier

Walking past the window and clear as crystal

It was two tradesmen striding past my window, young and rugged up in t-shirts and shorts against the cold and talking to each other.

‘She said, ‘What do you want then?’, and I said, ‘a Moderna or two will do’. But she didn’t ring me back.’

The other tradesmen said, ‘Yeah.’

Then they passed the window and were gone.

A lady bent to read a title in the window out loud to her friend. The friend said, ‘Looks expensive. I’m not getting it.’

And then two motorcyclists, parked just outside the door, returned to their bikes. They were in no hurry. Holding helmets and thinking it over and pleased with the bakery they’d just been to.

‘Where do you want to go?’

‘No, no, you pick.’

‘Oh dear. Well. I think we’ll give Macclesfield a go. What do you think?’

‘Well. Right oh then. After you.’

It took a while to get set, get steady, get the gloves on and then go. But they did; two friends riding off slowly in the cold wind together.

A lady bought two books for a granddaughter, and then she too, rode away on a motorbike. She’d been dressed in all red leather with magnificent boots and a copy of Where The Crawdads Sing just purchased.

Voices from the back room

Readers in the shop, caught on currents of enthusiasm and memory, call out to each other. If the readers are in pairs or groups, they converse in low calls.

‘Oh my god.’

‘I bet you.’

‘Oh not that.’

I can hear them from the counter and I can see it: the pulsing electric current of shared read texts.

‘Yeah. Yeah.’

‘This didn’t start well.’

‘I know about that series.’

Then other customers come in out of the cold and overthrow the current. Robert came in to show me a mistake in his copy of The Complete I Ching. The book had been bound with a whole page missing. We poured over the mistake, delighted. I emailed the publisher, Robert dictating. We examined the rest of the book, hoping for more.

From the back room: ‘Is that series three?’

‘I actually think it should have ended there.’

‘I know.’

Robert left, having ordered a list of new volumes. I went back to shelving Young Readers. Someone rang for a copy of Little Women: not an abridged version, thanks. More talk from the back room:

‘That book stole his soul.’

‘That’s intense.’

‘Yeah. I know. But it wasn’t his fault. Do you want this?’

The conversation continues.

Outside, it’s raining.

Illustration by Francois Schuiten

The urgent child reader

She’s a little reader, but an enormous one. I can tell. They stand there and don’t need to tell me anything. Then I think, ok.

They look through everything kindly. They know what they need.

‘I need Artemis Fowl’.

I say, ‘Ok.’ And we go to look for it.

Young readers are always kind.

‘I need number 5.’

‘Ok.

‘I also need Tolkien.’

‘Do you mean The Hobbit.’

‘No, I’ve read that.’

I say doubtfully, ‘Lord of the Rings?’

‘No.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘It’s ok.’ Said to me warmly.

‘Hmmm.’

‘I also need the Flood books.’

‘Ok.’

‘I’m up to number 11.’

‘Oh dear.’

‘It’s ok.’ Said to me warmly.

‘I also need.

‘I also need.

The list goes on, but I don’t have it. ‘It’s ok.’ Said to me warmly. And the child reader leaves, still happy.

Then suddenly she bursts through the door again.

‘Just went to get some money from mum.’

And she gets a book. And dances back out with it held against her neck and her head going from side to side because she’s singing the title out loud and heading for the car across the road, and there’s her mum watching from the driver’s seat and ready to start the engine and get home to start dinner because it’s late now and it’s cold.

Illustration by Katarzyna Oronska