The ute is gone

Two ladies are drifting around the shop, dreamily, and apologetic as if they shouldn’t be here. They say, ‘Sorry’, and tiptoe past me. They are pineapple and blue, bright and delicious. They sway here and lean there.

 ‘I remember half of these books from me childhood.’

‘It’s a bit of a shock isn’t it!’

‘Oh I know.’

Outside the door there is a ute parked, and in the back of the ute, a sheep, quite dead, and next to it, a ladder. I know because I stood up to see. I looked at the sheep’s belly, looking for breathing. None.

A passer-by walked past the windows, absorbed and fluent. He looked into the back of the ute as he walked, his head turning as though on a stalk. He stopped abruptly and looked more closely, and then walked on.

‘Oh my lord.’ A lady stopped and gestured with her bag.

‘Oh no.’

Inside, the pineapple and blue ladies are still drifting. They have solid bags. Their hair is similar, small silver tents. They clasp their hands across their fronts.  The floor creaks under their gentle boots.  Slowly, softly, they exclaim at memories.

Outside in the quiet road, the sheep is still dead, itself now a memory. The driver plods wearily past my windows and climbs in.  He has a tray with two coffees.

I am asked for James Michener, Miss Read, The Readers Digest Motoring Guide to Australia and books that are good for reading groups.

A young woman asks her friend, ‘Would you listen to this if I read it out loud?’

Her friend, breathes out, ‘Maybe.’

The blue and pineapple ladies pass by, thank me and tenderly leave.

The young women search urgently for things to read aloud.

The ute has driven away, and the sheep is gone.

Image by Hugh Stewart

Death stands there

98979178_3006984232726448_2768489374441013248_n

“Death stands there, a bluish concoction
in a saucerless cup.
Curious place for a cup:
it stands on the back of a hand. You recognise,
only too well, the spot where the handle broke off
on its glassy curve. Dusty. And ‘Hope’
in exhausted letters on its side.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters 1910-1926


(Ceramic cup by Clare Conrad)

Please come and look at these books…

Still Life with Quinces by Van Gogh (2)

I did go and look at those books. It was a library of a woman who had died.

The lady spoke of her mother. We were standing outside the garage, shielding our eyes from the afternoon sun. There were fruit trees and two dogs, cardboard boxes, and a horse behind a railing – it was warm and quiet. I could hear the horse breathing. She was telling me about her mother; all the things she used to do, the gratitude of communities, the reading, her passion, her; the mother.

I could smell quinces.

‘The things a person loves are always, always recorded in their library.’ The daughter leaned back in amazement and pride as she said this. It was a delicate opera of grief, sung outside (to me) next to a bucket of yellow quinces. The daughter was wearing pink and white. She said, ‘Don’t lift those heavy boxes, you’ll hurt yourself.’  Her mother, Barbara, was one of my first customers. She read Don Camillo. And there they were, the books she once bought from me, right there in a box, in the sunshine, next to the quinces.

 

Still Life with Quinces by Vincent Van Gogh

We Own Nothing

Image from the Marlborough Gallery .jpg

One man has chosen Journal to the Hebrides by James Boswell, a Folio edition, slipcased and it is very nice. He is pleased with it and pulls out the book to show me that it is still unread. He says that he always liked Boswell. He has a book on Chinese art and one of the journals of Anais Nin. He stacks them up and says; I always find something. When he talks he is always looking at other books, just in case there is one that needs him. Then he laughs out loud and says, I should bloody just go but you know…. then he said: nothing belongs to us, does it, nothing really does. We just interact with it and then we move on and all this just stays here. We don’t even own anything. Then he went out into the outside bright and he was reading the Anais Nin paperback as he walked up the road.

Image from the Marlborough Gallery, New York

Why did you get me a book? Why didn’t you get me a Transformer?

af_4tbqjdtc-markus-spiske

Today is grey, warm and quiet. The cars driving past are all headed for Christmas. A few visitors come in, looking idly for books; one man was looking for Milang. Albert dropped in to say Merry Christmas and that once, when he drove trucks, he took a load of books to Melbourne, thousands of them, all packed into crates. He said: I had a look in the back when they were unloading because they said it was an urgent load and I had to drive all night, books by some bird called Joan Collins. She was in Melbourne signing them or something. Do you think I should have read one of em? Who is she anyway?

I was asked for The Silver Brumby.

An older man spent a long time looking at a Geronimo Stilton. He looked puzzled.

A lady bought a complete Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales. She said I love these, so much more than the Grimm Brothers. They were just so….grim! I just want to read them, I don’t need to study or know everything about them. I have a husband who thinks he knows everything. She looked grim.

There are two ladies in the front room and one tells her friend that her grandson said last Christmas: why did you get me a book? Why didn’t you get me a Transformer? And so now she is getting him another book. They both laugh toward each other and laugh until one begins to wheeze and wheeze. She gasps out: if he doesn’t like it he gets nothing. But my daughter told me I should get him what he wants.

Her friend says OH FOR GOD’S SAKE!

And they both laugh and laugh again. They are silver and elegant and one has a small tattoo. Then they discussed their adult daughters for a long time, they did not look at any books.

Then it is quiet for a long time. I read The Historian… and it is very good. In this book it is mid-winter in England. And everything is freezing, including Dracula. Here it is hot, but the snow and dust mingle nicely and logically.

I am asked for The History of Tom Jones and then Rumpole of the Bailey.

Outside passers-by comment: this is a nice shop! But they do not come in.

An old man buys some books for his granddaughter in England. He is worried that the family won’t approve. He said: this might put me in the bad books again.

Some children paused outside to eat an enormous bag of chips. There is an argument. One child says they must eat them all NOW because he is not allowed to buy this many chips at once or he will be killed by his mum.

I see Robert hurrying past but he does not come in.

I wonder what else should be happening because it is Christmas…

Then a man came in and asked for a map book but I didn’t have one. He said he’s at the caravan park here, and leaving soon. He and his wife had travelled to South Australia, their last trip, she died of cancer soon after they arrived here which was four days ago. And he just wanted a map book; he thought he might drive a little further; he did not want to go home right now.

But I didn’t have one. He said not to worry, and he went to the bakery. I saw him there through the window, eating at a table all by himself. He had said they had 18 years on the road traveling together before she got cancer.

 

Photography by Markus Spiske

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grief

landstrasse

I remember when a couple lent me a book they loved. It was called Madness: A Memoir by Kate Richards. I wondered if I would find the time to read it. But then I did read it. I was caught by the first paragraph which described a young woman who has attempted to cut off her own arm. I read the whole book and will never forget it.

I returned the book when they came back to my shop and thanked them. They said that this book was respectful and very very good and that their own daughter once attempted suicide. And the second time she succeeded.

They stood there, she, the mother with her book: Growing Roses Successfully and he with a book by John Grisham and me standing there with nothing at all.

 

What will we be like when we claim all our own resources….

DSCN1883.JPG

Perhaps he could no longer walk calmly and safely on a level floor because he mistook it for a rope. Hermann Hesse, Klein and Wagner

Rowena told me that I should keep doing this. Keep working in a bookshop. That we should do what makes us happy when we can. And that some people will do what makes them unhappy because that actually keeps them happy. She bought a copy of The Hunger Games.

John stopped me at the bakery to show me his mountain bike, all packed and prepared for his trip to Tasmania where he is hoping for mild weather. Since he retired he rides everywhere and he can’t wait for August when he will leave and tour alone around the cold Tasmanian roads with his History of Abraham Lincoln for company.

I have not seen Leon for ages,  not since he told me that his migraines were getting worse and worse but to have the second volume of Twilight ready for him anyway.

Robert said that nobody (certainly not the government) will thank him for all the research and writing that he is doing until long after he is dead. But he does not care because there is power in death.

Monique told me that she will be looking for a new series to read very soon and hopefully as good as Cat Warriors.

A lady told her husband to shut the door and not let in the cold but he couldn’t close it because she was in the way. She asked him if he couldn’t just be careful for once in his life. But he is looking at the Ian Flemings and does not answer. She tells him to go in the other room. But he is laughing out loud at the Ian Flemings because “these books were a lot of fun!”

I had said to Robert, imagine if we all thought that we were actually ok, and didn’t need to keep tiredly striving for whatever it was. He said nobody will ever claim all of their own resources as being enough because our culture tells us to do otherwise. Like Apple and Ikea. Then he said he needed a coffee.

But I think it’s true that reading allows us to relent and relax on our careful hold on our lives. When people tell me about something they have read, they let go of everything and concentrate only on that one thing they are remembering: The Tower or the Smoke Catcher or the Chinese Riots of Lambing Flat.

And then our cramped clockwork can stretch and release and light out for a solo run without us.

I felt inspired and told a lady who was looking through the Colin Thieles that it is nice to see children reading the South Australian writers. But she put the books down and said that she might get her grandson some lollies instead and did I know if that old lolly shop was still in High Street.

I am asked for The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and Bully for Brontosaurus, for the location of the art gallery and advised to read The Fall of the House of Wilde. I was reminded that tomorrow would be 22 degrees, (practically summer) and that there was a horse float parked in the bus zone. I showed my Herman Hesse, some new reading for me, to a customer but he said he does not read the Germans.

My friend, who is 84, sent me a bag of books and the news that her daughter had died on Sunday. My friend is a braveheart. She has always followed her own self to her own self and not bothered to strive after anything that outshines her own remarkable life, because so far nothing has. She has read everything, favouring bloodthirsty thrillers above all else. Along with her devastating news, she sent me a stack of bloodthirsty thrillers.

You carried everything that mattered inside yourself….to live with yourself in affection and trust. Then you could do anything. Then you could not only walk a tightrope but fly. Herman Hesse, Klein and Wagner

Photography by Rubee Hood