Salmon, roadworks, road workers

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Yesterday, I drove through Littlehampton. Roadworks. Everyone was driving slowly. There was a road worker leaning on a car. He was covered in dust. He looked exhausted. My car was just idling there, waiting for the signal to keep going, and I looked at the worker. The sunlight, the dust, the heat and everything still. He was leaning on the car, a helmet on the ground, hands in his pockets, one foot on the helmet, and his head to one side, even and still, and thinking.

Near him, a sign that says, “Atlantic salmon $26.50 kg”. An old lady was leaning forward, trying to read it. Another lady was nearby, searching her handbag for something. The lady called something to her friend and pointed at the sign. But the friend wouldn’t look at the sign.

Then a girl with a sign waved all the cars on. She was young, standing back, and looking for each driver to wave us on. She stooped down, trying to see into each car from across the road, shading her eyes from the sun. Finds the driver, smiles. Waves us forward, concerned for us. Every single car, every single driver.

Ebb and Flow

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There are two children in the playground here.
Two children on a metal whirler with bars for hands and bars for feet and around they go. A girl and a boy, he’s smaller. But with a hoop and a swoop that child was down and it was a beautiful down.
There he lay, stretched out soft as cotton across the bark chips.
His sister kept spinning. And singing. She swirled her spinney hair in patterns, first one way, then the other and her brother watched. Then he stood up and said, let me. She said, it’s my moon.
She swirled three more times for authority, then another and another and he waited round and round patiently round.
Then she stopped and allowed him on. They whirled together, locked eyes, orbits on, leaning back, caught in roundy rings and sibling hoopy blur.

Sculpture ‘Ebb and Flow’ by Alison Bell

Rick and Lenore

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Rick and Lenore came into the shop before I had opened for the day: they came in accidently (they said) and stepped over the vacuum cleaner and said sorry, sorry, sorry mate…and kept on going around the shelves, shedding enthusiasm and criticism and telling me that it was going to be a grey old day. Every time Lenore found something of stupendous value she said: Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick there’s more of it ‘ere.
And Rick said: Yeah, yeah, yeah, ha! Don’t rush me, mate.
And Lee stood impatiently, the air around her became impatient, the whole gray day became frustrated until Rick came to his senses, sensed the atmosphere, sensed the danger and said: …all right, all right, all right…mate! All right. Mate!
Then she looked pleased even though he had not yet looked at the pearl she had found, she moved to another shelf, she found Footrot Flats and she said: Rick, Rick, Rick, look what I got… and he kept her enthusiasm and discoveries protected in the same good way while he distributed his own fervour from shelf to shelf with narrowed eyes and a questing face. He found the Westerns, that poor, limp, worn out collection that live near the counter, and he himself became limp with delight and he whispered to himself: God, look at this lot, he brought five of them to the counter, he seemed to bow down with sheer approval.
Well, I’m goin’ in ‘ere. Lee said this loudly, winning back devotion, earning consideration and so Rick came to his senses again.
All right, all right…don’t go on…and he looked pleased.
Do you want to get this, remember we saw the movie…? Remember that movie…. I could of died.
Rick agreed with the movie. They looked at each other and drew the movie around them and they were together.
When they came to the counter to pay for the trembling westerns, Lee said to me that there is a frog shop in Goolwa and there are some real beauties in there too,
Then, like everyone else, they left, taking the Westerns, their movie, the frog shop and their rich, delicious life of they, themselves away again and they were gone.

Illustration by Korean artist, Park Dami

Heat

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Thursday is too hot to open the shop. I stay home and Max comes to visit and although the heat floats around the house in soft, ticking waves he is unconcerned, he enters the drift delighted and he will find the tap, the hose, the sand, the stones, the buckets, regardless of advice. And so we sit out in it, enfolded and silent and the garden is falling, losing its height under the staggering weight of heat. Even the galahs, normally rummaging through noise and conflict, sit in lax groups, speechless, their black eyes stare down at us in amazement.
Max has made a pond with a peg and three shells and cold water. The hose, which was a melting length of green confectionary is now cooled. The tap, its head and mouth tipped with boiling metal is now tranquil. The bricks leading to the sandpit, slabs of unconcerned strength, are now watered and calm. Max has a tiny horse, a tractor and half a tennis ball and he works on in the shadows, mixing water with his treasure, adding cold cakes of wet sand, squatting beneath the shimmering surface of the morning, blending bliss with heat and altering my definition of the day.

I can remember

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A little boy asked me this morning if I remembered him coming in before with his mum and dad and getting a book called Dr Zeus and also getting a book about a cat. He reminded me with a certain joy that I took a photo of them standing there with their books, him and his brother. He reminded me that his brother does not read that many books now as he plays cricket. He is pretty good at cricket. He is a fast man.
I did remember. It was a long time ago. Those small boys lined up next to each other at the counter, their eyes were lamps, their books certain tiles of gold spread carefully in front of me so that I was aware of the incoming joy.
This time they chose different books, after all they were older now, grown up almost, they were reading about dinosaurs and cricket and Star Wars. They brought the books to the counter and their eyes were like lamps and I was aware of the incoming joy.

Noah leans back.

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It is nearly the last day of our holiday and we are having lunch, by the sea, in summer, in the heat, under cool glass and next to the blue. Morgan and I have chosen mussels, I remember these from a year ago and they made me happy so I have ordered them again, mussels in shells, a thousand of them, too many, whirling in tomato and garlic and other things with chilli, red wine maybe. I am wondering if the chilli will be real and it is because when we lift the lid, the steam comes out angrily and the chillies lie there, amongst the mussels, obscene and arrogant and not knowing their proper place, perfect.
We are elbow deep in mussels and shells and ciabatta bread and there is too much food and too much sky through the windows and the babies are hooting and eating things and Noah is at the end of the table, between his parents, supreme amongst food and family and spoons and forks and garlic bread.
He and his baby cousin Max are hurling things to the floor and gazing open mouthed at the response from family, they are filing away the satisfying response from family.
I cannot eat any more food, but there is still too much food waiting to be eaten. I can only stare at everyone else. Family, ordinary and ordinary but still defying understanding.
Morgan, is gone, lost in the mussel pot, the good cold beer and hunger, and his son, Noah, is leaning back superbly into the armchair of summer, and his parents gaze over at the floor and the scattered food and the toys and they look down at all of this with joy.

The children who found something with a metal detector in a caravan park

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There are two young children here in the caravan park, in the warm summer, on the hot grass and they have a metal detector.

They are purposeful, their backs are bent and their thin arms concentrate on the work. Every patch of patchy ground has potential…. gravel, sand, garden, asphalt, earth, kerb, grass, cement…all are tried and tried.
The detector beeps a small hoot every now and again and they stop and bob about to retrieve the treasure – a bottle top, a slip of metal, a casket of jewels. They scrape sand back reverently but there is usually nothing there. Then they push the sand back into place, gentle caretakers of this unnoticed ground.
But suddenly they have found something, and the detector makes a vast sound.
He says: it’s nothing.
She says: it’s something, look.
And they lean in, knees hopeful and noses together.
He says: it’s metal?
She says: it’s glass. It’s this. It’s this.
She picks it up, a small thing, holds it cupped and close, running eyes over the pleasing magic.
She says: it’s golden glass.
He says: it’s gold glass.
They take it to the tap and rinse the sand away from its golden value and the detector lies in the grass forgotten. The entire day, so deeply entered, is also forgotten.
The tap flashes in the sun, the stream of water flashes in the sun, their blond childhood heads blaze through the water drops, the warm, ticking scrub leaning kindly over them and the sea itself acknowledging the wisdom.

Photography by Yeshi Kangrang

When we went out for the evening somewhere and there were books behind the bar.

 

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I liked it here, wherever it was, somewhere on a mild night in the city. Because they had placed books behind the bar, in small rows and in one long row across the top, behind the ladder, dim in the yellow light, the leather ridging beautiful in the yellow light.

Perhaps not many people saw them. The books did not have much to do, just sit there superbly, which they did, above the heads of the bar staff and over the life and heat of the evening. The bar staff were making cocktails, pulping green apples, swirling ice with ice, faultless, making cocktail after cocktail, spinning lids, confident with glass and colour and audiences. And the place was filling up, the music was louder, it was getting darker, except for a glowing mezzanine floor up high and behind an iron balcony. Up there were lamps and a group of people, just their silhouettes moved to and fro. One woman danced by herself, she poured champagne from a great height, the bottles glowed emerald green, she was Aladdin in that smoky light, Aladdin or Scheherazade perhaps, belonging only to herself.

Young people enter and leave and enter and leave, following some unknown tidal rule. There is shouting at the front. The barman presents four cocktails at once and with a flourish and there is cheering. There is a surge of interest in apples and ice and whisky.

Near to us, a young man drops his glass to the floor, he is leaning on his friend, they are arguing, there are two young women sitting nearby and they draw in their legs, looking at the spilt drink, the ice and the glass and the young men. One of the young men begins to weep.The books on the shelf lean back, complacent, having seen it all and already containing it all.

Up behind the balcony, the dancer dances on, consulting nobody.

 

You just need to watch your feet a bit more.

Two boys are walking past the window of the shop, weighed down with adolescence and school bags. One says: I’m going to just go up to every teacher and say like, I’ve read that. His friend nodded, approving, excited. They continued on to the bakery, they walked shoulder to shoulder, staring at the ground, colluding in low voices. Later they walked back again, still speaking intensely, exultantly.

A teenager came in to buy a bookmark for her friend’s birthday. She chose a silver dragon with clear glass beads and deep emerald beads and silver spacers. She chose one with a silver love heart suspended on the end, it swung clear of the glass and metal and she looked at it from every angle in the light, the clear lights and the green lights and she told her mother: this is the one. She told me she had a book about a dragon, with silver on the ends of the pages and green writing on the front and this bookmark would go with this book. And she just knew her friend would just love this, as she knew her friend so well.

Ruth came to pick up her book: Religion and the History of Violence. She reads history intensely, all history. She said that you can’t know unless you know how much that you don’t know. We need to watch our feet, watch the details, watch what we miss and then we will see what we miss. Her voice is strong although she is not anymore; she walks carefully and it is hard for her to manage the door. Sometimes she comes in gumboots, straight from the garden, from life, from details.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ladder

 

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A young family visited the shop; they are a group of experienced readers. The siblings bunch together, anxious to make the first discovery of Brotherband…eventually, though, they scatter. They, all of them, maintain an exclaiming commentary, to which nobody listens.

Oh my God…

I really love this.

I’ve got that…..and that…

There’s none here. Thanks for nothing. But this is here…

But nobody looks up.

The youngest is reading out loud….an older brother looks down kindly. He says…no….ladder…it says ladder…see?

Undeterred, she keeps reading aloud. She does not say ladder. She refuses to use this word. He attempts to close the book on her nose. He says LADDER. But she wants the word rabbit; it has more value because with this word she can outwit her family.

But her brother has moved on, he has found book one of The Edge Chronicles: Beyond the Deep Woods. He shows his brother a picture of a gyle goblin…and without looking, his brother says: yeah, that’s good!

Their parents are in the other room, I can hear them arguing over the Rutherfurd histories. She is saying: we have ALREADY got this one.

A lady enters, thinking it is the bakery. I direct her around the corner and she says: well, fancy that!

Robert comes for his Bullfinch Mythology but it has not arrived. He looks longingly at the Ray Bradbury but says his pension has not come in yet.

I am asked for Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, The Story of Silent Night by Paul Gallico, Migaloo The White Whale, The Shorter Oxford Dictionary of Historical Principles, (volume two only) and also Pirates Don’t Eat Bananas.

People come in with purposeful lists, they circle around, intent only upon Ruth Rendell, they often leave empty handed, never ambushed by Other Possibilities. They are never lured to a book by its dust cover or seduced by leather or impressed by weight. They leave grimly, no luck today.

The small child that liked the word rabbit is captured by Yann Martel. She traces the lines of colour with her finger, from powder blue down through emerald, to leaf, to clay, to gold. There is a child walking across the gold, she taps him kindly. She bends so that the book is level with her face, there is a monkey walking through the green. She says: that’s a monkey.

Her parents emerge from the other room and remind her to be careful. She says: that’s a monkey,  but they are still wading in argument and do not attend to the monkey. Her mother glances across eventually, though and exclaims: oh that’s Yann Martel, he wrote Life of Pi.  Her husband says: we already have it. The little girl says: can we get a pie?

The brothers come out, they have one book between them and it is volume 9 of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The brothers look at their sister warningly: she is not going to read it.

She says: ladder.