I saw him this morning when I was setting up the shop for the day. He is someone I know by his voice. And his dog. There used to be a group of dog lovers here. They met at the bakery and talked all morning. He would laugh. His laugh bounced out out over the road like some mad buoyant pack of tennis balls, and all the dogs would swing their heads around sharply to look at him, and then turn back to watch the traffic with their eyes half closed again.
I heard him over the road this morning, still with his beautiful dog. He said, ‘How you going?’, to the people sitting on the grass, waiting for buses. His voice is the same. He still says the same things, simple and strong, and happy like chutney that is home made. I heard people answer him, nodding, saying things back to him, and he laughed the same way, leaning back and lobbing it straight upwards into the pine trees and making the cockatoos rustle and look down with jealous eyes.
The people on the grass are all grinning, looking up at him. One man says, ‘Yeah mate, I reckon that too.’
Then the bus comes and I can’t see them anymore, and I have to go inside where all the books and stories about people are, and record another story about another person.
It’s hot this morning. Everyone is moving slowly, respecting the heat; we aren’t used to it yet.
There are some people with an elegant dog on a lead outside my shop, and they are trying to get to the bakery. But a passing car has stopped at the intersection, and as the walkers approach, two dogs in the back seat of the car look out and go stiff with rage. The back window can only fit one head, but both dogs mash themselves into the window seat. First they are motionless, eyeing the footpath dog with shock and fury. The footpath dog has reared up, ears stiff, scenting battle and possible glory. He lunges suddenly and twists his owners into a sudden plait of legs, shopping bags and disappointment. The traffic has stopped. The intersection is blocked. The car inches forward, the back window framing the dogs as they scream, strange squashed barks. The footpath dog splashes urine, (a warning?) the owners are outraged, yanking and hissing, and nobody can escape. Tensions climb. Footpath Dog is now dancing a slow mad polka on his hind legs, the owners pulling him into my doorway. The car dogs are braying their contempt at this pathetic dance. One of my hanging balloons comes down in the hot wind and Footpath Dog bounces into the air, quivering and upset, he loses ground. But the traffic is moving, at last, at last, and the car dogs are swept around the corner, their heads blowing like flags, still shouting abuse. The Footpath Dog subsides, sighing and disappointed. The owners go trembling toward the bakery.
Everybody who comes into the shop stands briefly in the doorway and the day outside flares blue over their shoulders.
People with dogs, pulling and pulling, stopping, pulling, jerking forward again, a girl reading in the sun over the road, drinking a bottle of coke slowly, two old men running across the street, the arms pumping powerfully – but not the legs. The legs will not be hurried. They rock back and forth with imagined speed, and shake fists at the motorbikes that made them run in the first place.
Hot footpaths. People standing outside cars to eat instead of climbing grimly inside them. Cars parked with people asleep against the hot windows. Walking is slowed down, people glance at the sky, stand still to drink coffee. Laughing and talking at the kerb, not trying to cross the road immediately, happy to wait in the sun, finding extra things to talk about.
Two ladies rugged up sensibly outside the shop say, this won’t last.
Kids belting past yelling – I’m not even playing on Saturday, is Sam?
He is always out there. He is always laughing.
He is always talking.
Sometimes he is with a quiet group at the bakery; they line up along the windows, everyone with morning tea and a dog. Many of the dogs have a mat and a bowl and are important. Some just have the ground, and these dogs are also important. Everyone talks about their dog and how they manage. It is a happy group. The dog man sits here and his laugh scatters and scribbles up and over and up and over, sailing and swooping and interested in everyone and really liking dogs. Everyone smiles, even people are who not in that group.
To me, hearing from inside, the dog man’s space always seems to get bigger. He influences the air across the motorbikes and the galahs, the traffic and the parking dilemmas and the bus queue. His laugh folds out and up, it concludes over the top of everything and then returns to him, like a lasso, ready for the next go.
Two motorcyclists outside my shop window are shouting: do you need fuel, do you need fuel, mate… three times they roar at each other over their engines, they won’t turn them off and nobody can hear anything. But the laugh of the dog man is even louder, it touches them like the end of a whip and their heads turn sharply toward it, they are silently trying to locate it, that loosening knot of mirth that punctures power with a new authority and then slides away from them again before they can place a boot on it.
Max and Noah are on the edge of the sea and playing in that slice of joy that lies directly where the sea meets the sand. Here they can trot about with competent feet, carry sand in grainy wet loads and roar bravely at the sea. They can enter the water and become caught in the muscular pull of cold weight around their hearts and quickly stop still. Max sniffs the surface and is shocked with salt. They both make squinting eyes. The bay is a lagoon nursing heat and light and small children, beyond them, a dog swims patiently in and out, enclosing his owners in soft ripples, there is no noise, Noah says: doggen.
And they keep playing on, smudged and warm and covered in beach and the dog swims silently by.
Two people went by the windows of the shop this morning, laden down with bakery and one said as he went past: is this a bookstore?
His companion answered without looking: yeah, just kiddies’ books by the looks.
He was also carrying a can of paint and he stopped to change the paint bucket to his other hand and to transfer his lunch to the opposite side. And he dropped the meat pie. Then he juggled the pie, his keys, the paint, his phone and he called out: just fucking wait a minute, and his companion is not waiting, just keeping on going and eating his food as he walks.
My window is a field of activity. It is a viewing glass.
One man said, looking through: it’s amazing how many books have been written about London. His wife did not answer, she kept walking.
Once, outside, a man was shouting into his phone: some of them just attack you.
A man tapped on the glass and said to his son that Jeffrey Archer is the best writer in the world today and this is because there are no swear words in his books. His teenage son did not look up from his phone.
An old couple parked just outside the door and through their car window I could see an enormous zucchini. When they opened the back door of the car, the zucchini fell out onto the road. She said: well, why didn’t you pack it in properly? It took him some time to pick the zucchini up because he couldn’t bend down that low.
Today Yvonne opened the door to show me Marco’s new collar and to ask after my grandsons. She has a new hat with a long feather poked through the brim.
There are motorcyclists seated around a small table outside the bakery. One is angry: he says: I told him not go that way. One of his companions says: take it easy.
Some people walk by and come back. They stare at the wooden cat in the first window and then keep going again. They don’t look at any books. Children will tap the glass; the cat might be alive. One lady bent, peering through window for a long time. Then she said to her friend; come along, there’s nothing useful in there.
One man read my opening times on the door and said: what a cracker!
On a certain excellent afternoon, two people with a pair of huge dogs thundered past my door and on past the bakery tables and the large dogs waded into a group of diners and started a fight with two small dogs that were sitting correctly next to their owners. The small dogs screamed a single continuous high note of excitement and the large dogs danced backwards in shock and the walkers shouted whoa and back here and the diners repeated and repeated that it didn’t matter and then sat angrily back down again and looked at their cakes and coffee that were all over the ground.