That place we went to on the weekend

It was hot and busy and crowded and flushed. We were outside. It was a distillery, warm with weekend, choked with visitors, and looked like this:

Waiting staff were running, running, running. Weaving and carrying triple trays, balancing, enquiring, eyes flicking from table to table reading the needs.

Families. Trooping to their tables in lines. Senior members at the front, the young people trailing, checking the exits and their phones. The correct smiles. Parents, early meetings with a son’s new partner, tense. The young woman wanting to please but already brittle.

Us. Old friends, easy.

Next to us, one long long table of a thousand women, a hundred different ages swaying toward each other.

You can tell the family groups. They all use the hand sanitizer and order drinks early. So nice to be together.

A child bounces on a chair and drops a crayon. Everyone at that table looks fondly at the child. He turns his head from side to side to side, unaware, involved with crayons, rich colours, apple green and plum purple split.

The Covid Marshal swirls in the centre of the arena and checks and counts and rotates again. He is frowning. He frowns all afternoon. His shoes are worn out.

You can tell the friends groups. They enter in hilarious clots, it’s a great day. They have many jokes. They joke about the hand sanitizer.

The family groups, the young people, have silly faces. The cousins look at each other.  Their parents are a little wooden, especially if their parents are there.   The olds have faces of resignation…what the fuck does it all matter now. The young men wear pink shirts and socks and look desperately over their shoulders and then back at their phones. The girlfriends look at each other’s dresses. Then look away again.

The waiters are puffing. The sun shines down. A long plank of icy glasses passes us at head level, the beers glowing honey, oak, ruby, wheat, sand, cream, chilled…

The recipients (on a nearby table) for the plank of beers look up, their eyes softening, their voices lifting, friendly now and liking everyone on the table.

The child bounces on his chair, colouring in. The crayon on the ground is softening.

At the table of a thousand women is a thousand colours. There are impossible heels striking the beautiful ground, jewellery swinging, hair soft, fragrant and metres long. One young woman is late and she must walk in while everyone watches, their eyes flick up and down her form as she walks in on powerful hips and meaningful heels. She is greeted by an older woman with a light frown. All the younger women pause and watch the older woman’s face, they read that face, the old face, and take in the information. The old woman and the young woman hug, they exchange cheeked kisses, five times, six times, seven times. Then everyone relaxes. They sway in and out of magnificent colours, peacock blue, gold and ruby, emerald, blood, earth, invisible shocking pink, punched silver. The long, long fragrant hair, the hot sun, the cold cups, and the phones that need to be checked. Pictures are taken. The old woman is seated. She is still, glancing here, there, slowly, not needing to know anything. She already knows. The girls totter behind her, glancing carefully.

It is hot. Hotter. We eat fabulous things. We must move our table into the shade. The waitress is anxious, she glances across the day at the Covid Marshall and he bends over his list, frowning in his worn out shoes.  

Everywhere, people in groups take photos, leaning in, drawing back, adjusting things, assessing things, frowning, showing rows of too enthusiastic teeth. Chilled white wine smiling and looking at red wine that swirls sulky and resentful in roundy glass chambers, amber ciders, gold bubbles, shouting at a table in the distance, cold water in forest brown glass jugs, a falling out on the next table, ‘Well go home then…’, and the staff sweeping bravely through the rows, the Covid Marshall frowning, and the child drawing and the blue crayon on the ground melting, a delicious soft and urgent message.

Painting by Milt Kobayashi

My door, again

I wrote this blog three years ago. Since then, my door has been fixed. It is ordinary, appropriate and dull now. I had forgotten how it used to be.

“Visiting my bookshop means a complimentary struggle with the door. It is not old or new or beautiful. Everybody finds the door difficult except for Dick who is 94 and said that he’s gotten through worse doors in his life.

The door opens sulkily on a wheezing breath and then stops abruptly, its hinges allowing it no further; it will bruise a pram, thud a shoulder and remove confidence. Then it won’t shut at all. This door will creak and croak back to the last half inch gap and rest there for ten seconds and then abruptly shatter the peace of the shop with an impossible crash. People will jump in horror and stare at me and at the door, holding their books, their hearts and their lives in place with one hand over their chests. Each shopper thinks it is their fault. Sometimes the shock causes them to put chosen books back, and then I think that I should just remove the door and not have one.

My door can also stay half open, holding its breath and this bitchy balance for at least two hours and then crash land into the door frame like a truck hitting the building. One young man said he had a door like that at home, and that they do this because the closers are fucked. All the old heavy doors do it. Also the hinges could be fucked. He examined the hinges and said that they were not fucked.

My door will not let a pram out. Mothers, shopping, toddlers and prams are mixed together in a hot doorway jam, trying to exit. They always apologise as if it is their fault. It isn’t ever their fault. They will crush their prams to cardboard rather than be unkind about my door. The door stands there rectangular and exultant.

My door likes to lose its stupid doorknob in every tenth shopper’s horrified hand. The golden bulb throws out the screw quietly and slides off just as the door opens one inch. Then it will smash spectacularly back into the door frame and ruin a day. People always think they have broken my door and they apologise over and over again as the door expands ready to do it again.

But small children can reach the lower handle. They love the heavy, solid move of it. They love the smooth glass and press their faces on the cold clear slab. They will open and shut the door over and over, bang and bang and bang without going in or out. If it crashes unexpectedly, they love it.

Parents, making important reading choices, call out to their children: don’t make trouble.

I feel that, when assaulted by such enthusiasm, the door withdraws in consternation. I urge the children silently to keep going. Tap the glass, open the door, peer out and shout hellooooooo to an empty street. Push on the wood, but it won’t close. So lean in panting, chest to wood, kick it, push it until it gives way with a sullen and furious small click, defeated.”

The child who slipped outside the shop without his parents noticing

The door opened and closed, soft, final. The child, who had been inside my shop looking at books with his family, slipped out turned and stared back through the glass, his eyes soft and kind and accurate, finding his family again.

The father is just inside the door, and his face, upon looking up and seeing his child on the other side of the door, and realizing it was his child looking in at him, moved in tiny electrified muscular movements of confusion and terror.

The child’s face sparkled with satisfaction – seeing his family in there, while he is out there, and the father fleetingly frozen and unable to work out what to do next, ‘Why are you out there? You can’t go out there. Why did you go out there?’ And suddenly the whole world is irrelevant because his child is on the wrong side of the door, ie where he is not.

The father leaped the chasm, the wolves, the fire, the danger, and the train tracks and swept the door wide and towered there, ’You can’t be out there.’

The child expanded with absolute joy and came back in.  

The mother browsed gently on.

They gathered together and the father, exhausted said to her, ‘Are you finished?’

But she says, ‘No, she isn’t quite finished yet.’

How to enter and exit a bookshop

Rudi Hurzlmeier (2)

Swing in. No pause. A brief greeting; eyes straight to the shelves. Eyes either light up or narrow slightly. Both are good signs. Silence, or an exclamation. Both are useful.

A lightning fast assessment, or the dithering on the mat.

Apology for having brought in a cup of coffee.

Apology for bringing in other books.

Apology for letting in the cold air.

Asking for directions.

Some visitors give surreptitious glances over both shoulders so as not to miss anything. Some boom greetings. Others whisper the whole time they are in the shop.

Some need no directions. Others want NO directions, ’It’s ok, I’ll find my way.’

Pronounce me lucky.

Some people peer in through the window for a long time. Shading their eyes, hunched and purposeful. When I look up, they are still there, staring from side to side as though watching trains come in.

People say, ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry, can I just get around,’ gentle voices, understanding each other’s absorption. Hands in pockets. The smile, not at me, but at the books – but including me if they can. Some people can walk and read with ease. Most can’t.

Feeling around for reading glasses that are now on a different shelf.

Gasping; young people.

Paying. ‘Awesome.’ Voices now loud and confident. ‘Thanks very much.’ Even louder, almost shouting, ‘We always come here! Bye, bye bye…great, thank you, bye….’ Growing fainter.

Low laughs. Low discussions.

‘Are you actually going to read it?’ Parents.

‘I’ll get it for you.’ Lovers

‘I’m not paying for that.’ Siblings.

‘Go and wait outside.’ Retired couples.

Some people stand and read their book right in the doorway. Some move onto the footpath but cannot go any further. One family stood in a group on the footpath around The Two Towers and talked for another ten minutes. They leave things behind, drink bottles, hats, a torch.

Small children bring random books to the counter and are called from beyond to put them back. One child bought and paid for The Lord of the Rings and said, ‘This is for me.’

A lady standing behind him said, ‘Well done indeed.’

People help each other get books off the high shelves, laughing laughingly. Tell me about the weather, or the traffic, or their shopping.

Tell a long story and ask me where they were going with it. But I can’t help them. Some people lean their foreheads on one arm against a shelf and thus read alone. Some people talk loudly to strangers about what they think and the strangers edge politely away. Once there was an argument about Scott Morrison which became ugly. Once, an argument about racehorses which became boring. Children pile and count coins on the floor which go clink, clink, clink in desperate piles of hope. I liked to change the prices on their books so they get half of their coins back. But then they look at me in shock, unhappy at having counted wrong. Now I count with more respect, offer the discount at the end. But many children remain uneasy with this.

Older men have a habit of demanding a discount, looming over me, tapping the wallet, confident, assuming I will ease their $9.  I don’t.

Once a teenager brought me a box of his own books and would not take any money for them. He said it was to help me stay open because things had been hard lately these days. He told me about each book; they were not discards; they were his own library.

Children keep jacket hoods on, peek at me as they pass the counter. Parents press books toward them, the children press them away again politely and look at me again.

Women meet unexpectedly and laugh loudly, ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Oh you know, getting on with it.’

‘Yeah mate.’

A parent says, ‘I don’t want you buying books just because of the covers.’

A child stops still in the doorway, stops walking forwards and steps from side to side in an astonished rocking movement, ‘This is like the movie.’ He holds up his book, and his family stumble and fall all over him. ‘Move, Marcus, don’t stop like that.’ But he is too happy. He can’t hear them, and he stays right there staring at the dragon, rocking gently and forces the family to divide and flow around him, finally scooping him up at the rear – by his father, who says, ‘Gotta go, little man.’

They go, they’re loud; I guess they will take the little man to the bakery…..goodbye…

 

Illustration by Rudi Hurzlmeier

 

Children and their mums and dads

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What do they see, these children who are brought into bookshops, who are allowed to look and choose, are encouraged to read, and whose parents drift aside into their own place; Jack Kerouac, Terry Pratchett, Dune, Sonya Hartnett, Evelyn Waugh, The Remains of the Day, Dark Emu, Toni Morrison, Colette, Lee Child, Alice Walker, Debra Adelaide, The Collected Poems of Odysseus Elytis. The parents try to remain present. What do their children do?

One family: the five year old telling his dad about a book, desperately. ‘It has a man on the front, with a helmet on.’

The dad says, ‘Show me, take me to the book. You look after me.’ They bustle toward the book – there is a long conversation. Then they drift for a while. Dad has three books. The child has one and has finished.

‘Do you feel like you want to go? To the car?’ The child does.

‘Well, I think mum needs more time.’ We all look at mum. She is leaning, ankles crossed, against poetry, plays and Virago Classics. Child and man gaze at her. She wears olive green, mustard, deep wine, navy blue, chocolate brown, and she is motionless. Three paperbacks at her feet, ready.

Another child spins on an axis.

‘Dad dad dad come back.’

‘Come back dad dad dad dad dad dad dad. This is my book.’

‘It’s yours?’

‘Yeeeers.’

Some children find books for their parents.

‘Dad, look at this, you should get this.’

‘I like it. I the way you think.’ The child, about eight, expands. ‘This is fantastic, too.’

One father tells his partner, ‘I can tell you how that ends.’

‘Don’t.’

Their daughter, about ten, looks on, impassive. She says to me on the way out, ‘I’m reading Lord of the Rings.

A child, maybe six, listens to his parents argue about Henry James. ‘Portrait of a Lady…we have it.’

The child says, ‘I just found a portrait of a lady.’ They swoop. Oh my God, did you hear that?’ The child shows them a book with a lady on the front.

Some parents say, ‘Hands behind your back, remember,’ while they handle all the books.

Outside, when I am hanging my balloons: ‘Why do you always do that, can’t you do anything right?’ Parents talking in car parked right next to me. They are talking to a child in the back seat, but I assume they are talking to me.

Some children take a seat and just read. Some make a stack, and their parents look on admiringly. One daughter told me about history joyfully, and her father stood back, looking at her with utter respect.

 

All those kids

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Three families came up from Adelaide and visited a book shop! There were so many kids staring at the shelves that had my shop been a boat, it would have tipped up and sunk at the Enid Blyton end. The mothers, commandos, moved supremely, directing, agreeing (about Roald Dahl), settling issues (pocket money), herding, narrowing eyes when necessary, agreeing to purchases, handing on a legacy.

The smallest child carried around a bear. She gazed at Dr Who, unhappily I thought.

A boy bought an Atlas of the World, and said, ‘Thanks, it’s really pretty here in a good way.’ I gave him a discount because he was a gem.

A man, unrelated, bought one book, sulkily I thought, and asked if I thought that these kids would actually read any of the books they had. I gave him no discount because he was a dickhead.

The children hummed and bobbed and jogged and said, ‘I’ve already read that, it’s about a cave.’

Their mothers looked at titles, heads to the side, lips pursed. They snapped books shut, and said, ‘Ok’. They were efficient. They didn’t need a bag. They commanded for someone to hold the door. They glided out into the cold, all the bobbins following, saying, ‘But you know how in Percy Jackson, his mum is called Sally…’

 

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!”

The structure of the day

alexandre-perotto

 

I wrote this just before Christmas in 2015. The shop had started to become something, and I was beginning to fit it. Again, I realise (now) that it was the regulars that made it happen, and that a small town is the best place to be.

“The structure of each day in the bookshop has become quite nice.

Each day forms, bulges out toward the afternoon, trims itself, and tries to return to normal by closing time.

Each day the flow of information is generous.

Each morning seems to be about Henry James.

At closing time, I am anxious to get home and keep going with Henry James. I am slow. Leon told me that I am slow with books, it is true. But I am justified – The Spoils of Poynton is a thicket. I have to go slowly.

Young families wash in on a tide of enthusiasm and spare time because the school holidays have begun, and it is summer. And there is a new Star Wars film. When they leave, the door is covered in fingerprints, and there will be an empty juice bottle amongst the Geronimo Stiltons.

‘Where’s that book The Cross Sections of the Man of War? Is it still here? Last week it was.’

‘Nanna is getting us books and we can pick our own. This one is about the war, but it’s book two, so do you have books one and three? I’m getting it anyway.’

‘Do you have William Gaddis? I’ve been looking for The Recognitions all my life. It’s up there with Gravity’s Rainbow and books like that.’

In my spare minute I have another go at Henry James. Not many people have ever asked for his books.

Karl came in with his book list and told me that his eyes gave way earlier in the year, which was disappointing as he has always been one for the written word. But now he is fine and ready to roll.

John complained that every time he went to the bakery his doctor would go pass the window and see what he was eating and then give him a rocket because of his health – his cholesterol is way too high. ‘Small town bullshit that’s what it is. You can’t even take a piss without somebody telling everyone at Woolworths about it. I’m enjoying that Dick Francis though, the only one of those crime mugs that can actually write.’

I am lucky to receive a consistent commentary on the weather. This is a topic with a satisfying variety of expressions available to share it.

‘How’s this heat? Keeping you busy?’

‘Cool in here.’

‘This heat is ridiculous!’

‘Good weather for reading, that’s what I say.’

‘Foul weather. And here I am out in it.’

‘Damn strange weather!’

‘Damn fine weather!’

‘This weather takes the cake.’

‘Don’t know how Christmas will go with weather like this.’

‘Heat’s bad but nothing like in the sixties.’

A lady told me that Gould’s Book of Fish has her flabbergasted.

All day I am offered suggestions for the best things to read. I free fall amongst the suggestions.”

 

Photography by Alexandre Petrotto

Prams, backwards

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Young fathers angle their prams through the shop door backwards, expertly reversing without mirrors and without grazing the wooden ankles of a single shelf. Then they assess the angle, the space and the occupants of the pram. They often consult a reading list on their phone.

Young women, drive in forwards. Then they repack the luggage, apologise twice to everybody and say that they love books. Their prams are always loaded with children, clothing, spare shoes, water bottles, shopping, toys, days, hours and minutes.

Regardless of who drives, the passengers look out serenely and climb out hopefully.

Everyone wants The Very Hungry Caterpillar and I hardly ever have it.

Everyone is told not to fiddle.

All children stare at the fishing tree.

They always leave a bear or a shoe next to Science and Nature, then the family have to come back again to find it.

 

The little boy who looked through the window

Rebecca Dautremer.jpg

They were running past the window, a group, against the wind and streaming. The little boy, about six, darted at the door, bent low to look through, his face for a second right against the glass, fogging up, owl’s eyes, not blinking. He disappeared behind his own breath and then tapped the glass and flew away.

But he came back. His face, pressed to the door again, was all eyes and ideas. His family must have stopped and come back because somebody, suddenly, opened the door and in he fell.  There was a little sister with rainbow gumboots just behind. She put one finger in the air and said, Harry Potter. Her brother, breathing hard, said, book two or one. I gave them the books and they took them under a table to have a look. The parents drifted.

It was getting darker, quieter , and it began to rain.

There was a young woman here that afternoon, too, who sang while she searched for books. I remember the children gazing at her shoes, and then looking at each other. She didn’t know they were there. She sang on, they drew up their knees and hugged their hiding place, the parents drifted and outside, it rained on and on.

Artwork by Rebecca Dautremer