A devil for reading

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I remember this couple. They came from Murray Bridge, and they only visited once.  They spent the whole time telling me about their granddaughter. They laughed so much and they were so proud. That was in 2015, and I never saw them again. I remember they wanted the Tintin books by Herge.

Their granddaughter would be 20 now. If only she knew how they had collapsed in on themselves, silent, pained, because there were no sounds that could carry enough value to ease their contentment at having received her into their quiet road, wooden breakfast table, tomato garden lives.

 

The visitors

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Noah and Finn visited the shop this morning. They are packed with energy, ideas, and water bottles. They picked up the pottery cat and put it down. They read the robot book, the dinosaurs book, the wildlife book, and A History of Great Australians. They moved the owls and the clay bird, and put a copy of The Complete Angler in the back room. They smudged the glass, and opened the door, moved the teddy bear, shook the gem tree, sat up at the counter. They picked up the pottery cat and put it in a different place. They are wearing good autumn jumpers. They are grandsons. They are everything.

On the jetty, Edithburgh, at dusk

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I’m just watching. It’s all I want to do right now.

The jetty is warm.

The fisher people are patient, they move in and out of all the rooms of the evening. They are on the jetty looking for squid. One man handles his rod as if it is a pencil. He only needs one hand, light, delicate. He writes on the water. He leans over, frowning, as if looking for mistakes.

There is a child who is running in circles with a green bucket. The father says, ‘Here, bring it back.’ The mother continues to hold the line, staring downwards. She is wearing raspberry coloured sports shoes. She is blown about, swaying, and looking downwards, into the water, looking for signs in the green, green water, wondering how to improve things.

One man sits in a chair. He wears shorts, a singlet and rubber boots. He says, ‘Away then, away then, come on you.’  The next man is motionless.

The child is chasing seagulls. They hop backwards, an inch, another inch. She is so fast; they must hop back…two inches this time, hop, hop, and then they tilt their heads. She stretches and dips. Maybe she will put a seagull in her bucket. But she can’t, her father is calling and calling, ‘Here…. where’s me bucket…?’

The jetty is warm.

My family land a squid and it releases its life, in ink. Heads turn. Heads nod.

They are going for green tonight. They only want the green jigs. The information is passed on.

The sun settles, depressed, smoky. It can’t get clean. The eyes of the squid are wet emeralds, soft and gone. More fisher people pass us, heading for a place on the jetty, finding it, a precise place, a warm spot that works for them. They stop to prepare fishing rods, put down a plastic bucket and kneel to the sun.

My family land another squid; it releases another finale, across the jetty, ink, fire, a catastrophe, whatever. The running child with the green bucket pauses, glances across the stain,  reads it, moves on, calls back, ‘Got it’. She runs and leaps, entirely alive.

I am only watching.

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Lemonade, dancing, a hot day

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Outside, on the footpath, (a hot day), is a child with a can of lemonade and a family. He is spinning around the post just outside my door, slender and agile, spilling none.

He turns and dips around his mother. She’s standing in the shade, using her phone. She says: Please concentrate on what you are meant to be doing. And he, in acknowledgment, turns faster, round and round, spilling none.

There’s a sibling sitting in the front seat of the car, door open, hot seats, sticky with his own drink and watching on. The dancer dips and hoots, making outrageous angles with his head and elbows.

Spins…

…around the post, around his mother, dances madly for his brother. The brother nods.

Back to the post, a cool metallic partner that supports his smooth zigzag to the ground and back up into the heat. Spills nothing. It’s time to go.

Mum says, ‘Use the bin,’ and he does, smoothly.

They leave.

 

Artwork by Denis Gonchar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The kids in the car

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Outside, in a car. There they are! Two children having to wait in the car for a parent who has rushed to the bakery.

I watch the car windows go up and down. Up and down. Spindly arms flicker. They are calling to each other, their little voices like recorders, fluting.

I watch an old lady pause and look in the window. The front passenger offers a small hopeful wave. The way children do. Unsure if it’s ok, but offering anyway.

Then he leans back, stretches forward, leans back again, with those little stalky arms up and touching the roof.  He checks that a smaller sibling in the back is attentive to his rather magnificent stretching. That child is nodding, nodding, nodding, but is looking out of another window.

The sudden grill of motorbikes makes them pause and stare at each other. The younger’s face is stretched downwards in that way children do, to fit itself around approval and joy.

The front one goes swish swish with his hair. He reaches out and flickers both hands right to left in an abrupt and convincing parody of a pianist thinking before descending.

He is singing.

Suddenly he reaches across to the back and offers a packet of something. He puts the packet gently into the sibling’s face to properly display the feast. They eat in these positions, together.

There are two small bikes strapped to the roof. I see now that there is also a dog in the back. I stand in the doorway of my shop, enjoying the sun and everything.

The front child returns and begins playing jazz piano on the back of his seat. The audience (of one) gazes forwards, rapt. The thin arms bounce and run, hover and dive, his fingers stripping the upholstery as he releases some ribbon of sound he has heard on YouTube or somewhere, somehow. His thin frame quivers across his own deadly reach. He must stop now, panting.

Another child goes past, staring in. Mr Front Seat disappears from view. Then his eyes appear. He points over the sill with his finer. Is he a sniper? Nearly as deadly to humankind as a jazz pianist. The passing child continues past. Walking and looking backwards at the car, eating biscuits.

Mum returns.

They talk, nod, seat belts, more nodding, a long conversation, she is holds the packets of food in mid-air. There is a long story from Mr front seat. Mum is interested, listens right to the end, then she leans back and kisses Mr Backseat. He leans back, replete. She deals out food, fastens her own seat belt, pull gently away from the kerb, eating from a paper bag bag, the children likewise, like little horses, noses out of sight and eyes closed.

Artwork by Pascal Campion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daughter and mother

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They came in together yesterday and looked around confidently. I could tell they approved. Connoisseurs of bookshops always enter with full sails. ‘Here we are…’

Then they pause, broadsided by higher authorities. An enormous spiteful Pepys. Tintin. Dickens, Pratchett, Adams. Sendak, Steinbeck, Atwood, Dai Sijie, Garner. Proust. The Quincunx and Ibrahim Nasrallah on the front shelf. Anais Nin. All out the front to help me meet the ego. Authorities, like me, pretend to have read everything. But we bloody haven’t.

The mother and daughter approved and warmed immediately. There was a burst of a Christmas excitement.

I want this.

I heard you. I heard you.

The mother came up to the counter and leaned in comfortably to tell me softly about What She Read. Outlander. It took over her eyes. She had to look away so she could see the plot and tell some of it to me.

The daughter kept on sorting. She loved the World Classics. She loved Lewis Carroll. She’d read Treasure Island. It was violent. She loved Charles Dickens. She loved hefty classics in small dense volumes. Red covers.

I love these.

I love these. I want this.

I have that…

The mother ordered copies of the Outlander series. The daughter looked pleased.

‘Then I’ll read them. After you.’

‘We have too many books.’ (We all do).

Then they gathered themselves together, paid for their books, moved out, hanging onto each other and talking about Game of Thrones.

 

Mother and Daughter at Table by Jean Edouard Vuillard

The Trucks

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There’s a dump truck, a trailer, a digger, a dozer, and a roller. Each toy has a precise story, a precise history, and a name.

The stories are lengthy and I don’t hear all of them. But they are complex and detailed and make me realise how much I don’t know about what a two year old is thinking.

The dump truck has to bake biscuits, with sugar. There’s not enough sugar. The trailer is making carrots. The trollers are friends. The bulldozer has been removed from the sandpit along with a feather because they aren’t allowed to be in it.

Max talks into an orange tile and arranges for petrol from Foodland. He clicks a long code of instructions and says “cheese”. He says, “Look at this”, and shows the tile to each of the trucks.

The dump truck is sent to kindy.

A bigger truck with a crane and hook is introduced. This is for bringing in the “fish tank” and is driven by a purple and orange felt doll who has leaves (for wings) and who lives in the tyre shop. The truck also carries bowls of food and trees.

At lunch time, over enormous ham and cheese sandwiches, Max shows me how to mend a broken sandwich and how watermelon is really cold. He says that our cat is always watching us.

 

Do you have any books on sharks?

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Three children and their parents. They carry the books around, reading as they walk, reading out loud, spotting something else, kneeling down to see. Wondering and thinking, do we need it, have we got it? We do. We don’t.

Look at this.

Seen it.

Look at this.

I want it.

Three Harry Potters make it to the front. And then a book on sharks that they asked for and stood over, pointing and discussing, and which can’t be left behind. Very good.

Dad comes back, he just ducked out to the 12 Volt Shop (he said), and now has a good look at the selections. Very good.

Then they all muddle out, bumping and swaying, which is how you walk when you read at the same time. (Very good).

The Camera

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Max and Noah took a picture, but the camera wouldn’t work. They took seventeen photos because it is impossible to lift a thumb off the camera icon once it is down.

Usually there is another thumb over the camera lens. All they capture is thumb. Still they admire it, ‘Look at this.’

They can’t get their own heads in the frame both at once. When they manage it, they take seventeen photos of thumb. Then they examine each one as if choosing a prize family portrait. And they found one!