The young girl who wanted a book for her friend

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This young girl wanted a book for her friend. The friend is an exchange student and unable to go home right now. So a group of students are buying her books, for consolation. The exchange student, who can’t go home, reads and reads.

The young girl had a list of books, written in pencil and folded neatly. She showed me the list. It is mostly the classics.  I read, “William Wordsworth”.

I said, ‘William Wordsworth!’

And she said, ‘Oh yes!’

The excellent argument

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While I am at the window, watching the foot traffic, putting the science fiction back into order, I am thinking that I might go to the bakery. But I can’t. There’s a group of ladies at the door. They don’t come in. They are reading my sign aloud, please come in, and looking through the glass.

They don’t come in. There are about seven ladies. They move up and peer through the larger window; I am right there, but they don’t see me. The sunlight on the glass makes them screw up their eyes and look cross. They are cross. One lady says the books are second hand, another lady, Joan, says they are new. She makes a shrugging movement with her handbag.

‘At any rate, we’re not going in. It’ll be expensive.’

‘Well. Well, I might. I just might have a look. It says, “used books”’.

‘They’re not used, they’re new. We don’t have time. Get the timetable.’

Another lady produces a pamphlet folded in an efficient way. They all lean in, but only one lady reads it.

They all look at each other. Then the lady who had argued with Joan sails for the door, and there I am, opening the door, please come in, indeed, we look at each other triumphantly.

One lady comes up behind the troublemaker and says, we’re going on, Gwen.

Gwen nods.

Outside, the group hesitates, wavers, moves to one side, watches a child on a small bike ride past. They move on slowly. They have rallied, they look good. They have a list of things to do, a timetable, and time.

 

Inside, Outside

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There are two ladies here discussing Things. First they talked about their children and then about Woolworths. Then, a water meter (broken). They have not looked at any books yet. Maybe they won’t. It often happens this way when people meet unexpectedly in a shop.

Today, my quiet door is hard at work. Earlier, a young man had thanked me for alphabetical order. He had held both hands out and said, ‘Thank you for alphabetical order…you’ve no idea what a difference it makes!’ His friend said, ‘Let’s go’, and edged the decision toward the door where the talking ladies moved aside without seeing him. But the young man was not ready to go. He was at Poetry. He suddenly said, ‘Get me out of here, I can’t go on’, and his friend said, ‘Thank God’, and they went outside to check phones, holding the door open, and we heard one of them say, ‘Sue isn’t a real vegan anyway.’ We could also hear a man in a suit standing next to his parked car with a coffee, and saying into his phone, ‘Do you want to drop those ladders off? Just go to my house then. Just bloody do it. Yeah….. yeah, ok…..yeah, I know….God. Why?’

The door closed

It opened. It was Don, hoping for his book on the Australian cameleers, but it was not in yet. As he left, he shouted back through the slowly closing door, ‘Off to Moonta with the Mrs, can’t wait. There’s history up there.’

The door shut. It opened.

‘Hello, hello, can we browse? Just been in the bakery. John’s still finishing his bun.’ Then she shouted back to someone else, ‘Get John.’

Outside, the man in the suit was saying, ‘And at the end of the day shit happens. I know that for a fact. Have you heard from your lawyer?’

The door shut.

The talking ladies moved comfortably into the doorway again.

A man asked for Lee Child. A lady asked for Sue Grafton. A couple asked for The Diary of Anne Frank (the uncut version). They told me that when they went to Amsterdam etc.

The man outside finished his call and began another.

People came along the footpath from both directions. There was a wild commotion of dogs. Everyone stopped and apologised, and said that their dog doesn’t usually do that etc.

The man outside is repeating into his phone that at the end of the day, shit happens, and he has always known this.

A child in the front room is standing motionless with a copy of The Hobbit on her head and staring through the window. She says to her mother, ‘Can we get this?’ and her mother nods without looking up.

The ladies in the doorway are leaving. I can hear them going up the footpath, ‘Well, I just tried it with beetroot, and the results were fair at least…’

Why take so long!!!

Zeus and Hera - Athena Fountain by Carl Kundmann, Josef Tautenhayn and Hugo Haerdtl,

Outside the door of my shop, there is shouting. Tradespeople gathering for morning tea, taking all the parking spaces. They wear orange and blue; safety vests, gloves, and there is a helmet on the ground. Next to that, a phone, and a coffee allowing steam into autumn. They lean over utes, sit on the pavement, back against my window, a bookshop. They don’t look in. They are smoking, checking phones, holding paper bags, staring at the ground. Eating.

One worker is outraged. In the bakery there were some old ladies who had Seriously Held Up The Queue. One had argued about, well, nothing, and the other couldn’t see the pies. They had taken a  long time. Mate!

I imagined the tradespeople in the bakery, shuffling in massive boots, watching the savoury slices sliding into other people’s fucking paper bags. Unable to shunt the queue forward because Alice and Gwen were too small for a proper confrontation.

I heard the complaints.

‘Oh my God!’

‘Why take so long? Bring your glasses. Jesus. It was like, 25 mins. WTF! People have to eat.’ The tradesperson speaking, a woman, is glum.

The others, all men, listen politely and nod properly; It Is Not Right.

One man is leaning on a ladder. He has placed all his stuff on a plank that is resting across the ladder in the back of one of the utes. She bangs the plank for emphasis. He holds the plank steady, watching his coffee. He says, ‘Yeah.’

She says, ‘But the lamingtons are good.’

Another person says, ‘Could of eaten three!’

Someone asks, ‘Were you scared of ’em?’

‘Who?’

“Those old ducks?’

She says, ‘Yeah!’

And they all laugh, leaning back, relaxed, looking through my open door and not seeing it, a bookshop.

“Better go.”

But none of them move.

‘Better go’.

‘You go Leo, you dickhead.’

When I next look up, they have all gone. There is just a coffee cup left there, gentle and full.

 

 

Image: Zeus and Hera – Pallas Athena Fountain, erected by Carl Kundmann, Josef Tautenhayn and Hugo Haerdtl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three ladies look through the window at the political biographies

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The political biographies occupy the window in an arrogant and useless kind of way.

Three ladies are out there, together, come off a bus across the road. I can see the driver sprinting for the bakery.

I can hear the ladies. They are bent over, peering in.

‘Sue was reading one of his books…’

They laugh wildly. (I wonder, who is Sue…?)

‘Caroline read it, too. When she…you know…’

I knew she wouldn’t lend me, so I asked for it at the library.’

‘They take an age though.’

They all agreed that libraries take too long. I still don’t know what they are referring to. I remain still. Eavesdropping is rude. It would not do for people to know. Is it Paul Keating? Surely not.

‘I wouldn’t mind it. She said it makes you feel good.’

(Paul Keating?)

‘You know you can read it and…’

‘Enjoy it.’

Whee yes! That’s what she said.’

‘I’m going in.’

‘Anne’s going in, bless her’.

“Anne” poked about amongst the political and knocked Keating to the floor. She picked up The Happiest Refugee and brought it to me. She said, ‘A hardback, no less. That makes me happy. It’s Anh Do!’

She opened her kind handbag and found the money. She looked at me and said richly, deeply, ‘Read it read it read it! You must read it. It’ll make you feel good.’

Then she left, thrusting the book at her friends, who bobbed up and down and exclaimed, ‘Anne, you’re a one!’

And they walked on, Anne with the book, and the others talking about having a colonoscopy.

Artwork by Pat Brennan

Love’s Labour’s Lost

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Sometimes people come into the shop and I don’t notice. They just appear, and not through any door that I have. When I look up, there they are. A knot of teenagers, seated on the ground, leaning back, solemn, as though here for a meeting. I can hear the trailing ends of one idea after another.

‘The point he’s making is that….’

‘What people don’t realise….’

‘With my play, I had to…..’

‘Yeah, but that exerts…’

Someone is reading aloud. Everybody listens. The reader stands up. Finishes. Everyone dives forward with an idea….’I’ve got that on Instagram…not the book…it’s on something…’

‘No, no no, pretty much…..not that one…’

‘In The Uncommon Reader…’  Someone narrates the plot of The Uncommon Reader.

‘Listen to this…’

‘I was like…’

‘There’s this really long word in this play…’

More reading out loud.  An argument. A selfie is taken.

‘Oh my God. I’m getting that.’

‘Are you serious?’

‘I love this.’

‘The exhibition was in 1910…’

‘This was published in 1948.’

‘I don’t reckon…’

‘So what books are you grabbing hon…?’

‘I know. I don’t know. But I’m getting this now. I just googled it, I love it.

It was Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost they were reading from, and that they are now buying.

Then they leave, one girl hugging the ‘beautiful book’ and telling the others she can’t go out tonight because she has rehearsal.

 

 

A Tale from The Decameron, 1916, John William Waterhouse

 

 

 

I’ve got two impatient men out here

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A lady visited the shop this morning and stayed mostly with the biographies. She circled around briefly, noting this and that, nodding and looking, but always returned to the biographies. She said, ‘I love them.’

Then she said, ‘I’d stay longer, but I’ve two impatient men out there.’ She wagged her head from side to side and raised her eyes to the roof. She remained looking thoughtfully upward, as though seeing some solution up there.

Then she looked back into the biographies. There was a tap on the window and an urgent face appeared.

She said, ‘Oh damn them.’

She opened the door an inch and stared out, and they stared back. She said, ‘I just told her in there that I’ve got two impatient men out here.’

They jumped back in alarm. One said, ‘Well that’s not true is it. We just want a cup of tea. You go back in there to your books and fancies. Can’t she Frank! Why can’t she do that!

But Frank was not helpful. He had turned away. A cup of tea! He disappeared from view.

She joined them outside, sighing, suffering, and I heard her say, ‘Well, my goodness”, as they continued down the street.

 

 

 

 

Oh, no…

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I watched this reader come into the bookshop and sigh over the books, while at the same time maintain contact with friends outside the window.

There was something on the window table that was enthralling. She bent to read. She held her phone to her ear, whispering the plot to a friend perhaps. What was the book? I couldn’t see.

Her friends were clustered outside the window. They leaned into the window and made significant expressions. She stared into their faces and spoke into her phone. She stretched her face around the agony of the news.

The book, a paperback. She held it open with one elbow and signaled something diabolical though the window. I drifted close by. It was Dangerous Creatures.

There was a desperate exchange of information by phone and face.

The reader raised herself on her toes for emphasis. The watchers drew back in respect. Maybe someone in the book died. Should I offer support?

The reader knelt down to read further, calm and out of view. The watchers fogged the window in alarm. It seemed to me that the entire day paused.

Finally she rose. Replaced the book and fled the shop, one hand clasped over her mouth, keeping the the angst organised. She allowed me a brief glance. Outside the door she raised both arms and was received by fellow readers. I saw their young and tortured hands reach for her as she closed the door.

Readers.

Artwork, Even the Tiger Stopped to Listen to her Tale, by Mary Alayne Thomas

 

 

 

Dutch

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A group of people came in off the train. There were about fourteen of them, all friends and all speaking English and what I thought was German, but turned out to be Dutch.

They loved the books. They moved from room to room. They knelt to read the children’s books to each other, in Dutch and in English, a working counterpoint that swam in bright notes all over the shop.

The husbands were shouted at. They were too slow. One man wanted a certain picture book with a kangaroo on the front. They stood in a circle around the book, tapping the pictures, talking about the kangaroos and the fairy penguins. Then he couldn’t find his wallet, or his phone. He was shouted at again. The words were beautiful, effective, unfamiliar. The wives waved bags in the air and made shushing sounds. They made sounds of impatience. They made sounds of derision. Fluent cascades of words and argument clattered about everywhere, Patricia Cornwell, Agatha Christie, Asterix were all examined. A John Grisham book was thumped back into the shelf.

No, no, no, no! A husband offered a possibility. But, no!

Two husbands went outside and stood with their shoulders raised against the shop. A wife tapped the glass, and they swayed but did not turn around. They looked across the road.

There were so many conversations. So many books. So many opinions. Somebody brought some books to the counter and said, ‘We’re from Holland!’

Then it was time to go. The husbands were shouted for, ‘The train, the train.’

When the last person had gone, it was quiet.

 

Painting by Kenne Gregoire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How many, maybe twelve

The Twelve Dancing Princesses

It’s not often so many readers visit me at once. But this group came in, swooping, nodding. Young people reading. Oh happy Saturday.

Swaying, hoping and asking the shelves…. ‘Have I read this?’

Stooping and thinking, shaking heads, no, no. Not that.

Magnificent sunlight conducts the outside of the shop. But is irrelevant. It can stop trying now.

One girl has piled books up, carries them around, keeping order with her chin.

There is a phone conversation. Giving directions. Head back outside (not happily), and shout to someone in the street (fool!)

The rest of the group enter.

Then more.

Diary of a Nobody, Inkheart, Treasure Island, John Steinbeck, Eoin Colfer, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Black Beauty, Kidnapped, wondering, hissing… ‘You already have that.’

‘How many teeth does an Aardvark have, who knows that?’ Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, The Lost Necklace of Amber or something like that. Someone has lost a water bottle. The light on the darkened windows of the parked cars outside the window dazzles and hurts. Sherlock Holmes. Anais Nin. D. H. Lawrence, Eric Carle.

‘I love Anais Nin. And Harry Potter.’

Somebody is called outside because they have too many books. There is a brief, respectful silence.

Enid Blyton, Laura Ingalls….. ‘What’s her other name?’

Are you getting this?

Pride and Prejudice.

‘Do you have Tarka the Otter?’

‘Do you have the sequel to Sweet Thursday?’

They move and murmur, gather and turn. Read on knees, in silence. Gather up the chosen volumes, phones, a scarf, a sister, a book that will  help them read Proust, and slowly everyone is leaving. It is the end of the day and they leave, file out, eyes like jewels.

 

Illustration from The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Errol Le Cain