I remember Dion

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I remember Dion. He was one of my first customers. This was back when hardly anyone came in. Dion came in, and said, ‘Wow! This is great!’ Then he asked me how I was. I did not know back then that he would ask me this for the next five years. I also didn’t know that he wasn’t ok himself.

The first book he asked for was Twilight. He had seen the film, and thought it was the greatest film ever. He bought the book from me.

Still he visited, weekly, fortnightly, then monthly. I have not seen him for a long time now.

I remember when he gave up smoking. He asked me for a book on sharks. I showed him one and he bought it. Said it was fantastic. His hands were shaking.

Once he said that I would not want what he had. He never went into details about his health, or lack of it. He always asked after mine. No matter what.

Once he came in, full of head pain, and said, ‘Kerry, you’re gunna love this joke.’

Once he came in on a rainy day to say hello, and make sure that the shop was ok. I said that all is going well, and he said: except the weather.

The last time I saw him, he said, ‘Don’t worry about me, Kerry.’

I haven’t seen him since.

 

Artwork by Gürbüz Doğan Ekşioğlu

After 4pm, and cold

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That’s Leonardo da Vinci.

I know.

Saw it the other night.

So cute.

I know.

There are high school students here, walking about the shop. They always move so slowly, lean against the shelves to discuss something else. They examine books seriously, stroke the spines, put them carefully back.

I love that one.

That’s like my 6 year old brother.

Omg, that’s cool. Fiction.

Captain Cook.

What’s this music?

These girls tip their heads back to listen better.

I know.

Omg, what is it? My mum knows this music.

I know what it is. They played that at sports day.

No.

I’ll look it up.

They were holding onto a Complete Shakespeare. Amazed at the size of it. They stare down at the cover. One girl swings the book gently, exaggerating the weight. She places it back and looks at it sitting there.

He wrote all this. I love this book. My mum will kill me if I get this. It’s like, what about your bedroom, like, all the time.

I know. It’s Sound of Music. I think, this music. I got a crate for mine.

Oh yeah.

Do you want to read this?

Maybe.

Omg, is that what Roald Dahl looks like?

I love him.

So do I. Did you read Witches?

Yeah.

Same.

I have to go.

Omg, so do I. I’m getting this next time.

I love this owl.

Same.

Then they leave. As they pass me, they say, thank you, thanks, thanks….and then they are outside and gone, floating away in the cold wind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Friend Peggy

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Is not doing so well. I went to visit on Tuesday.

I remember when she first came to the shop. Irreverent, outrageous.

She has still read more than anyone I know. When I first met her I was surprised at her interest in science fiction. Her other interests are crime and thriller fiction, but across her long life she has read a staggering amount of other things. I always try to find something she hasn’t read.

Sitting there on Tuesday in her clean, blank room I brought up The Jewel in the Crown. She’s read it (but will read it again). I had brought her three other books; one fantasy, one crime (this pleased her) and a thriller that she said would be rubbish. I took that one back. There was a stack of crime on the white unit next to her. She has read all the Game of Thrones, she rushed them, she said, not wanting to die before finishing them all.

She said she wouldn’t be going anywhere soon. That she couldn’t get any bars on her phone; when she tried to get outside, the doors were all shut. She asked me to get her a door code. She wouldn’t mind a glass of wine. She said they made her get up and do stupid things down in the dining room. She asked me if I’d come back. She thinks I am going there for her sake. But being with Peggy sustains me!  I’m there for both of us.

She complained to the staff about the cup of tea that never came.

I remember her telling me she always carried books with her for the boring places, like church and the opera. She thought nothing of reading during any event, if it was boring, she would read.

Peggy only has one eye, a doctor once made her a glass one, produced it triumphantly, but she threw it in the bin. She said she had one eye and would stay that way.

When she lived in Woomera, her (ex) husband burned her library.

When she was a child, she spent a long time in an orphanage.

She thought she was ugly. She isn’t. She is striking, tall, spectacular, a bonfire.

She described a good day as one reading, at the pub, on the reds, a roast and a pile of paperbacks, and her. She was comfortable to turn her back on everything and read… so how come she always saw everything.

But now she thinks I am only visiting her out of kindness. But I’m not. I’m there to warm myself. I complained to her of all the work that I have to do at home, unappreciated, no peace and quiet, no end in sight, etc, etc.

I saw her listening to my litany of self-pity, saw the sun break through on her face, saw the grin. She was pleased with the never ending work, my sulking and self-indulgence. She was hungry for real.

I warmed myself for as long as I could and then went home. Have to find some more books for her. Not Lee Child (rubbish), not the classics (Oh God, no, read them all). Something real.

Artwork by Isidre Nonell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The weather

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This morning is sunny again, there was not so much rain after all. A knot of three good friends stand up against the shop window to discuss the problem of rain. Because it won’t come.

The rain, it’s shy this year.

It is, Mavis, why don’t you get out there, get it organised.

I’ve got a garden show this morning, after that, it can come, blast it. Needs to wait off till two. Then I’ll allow it.

Well, well then, hope it obliges. You’re a card! That’s what I say!

You don’t anything, Hank!

Then they all shrieked with laughter, picked up their bags and stepped carefully onward to the next part of their day: the information centre, Woolworths, an autumn garden show.

 

Remember that pudding…?

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There were two people outside the shop one afternoon, on the edge of the footpath and unable to cross the road. They were loaded with bottles of coke, a bag of ice and packets of corn chips and they were handling each item separately, they were very loud.
The traffic was not considerate of them, it just kept passing by and their heads were going from right to left and right to left and they were getting mad. So, when the sheep truck bellowed through and shaved all their supplies the woman said: fuck that stinks, and withdrew back onto the footpath and against my windows where they repacked their evening supplies. There was also a carton of beer that I hadn’t noticed, it was standing against the wall, waiting to be carried.
The man said: look at that cockhead! And they are watching the motorbikes now leaving across the road, leaving in a group which they consider necessary and holding up the traffic so they can stick together.
The woman said, what a twat, and they both nod, their heads turn from right to left and right to left and they note certain cars, frowning, interested. He says, that’s a shit car. Mum had one.
The woman agrees.
Remember that pudding she made? With all that cream…and chocolate milo or something? Yous all helped.
Yeah. Not milo.
Yeah.
Look at that. They are watching a toddler unwilling to climb into the family parked car, roaring, kicking, alive with rage. The couple look on approvingly. He says, look at that little bloke.
She suddenly says, this a book shop here, and he says, no don’t go in for Christ sake, let me finish me smoke, then we’ll get going. She says, I read that, that there, see it, the billabong kids.
He says, no mate, no billabongs here.
She says, god you’re a fucking moron. I read that, these kids. Hot country.
But he is standing, gathering the ice, the beer, the corn chips and the afternoon.
So, they are ready to go, all the cargo is steady and they approach the kerb. But there is a misjudgement and he sets sail but she doesn’t.
He reaches safe harbour across the road but she is still docked.
She yells, fuck, I’m comin’ over, just wait! And he waits, waving and hilarious, watches her make the crossing and when she leaps to the other side, with the ice and the bottles they embrace and say, fuck, did you see that… and then they walk off hand in hand into their good billabong, chocolate pudding evening.

The boy who bought his friend a bookmark

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These children come into the shop on weekday afternoons, school bags, drink bottles, friends, phones, everything. They had been looking at the bookmarks and talking about their lives. On other days they stand by the tables or the windows and talk about their lives. Sometimes they stand outside and look in and talk about their lives.

One day one of the girls asked me to put aside a bookmark for her as she didn’t have the money. So, I did. Then, some days later, one of the boys came back. He had a job now, mowing lawns and he said he did a pretty good job with them.

He would like to get that bookmark for the girl, his friend. A gift. And he did. He looked pleased with it but while he was looking happy, staring down at the bookmark, thinking about it, she came in!
Then they both stood there looking at the bookmark. It was a silver pirate sword with blue glass drops and silver swirls that sparkled or maybe it was their faces that sparkled, was hard to tell.

Artwork by Pascal Campion

The Bookshelves

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Many customers describe their bookshelves as unfinished. Everyone tells the story with pride. One lady told me that all her shelves were double stacked. She said this with glee and gluttony, looking at me carefully, looking for disapproval. I said that mine were triple stacked and she screamed with happiness. Her husband looked at her and said it was time to go.
Michael said that he had books in Spanish, the most beautiful language.
One man said all his low shelves were broken. He has just wedged them up with beer bottles and old westerns, does the job.
Everyone says they should not get any more books but they do anyway.
All children examine a book from the outside in.
Young people who are friends and who come in pairs or triples stand in tight groups and say oh my god over every book that is good. They will do this for ages.
Old people who say that young people don’t read anymore are wrong.
Louis always says to me: what’s good at the moment? This means any book about Mahatma Gandhi or 20th century art. He has been given a new bookshelf and wants to fill it even though he already has more books than he can read in his lifetime.
One lady said that her husband threw all her books out when he left so now she is out to get another library together again. She said she is pretty happy right now.
One lady bought her son a stack of books for Christmas but then she kept them all for herself.
Young men say: sweet or brilliant or that’s really keen. One young man said that Freud is a radical and a sweet gone read. One boy said that the only one is Tolkien.
One lady said that she would not read Mark Twain.
One man needed a copy of the same book for his three adult children because otherwise they would fight. He said they were all in their forties.
Peggy is really sick and is going to read all her Game of Thrones as quickly as possible and this made me feel really sad.

Haven’t seen Robert for ages

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I haven’t seen Robert for ages; the last time he came into the shop he said that he hasn’t been able to write, that he’d had engine trouble, centrelink trouble, troubles with his pension, troubles with the neighbours and wasn’t able to concentrate (on his life’s work).

He’d also been having some trouble with some troubling chords on his troubled old piano – he’s working his way through a piece of music of his own making. He feels that music is a signal from another place. He said that when a melody cannot be spoken alone safely, the composer will call for more parts, more instruments and that each melody will work to protect another one, that one will act as bodyguard for its mate. And that that is what the mathematics of music is doing, all the time. He said that therefore, a symphony is equal to war. No necessarily fought where we can see it.
He feels as though the government is out to delete him.

Robert has been writing a book for years, it contains himself and his own agony, so regardless of who reads it or not (it is one of those delicately cut gems, sliced with precision and agony, polished every day with the whatever disappointing and colourless cloth that Robert feels is working with at that moment) it is a gift to the world.
He may not finish it.

The last time I saw him, I had a small gift, a dictionary of mythology because I knew it might be useful amongst the Egyptians tombs and sandstorms where he is always reading.
He was joy. He said: wow, thank you very much. Then he left and I haven’t seen him for ages.
I hope he comes back.

…and then he just threw everything into the creek…

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A customer told me this: when he was young, he read all the stuff in school. But his cousin, his good cousin, he didn’t read anything. Well, they are still mates. And his cousin said only the other day: why do you read stuff Rob, you don’t need to read, all you need to read is just one instruction book man, like a manual, like the engine manual of your car man, life only needs a couple of instruction manuals.
Rob told me that on the last day of school, long time ago, they were going home and he had in his school bag all his stuff, all his books and that. And he has kept them all until this day because he loves them, even the book on how to type, and the book on how to spell and the book on how to do other stuff, BUT his cousin, he threw all his stuff in the creek.
When Rob told me this story and told me about the part about the creek, he looked at me and we both thought about the books in the creek, the slap against surface, the heavy sinking, the triumph, yes! And everyone thinking, yeah, free…whatever…
Rob said that he kept the books on how to type. He loved those books. He always saw things a bit not like the others and all that.
Now he reads and read many things – he is reading Faction Man because he is not sure that Bill Shorten is all that he’s cracked up to be, reckons that that guy never had a proper job yet. He should of worked at MacDonald’s or something and leaned how it is. That’s what reading books told him about: work a proper job until you are despaired of it and then you can get famous. But if you don’t work a proper job, get your hands black and all that, go home owning nothing except a bad job then you’ve no right being in government and that’s why they are all wankers.

These Girls are Friends

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These girls came into the shop together, very hot and very happy and they circled in a purposeful sort of way each of the tables and then came over to me and said they were out practising their hiking skills and fitness and that’s why they seemed kind of fit. I said that I noticed that they were kind of fit. The first girl said yes and she bounced in her shoes in strong sort of way. Her friend had a backpack and she was examining closely a copy of Black Beauty. She didn’t say anything, so the first child continued the story: they were practicing for a hike and getting their fitness up. They looked at each other and nodded and said I had nice books in this shop and then they swung out of the door and on down the street to continue the hike, the day and the strength.

Artwork by Gaelle Boissonnard