The Book Keeper and grandsons, sometime before Christmas when I wanted to organize the Christmas tree

They only live in the absolute present, the three second crystal lens that they are consuming and digesting every moment. So, Christmas trees are interesting, but as there are none here(yet) the Christmas tree lost out to a plastic horse with a bent leg, a crane and bedtime looming darkly within the adult conversations.

They didn’t want to go to bed.

Everyone one is out here. The evening is too warm and too light to be proper night, and young parents are sprawled, complaining gently about everything and looking forward to the next day.

I have a promising stack by my bed and have no problem with the night, except that it is too short.

But the little boys are unsure. There’s a matchbox car and three difficult blocks that won’t become a shed. Things to sort. The monkey tree is bent. A log of wood dragged inside to be a fence has shed bugs into the carpet. Someone tore Hairy Maclary, it wasn’t me.

It was Finny.

Is it Christmas outside?

Am I sleeping here?

I’m going to childcare party.

I haven’t got any apple.

Nanny, I haven’t got any apple.

Where shall we put the Christmas tree, do you think?

Can I have any of some more apple?

How did that get cracked up?

That’s grandson 1, looking through the door and noting how the hot coloured slabs of glass bake the light into something we can digest.

I said, ‘That’s from the door slamming.’

‘I do that. And Finny and Noah’, he says, pleased.

‘Maybe close the door a bit more softly.’

He considers.

‘Maybe. Where’s all those bits of glasses from?’

From Bridgewater.

‘From a bridge?’

‘Near a bridge.’

‘It’s good how that glass looks like superhero clothes.’

Then he lays his head and shoulders on the table in a dramatic gesture to show me that he is under the light, and the light is on him and he is not melting, but maybe some of his bones are melting, but luckily it doesn’t matter because they will just grow again. And we sit there together under the evening light melting.

When the home library loses its mind

When I was young and had time to loll about, my brothers used to pull a random paperback from my shelves and ask me to identify it using only the gap it left. I always got them right. I knew where each book knelt as though in its own benediction each night. The Last Unicorn. The Incredible Journey. I Heard the Owl Call my Name, Josie goes Home. Every single volume of The Bobbsey Twins. When they weren’t there, I knew.

 ‘Give it back. I never said you could.’

I kept my library tight and worried about it at school. I imaged wrongly that it was of value to everyone and that everyone was dazzled by its kaleidoscope of broken skies and the urge to not travel anywhere but through it.

I was mistaken. Everyone has their own dazzle. What was actually dazzling was only my infatuation with it. But I continued collecting. Later, when I had my own bookshop, I would meet fellow dazzlers. They range from the age of five to ninety five, and I would know them by the way they turn on an axis and can’t decide.

Now our home has been rinsed through with family; a thousand summers. L plates. Exams. Crying, and broken microwave plates. Near misses. Calamity, and needing to reorganize the towels. Grandsons that read and climb and fall out of the mulberry tree and come for a bandaid. The library standing back and looking on with approval.

The collections continue, swollen and mixed, with broadened shoulders and matchbox cars around their ankles. Books have moved. The children’s flats have burst upward like pancakes and newcomers stand around waiting for a place. Joan Didion, Alexis Wright, Lahiri Jhumper, A Gentleman in Moscow, everything by Marie Darrieussecq, Kim Scott, Gerald Murnane. Books have gone; don’t know where.

The library has been forced back into order, but it didn’t last. I pushed all the shelves to new places to make new spaces, so now D is next to T, and Asterix looks at Beatrix Potter, and I can’t find anything, but so far that’s ok. I know where Bill Bryson probably is, and I know where the Text Classics are because I just read The Women in Black and put it back. There are plastic monkeys clustered underneath Little House on the Prairie where they are having kindy, and Owl Babies is always out on the floor.

A library whirls around its readers; it is never still and never the same, and its life can never end.

Image by Vladimir Fedotko

When The Book Keeper’s grandsons stay the night

Here they are, organized; in the reading room, which they call their room and then place beanies and other things of value on the shelf over the bed for in the morning.

The bed belongs to one of the aunts. You can get under there when you’re called in a tone that suggests trouble.

There’s a sensible plastic sheet on the bed in case of accidents.

The third grandson is in the bed of another aunt. He’s asleep already; he did not last to the end of the Hairy Maclary omnibus.

But in this room, where the four year old seniors sleep, the evening was lashed with argument. In Handa’s Surprise, the ostrich took the orange.

‘No, she didn’t.’

‘Her did.’

‘No, it was a avadcardo.’ The winner of this discussion stretched avadcardo to its final length. It worked. When you are four, words that turn into food in your mouth outrank the need to continue talking.

‘Ok.’

In King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, (the old paper pages worn away to silk), the King said, ‘trout, trout, trout.’

‘He didn’t pull the plug.’

‘Yes, she did.’ There was silence. They both wanted this bath that held battle ships, fishing rods, and party food with purple fizzing in gold goblets and sheeps made of cake, and iced swans with lollies in their eyes.

They read There’s a Sea in my Bedroom.

‘He got scared of the sea in his ears.’ Noah read. Max listened and argued. But they like things about being scared. They looked approvingly at the boy being scared. They looked at the sea that came into his bedroom (out of a conch shell).

‘There’s a conch shell at kindy. Beryl said the sea’s in it.’

‘Is there any sea in it?’

‘Yes. Beryl said.’

In The Tiger Who Came to Tea, the discussion became fierce.

‘What’s supper?’

‘It’s coffee.’

It’s not coffee.’

Ok, it’s curry.’

‘It’s not curry. It’s carfeey.

It’s not carfeey.’

There was silence; they stared at the illustrations.

‘She can’t have a bath because the lion ate all her bath water.

‘It’s a tiger.’

‘I know.’

‘So they go out to the café for tea.’

‘It’s the pub. It’s a pub. It’s my pub.’

‘So they go out to the pub for tea. I want to go there.’

‘Nanny, can you read to us?’

So I stop eavesdropping and go in to read. But first there is a song they want to sing about a fish. It lasts for fifteen minutes. Then we can read. Because I have told them that anything less than one hundred books before sleep is unacceptable.

The stuff we find at home when there’s time

I found a tiny plastic box with tiny library cards that I made for my dolls. There was a tiny pencil and erasure. There was obviously no greater outing than the public library. So my dolls must’ve gone there and borrowed stuff.

I found a large mandarin coloured glass ball that my brother dug up in our chook yard and gave me. He said it probably had something to do with Merlin. I tried to glue it to the end of a long slender piece of wood, but no amount of aquadhere would do that. But what can you know when you’re eight years old. Except that I wasn’t eight. I was about fifteen. Weird.

I found an old diary with “I wish I had a boyfriend” on the first page. But there was no one interested in me, except maybe useless Merlin who didn’t even bother to turn up. Bastard.

I found a little jam jar full of pebbles from Lake St Clair in Tasmania. I found gumnut cups that I’d kept as proof that the Banksia Men were real. I found three matchbox cars and a cloth bag with a coat hanger about one inch long. A daughter made that. It was to hang up  a mousie’s jacket.

There are marbles, nappy pins, pieces of glass, pencil sharpeners, memory sticks and nail files. A man made from a cork with clothes glued on and a nail coming out of the top of his head. A box of little fragrant candles too valuable to use. A jar of sapphire blue glass too beautiful to give up. Photographs. A tiny metal duck. An essay written by a 7 year old about why we should never give pins to babies.

There’s a glass jar filled with strips of paper carefully cut out. On each one, a thought printed in black pen. It was a birthday gift. I pull one out:

“Dear mum, thank you for the glasses gene.”

There are cross stitch kits, embroidery books, mosaic instructions, packets of seeds, knitting needles, a long stitch kit never even opened. My mother saying, ‘Finish something.’

There are about 12000 books.

Have a clean out. Declutter. As if.  

The Doll’s House

My grandfather, Ben, made me a doll’s house when I was small. It was rough. It was perfect. His work-shed at his house in Richmond had aeroplanes flying over it, low enough to warm your hair and fill your ears with engine and wind.

The shed was dark and warm. The carpet made of wood shavings. Small windows. He made me a merry-go-round with horses made steady with a pearl of glue under each tiny hoof, polishing the circles of wood first with sandpaper and finally with felt made fragrant with talk powder.

He was an alcoholic, miserable in the city after a life in the bush. Then the war. There was nobody to ask if men were ok. There was only the bottle.

He always bought me liquorice.

He polished small disks of wood for me. He made them into mirrors. I tided the shed. I shuffled the tools and the wood about, and he looked on uneasily, thanking me, nodding and nodding, needing eucalypts and space and heat and getting only Adelaide.

He nodded and began the doll’s house. I’d always wanted one. He made it properly, with an attic. He must have heard me say it, ‘an attic’, and he made one, a proper one. I would see him sanding and cutting, his shoulders still wearing the war and heavy with poverty and city.

Now he’s gone.

 I set it out for my grandsons, and they filled its rooms with new knowledge. They piled all the tiny plates and cups into a front end loader. They set up the kitchen with cupboards and beds. They put a tractor in the garage. They put the bath outside. They put the baby’s cot in the tractor. They continued my grandfather, and may they never know war.

Today

Not a lot happened. People came in and whispered and left.

Some rain came down.

There was an argument at the intersection. I watched. A young man got out of his car as he waited to turn right. The ute in front was too slow. His shoulders were upped and roundy, threatening, like cat’s fur hit by electricity. The young men in the ute watched him with narrow eyes. Just as he approached their car, they accelerated, leaving him there, middle finger raised. Alan was at my door, watching. Delighted. He laughed his laugh, no doubt wishing it hadn’t ended so easily.

Fred knocked and waved.

Sarah came in and complained. She’d been thrown out of the craft group. She showed me her botanical colouring book. I admired the hot pink petals on all the roses. She was pleased.

Alan came back, peered through the door and left again. He and Sarah don’t always get on.

Some rain came down.

A man came in looking for Dr Who. He said, ‘I daren’t get any of those, they might be wrong. I’ll wait till she’s out of school.’

Someone phoned to book into the history tour, but ‘all the tours are finished now’. They hung up abruptly.

I shelved a few books. Thought about Edith Sitwell and Vita Sackville-West. Virginia Woolf. Leonard Woolf. I have been tugged down a rabbit hole; I followed a biography of Edith Sitwell, and now it is hard to recover. Nobody has heard of Edith except Virginia Woolf.

A young woman came in, looked about and left in a rush. She said, I’m sorry.

Some children come past. A boy is pushed, and he falls into my doorway.

‘Get him up.’

The child is hauled to his feet. ‘Shit, sorry. God. Why’d you even fall? Did a trap get you or something?’

Another child screams, ‘There’s someone in there. Get the police.’ They all look at me, and then they are gone.

A truck goes past.

I sort things. A woman comes in with books to sell, but I can’t buy. I have no space. She looks around with a tense mouth. She says, ‘OK’, and leaves.

Lovely Marion comes in and checks Fantasy. She’s collecting Terry Goodkind but has just discovered he died last year. She is not impressed. We talk about Sara Donati and Diana Gabaldon. She waves. ‘Bye, dear.’

There’s a crash of plates from inside the bakery. We hear it inside my shop. A customer says, ‘Jesus!’

I remember yesterday, during the rain, a grandson came in. He’s two. There was a crowd (unusual for May), and Finn called, ‘Nanny, Nanny, Nanny’, over the conversation, over the hustle, over the entire planet, and I heard, easily.We locked eyes. Kin.

Last night I read him ‘Hairy Maclary’, six stories, till he fell away, but I kept reading the seventh before switching to Edith Wharton because there she was in the same stack of books I made last week when I was reading to a different grandson.

A customer nearly buys a book about Yoga.

A young man buys a pile. He can’t speak. He just looks at his books. He chokes and says, ‘these’.

Yes.

Being gorillas

No matter how hot it is, they run fast. They make for the mulberry tree, running with gumboots on the wrong feet, intensely aware of their own moving bodies, their faces move and throb with running, their eyes flicker watching the ground drumming under their heels. They are very little.

The mulberry tree is green and attractive but they ignore this. There is a gap and a low, wide branch that is more useful, and they push through and are now gorillas, and they need something intensely which they must think of soon.

They stand on a branch and examine ideas. They make gorilla noises and put bunches of hard infant mulberries to their noses.   

One gorilla holds on and commands the other. He needs some sand. The other gorilla climbs down for sand which he then throws up over both of them, and they are pleased. They climb up. They climb down. They are birds. They are gorillas. They are a fence. They don’t live here. They want chips. They might find a nest. One falls and is gripped within a branch and screams for rescue and is towed to the bottom, and then they climb up and try once more with hopeful mouths the sour toes of the unborn fruit. They spit it out with strong, satisfied mouths.

They are covered in dust and leaves, sunlight and heat, sand, sweat and scratches. When the galahs in neighbouring gumtrees screech they go silent and look at each other. They fold their hands around the branches and test their arms. They make bird noises. They need sand. They want chips.

On this day

A day when ordinary things happen. The ordinary lives come past my windows and in and out of the door and show some of their scratches and gardens. A lady came in with her husband and bought a book for her adult son – it is for his research. She is going to photograph the pages and email them to him. On the way out she said, ‘There. That’s my good deed. I can help him. He was really please about this book. I could tell.’

Her husband, the father, nodded. They turned toward the bakery, both of them looking pleased and happy. I could see them still talking and nodding down at the book in her hand.

An older lady lifted her shopping high on either side of her to jog across the road in the rain. Her shopping bag, her handbag, her hat, her shoulders, all jogged up and down, the mother ship making for the coast, not fast but accurate.  The cars slowed down. There, on the kerb, was her group, all cheering.

Someone shouted, ‘You’re game Eddie!’ And they gathered around her, took her bags, brushed off the dust of the journey, admiring, adoring.

A young man strode past, banging the windows of the bakery, banging on my windows, shouting and furious, ‘Fucking fuck. Ten o’clock and no food.’ He was leaning forward, walking fast, and betrayed already at only 10am.

A grandfather bought his granddaughter three books. She said, ‘I love this series.’ She looked at her grandfather. He said to me, ‘She’s a reader. She’s a real reader. Better than me.’ He presented the money, still looking at me, and swayed slightly, unable to balance the pride.

When they left she linked her arm tightly through his.

Painting by Marcel Rieder (1862-1942)

Do dogs eat water?

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When the cousins talk about Finn, they always say he is too something. The cousins are three, Finn is one. He doesn’t have much authority yet.

‘He’s too small.’

‘He can’t talk.’

‘Finn can’t come because he’s at home in she’s cot because he’s not big.’

‘He’s not strong.’

‘Finn’s lost him’s shoes.’

‘Do him want to come with us?’

‘He’s too loud.’

‘He’s in she’s highchair.’

At the table, Finn eats steadily, bangs a spoon and watches the roof. Noah and Max look on, thinking about it.

They ask me, ‘Is that bread dead?’ Do dogs eat water? Where’s Pa?’

They eat broadly, expansively, and watch each other swallow. They have not finished but they are finished.

‘Can we play trucks now? Not Finn.’ Finn, hearing his name, makes eye contact, unhurried and joyful enough to make them pause.

And say, ‘Look at Finny, he’s looking at us… him can have the train.’

Noah sighs, ‘Yeah.’

‘Yeah.’