The Umbrella

There is a young girl sitting cross legged in the corner with an umbrella rising up and over one shoulder, the curved handle announcing exactly her small neck.

There is her mother with a rucksack over one shoulder, standing nearby and looking at book after book in Health.

There is silence in here, but outside raining like mad loudly and cars swishing past then stillness and people running across the road trying to be fast because of the rain but they all do the rain dance. This is a highstep dodging the traffic jump sideways kinds of dance where you end up next to a caravan that’s not yours and rain everywhere anyway.

There’s mud all over the footpath;  every time the door opens I can see it. And wet paper bags and a coffee cup blown across from the bakery.

It’s getting darker and darker even though it’s the middle of the day. A couple look in and she says, ‘Want to have a look, Neil?’, and he says, ‘God no, can get them for half the price online.’ He keeps on peering in, looks right at me. She looks at him. They move away.

The mother and daughter are both kneeling next to the shelves. The umbrella has been laid aside. I can still see its curved handle, a perfect expression, holding its ground and not available online.

A car has to brake suddenly right out there next to my shop. The sound of brakes makes me look up. All the occupants have been jerked forward. I can see mouths moving, heads turning all about.

Mother and Daughter are shoulder to shoulder looking out of the window, and the umbrella is still on the floor in the corner, looking warm and useful.

When I look up a little later, the girl is in the chair. Her mother is kneeling next to the umbrella. It looks after her knee. The rain is coming down. The windows are cold dotted with it.

A couple cross the road come towards me. They break into a sprint for three steps, then calm it into a fast walk, avoiding the water in the air but ending up soaked anyway. They don’t come in. They go to the bakery.

The mother and daughter come to the counter. They look happy. The umbrella is hooked over the girl’s arm.

Sisters divine

‘I’ll do this, you get in there. Start looking. Beryl, get in there and start.’

I heard this through the door of the shop. They are out there crouched over the Covid sign, and it was spoken in a low scream. Beryl (and the other lady) are sisters.

‘Can I leave my umbrella here? Can I leave this book here? This is just the beginning. Quick, get in here, Stan.’

There were husbands, too. They came in, smiling, obedient, satisfied.

‘Am I allowed to buy this?’ Beryl held out a book. I said she could.

‘Oh God. Thank you.’ She thanked me. I thanked her. There was another low scream.

‘No, don’t pay now, Beryl, keep going. Get in there. Have you been in there?’ The sisters (in everything, but especially in reading) breathed at each other, swaying together, and they made for the back room. The husbands looked on. More people came in out of the rain. It is dark outside. We aren’t used to the rain yet, so we love it. Everyone stands utterly silent. It rains harder. The carpet is damp.

‘Can you lend me 50 cents?’ Beryl is calling to her sister. Serene. Knowing she will get 50 cents. Or the world.

‘You’re a naughty girl. Ok.’

‘Here. Wait. Put those back.’ But Beryl disobeys.

‘Give me my 50 cents then. Beryl disobeys again.

‘We don’t need that. We can come back.’

The sister who is not Beryl looks at me apologetically. ‘I must be strict with her. She leaves everything at my house… so many bloody books.’ Beryl and Irene look at each other. They exchange a world, and they go back to browsing.

‘Get this.’

‘I will.’

‘Don’t forget our bags.’ (They have shopping bags piled in the corner.)

‘Peter will get them.’ Peter is waiting patiently. He is in love. He has been in love for 150 years. I can tell. He knows there is no need to get the bags yet. He leans, shoulder to shoulder with his brother in law. They keep talking.

‘Get that Seven Pillars of Wisdom.’

‘I am.’

I’m getting this Charmian Clift. And this Norman Lindsay.’

‘You mustn’t.

‘I will.’ They look at each other dangerously. The husbands look up, interested. Experienced.

But the sisters browse on. ‘God, look at this.’

‘Get it.’

‘I might. Did you find any Jackie French?’

‘Oh, this is beautiful.’

‘God, I love this.’

‘You leave that there.’

Suddenly, they turn to me.

‘Do you have an online presence.’ (They ask politely.)

I say: I don’t. Just a blog. I write about readers. Like you.

‘My goodness. But why?’

But there are not enough words for why.

The husbands approach, and they know.

‘You do?’

‘You should.’

So I do.

Illustration by Inge Look

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)

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

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.’

This has happened to me twice

The Smile by Philippe Vlgnal

This has happened to me twice now.

Somebody has asked me for a book which I don’t have. Then somehow, somewhere, I find their book, and I ring them to let them know. They are pleased; they thank me. And then we say goodbye. But they do not hang up in time. They keep talking, not realizing that we are all still there! 

This is very funny.  I hear them exclaim, shout, roar, scream. One lady laughed, deeply, loudly, raucously. She screamed as she drove:
‘Ah. Ah. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha OH YEEEEEE HA….’
Today, a man said, ‘Oh mate, I can’t believe it, thank you.’ And he did not hang up in time. I heard:
‘BEAUTIFUL. Fuck me. She got it. She found one. Fuck me!’

Painting The Smile by Philippe Vlgnal

Constantly shocked and constantly happy

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Today is so cold that it seems funny. And our Flinders Rangers has had snow. Customers come in shivering and happy. There is rain.  The cold enters my shop under the door, sliding constantly and silently like a slice of cold glass as long as the day.

Marion comes in with screwed up eyes and very happy. ‘Can you feel that?’

A couple browse and leave reluctantly, holding the door open for a while before dropping off the jetty into the freezing lake, holding hands.

Robert is hilarious with anticipation. He orders more books. Someone has backed into his car recently. Actually about six people have. The size of the car parks is criminal. We criticize the council in comfortable tones. We talk about yoga. A young woman, looking through women’s classics, asks if yoga will help her with a sore neck. She and Robert exchange news in joyful symptoms.

A man passes the shop outside wearing shorts and a t shirt. He has muddy boots and is eating something hot from a paper bag. The food must be too hot because he stops suddenly with a pained expression and sucks in air to cool the system. He raises his shoulders and closes his eyes. He is wearing the most beautiful sky blue and moss green striped soft beanie that I wish were mine.

A customer adds more titles to her already impossible library, a library that is now growing according to its own laws, and within which she has become the explorer, constantly shocked and constantly happy.

A couple visit to see if I know about the snow in the Flinders.

A crowd of students pass the windows, loud, puffing white breath. One says, ‘Well, fuck him then.’ She has her arm around a friend. Is walking and leaning in kindly. The friend is snuffling, she looks cold and loved.

A lady crosses the silent frozen road wearing gold corduroy trousers, a soft jumper, a scarf, and good solid thongs. She watches her feet as they tread gently through the water. I wonder if she knows about the snow in the Flinders.

 

 

The happy couple who jumped about the shop (despite their advanced age)

Anton Pieck 1895-1987

When they came in, they said, ‘Sorry’ and ‘Thank you’, both at once, although there is nothing to be sorry about. I have been open for two days. I don’t put my signs out. It is very quiet. People still want to read.

A man came in and said, ‘Do you do printing?’

Another man came in and said, ‘Sorry, I wanted the bakery’.

An old customer from Milang opened the door and said, ‘GOOD ON YOU, YES!’

People are very kind. They comment that we are lucky here. They ask for books that I mostly don’t have and are kind about it. They choose other books. People come in that I’ve never seen before. They look at my bottle of hand sanitizer and use it with kind faces.

A lady stood and looked out of the window at the empty street for a long time.

Then a couple came in. They looked carelessly happy. I have not seen this for a long time. They said, ‘Ah, sorry…thank you. We’ll just look about.’ They are the only ones here, but the shop seemed full, so much conversation, so much noise, so much crossing paths. He said, ‘Good find, good find.’ She said, ‘I know’. On they went, around and around.

Some people passed the window, very fast. Tradesmen. One said, ‘A book, a book, you want to buy a book?’

‘Don’t think so. What’s a book keeper?’

‘Dunno’. ‘Not a good day to go to the beach, though.’

‘Yeah, I know, and then I look up, and there’s this bus, like, right at my side, and I’m like, move over mate’

‘Yeah.’

They are gone. It’s quiet again. Just leaves blowing, red and gold disks snapping under my door, a nuisance, and very beautiful.

But the couple are still here. Beaming, joyous. They had discussed bird watching in the back room. They asked for a certain book which I did not have. Never mind. Because instead, they had some very fine histories. They lingered, undecided. Maybe they had missed something. They said, ‘we always get something good.’ She gave a jump, ‘look at this.’ He spun around, ‘What?’ She jumped at the shelf. ‘My God, I’ll have it.’

I wondered about them. Whey were they so happy? Had they been here before? Why were they so happy? Where did they live? I wondered where they lived. I imagined a house with many books.They stacked their books and paid, and I stood up. So much happiness, it was at chin level.  I had to stand up.

 

Artwork by Anton Pieck (1895- 1987)

“I would like to have your sureness…”

vittorio-matteo-corcos-sogni

Many people who used to visit the shop are now gone, and I know that some of them are no longer alive. I am glad that I recorded these memories.

This is from my second year in the shop.

“Margaret told yesterday me that in her reading group anyone can choose the books. And these are the books she wants: Bel Canto, Gould’s Book of Fish, Tulip Fever, Birds Without Wings, The Commandant, and Still Alice (the one about Alzheimer’s), and also Mrs Jordan’s Profession by Claire Tomelin. And that should do for now!! She said that often the members of the reading group are not even reading the same book, hahaha.

I do not often see anyone as happy as Margaret is when she lists off the books she needs. Her husband looks on with approval; he carries all the books out for her, beaming over the top of the stack. Sometimes he finds one for himself, usually about the Second World War.

Margaret sends books to her children who live overseas and observes that they never seem to get the point of the stories she sends them, but she sends them anyway. Like I said, I do not often meet people as happy as Margaret. I would like to have her sureness.

“I would like to have your sureness. I am waiting for love, the core of a woman’s life….”

June came over the road to lend to me her copy of A Parrot in a Pepper Tree, the funniest thing she has read in ages. She said that Writers’ Week was divine, and she bought ‘that thing on Keating, the one by Kerry O’Brien, and I’m telling you it is an absolute tome! It’s a winter read, can’t wait till the winter, it’s just the thing, and I’ll lend you when I’m done! But before that I’m doing the Gillard.’

Robert told me that he is wanting to collect volumes of myths and legends, tales of all countries because he cannot complete his work without them. He said he knows what he must read, his work tells him, his heart tells him, it is his passion.

He asked for a copy of Marion Woodman’s The Owl Was a Baker’s Daughter. This is a Jungian study of the repressed feminine and also vital for his studies. He said that his own feminine light was put out when he was young.

“I would like to have your sureness. I am waiting for love, the core of a woman’s life.” Don’t wait for it,” I said. “Create a world, your world.”

A new customer told me that the books that had the biggest impact on his life were Jean Auel’s The Earth’s Children series. He felt that the author had devoted her entire life to the research and writing: an incredible achievement.  He said that he had a friend in France that once held up some road works there because he thought he recognised some ancient symbols etched into a cliff face they were excavating. This friend became hysterical and demanded that all work immediately stop and it did! He insisted that these might be runes of some kind, but, well, anyway they weren’t runes, they were marks made by the bucket on the road excavator. Everyone was mad with him.

 “I would like to have your sureness. I am waiting for love, the core of a woman’s life.” Don’t wait for it,” I said. “Create a world, your world. Alone. Stand alone.”

To find some fragment of something that makes you so happy that you cannot stop talking about it, is a great thing. Any small fragment of something that is dear to you (for whatever reason) gives buoyancy. But the visitors here at my book shop, who tell me their stories of what they love, do not seem to realise how their happiness quietly radiates. How they make their own world, on their own terms.”

“I would like to have your sureness. I am waiting for love, the core of a woman’s life. Don’t wait for it,” I said. “Create a world, your world. Alone. Stand alone. And then love will come to you, then it comes to you.” Anais Nin

The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934