Tonight

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When I put my grandson, Max, to bed tonight here, he said, ‘But this smells like Noah.’

Noah is Max’s cousin, the same age, three, and a strong and signification presence, like breakfast, or mummy, or love.

He indicated the quilt. ‘This is Noah. It smells like her.’ Him.

It does. It smells like the washing detergent that Noah’s family use, and it is Noah.

Then we read about dinosaurs. He falls asleep, strongly living, and asleep. His hand is still reaching for the lamp dial, an Ikea lamp with a brass dial that controls the light.

Then I go and look at some books given to me by a friend who is 94 and can no longer hold the books upright to read them. Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong; a set of four volumes dressed in pale green watered silk, announced in gold, housed in a slip case, and volume one with a large grease stain on the sublime watered frontage from when he last read it, propped at breakfast.

My friend, Richard, who can no longer hold the books up, is lying strongly, asleep.

All is life.

Down and down

The Steps of Montmartre, Paris, 1936, Brassai

This reader has been visiting for years. He always came with his wife, but now he comes alone. They both loved to read. They always bought a stack. They would look at me over the top of the stack and say, ‘Oh yes, it’s the first of the..…’, and then forget what they were saying. Distracted.

This time, he came to the shop alone. He carried a shopping bag, empty.

He is short sighted. He bends over the art books, lifts them close to read the titles. He always did this, I remember it.

He came to the counter to talk about Seneca the Younger. He loves the ancient Romans, the ancient Greeks. The Persians. The mathematicians. The astronomers. He breathes out all the names. There is so much to read. He has a copy of The Mikado in his hands, elegant, slim, green. He looks down at it, ‘Yes, yes, this, you know…’, and then he forgets what he was going to say, lost in Titipu.

This is what happens. We step into Titipu. We go down and down; there’s no stopping it. We can end up anywhere.

He has a stack. He places them on the counter, says, ‘I always find some things…’ He also has The Complete Father Brown and Wind in the Willows. He presents the shining coins.

Then he leaves, wrapped against the winter in brown scarf and beanie, corduroy pants and the good strong shopping bag full of Titipu.

 

The Steps of Montmatre, Paris 1936 by Brassai (1899- 1984)

 

Choosing a raspberry cardigan

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I went shopping for clothes with my daughter. We entered a young person’s clothing store. Beautiful, with wood, space, light, and music. And metal – the racks, the posts all shone.  The clothing displays matched – hazelnut, vanilla, snow grey, powder blue, black. Cinnamon. Chocolate. Everything caring about the approach of winter. The staff were young. Confident. They approached my daughter, but not me. I stood near the boxes of coat hangers and clothes relegated to discards. This is the place to be. From here, all of life.

There are people turning in front of mirrors, first one way, then another, faces softening between despair and possibility.

‘It’s not me.’

‘I love this.’

‘What’s it doing back there…is it straight?’

‘Is this all right?’

Staring hard, intensely, into the streaky shop mirrors at reflections that won’t obey. Not blinking. Willing it to work.

‘This isn’t working.’

‘Ok, that’s ok, do you want another size?’

‘No.’ Depressed.

Levi’s, Moto, Lee. Outland. A sign that says Nudie Jeans are coming. Another sign taped to the wall, Recycle Your Jeans Here. Ask Us How.

A young woman stretches gently a raspberry cardigan. It is still on its hanger. She turns it this way. Then another way. She rubs her thumb delicately across the tiny fruit buttons.  Is it soft? Is it strong? Will it be kind to me?

What are we looking at? What are we looking for? What do we know?

‘I’ll get this.’

‘Great. Isn’t it great. It looks great. I love this too.’ The shop girls, they love everything. Everything is cute.

I’ll pay with card.’

‘Great. That’s a cute bag.’

‘Oh my God, thanks,’

There are huge crosses on the floor. At the entrance, a table with hand sanitizer. And printed instructions on how This Shop is Keeping You Safe.

‘How much are the shoes?’

‘Do you have any eights?’

‘I was hoping for black maybe..’

At the entrance, a commotion because school has finished and young people are gathering, loud, exuberant, and not standing on the crosses.

One saleswoman calls, ‘Ellie, can you go sort those kids, none of ‘em have used the sanitizer.’ I watch Ellie, with chewing gum, head strongly for the door.

 

My artery

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Two men met up with a crash in the doorway of my shop. Neither had been expecting the other. It was cold; they were hurrying. They shouted at each other to stop.

‘What’s wrong with your gopher?’

Here? Needs a seat belt. Going down Mitre 10, getting some screws, see it’s come away again.’

‘Oh yeah.’

‘Piece of shit.’

‘Ha. Yeah,’

They sort of settled in. One leaning against the window. One sitting.

‘What’s been happening.’

‘Me artery, thickening they said. Or something.’

‘You going in?’

‘Yeah. First available appointment. Fukn Royal Adelaide.

‘Yeah. Gees.’

‘Doc said I better.’ I didn’t even know I had that.

‘Pain in the arse, mate.’

Yeah, bullshit, isn’t it.

They were motionless for a minute, watching people go past. Watching people come in here. Watching a man standing next to his car and hand each of his children a pink iced bun from a cardboard tray. Through my door I can see coconut all over the ground.

‘I used to have a really good health.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Take it easy, mate.’

The window darkens, shadows, then I look up again, and they are gone.

The man at the car is bending to speak through the rear car window, ‘They only had pink ones, I’m not going back.’ Then he straightens up, drinks all the rest of his coffee and walks back past my window toward the bakery.

 

Photography by Charles Millen

The Mulberry Tree

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The mulberry tree arrived as an infant. We planted it in the centre of the orchard. It placed its toes in some source of life that we couldn’t see. It grew.

It towered over the cousins from the time they were born. They ate its soft red ideas all through their first two summers and presented themselves, stained and fat at the back steps for cleaning up.

Now they have found it. They climbed it. It has branches placed at cooperative intervals which allows small muscles and hands to leave the ground behind and discover a whole new interval. They become monkeys. They scream a newly minted monkey sound. They hang over a branch, speechless.

They are full of mud and welts. They refuse to come down. They say there is a tiger. There is a good branch close by. They grasp it. They are birds, they are not birds, they are new. They stare at each other. They stretch their mouths open and make no sound. There is no sound sufficient.

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

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.

 

You’ve been here a donkey’s age

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A couple came into the shop. He stopped at the window. He swayed back and forth, thinking and thinking. He stood in the same place. He wasn’t looking at the books. He was looking at something else, but I couldn’t see it.

His wife beamed and beamed at the shelves. She hurled her approval, but quietly, and everywhere. She said, ‘I like Fiona McIntosh.’ She came back slowly with three books. There was no hurry. There was time.  She said to her husband, ‘What else?’

He said, ‘The devil if I know!’

He swayed back and forth, looking at her. He shone his own approval all over her. She was already bent over, but she bent over some more, laughing slowly.

He said, ‘You’ve been here a donkey’s age!’

He said to me, ‘She’ll be a donkey’s age.’ He nodded silently, agreeing with the end of a vast argument that was flung back over a long time, perhaps a century.

She nodded, agreeing with the end of a vast argument that was flung back over a long time, perhaps a century.

He swayed back and forth. She beamed.

 

 

Loren and Adam’s kids

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Loren and Adam’s kids, with their astonishing names and unconfined attitudes! They love to read. Who knows what place they’ll end up in – Tibet, or Strathalbyn, doesn’t matter, it’s where your face is that counts, up keeping watch over the universe or contemplating the feet of the blue tongue lizard. They love to read. They rise and rise, an aching existence of looking a little bit further and seeing around corners, and never coming to the end of things. Always good when they visit. Always good.

 

How to play golf

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Find equipment. Divide and separate. Even though there is a good wide acre, every swing will shave a cousin’s ear, which neither will notice. Place hands up, hands down, hands anywhere, and aim delicately.

Ignore parental advice. The white ball is everything. Muscles, feet, dinner and yesterday, all blur.

Noah can imitate a professional stance quite well. They both like the grass. The ball, when hit successfully, makes a rich white click and causes them to stop still and swallow.

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