The ladies came in first. They wanted Flight of the Eagle. They also wanted Kerry McGinnis. I heard them say to each other, they won’t have those in this shop. They entered in a leaning forward, questing sort of way. They held their handbags out in front of them, like torches.
They also wanted Peter Carey. They thought I wouldn’t have those in this shop. They leaned back in front of classics, but there was nothing useful there. Then they came to the counter and said they couldn’t find anything. They were disappointed. I gave directions to the land of proper books just as the husbands came in and they both went straight to Biographies and stood there for a while. One of them said, look at this, it’s Sting, I don’t mind him. Then they looked at a Donald Trump biography and said nothing at all.
They turned and looked at me. I apologised about Donald Trump. They nodded and relaxed, fair enough.
Then the wives came out, pleased because they had found Peter Watt AND Jilly Cooper. A double triumph. They wanted to tell their husbands about Peter Watt AND Jilly Cooper. About how they were great etc.
The husbands looked around uneasily and suggested the bakery.
There is a commotion on the corner outside my shop. I am out emptying my bins so I can observe. And I will take my time.
There are five ladies there of a brilliant age. They have met because they were going to see something. But it is gone. It has been shut down.
I linger, cleaning my windows, taking part. Because, what has been shut down?
One lady is too close to the road. She is holding forth, outraged. Her handbag is livid. Because, it’s been shut down. She looked at each friend, until the disgust had registered on each face (which it did) and one friend said, never mind it Sandra, there’s plenty of other things to do.
One friend said, get back from the kerb, come, you girls.
One friend obeyed.
But Sandra, with the angry handbag, uses it to indicate the entire town. What’s the use of coming here then? I ask you. Strathalbyn. It’s always been here, that place. It’s the council as has done this.
Let’s get a cake, I’ll have a tea.
I wouldn’t mind a look up High Street. What about the gallery? Is that still there?
It’s the council. It’s typical. They don’t care about people. That’s it.
Check the brochure.
But the ladies remained knitted in a tight and useful square, too close to the road and unwilling to navigate the pattern of a new plan. The traffic edges wisely to one side.
(I don’t want to go inside, it seems dull. The discussion is small but it is an opera. And their facial expressions are scorching the failed council, which, as usual, is never good enough).
One lady is called Mavis. Her shoulders are urging the bakery. She has a fabulous hat of scarlet felt. But nobody listens. She turns so magnificently that the others pause and check for offense. Then they all move away from the edge of the road and look unwillingly through the window of the bakery. They look in a critical and unforgiving way because it will not suffice.
(They do not see me, or my shop, or the traffic. They only see each other, they make eye contact with each other’s eyes because, despite the years, these are still brilliant, smoking with ideas and resources, scornful and powerful.)
But they are moving on now and I have to go inside. It’s cold. They are not interested in my shop; they haven’t even looked my way. But there they go, moving up and down as they walk and checking for handbags and outrage. I hope they find something wonderful to do to replace their plans that were so thoughtlessly ruined by the council.
There is a white ute parked directly outside my shop. And there are three tradesmen who have climbed out and are standing together, all of them checking their phones, and all of them looking up and around for the bakery. One of them carries a can of coke and a set of ear muffs, and he turns and walks to my door and shoulders his way in, he is still reading his phone. Then he realizes a mistake. He says, ‘Oh fuck, sorry mate!’
His friend, still outside, says, ‘You fucking idiot, that’s not the bakery.’
His other friend, who is on his phone, pauses to inform the others (by pointing) where the bakery is. The tradesman who entered my door gives them both the finger (rather magnificently, because he bends his knees and arcs with both arms and the earmuffs and the coke) this fingered insult over the whole earth and especially over them. He says, ‘But I do need a book, I need the next Game of Thrones before the rest of that shit comes out on screen.’
His friend says, ‘Man, you are not John Snow. You are, like, just a dickhead’.
And the tradesman (who is now John Snow) says that he is John Snow, and that he can read.
The third tradesman puts his phone in his pocket and says, ‘I’m eating now. You two bathrooms can just stay here.’
And then they all move toward the bakery; three friends, John Snow, dickheads, bathrooms, whatever.