The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

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This morning, a ute stopped right outside the door. Tradesman climbed out, all noise and energy, boots huge, dressed for the cold in t-shirts and iPhones.  They looked through my windows and saw me looking out – at them. They both nod and look politely away. To the bakery, relief.

A family came in, dad and two young children. The little boy pleading, dropping with hunger, daddy…..can we get something to eat….his sister wearing a summer dress, but also a good winter beanie, relaxed, holding a copy of Charlotte’s Web, fortified.

A young man bought three books for a young niece. He relaxes, relieved, a very difficult gift achieved. He says, ‘Thanks, thanks, God, thanks.’

Outside it rains and rains and rains. Traffic swishes. Car lights. People hurrying.

A family are caught in the doorway,  and they stand shoulder to shoulder waiting for the rain to ease. The toddler, held in his father’s arms, strokes his mother’s shoulder with one hand and his father’s ear with the other; a tight knot of absolute warmth.

There is an argument about lunch in the back room, ‘We can always have lunch early.’

More talk. ‘Have it your way…’

A young man comes in, thinking me the bakery. He swings through the door strongly. He wraps his arms around himself and backs out. He looks down the street toward friends, ‘Guys, what the fuck..?’

It rains.

A man comes in to tell me there is a water leak in the car park. I said, ‘Yes, but SAWater, they know about it… you know.’ He understands immediately, ‘SAWater…!’

My friend, Callie, admired his hat. He turned and said, ‘Yes it’s a great hat, pity about the head in it, har har har.’ We laugh. We like him. We all agree on SAWater.

Sarah came in. Alan came in. Leah came in. The rain came down. Neville chooses his usual selection of unusual, diabolically brilliant books. People climb off the bus across the road. The water leaks across the footpath. I talk with someone about Mark Twain.

John comes in. Rita and Don come in. We agree the weather is slightly foul.

The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

 

Four things notable about today

Jean-Jacques Sempé

These were:

Three teenagers outside my shop on kick scooters, one wobbling, the others adroit, all watching the ground carefully and weaving in and out of passers-by, graceful in winter.

Two people pass, loud, as people usually are in the mornings. There was a flash of checked shirts and jeans, a tap on the edge of the door, that’s all. But their voices, loud, loud, floated back, hanging in the doorway:

‘I saw a wagon type one the other day.’

‘Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…’

‘It’s really good shit.’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’

Lena visits wearing gardening gloves. Safe.

Terry, in a sapphire blue beanie, reads out loud to me from a little joke book he has just bought. He reads about twenty jokes to me, and says, ‘This is great, it’s just the one – thank you so much. Gunna give these to my grandkids.’

His face is a lit lamp.

Illustration by Jean Jacques Sempe

 

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.

That baby seat

Cornelius Jetses (2)

There is shouting directly outside my shop door. Two couples conversing powerfully from one side of the road to the other, over the traffic. They are discussing a baby seat. It is important. The women quickly take over. The far couple have the baby seat, but the near couple need it, urgently.

‘How can we…?’

Some children pass, then a truck, then a couple with a dog, then another truck and a series of annoying cars.

‘What are you going to do…?’ Called strongly from this side.

The couple over the road dither on the kerb. They are talking to each other.

The couple on this side stand against my door.

‘Ok, then.’

‘Doesn’t matter. Leave it Di, there’s too much traffic.’

‘They could go and get the thing. It’s our grandchild too.’

They stand side by side looking across the road. The couple across the road wave strongly and cross over, a diagonal path that avoids my shop and leads straight to the bakery. Inside, with me, a child is choosing a bookmark. She does this by staring at them all without blinking, twice choosing, twice changing, finally selecting a gold one with a cat and beads of raspberry glass. Her dad pays without looking at it, and she holds it in front of her and gives little hops all the way to the door. Over her hopping head, I see that the couple who needed the car seat are gone.

Inside, a lady says, ‘Brian, not in there, your books are not in there. Those are the kiddie books. Your fiction is in this room.’ But Brian remains in the wrong section.

Soon he is called again, ‘Brian!’ He obeys. In the other room, I hear her say, ‘Don’t stand too close to people, love. Here’s the Westerns.’ Then she says loudly, ‘Don’t be a pain in the neck.’ He comes out with Clive Cussler (but no Westerns). He opens the door and waits. He and I both watch three boys pass by. One is saying, ‘Yeah, they flogged Hahndorf!’ They are all eating from paper bags, looking happy.

Artwork by Cornelius Jetses

 

Life is so urgent

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Outside the shop, this morning, there was a clang. Five ladies all bumped into each other, unexpectedly.

‘Well, ha ha ha, how are we all?’ Somebody took charge.

There was also a little dog, Marco. Yvonne and Marco pass every morning. Yvonne once gave me a picture (on a glazed tile) of a bookshop she thought looked like mine. This was when I first opened, and it made me very happy. Yvonne grew up in England and said she was quite a dish when she was young.

Everyone laughed and leaned in. There was discussion about an email.

‘It took me 20 minutes to open it.’

‘Ridiculous!’

‘Ahhhhh. Well. Technology!’ They all agreed on technology.

Through the window I could see bright jumpers, shopping bags, a rose coloured beanie, and Marco, the patient gentleman.

‘The sun, isn’t it good.’

There was more discussion, low voices and leaning in. Laughter.

‘Yes.’

‘Catch you next time.’ Laughter. ‘Isn’t this funny.’ Laughter.

‘Bye.’

‘See you, girls.’ Laughter.

‘Yes, see you next time.’

‘Yes, and I’ll get that email.’ Laughter. They part. They move, and they let each other go.

‘What’d she say? I missed that bit.’ This is Yvonne to her friend, moving slowly on. ‘Didn’t she say something about dogs?’

‘I don’t know, I missed that bit.’

‘Yes.’

And on they go, past my door, past my window. Nobody looks in. I imagine the outside of my shop as if in a dream. I imagine it as beautiful. But nobody looks in. Life is so urgent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

 

At Motherduck

Yelena Sidorova (2)

Walking along in Goolwa, suddenly hungry, and a little place leaps right at me; so there we eat. It is beautiful. It is warm and sunny; it feels as though summer is approaching again, but this is just a memory in the wrong place. Summer is a while away yet.

But it isn’t just me. Everyone is ambling.

Motherduck has a sign right in front of their door. We bend down to read it and puzzle it out. We can’t get in. We dither and wait. And someone comes.

‘Can we sit here (outside)?’ We can. ‘Of course you can.’ She bows us to a table right in the sun, in the warmth, in the middle of what seems everything.

The coffee is proper. A punch from a good friend.

Our food is simple and divine and gets its picture taken.

There is time to watch the passing by of the passers-by. People approach this little place with enthusiasm and bend down kindly to read the sign. Some read it, and their lips move. Some read it out loud, loudly. Only ten people allowed inside, only eight allowed outside. We apologise for any inconvenience. But there is no harm done. People turn and count. And dither, like we did. Then the kindly young waitress comes and beams everyone upright, and they are happy again.

One man tried to get in without waiting. His wife pulled him back. She said, ‘You can’t go in.’ He is genuinely perplexed. ‘Why?’

‘You know, it’s the virus.’

‘What, in here?’

‘Just get back, here she comes.’ The waitress approaches and gathers them in. The cross husband beams.

A couple have a table, a high one, but no chairs. A man, dining alone, gives them the chairs at his table, including his own chair. They all look at each other. They beam.

Two ladies pass that know each other. One calls out shrilly, ‘Jan!’

The other turns and scans us all. ‘Who…’

‘Jan, it’s me.’

‘God, you gave me a shock. How are you? Been ages.’

They look at each other. ‘Well, you know, with everything…’

‘I know. I’m on my way to see the grandies, two of ‘em now. Guess you haven’t any yet?’

‘Hell, yes, four now.’

They looked away from each other so there is no need to acknowledge a winner. They win. They beam.

‘Keep you busy.’

‘Yes, yes. Yes. Well.’

‘Good to see you, Jan.’

Behind them, a man was bending solicitously over the sign. ‘It says only ten people, Bridget.’

‘Just wait dad, there’s people leaving.’

We start to eat faster, feeling guilty.

The waitress flew, carrying coffees, a pepper grinder, beautiful little rounds of gentle, soft bread, burgers clasped within a shouting sourdough that wins every time. Beetroot dip in a bowl: a bowl of blended jewels.

A man sipped coffee. The waitress beamed. A couple sat on stools at a thick wooden bench, leaning over each other, melting.

We finish our food. Honoured. Give up our little table.

An older couple stop abruptly, ‘Albert…here..’

 

Art by Yelena Sidorova

 

 

The man in a striped jumper who kept trying to open the door and leave

Gilles Sacksick 1942

He couldn’t leave because his wife was talking to me about Fiona McIntosh.

Whenever she paused, he turned to go. But then she remembered something else and turned back again. ‘Fiona McIntosh, I love her.’

They gradually edged toward the door. She turned back, ‘I love Di Morrissey, too’ He turned back, too, leaning against a shelf. Looking at her. Her books, her passion for reading, her face. Her strong Woolworths bag holding apples, eggs and now books as well. Her shoes picked for walking. He was smiling, looking at her. She began to tell me about D’Arcy Niland.

He held the door open, gently holding the door frame, then he closed it again. Looked outside, looked inside.  He nodded. He laughed. He shone. He looked at her.

Painting by Gilles Sacksick, 1942

But then he came back

Joseph Lorusso

‘Thanks man. Thank you kindly. God bless.’
When this young man came into the shop, I asked him, ‘Are you a teacher or a student?’
‘No, actually, I’m a Christian. You gotta read, man.’

I agreed.

‘Occasionally I’ll drop in, for now on, and I’ll get something, ok?’

I said that that would be great, and he turned to leave, but came back to me.
‘This is great, good on you. This’ll do me for the winter, great stuff. And I want to thank you for being open and being here because we still need books.’
He stood there, a tall bonfire. Gesturing. Holding Plato, Jonathan Swift, and The Lives of the Poets. Trying to find sentences. Unable.
Me, trying to find sentences; unable.
Then he was gone, walking past my window, strongly with his head down, swinging the books in front of him where they admired the winter and dismissed the cold.

Painting by Joseph Lorusso

Oh….

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“Nowadays I can usually tell where a bean was grown, as well as its species. These come from South America, from a small, organic farm. But for all my skill, I have never seen a flower from the Theobroma cacao tree, which only blooms for a single day, like something in a fairytale. I have seen photographs, of course. In them, the cacao blossom looks something like a passionflower: five-petaled and waxy, but small, like a tomato plant, and without that green and urgent scent. Cacao blossoms are scentless; keeping their spirit inside a pod roughly the shape of a human heart. Today I can feel that heart beating: a quickening inside the copper pan that will soon release a secret.
Half a degree more of heat, and the chocolate will be ready. A filter of steam rises palely from the glossy surface. Half a degree, and the chocolate will be at its most tender and pliant.”


Joanne Harris, The Strawberry Thief