Jesus, God, you’re a moron

I can sit and watch through the window the way people cross the road. The bakery and the bookshops are on this side, but the car park, the information centre, the art gallery, the grass, the trees, the seats, the toilets, and the playground are all over the other side. Sometimes the road is silent. But mostly it is busy. To cross over, one needs to be organised.

One little girl, still holding the book she just purchased, steps from side to side, lifting one foot then the other as they wait on the kerb.  ‘This is gunna be a good one.’ She held the book up to her dad, and he looked down briefly, kindly, agreeing, but keeping an eye on the road, the kerb, the cars, his child, his life. ‘Looks good. You reckon you’ll read it?’

‘Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah.’ She is confident. She is about eight. I could see her still piping up at him as they crossed over, and him nodding, still watching, watching, swinging his head from side to side and checking everything.

One lady has wild pink hair. Her partner raised his arm to indicate an opportunity to cross the road. She continued past my windows and crossed at a different place. She had purple jeans and orange shoes. She did not look back. She crossed alone, carrying a bag of apples.

One lady stayed on the kerb. She did not cross. She turned and stayed on my side, watching the ground as she walked. Every now and then she turned and checked the road, stopping and turning her whole body to see.

One young man strode out and across, checking his phone. A ute, travelling slowly sounded a horn. The young man gave the thumbs up, without looking away from his phone. He wore heavy work boots and a beanie. He had keys hanging from his belt. He laughed out loud and shook his head, not because of the ute but because of something on his phone; negotiating his way between virtual and real with ease and humour. At the kerb, he picked up something from the ground and handed it to a motorcyclist parked there and who was removing his helmet. The motorcyclist leaned back in surprise, and there was a conversation I could not hear. They shook hands.

A couple argued on the kerb right against my window. He said, ‘I’m not walking fast, I’m walking exactly the same as you. At a normal pace.’ She launched herself across the road, alone. He stayed outside my window and watched.

Children, not realizing the danger zone, hop. Their parents hang on, alert and scanning for wolves. ‘Come on. Walk properly.’

A motorbike sits alive outside my door waiting for a park, it’s throat rich and irritated. But the idling car stays. The motorbike lurches away, spitting angry stones.

It’s now quiet and rather beautiful outside. Across the road, the pine trees rise against the blue. Two young men on my side try to cross and are driven back by a cattle truck. One man thumps the other on the back.

‘Jesus, God you’re a moron.’

Cash or card: the exchange

This exchange, between me and a couple of passionate readers, was fast and professional.
They had seven books, very nice.

They are a couple. He took out his wallet and wondered about how to pay.
He said, ‘Card or cash’, and looked down at his tie, thinking.
She said, ‘Use card, Ken.’ But he already had the cash out.

He put it away and looked at all the books again.
She asked, ‘Did you use card?’
‘Not yet.’
‘Well, use cash, then.’
He put the card away and gently pulled some notes from his wallet.
She came over. ‘Maybe use card if you’ve got it out.’
He folded the notes back in, and she leaned over.
‘Is that the cash?’
‘Yeah.’
‘Well use it.’ He looked at the books and his wallet. He leaned over and went strongly up and down on his toes a couple of times.

I ached to help, but I too, was paralysed, and the books sat flat and helpless.
The door opened, and the spell was broken. He edged cash across the counter. I gave change. We all gave thanks.

It’s raining. There’s a man pacing up and down….

It’s raining. There’s a man pacing up and down outside my shop. His phone is on speaker. I can hear the phone speaking back to him, a thin stream of information, like a pilot giving air directions, and none of it making sense to anyone else.

‘The things they get away with down there is ridiculous.’

The phone answers what sounds like a long list of facts.

‘You can times that by five, mate. The problem is… the problem is… what they don’t realize is…’

The phone speaks back. Agreeing.

The man is pacing, agitated, up and down. It is still raining.

‘I contracted it all out though. It’s such a hassle. Turns out that – ‘

The phone interrupts.

‘Yes, yes, yes, yes…is it though?’

The phone delivers a short lecture, this time without interruption.  

‘All right buddy, better let you go.’ The conversation ends. The man, wearing an orange safety vest, muddy boots, and a beanie, picks up his coffee from my windowsill and strides away.

It’s quiet again. It’s dark and raining, not right for September. There are long heavy trucks outside, slow and creaking and hissing. But now they have all stopped. This is unusual, and I look out. There’s an orange indicator going somewhere out of my sight, the rain and the hot orange light flicker and flacker all over the front of the shop. K and S Freighters are stuck out there, massive and shining, then a huge carrier with cows looking out at the rain, a soft wall of eyes, then a cement mixer with its wet belly turning slowly, then a bus.

Someone walks past whistling, a bright light idea uninterested in rain.

When the sun comes out, it is warm, its light has gold edges that are told in the puddles, the puddles read it swiftly in gold lines with metal stops. The puddles are flints. People look down, then up and shade their eyes.

Everyone becomes a jogger, simply everyone. They have to cross the road. The sun has dropped abruptly, rain again. I stand at the window and look out.  People run rustily, puffing dramatically, eyes screwed up, legs lifted high to avoid the spray, laughing because there is so much water, and because we need it.  My town, thirty minutes away and always dry, lay on its back this morning drinking heavily, weighed down by liquid, the trees hanging sodden, their roots and toes alive with water and digging for more.

Customers come wheezing in, happy and unbothered, ‘Do you have book two of Tim Severin’s Viking stuff?’

The trucks drag nets of spray behind them. A child in a car parked just outside the door has his arm out of the window catching the drops. He is on his knees. He puts his head out. A drench catches him, and he shakes and shakes, alive with nourishment. Somebody inside the car speaks, and he abruptly withdraws.

Another child, on the footpath, is being a duck. I am startled because his duck sound is so real, so loud and so close.

‘He’s being a duck, Grandpa.’

There’s a whole family out there. They’ve been to the bakery and are noisy with paper bags and loaves of bread and coffee.

‘Show Grandpa how you’re being a duck.’

The child is wearing soft thick clothing, red and dark blue, and tiny stout boots protect his webbed feet, and he quacks and quaeks and hoots.’

 ‘Hey, come here duck’, says Grandpa.

But he does not want to get into the car.

Grandpa, who drops to help the youngster, gets a boot in the side, and the son, the father, takes over, stern. ‘Get in. Now. Get in. Stop it.’

Now the ducky is in, fitted into a duckling seat, the rain runs down the windows and I can see him making duck hands to himself, and there are little arrows of sun smoking down and making a sheen of warm green emeralds on the top of their lolly green car, and then another truck goes speeding past sending us all us a new version of the same water.

You got caught

The sky behind the trees is silver and bright – so bright it hurts your teeth to look at it. The wind is cold. People coming past the shop do it fast, collars up, faces prepared.

A young mum gets caught in a brief chilly shower that lasts the exact time it takes her to cross the road with a pram, a baby, a toddler, two bags of shopping, a drink bottle, and a toy white rabbit that gets dropped on the shining road half way over.

The child wails.

There’s a tradesman outside my door, waiting it out with coffee. He shouts:

‘You got caught in the rain.’

She shouts, ‘I know, it’s terrible.’

The rabbit lies there, its eye a desperate button.

He dashes and scoops.

‘Thank you, thank you so much.’

‘No worries.’

Illustration by Margaret C. Hoopes

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.’

Menopause; a pause

The four of us all met somehow at the counter in my bookshop. Me seated, my friend standing, her friend leaning, another lady, here. That word comes up: menopause

and we all make “the face”, and our shoulders move slightly in outrage. The temperature of our bones glides (again) upward, silent and inappropriate, as confused as ever, keeping pace with life and not sympathetic. But we laugh and shout and laugh. We agree triumphantly that bras never fit. We have many ideas. Nothing can defeat many ideas.

Eventually one lady leaves, trundling her groceries and things out of the door in a little trolley. Her shoes are excellent; soft, and stitched and kind, looking after her, the person that wears them.

Is that a cat or something…

There is a couple here at the shop. She is looking for books. He seems exhausted and stands against a shelf and looks at her. His black T shirt has white lettering: stay hydrated.

‘What’s that movie that…?’ She is sorting through the classics, softly, gently, making a pile, pushing back what she does not need.

He rubs his eyes. His glasses have plastic shades attached, these are raised, a verandah allowing light.

‘You know that movie. It was really good, but numbers two and three were terrible.’

He is silent, looking at her kindly.

She says, ‘I can’t talk and read, sorry.’ She makes clicking sounds with her lips, turning and looking and choosing.

He leans and gazes. Every time she begins to speak, she becomes distracted and looks elsewhere. ‘Little Women, I love that. I might get that Robertson Davies. Is that a cat or something?’

He is smiling.

You’re not going in there

A young man says this (loudly) to his friend outside my shop. He is out of the car first. She is out of the driver’s seat second. He is joyful. ‘You’re not going in there!’

She stands in front of him, hands raised, palms outward, uncaring, ‘Get out of my way.’ She, languidly and easily, gazes right into him.

‘All right, you can go in there.’ He spins, grinning, round and round as though on roller skates. She remains motionless, content. I looked at her looking at him doing his thing.

‘Well, go on. In you go.’ He clattered past my door, tapped the glass and disappeared toward the bakery.

She came in, still unhurried and still content.

Young Woman Reading by Samuel Melton Fisher

No, that’s not what I’m saying

There’s an old man who comes into the shop from time to time – he buys gardening books. Once, last month, when I was glum, and it was cold, and the sky had its eyes closed, he came in. He found a gardening book so big that the cover had a handle. He picked it up and carried it round, he kept saying, ‘Look at this!’

He bought it.

He carried it around the shop a few more times. ‘Look at this, this is great! Good on you for having it. Good on you for having this place.’ His face is a smile, it stretches, every kindly muscle of it, into a single malt smile.

Then he saw the bookmarks and went silent. ‘Look at these.’

‘Look at this.’ He handled a little silver dragon, screwing up his eyes to see it properly. His hands are huge, gardening hands, at rest but alive as if still holding the secateurs. ‘Look at this. This is marvellous. It’s a little dragon. Good on you.’ His nails are dark, holding soil from the beans he probably checked this morning.

When he first visited the shop, he wanted a book of jokes, not rude ones, just quick ones, for entertaining the grandkids. ‘They like quick jokes these days.’ When he spoke of his grandchildren, his eyes moistened and an orchard grew there.

Did they know? Those grandkids? If they don’t, in time they will. When he’s not there, and a small corner of warmth, tomatoes, the washing pegged carefully, the careful attention to what matters – is gone.

When he left, I followed him out. I don’t know why. No, that’s not what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say is that the sky had opened its eyes and was looking right at him.

How to be stung

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Words have shapes. The word naked has a spike in the middle. This causes my three year old grandsons to freeze and lighthouse my face. They have heard the word and have become uncertain. I say naked. Naked? I plant the k firmly in the ground because it is important, and they rock about, filling their mouths with two year old laughter, powerful with innocence.
Cereal. Difficult because the r wants more attention that it needs. Ce-re-ral. Difficult because it is uttered so early in the morning, hungry, and hoping for exciting ce-re-ral, the stuff I buy because my mother never allowed me to have it.
I can’t write Australia without an error amongst the vowels.
I can’t type possibly because the y won’t appear.
I can’t say minimalist without losing a shoe and having to go back.
Bum. This is a satisfying word, like a stone thrown into a deep pond. Ripples. Causes hilarity for three year olds.

Mine. Powerful and causes consternation. Different powers according to where it is uttered. And who hears it.
The word freezing is nice to say. The grandsons linger amongst the long sounds and stretch the word, reining in sympathy and attention. Squirted is hilarious but tricky, the t softening into a d, and parents lurking in the car park, saying ‘Are you being rude?’
Bursted. Many things are bursted. A powerful and rich word that describes the world of the three year old more than what it is actually applied to. ‘What happened to the snail? It bursted.’
Sour is puzzling because it is a bit abstract. But is easily learned because of the accompanying flair of lips away from teeth. Three year olds are quick to utilize these performances. Anything can be sour, including vegetables, the sun or a library book.
Biscuit is buttery, baked, soft with kindness, and breaks up in the teeth amongst the actual sentence. Biscuit can stop a runner making for the back of the orchard with a toy truck they have taken from someone else.
Broken has authority. My three year old grandsons use it to blame, condemn, weep, console, manipulate and explain.
Spicy is abstract and unusual, but useful if you have accidentally tasted a chilli. It is immensely satisfying to linger twice amongst the tender skin of the ssss sounds, remembering the burn.

Yellow is simply too difficult. There is too much information thrown by the experience of yellow to waste time forcing the tongue. So, lello fills in, like a relief worker paid a lot but not really part of the plan. Lollies is always managed with skill, precision and desperation.
Buttons is exciting and authoritative and causes things to happen, such as the reprimand, ‘Did you press that?’
Max tried out Mr Archimedes, remembering the story, the bath, the wombat, the spilt hot water, the mop. He managed Mr Medes. It will do. He climbs over the words and continues with the story, ‘The water went all on the floor.’
I said monumental to someone in a thin fussy tone. Noah said, ‘Yeah,’ in hot agreement, the three year old taking part in family affairs, already reading politics with alarming accuracy.
Chippies is flinty and nice, salty and comforting, and rectangular, ‘We went to the shop and got some chippies with mummy.’ Devastation that at the time of the memory, there are no chippies anywhere.
Sting. This is rich and alarming. The s is loud and sharp, a warning. It is freighted with memories of stings. Toys are put down. Little boys gather to talk. ‘Did Noah get stinged? Where did the bee go? Once I got stinged on my thumb.’ The speaker holds up his foot as he says ‘thumb’. They stare at each other, concerned.

They keep on playing, talking, arguing, shouting –  squeezing and pushing at bits of language, every word a biscuit, a rich drench, a sting.