Looking through the window on a hot evening in December

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When I was a child, colours in glass meant Christmas, but I don’t know why. I know we lived next to a church with stained glass windows that would have shouted their outrage all through the summer. Colours of boiled lollies. We sat on the smooth wooden pews in church every Sunday morning, already hot, already ready to leave, across the road the sea went on and on and didn’t even care about Christmas. Our bikes leaned against the gate close by because we only lived next door. Once my brother threw a brick into the outside church toilet and busted the porcelain bowl and we sprinted without stopping all the way home which was only ten metres. Because the minister’s kids shouldn’t do stuff like that.
Christmas time was rich and heavy and brilliant with the sea across the road, Santa in a front end loader and it was a real Santa not some bullshit farmer dressed up and riding in their own front end loader. This was a real one and his reindeer were in the old stone barn at the back of the bank. The kids whose dad ran that bank said this was true and I remember that girl, Susan, in my class, had a dragster bike with pink things on the wheels so it was real what she said. Christmas was stained glass and the nativity, a brilliant tranquil story fired though with candles and sheep, lit up at the back with a stained glass window of another entirely different story, set on fire with the summer, threaded through with the last days of school where we made lanterns with green, blue, red, orange, yellow cellophane, the classrooms blazing with tinsel, the final concert where we sang too loud and the infants teacher was tired and said keep calm and that family that lived in the sandhills in a shack that had no electricity and sand going in the front door. And then we ran home fast as anything because if you were outside when the sleigh went over you only got a bag of sand. The green and blue bottles at the window reminded me of all of that.

No, I won’t read all of that, I only read bits…

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A lady is offering her husband this book and that book but he doesn’t want them, he says: I’ve no use for that! That one will go nowhere! No, leave it!

Still she keeps trying. Later, she tells me that she isn’t a reader and has always felt bad about it, all she can really do is try and help others.

Soon he brings The Complete Dorothy Parker to the counter, he tells me about the Algonquin Round Table and that she, Dorothy, was the loudest voice of them all…. he said she was great! He also had Ronald Searle and he tapped the cover, kept tapping for a long time thinking about Ronald Searle. Then he told me that he doesn’t read very fast but when he’s on to a good thing he goes like a dream. Then he turned and went back to the shelves where his wife was waiting with a new pile to offer him.

 

The Cousins Wreck Aunty Elsa’s Stuff

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Aunty Elsa’s room is a haven of possibilities, treasure and unexpected items that the babies are not allowed to have. The door will not shut because there are three thousand pairs of shoes stored behind it and so the boys always have a guaranteed entry to the forbidden. In this room there are many things but best of all are the snow globes, heavy and cold and breakable. Even a gentle movement will dislodge the magic winter inside each one. They must be magic, and the glass is always worth tasting to find out if such divinity is also edible. But there is more. There are cards and pencils and books and phone chargers, sometimes even a phone itself and that cool slab of glass against an infant ear means important involvement in family concerns. Once there was a bag of lollies, a bag of bliss, and Aunty Elsa did not get there in time to rescue those. Aunty Elsa is 18, she is a Bohemian Rhapsody, kind and colourful, unconventional and unafraid. The cousins drink in the rich world of their Aunt, the books and the ideas and the argument and chaos and year 12 and they eat pita bread with hummus and hear about the importance of regarding the planet and each other with care and they too become richer and enriched and richer…

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The Boy who Chanted a Horse Race

 

Kleine Ballerina

There is a trio of distinct people that has come up the street (quite suddenly) and burst into a family right outside the doorway of my shop. The father thought he would hide from his two children and they, who are still small and full of air and joy,  fly after him and into him, ecstatic with the game, outraged with his hiding place which is far too easy.

They exclaim on the poverty of his choice.

You never find a good place!

And their father, who is also young, raises both hands in the air, cannot defend himself does not even try because he is weighed down and drooping with adoration for the pair of them, brother and sister, one with undone clicking shoelaces and the other with one tooth missing and all three of them lean over caught in  mirth and liking each other quite immensely, I thought.

Briefly they glance in the window and they see Hairy Maclary, the book itself leaning into the joy and the girl shouts it’s Hairy Maclary and their father shouts, not to be outdone: you’re Hairy Maclary, and then they all of them, breathe at the cleverness and move on, father and son running, but the little girl, well, she dances.

The boy, as they leave, is chanting a horse race at great speed and with peppered clarity and his sister obeys into a whooping gallop of her choice and the father shouts as they move away and down the footpath: who is winning, who is winning… and then they are faint in the distance and the cold, and it seems to me that the day itself pauses thoughtfully and must record this brief, outrageous triumph.

Sculpture by Malgorzata Chodakowska
The Kleine Ballerina 

Reading in the Dark

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Jacqui is 83 and she visited the shop this morning looking for books about the history of Adelaide. She told me that when she was young, she read in the dark for most of the night because there was no other times that she was allowed to read. I asked her how she saw the page in the dark and she said she could find little bits of light anywhere, by the window, through the crack of another door – she would stand by that door to angle the light on her page. She just wouldn’t give up until she had finished the book. I have no books on the history of Adelaide, but she said never mind, she would not give up, then she said goodbye and went back to her bus.

 

 

 

The Young Readers

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Although it is cold outside there are people everywhere, spending a hopeful Sunday not at home. And there are two children here, brother and sister, who came into the shop earlier and who have refused to sit with their father in the car parked outside. They have been here for nearly an hour and have not spoken once.

They have circled and surveyed the displays and the shelves, balanced on one leg, sat under the tables, leaned on shelves and examined book after book in an intense, rich and enchanted silence. Once they met up too closely at the science fiction and they glanced up briefly, and then silently the older brother moved aside.

Once they reached for the same book. Their father came back to see how things were and neither of them looked up at all. Once, she toppled some Ranger’s Apprentices to the floor and they both stared down at them. Once he laughed out loud at Gorilla World and she looked at him, not seeing him, only seeing Con because she is reading The Magic Thief: Home

Once she says: this book is really good, you should see how they make the bridge. But he didn’t answer. Later he says: are you getting anything? But she doesn’t answer.

When they leave, they have not chosen any books, but they have replaced carefully the ones they examined and when they pass me they smile and say: thanks, thanks for the bookshop.

 

 

 

 

Rain in Strathalbyn

Yelena Sidorova

On Thursday it rained, laying the summer and the dust to rest.
Somebody passing outside said: what brought this on?
Their friend answered: I don’t what brought it on but we’re not ready for it.

The postman said: we’re in for it. The letter he gave me is wet.
A family shouldered through the door and told me it is raining. They are looking for Mr Men books for the baby.
The baby says: hello hello hello hello hello hello puppy, hello puppy, hello, hi, hi…
The baby threw all the Mr Men books on the floor. This is because he didn’t want them. His father tells him that he would like to know who ordered this rain!

Simon is picking up a book he had ordered and told me that it was him that ordered the rain, haha. He said that now he will go and read at the bakery, waiting for the wife, I have a lovely spot, it’s reading weather again, I hope she takes her time. He salutes the sad baby as he leaves.
Another man browses in silence, along the shelves, along the rows, along the spines, slowly, reading out loud but silently, caressing each title in his mind. He reads his way downwards, later he will tell me that books are endless.
A lady outside said: shit. Shit this bloody rain, it’s supposed to be summer. Her friend told her that summer ended ages ago. The veranda is dripping.

I am asked for Cider with Rosie,  The Land of Painted Caves and A Brief History of Time.

There is a young woman, balancing on one foot, considering Francois Sagan, she is bending her head over that beautiful little paperback, thinking what things…? Francois Sagan herself would not require an answer. An old lady was pleased with Mulga Bill’s Bicycle and The Complete Lewis Carroll. She said that she once knew Morse code and every night she reads until 10.45pm and when she left she said: thank you for all of this.

A couple languish against the shelves whispering about everything they have read so far. The looked very happy and very urgent, urgent to continue adding and adding. They take with them Hilary Mantel and Chinua Achebe’s There was a Country. Outside a man is leaning against his car and smoking and staring hard at the Lee Child books in the front window. He gestures toward one of them and says something about Tom Cruise to his friend. The other person laughs.
An old couple leave with nearly all of the Agatha Christies. They tell me it is cup of tea weather.
The young woman who had been balancing on one foot has chosen a copy of A Certain Smile by Francois Sagan and she leaves, balancing on this radiant accumulation to her life.
Then it is quiet again, and just the rain.

Artwork by Yelena Sidorova

 

 

 

 

 

Pa and the Babies

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Noah and Max keep getting bigger. But Pa is still bigger.
When they stand at his feet, they must lean backwards to find him.
He is steadier than a mountain and as safe as a house.
They might fall down, break a cup, run away, cry hard: Pa has already done all of that.
Pa might build a shed, fix a fence, mend a fight, pick the fruit: they are ready to watch all of it, breathing hard and absorbing the information.
Two small boys can cause a great deal of chaos and a great deal of noise. Pa doesn’t notice it.
Noah and Max might throw things, smash things, strike out, bite down and refuse to sleep. Pa doesn’t notice it.
Pa might take apart the mower, make a cake, drain a tank, wrap a birthday gift or clean the carpet and they always watch with their mouths open and their little hands holding on, receiving the information.
They will never be too heavy to hold on Pa’s knee and he will always be covered in sand, dust and grease from the engine of the day.
Max and Noah might refuse to eat, refuse to dress, refuse to look. They might choose to dance. They might prefer to build a house or push one down.
Pa understands all of it.

There is nothing stronger in this world than gentleness.

 

 

 

I don’t know how these places even keep going…

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Outside, some passers-by look through the window at the biographies and one man says: I don’t know how these places even stay open. Fucking hell, we can just get books on the internet, just as easy. His friend says: yeah…

It is a public holiday here in South Australia and Strathalbyn is full of people on their day off.
I am reading The Brimming Cup by Dorothy Canfield and looking up every now and again wondering if anyone will come in to the shop and buy a book. Maybe no one will, but Dorothy Canfield makes this all ok.

The door does open though, and two old ladies come in and they are confident and bright and a propelled onwards by their solid and purposeful cardigans. They know already what they need to say:
There’s your Ken Follett.
I’m not usually one for that kind of thing.
Oh, see the Ray Bradbury…
I wanted to get on well with it but…
There’s a relation somewhere there – some one with Dickens, a grand daughter or something.
I’ve got most of the Dickens.
I’ve got all of the Dickens. You’ve seen them.
I don’t hold with that sort of writing.
What do you mean?
Clive Cussler.
Oh, good heavens, we don’t bother with him. I told you that.
I like Bryce Courtenay.
Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes…
But that film –
No, that’s all right, of course it is –
I’ve read some of those
I’ve read all them all.
Oh nonsense…
Isn’t Herriot still very good
Very good indeed.
Gracious and serious…
I have a problem with that.
I’m one for having books around me.
It’s the way now isn’t it, though, to have no books.
Look at this rubbish.
Well, yes but why make a whole new film about it… 
Well, that’s right.
I think we need to give all the young people one each of all these grammar books.
Well, you can try can’t you….
I shouldn’t just blanket across everything, I know I’m judgemental.
Yes you are, now look at that…I’ve got that…
Yes, I’ve got that too
Yes, I’ve got all of hers.
Gradually they pass by, they don’t see me, they don’t need to purchase a book and they pass by and out though the door, they confront the solid spread of bikies that are gathered on the footpath outside and part them like butter with a hot knitting needle and they go on home.

And then  –

The skateboard family is back! The oldest boy has a book which he carries around and carries around. His mother is within the novels, his brothers are by and by, here and there but mostly with Star Wars. One brother is eating from a paper bag –  sherbet bombs. He is looking at the roof through a haze of sherbet, he is in sherbet bomb heaven. The oldest brother is waiting outside, balancing on his skateboard and staring significantly through the window at his family that are keeping him waiting.
The boy with the book presents it to his mother, he is staring upwards into her face, in an attitude of prayer. She looks down at her son. She says: you got that book last time.
He says nothing at all.
She says: but you gave it to your friend. We should get that one for you this time. He looks at her, astounded by her memory. He hugs the book to his chest and leans backwards under its enormous valuable weight.
They all weave around and around and here and there and then eventually purchase their books and leave together, with skateboards and sherbet and the book of life and one brother saying: get out the way…and the boy outside saying: thanks for taking a thousand years.