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

At the window

Jonathan Cooper (2)

“I have not always had this certainty, this pessimism which reassures the best among us.
There was
a time when my friends laughed at me.
I was not the master of my words.
A certain indifference, I
have not always known well what I wanted to say, but most often it was because I had nothing to
say.
The necessity of speaking and the desire not to be heard.
My life hanging only by a thread.

There was a time when I seemed to understand nothing.
My chains floated on the water.

All my desires are born of my dreams.
And I have proven my love with words.
To what fantastic
creatures have I entrusted myself, in what dolorous and ravishing world has my imagination
enclosed me? I am sure of having been loved in the most mysterious of domains, my own.
The language of my love does not belong to human language, my human body does not touch the flesh
of my love.
My amorous imagination has always been constant and high enough so that nothing
could attempt to convince me of error.”

Paul Eluard (1895-1952)

Painting by Jonathon Cooper

The kids and the bookmarks and the owls and the cats

Jen Betton (2)

Two young children came into the bookshop with their father. They were on their way to visit their mother. The girl, who was nine, read Harry Potter. She liked magical things.The boy, who was 11, read biographies and books by authors from other countries. He chose I am Malala. Then they chose some bookmarks. Their father said that he didn’t read, but these two, they never stopped.

The children bobbed about and spun; they liked cats, too. And owls. And reading. Plus balloons. When she had finished reading all the Harry Potters, they were going to watch the movies, but not all in one night.

They were hungry. They cradled their purchases and crowded out the door. I could hear them reminding their dad that they were all going to watch the Harry Potter movies. He was nodding, saying, yes, yes. They stood in the doorway to watch a bike go past, and the boy said, ‘I love that bike’, and the father said, ‘You love everything.’ Then the father and the son looked at each other, and the boy held his book up, and they both laughed.

Artwork by Jen Betton

Please come and look at these books…

Still Life with Quinces by Van Gogh (2)

I did go and look at those books. It was a library of a woman who had died.

The lady spoke of her mother. We were standing outside the garage, shielding our eyes from the afternoon sun. There were fruit trees and two dogs, cardboard boxes, and a horse behind a railing – it was warm and quiet. I could hear the horse breathing. She was telling me about her mother; all the things she used to do, the gratitude of communities, the reading, her passion, her; the mother.

I could smell quinces.

‘The things a person loves are always, always recorded in their library.’ The daughter leaned back in amazement and pride as she said this. It was a delicate opera of grief, sung outside (to me) next to a bucket of yellow quinces. The daughter was wearing pink and white. She said, ‘Don’t lift those heavy boxes, you’ll hurt yourself.’  Her mother, Barbara, was one of my first customers. She read Don Camillo. And there they were, the books she once bought from me, right there in a box, in the sunshine, next to the quinces.

 

Still Life with Quinces by Vincent Van Gogh

Noah and Max plant daisies and tell me that these WILL grow…

048 (2)

Autumn, and here we are in the garden, there is stuff to do. Dig.

The difference between a weed and a flower is nothing.

Noah wears only one boot. The other one is gone. They lose their spade. Somebody loses an entire pair of pants. We find a tiny bulldozer, folded into a crunching mud pastry underneath the blackberry. These little boys, my grandsons, roll and stride and fly from one end of the orchard to the other. They find worms. These are treasures. They find weeds. These are treasures. They find snails. These are beyond treasure, there are no words. They lean in over the tender stalk of eyeball that moves underneath their scorching breath and outraged curiosity.

‘What’s his eyes doing?’

What’s him looking for?’

They carry their luggage with them, a pot, a spade, a tiny bulldozer, a scooter with a bead necklace tied to the handlebars, a snail, a plastic dingo, and a piece of wooden train track. They drop everything.

They squabble over the tiny bulldozer. Their small muddy hands must hold that bulldozer.

They arrive at the foot of the old yellow daisy. It is huge, it lives without aid all year round. It finds water for itself. When everything else wilts, it rears in contempt.

They consider the whirring flowers and snip off a few and stand there, looking at the scatter. Then they remember. Planting. It’s easy. They run from here to there, tying the tender stalks to the earth, ungentle and urgent. They step backwards and trample their work. They fall. They sit on their own gardens. They lose each other.

‘Where’s my Noah?’

Finn (the youngest) has taken all the best toys, sits alone and supreme. They don’t realize.

The tiny yellow daises, rumpled and torn, cut with no stalks, limpy, bruised and shorn of petals take their place in the richness. They rear (with interest). The gumboots thunder past. A small shovel is hurled, no longer needed.

They shout, ‘Finn, not yours.’ Finn (the youngest) sits unperturbed. He grips the tiny bulldozer, prepared.

The tiny yellow daises, rumpled and torn, cut with no stalks, limpy, bruised and shorn of petals take their place in the rich. They roar (with pleasure).

This is nonsense

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Over the last few months my mum, who is 84, has been busy. Last time I visited, I spoke through the front door and kept my distance. She said the coronavirus is no reason to be idle, and asked me to get her a box of saucing tomatoes.

I wrote this three years ago, when our first grandson was born. We are four generations alive all at once now. We are very lucky.

“I think that my grandson, Max, has super powers, but my mum says that this is nonsense, that he is just a normal healthy child. When she dropped into the shop yesterday I said that Max has survived his first hot summer, and she said that this is nonsense. That when she was born in Broken Hill her mum had to put the cot outside in the summer because the corrugated iron house was hotter inside than out. Her mother hung wet nappies around the edges of the cot so that the hot wind blew cool. Her mum always put the cot under the pepper trees. She said the dining room table bowed in the heat of those roasting dark little iron rooms.

I said I would like to put that story on Facebook and she said that Facebook is nonsense; who on earth would want to read about her.

When my mum was 14 years old she made her own dress at school and wore it for a photograph sitting. I have that photograph, and it is one of my favourite things. They were very poor and she only ever had one photograph taken. She said her dress was pretty good, probably the best one made, and her mum had told her that this was nonsense.

Max, my grandson loves colour. He leans toward colours and frowns. His head wobbles  when he catches the purple of my glass necklace. He leans in panting and dribbling, wanting that slab of cool glass in his mouth. But we have coloured glass slabs around the front door, too. These are wine red, mint green, champagne, butter yellow and icy pink. In the fading evening light they change character and jump. Max stares into the hot colours and is silent and noisy; breathing and ingesting colour. Soon the red becomes purple and the greens turn to blue. The yellow turns to cider. The pink fades to clear, cool water.  He stares for minute after minute at the thick glass, dripping with evening colours.

Then later, my daughter says that he won’t go to sleep, and I say that this is nonsense.”

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.

 

 

The kids in the car

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Outside, in a car. There they are! Two children having to wait in the car for a parent who has rushed to the bakery.

I watch the car windows go up and down. Up and down. Spindly arms flicker. They are calling to each other, their little voices like recorders, fluting.

I watch an old lady pause and look in the window. The front passenger offers a small hopeful wave. The way children do. Unsure if it’s ok, but offering anyway.

Then he leans back, stretches forward, leans back again, with those little stalky arms up and touching the roof.  He checks that a smaller sibling in the back is attentive to his rather magnificent stretching. That child is nodding, nodding, nodding, but is looking out of another window.

The sudden grill of motorbikes makes them pause and stare at each other. The younger’s face is stretched downwards in that way children do, to fit itself around approval and joy.

The front one goes swish swish with his hair. He reaches out and flickers both hands right to left in an abrupt and convincing parody of a pianist thinking before descending.

He is singing.

Suddenly he reaches across to the back and offers a packet of something. He puts the packet gently into the sibling’s face to properly display the feast. They eat in these positions, together.

There are two small bikes strapped to the roof. I see now that there is also a dog in the back. I stand in the doorway of my shop, enjoying the sun and everything.

The front child returns and begins playing jazz piano on the back of his seat. The audience (of one) gazes forwards, rapt. The thin arms bounce and run, hover and dive, his fingers stripping the upholstery as he releases some ribbon of sound he has heard on YouTube or somewhere, somehow. His thin frame quivers across his own deadly reach. He must stop now, panting.

Another child goes past, staring in. Mr Front Seat disappears from view. Then his eyes appear. He points over the sill with his finer. Is he a sniper? Nearly as deadly to humankind as a jazz pianist. The passing child continues past. Walking and looking backwards at the car, eating biscuits.

Mum returns.

They talk, nod, seat belts, more nodding, a long conversation, she is holds the packets of food in mid-air. There is a long story from Mr front seat. Mum is interested, listens right to the end, then she leans back and kisses Mr Backseat. He leans back, replete. She deals out food, fastens her own seat belt, pull gently away from the kerb, eating from a paper bag bag, the children likewise, like little horses, noses out of sight and eyes closed.

Artwork by Pascal Campion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncle Don

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Just turned eighty. He said in photo one, he is fifteen, in photo two, he is half full.

In my stories of him, I remember the country, the heat, and the Cadbury chocolate blocks, the big ones (happiness).

There were cousins, strawberry fates and crabbing (somewhere).

So important, the memories and stories.

He just told me one of his stories:

When he was fifteen, he left school. He was forced to stay till fifteen. His mum (my Nanna) said, ‘Well you’re going then, and don’t you come back.’ She gave him ten shillings, a pack of cigarettes, one change of clothes and a new pair of R. M. Williams boots. Stirrup boots. He said, ‘My dad tried them on. I saw him in the hallway there, trying them on, reminded him of the bush you see.’

I remember his dad, my grandfather. His garden captured in rectangles, the vegetables obedient, the bizarre horse radish unkind to my mouth. There was a pool. It was a water butt, a tank overflow, waist high and diabolically beautiful. I played there with a set of plastic animals that I helped across the terrifying water to another place. In the shed nearby, my grandfather, a bushman and miserable in the city, worried pieces of wood into new smooth pieces, a pony, a seal, a round thing that clung to my small hand like an impossible, silken enchantment.

So my Uncle Don went off to Gulnare. On a property, there was a fine horse called Lady Claire, and my Uncle was given her foal to break in –  Dr Penney, he was called, after that Maralinga bloke, William Penney…

That horse would come to a whistle, no matter where he was.

He sewed wheat bags and fenced, one quid per mile if hilly, eight shillings and sixpence when not. He worked all day till it got too dark to see.  Then to the pub with a whole quid, ‘That bought a meal and four bottles of beer to take home, and change in my hand.’

‘I was a rich man.’

Bought himself an Austin 7 with my Nanna going guarantor, and she said, By God, Donald, don’t you let me down.’

My Nanna was a silent person. When I played on her back lawn, near the unkind horse radish, when I build small houses with cardboard and blankets with the livid, galloping imagination of the lonely child, she would approach silently, and leave at the entrance to the realm, a dish with five white peppermints and a glass of fizzy.

Well, my Uncle flipped the Austin 7. And that was the end of that!

But not the end of the stories. There is never an end to the stories; I just have to worry at everyone, and turn them into the impossible enchantments that they actually are.