The little boy who took a long time waving goodbye

I didn’t see him when he came in: must have come in a slim shadow next to the walking thighs of parents and holding tightly to an adult hand. I know they were in the front room: I could hear the murmuring and the calling out that families do.

‘Where are you, Jack?’

‘Where did Jack go?’

‘Here.’

Later, they all came to the counter with a handful of children’s books and a DK Star Wars Reader, book 4, level 5. They paid. They all turned in a soft cotton group for the door.

That was when the child looked back at me and waved. I said, ‘Goodbye. Enjoy your books.’

And he continued to wave in that way children do, the hand going rapidly from side to side at face level, both eyes intensely on me, not looking where they’re going, bumping against mum, banging against the door, still looking back and making the same hand movement and the eyes on me, eyes like polished citrine expanding into dark gold.

‘Come on Jack, watch the door.’ A final soft little bump, the little fluttering hand, and then they were gone.

Sculpture by Clay Enoch

Father and son back again

Father and Son are here (again). They’ve been visiting for 10 years, since son was about 8. That would make him around 18 now; he’s grave and courteous and choosing outstanding and bewildering literature.

These parents always brought their children to the shop in the school holidays and let them burrow down and choose their own stuff. Wise. I remember the children were dark and quiet with bright-eyes and shared jokes without saying anything.

Now Father and Son are here again and he’s no longer at school. Still bright-eyes looking at me over a black mask and holding a copy of Arcadian Adelaide by Thistle Anderson (which is hilarious), and how could an 18 year old know about that book. But he does. With his large serious watch and thatch of wild hair.

But now Dad’s found a find on a shelf.

Goon Show, Harry.’

But Harry’s got Arcadian Adelaide and isn’t looking up. But it doesn’t matter. Families are like that, especially when it comes to reading.

Dad’s reading titles aloud: ‘My Goblin Therapist,  I want my daughter to see this. She’ll want this.’ Families that read do that. They know about each other’s reading.

The father says to me: ‘Where’s your satire section?’, and I say: ‘At home.’ He understands.

Dad stands and looks at shelves. Son kneels easily with no cracking joints or signals from muscles. Both men absorbed.

‘Dad.’ Son gives an urgent low call.

Dad turns slightly, but is himself unable leave something.

Son is not perturbed because just registering interest is enough; just moving the air slightly with breath is enough. For family.

Harry has hands in pockets and feet crossed, relaxed.

Then he sits with phone.

Dad stares into science fiction.

They have a stack ready, but for now they just sit or stand and stare at things.

Painting by Vickie Wade

The laughers who laughed

Laughers are people who just keep on laughing. They use laughing as speech. And each piece of laugh is an actual sentence with words and eyes that only they can understand. These two started it at the door.

‘I don’t actually need any books.’

‘I want a copy of…..I had one….but I gave it away.’ They came in bursting with their own news.

‘Oh right. Lets look around. This is cute. Where’s your book anyway?’

‘I gave it away away away.’ They laughed low and long.

‘See this?’

‘What is it?’ They laughed low and loud.

‘Ohhhhhhh. Ok. Ok. You getting it?’

‘Yeaaaah. Ha. Look at this: Jonathon Livingston Seagull.’

‘Who’s he?’

‘Oh God, he’s Jonathon Livingston Seagull.’

I liked their clothes: sandals and soft cotton things from another era. Everything she did, he admired. Everywhere she went he followed. She looked back to make sure. He looked at her making sure.

‘Do you like these books? Do you prefer to cook from a screen?’

‘I don’t know. Is this low carb? Is this good? Should I get it’

‘There’s this guy that I work with at work. He’s quite interesting.’ He followed her listening and prepared to not like that guy at her work who was not interesting.

But she’d already forgotten that guy. ‘Oh God, look at these cat books.’ He followed her, quite rapt and agreeing on the cat books.

They swayed on past me and I couldn’t hear them anymore.

Then they came back, and he read out my signs of advice over the front door:  read wildly read wisely read widely. He looked at her wildly. With his wild eyes over the blue slightly crooked mask.

They went back to classics and stayed there on their knees, leant over books and talked in whispers about Saul Bellow for ages and ages, and outside, the hot day just had to go on without them in it for most of the afternoon.

Illustrations by Linda Rothchild Ollis and Magda Boreysza

The Book Keeper and grandsons, sometime before Christmas when I wanted to organize the Christmas tree

They only live in the absolute present, the three second crystal lens that they are consuming and digesting every moment. So, Christmas trees are interesting, but as there are none here(yet) the Christmas tree lost out to a plastic horse with a bent leg, a crane and bedtime looming darkly within the adult conversations.

They didn’t want to go to bed.

Everyone one is out here. The evening is too warm and too light to be proper night, and young parents are sprawled, complaining gently about everything and looking forward to the next day.

I have a promising stack by my bed and have no problem with the night, except that it is too short.

But the little boys are unsure. There’s a matchbox car and three difficult blocks that won’t become a shed. Things to sort. The monkey tree is bent. A log of wood dragged inside to be a fence has shed bugs into the carpet. Someone tore Hairy Maclary, it wasn’t me.

It was Finny.

Is it Christmas outside?

Am I sleeping here?

I’m going to childcare party.

I haven’t got any apple.

Nanny, I haven’t got any apple.

Where shall we put the Christmas tree, do you think?

Can I have any of some more apple?

Pausing at the door to get the mask on properly

Visitors to the shop now have to pause and fumble about at the door before they come in because we all have equipment to manage.

‘Dale, your mask.’ This couple had to go back to the car. Then they went past me to the bakery and got coffees. Then they returned and came in, looking refreshed, and asked for good Australian political biographies and anything about breeding poodles.

‘Forgot m’mask. Gotta go back.’ This man left and came back with his mask in his top pocket, and left it there while he browsed.

‘Got yr mask?’ This man, who didn’t have his mask, was sent back to the car by his wife. I saw him reading the paper in the front seat. She browsed the shelves for another half an hour. They both looked happy.

‘Oh my god, where’s my mask?’ A young mum, who found it in the pram wrapped around half an apple.

A car went past and turned at the corner. The driver wearing a mask hanging from one ear.

A man passing the window wore a pink mask with a devil’s face, hanging sideways from his sunglasses.

A child walked by with an adult mask over his entire face, hanging onto the side of the pram so he could walk straight.

We wear them upside down and inside out, with faces drawn on, and the elastic knotted and twisted to make a snugger fit. We wear them as chin straps and wrist wraps. In pockets and wallets, in phone cases, shopping bags, shoulder bags and looped around coat buttons, thrust through belts. Clutched in one hand while the other hand manages the phone.

One girl wore an emerald green mask that was covered in gold and blue butterflies. She talked to me through the butterflies about reading and about the Divergent books, and she described her bookshelf at home.

A couple walking by paused at the window to take off masks and undo drink bottles for their small children. One child asked if you have to wear masks on the jetty.

Then he said that he’d lost his bucket on the jetty. The parents, still drinking, looked down at him. They were leaning against the window, and looking down at him, not saying anything, just looking at him with besotted faces because he is theirs.

Painting by Claire McCall

Aunty Felicity

Aunty Facility is a bit of a legend. The little boys flicker through her name, liking the sounds but aware of the stalky pitfalls of so many sounds. That’s how she became Aunty Facility.

She is always a vision in red. She likes clay and wood, wool and sky, chunky falling jewellery, and sound spas. And chocolate. Also, labyrinths, and making things out of weird stuff. And pilates.

Aunty Fesisity is always a vision in red.

Aunty Ficity is always there at Christmas.

Aunty Ficistity is always there at birthdays.

Aunty Fissy is here right now, it’s a good warm evening, and we’ve put our champagne glasses down on the prickles in the orchard, so we can stand close to each other and sort out the family. We are experts on each one of them. If only they would listen to us.

Aunty Fissy has carved a valley through our lives. This is because she’s individual and a lone ranger, much like her mother was. Answers to her own lungs.

Aunty Fisties likes to dance, her way. And she always says, ‘I don’t know’, in a useful tone that invites me to say what I know, which is not much, but she always admires it anyway.

Once she poured Coca Cola over a roast pork to make the crackling good. I was impressed. Culinary! She lives in Melbourne, land of multiwondrous food and dickheads who can’t drive. She never shuts the toilet door when she’s in there in case something happens in the next room that she might miss.

She cries in front of people; I never knew such power until I saw that. Later, I wanted my children to experience her, as though she were another country or something. Which she is.

She’s always interested in things, much like her own mother was . This makes the life she’s interested in gain value and to keep on gaining value. This means our lives. My life. People who do this never know they do it. Instead they look doubtfully at their own life and wonder about its value, which is of course, beyond value, beyond words.

Aunty Fisins suffers from road rage. Once, we were tearing down St Kilda Road, and she said, ‘don’t you look at me like that you bitch’, to the lady in the next car. I was impressed.

Aunty Fiscal bought a folding bike to get fit. Then she sold it.

I am glad my small grandsons get to experience Felicity as though she is an entire empire or something, because she is. Hope she keeps on expanding and doesn’t go back to Melbourne, land of dickhead drivers. Hope she doesn’t give up on us, family, because for one thing, I drive like a dickhead, and also, we all need her.

A man here browsing gave me the impression that he was looking for something specific

He was with a friend. She kept bumping his shoulder gently so he had to keep moving along. He frowned and read titles closely and bit his lip, put them back and went on to the next one. He gave each book a long fair go. He tipped his head back and narrowed his eyes to get at the reviews on the back and the dates of publication.

‘You find it?’ She asked. He shook his head. She put headphones in.

In Classics, the man rested on one knee. One elbow resting on the knee. One hand resting on the shelf right next to Steinbeck and Stevenson.

His friend took her headphones out and said they needed to go to Woolies later. He nodded. She put her headphones back in. Began to nod gently to another rhythm. He bent closer to the shelf, angling toward another vision. His feet were uncomfortable, splayed out for balance, and he soon moved back and knelt on both knees instead. He was now backed up against the leg of his friend. She had her eyes closed, and was moving, in tiny imperceptible movements, from side to side.

She reached down with her left hand took hold of his ear. She continued listening. He continued looking. Joined.

Nanny, are you growing a beard?

Two grandsons stayed last night. It was hot. They moved from sandpit to orchard to the place with two snails, one of them dead, and they played with a small rubber owl that represents them and is always in danger. They fly it from one end of the orchard to the other using swoops and dives and other very powerful ideas. There is a larger owl, too. This one, a plastic model purchased as a bird scarer, only takes part in some of the story. It saves the baby owl. Then it was abandoned under the bonsai tree table. Once it brought some food. Then it was abandoned at the shed door. Once they couldn’t find the parent owl at all, and everything stopped. Completely.  

They played bikes. This means Noah riding about for a bit, and Finn following on foot because he is too small to find the pedals. It also means stopping still and talking to each other earnestly about many things. Once Finn acted out a message with moving robot arms and a slight klinking of the head from side to side, which Noah understood and answered in a similar way.

Once they met on the lawn and Noah asked, ‘Did you get any snails?’ and Finn answered, ‘Sometimes.’ They always park the bike across the gate to the orchard, which is the gate to soccer parkland.

They asked me to ring Max and find the lost part to the forklift and they asked me about gallstones. Noah showed me his moth bites and asked if he would die, and then he asked me why I was growing a beard.

Hmmm.

Chemin de Fer by Elizabeth Bishop

Alone on the railroad track
I walked with a pounding heart.
The ties were too close together
or maybe too far apart.

The scenery was impoverished:
scrub-pine and oak; beyond
its mingled gray-green foliage
I saw the little pond.

where the dirty hermit lives,
lie like an old tear
holding onto its injuries
lucidly year after year.

The hermit shot off his shot-gun
and the tree by his cabin shook.
Over the pond went a ripple.
The pet hen went chook-chook.

‘Love should be put into action!’
screamed the old hermit.
Across the pond an echo
tried and tried to confirm it.

Sculpture by Hans Some

(The literal meaning of the French phrase ‘chemin de fer’ is ‘iron path’.) 

Home alone, or where everything is

There’s a pair of gumboots on the floor. There’s a fruit bowl with the ends of three bananas just seeing over the edge. And a stack of paperbacks placed by me yesterday right there with care. Carpentaria is on the top with the bookmark in page 22, place by me this morning right there with bliss with coffee and toast.

There’s washing not folded.

There washing folded not put away. Not mine.

There’s a lego model lying about in tiny crystal pieces. This model, an ice-cream van, even has tiny lego coins and tiny green lego iceblocks made of clear green plastic that looks like glass. There’s a boy with a skateboard and a dog, all part of the ice cream van, left there on the cupboard not quite put together.

There’s a set of MASH, The Recovery Collection, every season, pulled out and begun. Cups and plates on the sink, tin cans and jars, a chopping board, unread letters, a lemon.

Some fabric cooling in a coffee dye that’s mine another project not another one says my mother but it is: another one. My mother in law, Mary, left a bag of stuff that she never finished. I took a bit of wool out of it. I’m going to do something with it.

There’s a puzzle left on the floor, not finished because one letter is missing. So it’s always going to be unfinished. Still, the grandsons pull it out and fiddle. Encouraging any letter to soothe the blank space, but nothing will agree. So it’s left there again. Undone. What’s not there outranks what’s there. We won’t part with what we don’t have.

There’s a box of wood shavings that smell like wine and a computer chord abandoned next to the fireplace. There are three toilet rolls and a cork with a pin in it, treasure for a later game. A doll’s house my grandfather made me, now filled with mostly matchbox cars and stones.

There’s a series of windows looking out at cold hopeful August.

There’s a stack of photos everyone’s been looking through because the person who took them is lost to us now, and because what’s not here outranks what’s here.