Checking in

Everybody’s fluent entry into the shop is checked now. The door is darkened with hopefuls doing their phone. They are, without exception, patient and kind.

‘Shall we check in?’

‘It’s not working.’ A lady swayed and bent over her phone, but her group were looking into the windows, faces on the glass, eyes screwed up.

‘Look at this.’

‘MARK TWAIN.’ Said in a scream.

‘Weird guy him.’

‘For sure,’

‘This isn’t working. The lady on the glass is turning her phone around and around.

‘Turn it this way. What are you doing? Turn it this way.’

‘No good.’

‘God. Government probably changed it.’

‘It’s worked.’

‘Get in then.’

‘I think that lady at the counter’s going to give me a dirty look if I try and take this coffee inside, so I’ll wait out here.’

I heard her say it, as I pretended not to hear her say it.

Then she crept in. ‘Can I have this?’

I said, oh yes, drinking my own.

They all stood and whispered. The rain banging away outside. Everything dark. I couldn’t place them, family or friends, hard to tell; a kind of magical people, especially the lady with the orange coat because the others all gathered about her, and they held up books for her to see, but she only wanted Charlotte’s Web; I heard her say it.

‘These are good.’

‘So are these.’

‘Look here.’

Are you getting that Twain?

‘Nope.’

Charlotte’s Web?’

‘Yes.’

And they all laughed.

Illustration by Outcrowd

A History of Reading

“At one magical instant in your early childhood, the page of a book—that string of confused, alien ciphers—shivered into meaning. Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened. You became, irrevocably, a reader.”

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading

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

Where the sidewalk ends

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There is a place where the sidewalk ends

And before the street begins,

And there the grass grows soft and white,

And there the sun burns crimson bright,

And there the moon-bird rests from his flight

To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black

And the dark street winds and bends.

Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow

We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

And watch where the chalk-white arrows go

To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,

For the children, they mark, and the children, they know

The place where the sidewalk ends.

Shel Silverstein

The children who asked me to look after their bikes…

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This has never happened before! These children swung into the shop during the afternoon, so suddenly that I didn’t see them until they were directly in front of me and clasping their hands together as a plea, they asked if I might look after their bikes, please and please, while they went to Woolworths to get some things. They were bright with cold and energy and woven together in a tight clump of children and daylight and endless time.

And they had already parked the bikes in a neat row along the window of the shop; they showed me this a little anxiously. And I said that this was all good. And off they went.

A little later a boy came into the shop in a puzzled and worried way and told me that he knew the people who were of those bikes. He stood with his hands in his pockets and looked at the Asterix books for a while and then asked me if those people were actually in the shop and I said no, they were around the corner and up the street and he dashed for the door and out and around the corner and was gone.

Later, I checked the bikes; they had obediently stayed in their courteous row.

An hour later, the children were back, as suddenly as they had left. They thrust a handful of gentle flowers at me, orange and white daisies, they said: here’s for you, for looking after the bikes, and then they were all backing out, banging into each other and into the doorway, calling and calling: thank you very much for looking after… see you another time…see you….

 

 

 

 

 

Little Bird

Rex Homan sculpture

There’s a little boy come into the shop with his sister, they are allowed in by themselves while their mother waits outside with their dog and all the shopping.

The little boy holds a cork with two blue straws taped to it, it has tinsel on one end and green paper on the other and he cradles it, enchanted by it, lives with it. While his sister reads he flies his bird gently along the shelves and up and over the stacks, greeting the window with a glass kiss, they both look through the window, wondering about the day, inquiring into the magic.
But then one of the plastic wings drops and falls away and he kneels down, cupping the bird, soothing its cork heart, he tenderly attaches the wing again, under the same worn tape where it holds quite well. He sees that I am watching and he holds up the bird, shows me that all is ok.

His sister is finished, she has chosen her book, she says: come on…and then all three of them are slowly leaving and flying home.

Sculpture by Rex Homan

I’m just looking…

 

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A little girl wandered into the shop here one morning with a bucket of chalk and she was all by herself. She said: I’m just looking at the books.
Then she looked at me and said: sometimes I see words that are really small and I’m like…
There was a long silence while she waited politely for me to understand what it was like to see words that are really small.
Then she said: yeah.

She continued walking gently around, noting out loud what she liked.
I like Olivia.
I like this. I like this, maybe.

The door swung open suddenly and her father was there, looking at me in amazement. He looked at his daughter and said: God, what are you doing, we couldn’t find you.
He checked his phone. She said: just looking.
He checked his phone.
She kept on looking and he checked his phone.
He said: ok, come on. The weather’s coming in.
She walked past and bid me goodbye, serene and glowing. She said: I like mice.
And her father ushered her out, hurrying onwards and outwards into the weather and into the future.

Photography  by John Wilhelm

 

 

The children who found something with a metal detector in a caravan park

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There are two young children here in the caravan park, in the warm summer, on the hot grass and they have a metal detector.

They are purposeful, their backs are bent and their thin arms concentrate on the work. Every patch of patchy ground has potential…. gravel, sand, garden, asphalt, earth, kerb, grass, cement…all are tried and tried.
The detector beeps a small hoot every now and again and they stop and bob about to retrieve the treasure – a bottle top, a slip of metal, a casket of jewels. They scrape sand back reverently but there is usually nothing there. Then they push the sand back into place, gentle caretakers of this unnoticed ground.
But suddenly they have found something, and the detector makes a vast sound.
He says: it’s nothing.
She says: it’s something, look.
And they lean in, knees hopeful and noses together.
He says: it’s metal?
She says: it’s glass. It’s this. It’s this.
She picks it up, a small thing, holds it cupped and close, running eyes over the pleasing magic.
She says: it’s golden glass.
He says: it’s gold glass.
They take it to the tap and rinse the sand away from its golden value and the detector lies in the grass forgotten. The entire day, so deeply entered, is also forgotten.
The tap flashes in the sun, the stream of water flashes in the sun, their blond childhood heads blaze through the water drops, the warm, ticking scrub leaning kindly over them and the sea itself acknowledging the wisdom.

Photography by Yeshi Kangrang