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

Nice little bookshop

That’s me. I heard it spoken as people walked past the bookshop this morning. They walk so quickly I don’t get to see them. I just see what they think.

He said, ‘Nice little bookshop. Amazing that it’s still going.’

And somebody answered, ‘True!’

I think, well, maybe not so amazing.

Back to Mark Twain. Somebody wants his autobiography – the University of California Press edition in three volumes. As if I could find that and then let it go to someone else!

A group of four sweep past the window. They are all talking hard.

A lady says, ‘Is that sexist?’

He answers, ‘I think so.’

Seven teenagers in a row, loud and clattery. Bent underneath school bags. They are all talking too loud for me to hear it, but I do hear:

‘Uluru. It’s Uluru.’

Then they are gone.

Back to Georgette Heyer and Harry Potter. Back to The Hitchhiker’s Guide. Back to Marcel Proust, Alice Munro, and Irene Nemirovsk.

The door opens and a man leans in and looks at me, retreats abruptly, closes the door. Ok.

Back to Patricia Cornwell. Back to The Odyssey.

A lady I know comes in. ‘How are you, my dear?’ I’m not coming in. I just want to know how you are.’

A man tells me all about The Barossa Valley.

Another man wants to know all about Clayton.

Back to A Gentleman in Moscow, which I have stolen from my own shelves.

Painting by Carol Marine

The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

87866d5fd2d71ac8b90041b464397a40

This morning, a ute stopped right outside the door. Tradesman climbed out, all noise and energy, boots huge, dressed for the cold in t-shirts and iPhones.  They looked through my windows and saw me looking out – at them. They both nod and look politely away. To the bakery, relief.

A family came in, dad and two young children. The little boy pleading, dropping with hunger, daddy…..can we get something to eat….his sister wearing a summer dress, but also a good winter beanie, relaxed, holding a copy of Charlotte’s Web, fortified.

A young man bought three books for a young niece. He relaxes, relieved, a very difficult gift achieved. He says, ‘Thanks, thanks, God, thanks.’

Outside it rains and rains and rains. Traffic swishes. Car lights. People hurrying.

A family are caught in the doorway,  and they stand shoulder to shoulder waiting for the rain to ease. The toddler, held in his father’s arms, strokes his mother’s shoulder with one hand and his father’s ear with the other; a tight knot of absolute warmth.

There is an argument about lunch in the back room, ‘We can always have lunch early.’

More talk. ‘Have it your way…’

A young man comes in, thinking me the bakery. He swings through the door strongly. He wraps his arms around himself and backs out. He looks down the street toward friends, ‘Guys, what the fuck..?’

It rains.

A man comes in to tell me there is a water leak in the car park. I said, ‘Yes, but SAWater, they know about it… you know.’ He understands immediately, ‘SAWater…!’

My friend, Callie, admired his hat. He turned and said, ‘Yes it’s a great hat, pity about the head in it, har har har.’ We laugh. We like him. We all agree on SAWater.

Sarah came in. Alan came in. Leah came in. The rain came down. Neville chooses his usual selection of unusual, diabolically brilliant books. People climb off the bus across the road. The water leaks across the footpath. I talk with someone about Mark Twain.

John comes in. Rita and Don come in. We agree the weather is slightly foul.

The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

 

The Sing Song Voice

82d99973dca6009889e0c474cb553018.jpg

Two friends came into the shop and it was freezing outside, and raining, and they asked me about the books on the shelves and then both of them said:

It’s warm in here, can we stay? And one of them said, in a curious sing song voice that was very easy to listen to –

I like these books. Tell me about this Mark Twain.

But the other man was agitated and thought they should be on their way. He said to me: can you tell me how to get onto the freeway from here, actually, can you tell me about the freeway?

I gave directions and told him what I knew and he stood up on his toes and down again and up again and said that these bookshops were amazing. Then he asked me who was Huckleberry Finn anyway and his friend with the musical voice was outraged.

You know Huckleberry Finn man, you know all that river and that, why don’t you even know this anymore…? His friend came down off his toes with a sigh and said: yeah, I know all of that…

Then he said they had to get going and get onto the freeway, that he could see their trip disappearing because he was the only one who was organised. And they left and as they passed back out into the winter afternoon they were still arguing about Huckleberry Finn and the river and that.

The Old Man Who Said He Had Memory Problems

blue.png

Yesterday an old man came into the shop and said he had memory problems. He was very apologetic. He said he loved to read and had no trouble with that, he could remember just about everything he had read. And they were all beautiful memories.

He had forgotten his wallet and he went back outside and stood just outside the door and shook his hands gently from side to side and waited. Sometimes he glanced back at the books in the windows and he smiled at me, he seemed sad as if he was causing me trouble, which he wasn’t. He nodded kindly at all the passers-by.

There is an autobiography of Mark Twain on the front table and he looked at that through the window for a long time. Then his wife returned with his wallet and they both stood there, still outside and I thought they were talking about Mark Twain because the old man tapped on the glass and indicated the book and then they both laughed and nodded together. They stood there undecided for a while, they didn’t come back in, instead they headed toward the bakery and they looked pretty happy!