There’s no time

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Two ladies came in, mother and daughter. It’s cold. They are wearing bright jumpers, black scarves, fingerless gloves and they carry umbrellas. They are anxious because back in the bakery, they noticed three ambulances going past.

Why are there that many?

Is this normal for Strathalbyn?

But I didn’t know. I had noticed the sirens, though.

They stayed for a long time but didn’t choose any books. The mother was enthusiastic for Liane Moriarty. She went through the plot of two of her novels for me. Not the third one, because that one didn’t hold her. At the third chapter of that book, she just put it down. No thanks! No more for me! I’m a busy person and can’t just use my time on a book like that.

Her daughter was holding the door open, wanting to leave. But mum kept talking, even though the cold swept in and wrapped us all in fresh wool.

Mum, we’re going. It’s time.

Her mother gave me a dark look, indicating what she had to put up with. At the door, she turned the wrong way, and her daughter took her arm firmly and turned her back toward the car.

The mother was saying she thought they needed some eggs.

But there was no time.

 

Linda and Monique

Charlie Devoli 2

Linda and Monique are mother and child. Today they are here at the shop, it is so cold, it is grey and dark but inside is warm and the coloured lights are at their best. Linda sits and reads, she is a still pool, just sitting and reading.

Monique, though, moves from shelf to shelf, from book to book, she examines pages and covers and the last page of everything. She is wearing thongs, not feeling the cold, she circles the table with the blue lights around the lantern and she gently touches this string of sapphire light. Then she puts the Redwall volumes back in order. Now she has The Clockwork Prince and she reads standing up. Linda reads on.

Other customers move quietly around them, the mother, a still pool, but busy, I don’t know what she is reading. The daughter darting again from treasure to treasure, examining the top shelves, the bottom stacks, the fallen books, the crooked books and ones that have ended up under the table. She reads the picture books, carefully and thoughtfully. Linda reads on, a still pool.

Monique reads standing on one foot, her head bent slightly to one side, a smaller pool, but already becoming a bigger one. Now she sits cross legged amongst science fiction and is she looking at Ursula Le Guin.

Linda reads on, a still pool.

Photography by Charlie Devoli

I have a Mother

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I have a mother who shielded me from the blows of her own childhood. She must have had to kneel most of her adult life, arms outspread and shoulders fatigued, in order to stave off the poverty and sadness of her past so that none of it reached us. Nonetheless, some got through. This is because her past is part of her; some things must get through, the things she needed, like air.

Just enough for me, when I was young, to seize it with relief and lay the blame.

I have a mother who took the blame quietly.

I have a mother who still surrounds the kitchen and criticises my lack of scones. Whose years are numbered but can still allow hours of minutes on mending one torn seam or a labelling the jam or listening without judgement to an announcement of divorce.

I have a mother who gave me the stubborns.

I have a mother, the loss of whom will break granite, easily.

I always positioned myself in the alert; cautiously, to break tradition, and ensure superiority (I will do a better job etc).

No need. This is what she wanted anyway. And after all the hard work, I didn’t do a better job.

Now I must watch my own daughters circle intelligently, alert and compassionate,  impressed by Nanna, but rarely of me. They intend to do a better job than me.

I have a mother who worked tremendously hard and rarely had time to tell me that I was valuable. So then, later I could say triumphantly that I was not valuable.

She told us stories of the past, sorting the lovely from the ugly, shielding us from bad memory as beneath a poor and sagging umbrella.

She carried the milk home from the dairy in a billy can, once she spilt the milk all over the road.

Her father, Ben, was a fabulous gardener.

They were very poor. One day, her mother went to the dentist and had every tooth pulled out. Then she came home and made dinner.

She can remember the first time she tried chewing gum. She always loved reading. I have always carried a memory of early summer, the morning and a pile of red books. There was also an almond tree and warm sand, these things all go together.

She had a baby sister that died.

She was afraid of her father.

She remembers in detail when I was born.

Artwork by Keith Negley