‘No, not cold, it’s just me, I’m always cold.’ He smiled sideways. This young man, springy and bouncy with glasses that were always about to fall off, was in my shop, looking for any book that is really good.
He swayed from side to side, sighs, smiles. He said he could spend a long time here. He holds a book and stares down at the cover. Doesn’t move. Stares at the title, turns it over and stares at the back. Says, yes.
Then he heard the saxophone.
Customers always take some time to hear the music. The music drops, clean and delicate, down on top of them from a speaker above the Wordsworth classics. Some people stare up at it in amazement. How did that get there? Today, it’s saxophone, and he heard it. Accepted it, as an extended part of the books. A continuing of Pinocchio. An addition to agony, or Primo Levi. An impossible, possible blend of Edward Abbey and Margaret Atwood.
He leaned into the curve of it, eyes closed, moving his ears up and down the shining notes. He said, smooth. He said, Smooth, with a capital S.
He said, ‘I haven’t had lunch yet. I haven’t even had breakfast yet.’
So he left, to get some food. He had red hair.
Sculpture by Adam Binder
This man often comes to the shop. He always pauses, notices whatever music is playing. This afternoon he came in out of the rain quietly, and he noticed the music as usual. He raised one hand, reached towards it, nodded, didn’t say anything.
Then he went to look at books. I don’t remember what he chose, only that he liked the music. He lined his books up, stacked them without looking, said, yes, this is good. I don’t know if he meant his reading or the music or the rain; many people were delighted with the rain. He left, vaguely conducting something, not fast, just in agreement.
Artwork: All That Jazz by M. Sani
“She broke free of the chords and released her fingers into intricacy, tumbling into what she had held back, the jazz detail that split open notes and angles from the chestnut of melody.”
Artwork by Debra Hurd
This morning, when I am unlocking the door of the shop and balancing books and tasks, there are three friends waiting there, leaning, waiting for another friend who is at the bakery. They wear school uniforms but not of the local school. They are all watching their phones. The missing friend arrives while I am setting up, he carries a guitar case. One of the boys says to him: are you playing tonight? And he answers, yes, but not basketball. The other boy leans backwards and angles his phone as though to take a picture of such folly. He says, you are man! You have to play. The boy with the guitar says, I am, but not basketball. Playing this, by myself.
Artwork by Pascal Campion
I haven’t seen Robert for ages; the last time he came into the shop he said that he hasn’t been able to write, that he’d had engine trouble, centrelink trouble, troubles with his pension, troubles with the neighbours and wasn’t able to concentrate (on his life’s work).
He’d also been having some trouble with some troubling chords on his troubled old piano – he’s working his way through a piece of music of his own making. He feels that music is a signal from another place. He said that when a melody cannot be spoken alone safely, the composer will call for more parts, more instruments and that each melody will work to protect another one, that one will act as bodyguard for its mate. And that that is what the mathematics of music is doing, all the time. He said that therefore, a symphony is equal to war. No necessarily fought where we can see it.
He feels as though the government is out to delete him.
Robert has been writing a book for years, it contains himself and his own agony, so regardless of who reads it or not (it is one of those delicately cut gems, sliced with precision and agony, polished every day with the whatever disappointing and colourless cloth that Robert feels is working with at that moment) it is a gift to the world.
He may not finish it.
The last time I saw him, I had a small gift, a dictionary of mythology because I knew it might be useful amongst the Egyptians tombs and sandstorms where he is always reading.
He was joy. He said: wow, thank you very much. Then he left and I haven’t seen him for ages.
I hope he comes back.
One of the Aunts is not feeling well. She consoles herself playing some music to Max who is now six months old and sitting up, sitting on his own bottom and leaning over his feet, making a tripod of triumph. He experiences every note of that ukulele as a direct and liquid strike upon his sensibilities for he trembles and inhales noisily and he wants the strings and the sounds, he wants the small and gleaming hip of that instrument in his mouth, on his tongue. He would swallow the notes. He would breathe in the wood and the shine of that lovely ukulele.
He is being sung a love song and he is in love with the love song. He clutches his Aunt’s moving hands, leans over the instrument, he places dribble directly across its stringed wrist.
It is hard to keep still amongst a love song, between a ukulele and a real singing voice.