What wheelie bins do

I like Thursdays because it’s wheelie bin day, and I look at them on the way to the shop, standing in wobbly rows in the hot dust and doing basically nothing. But that’s wrong.

Nothing works so hard as the wheelie bin. When I pass them, all the way to work, they’re in little groups mulling over a whole week’s story. And exhausted really. Some are skewed and crooked with broken feet and sagging bellies and some are split from chin to knee.

Sometimes, in our road, they are not straight. They are shoulders to the road and backs hunched.

I see the green bins and yellow bins leaning into each other, exchanging gaseous news about what their families are going through, mouths slightly ajar, unable to close on the morning’s breakfast.  Some are rattling and chewing in the breeze and dropping careless milk cartons, and with odd things like camping chair legs protruding like a chicken bones through plastic lips.

Through Woodchester, there’s two without lids, the clasps protruding from necks, and one is bandaged heavily around the gut with silver tape. Some wear beards of food and greenery.

Some foam at the mouth. Some have fallen in the wind and are still lying broadside in the gravel when I drive back home. Some have been towed back to their seats. Some get hosed out and have to cough up that last bit of egg carton. Imagine not having them.

Young people when it’s really hot outside

Slide and glide. That’s how they come in, and when I look up, there they are, pale and cool and never complaining. Young people stand humbly, looking up at the shelves, and then glance quickly and apologetically at me as if they shouldn’t be in here. Unfailingly polite.

It’s very hot this morning. But you’d never know it. Young people don’t comment on the weather; they just let it lie around outside and pile up at the door if it wants to.

A boy wanted a love book by an African writer, but I didn’t have it, and we couldn’t even order it, except from France. He looked at me sadly. And a girl swung about with a pile of 7 waiting for her grandmother who only had 2.

And another younger girl sat in the bird books just reading them as if they were novels. She was about 13, and wore a curious beanie, and she bought 3 books, one about The English Plover, because she loves birds.

Then it got hotter, and all the young people left, passing out into the heat without comment, and the bird girl carrying her three books in a pile on her head.

The difference between working in a book shop last year and every other year I’ve been here

There is no difference between last year and every other year I’ve been here. There were small things, like mask wearing and checking in, but people, and my shop, basically remained the same:

  • The quality of customer-peering (through the door) remained the same
  • The record number of books held under one arm while browsing stayed the same (9)
  • The same books fell off shelves and tables in the night and dented their own covers
  • The streams of conversation passing the door were as intense, rich, and deeply textured as in 2014
  • Dogs still urinated just outside my door
  • Children still read on their knees and replaced the books backwards
  • Window books continued to draw clear, crisp and authoritative comments from passers-by.
  • Young people gazed through the front window at a single book on the table with the same unreadable facial expression.
  • Readers still bought bookmarks
  • Everyone still turned to open the door the wrong way
  • Readers still went silent when they find a book they really want and then breath slowly outwards
  • People still come in thinking I’m the bakery

What didn’t stay the same:

  • My landlord died

This was sad because Malcolm liked my shop and used to leave books for me in the storage room. It’s only because of Malcolm and Ann that I’m still here.

I’ve been really lucky for a long time.

Sculpture by Eudald De Juana

Just!! Something I heard word for word through the window

There’s a discussion going at one of my windows, down low, because the men speaking are kneeling on the ground. I like this window.

‘Just couldn’t believe it.’

They are tradesmen, I can see the fluorescent orange, lemon, and blue clothing.

‘He just came at me.’

One of the tradesmen is doing something with his shoelaces. They keep talking.

‘He just wasn’t making sense.’

The street is quiet and still, unusual for Christmas. Even the traffic is nonchalant. They men are still there, kneeling in the sun for what seems like ages. Then I realize they are looking at a phone.

‘So, we were like this, and he just came from nowhere.’

I heard the sound of a shoelace whipping through holes and then breaking.

‘That’s fixed it.’

‘You got it then?’

‘Yeah, mate. Anyway, it was this big. Fuckin huge. Unbelievable.’

He was still kneeling but was now holding both arms out wide. The other man nodded, still looking at his phone.

‘Came this close. Telling ya. Came this close.’

I still don’t know what it was.

On the way to work in a bookshop

Two minutes away from the driveway, and I need to think about what I’ve left behind. I can hear books sliding across the back seat and thumping against the boot, but the one I need won’t be there.

And it’s not. I left it on the edge of the kitchen table next to a small container of peanuts, a fowlers jar preserving ring and a set of keys not mine.

So, Anne won’t get Hubert Wilkins today.

I stop at our general store and complain to Jake about Australia Post and he agrees.

I drive to Callington trying to avoid the galahs that scribble all over the roads in small groups of about 8 million.

Through Callington hoping no train comes through and holds me up for a year so that one carriage can come through at a perfect walking pace.

Through the farms, which are all perfect slabs of golden toast at this time of year.

Woodchester, stone walls and quietness and the row boat on the corner made up into a Christmas display.

Weave around the farm machinery going from paddock to paddock, one with silver tinsel tied to each door handle.

While driving, go through orders in my head not completed yet, orders not yet picked up, and wonder how to keep going with James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Into Strathalbyn and more galahs, white ones in clumps of one hundred, I can see them standing on the road and screaming in each other’s faces.

Then the ducks, quiet and always together and never knowing quite when to get out of the way of the traffic.

I watch huge trucks swerve at the last minute and somehow miss them all, and motorists swerving into the oncoming lane to avoid making ducky pancakes, and oncoming motorists nodding, fair enough, but I can see them all saying fukn ducks because I can read lips when driving this slowly.

Kids on skateboards fast and a lady with a walker slow.

The wooden Christmas trees on the corner. Ruby baubles tied to fences, a lady walking her dog with tinsel twisted through his collar.

At my shop, a caravan parked but has left just enough room for me to get to my tiny park next to the shed. A stack of bakery trays piled against the shed for some reason.

A black face mask on the ground and a small purple drink bottle.

Struggle around to the door and enter within with a good plan for the day. Decide against most of it.

Have another brief go at Ulysses.

Shelving, dusting, clean windows. Someone says, “she’s closed”, and I quickly snap the sign to open, but they are gone. More shelving, orders, book searches, message people for pickups, tidy displays, turn on the Christmas lights.

Have another go at Ulysses. Serve customers. More shelving, more orders.

A man tells me about World War 2.

I find a copy of The Incredible Journey for someone.

A young man wants a classic to read and I show him 20 possibilities, but he leaves without getting any of them. I take Grapes of Wrath, which I’d showed him, and begin reading it myself.

Someone asks me how to get to Woodchester.

Not a very lucrative day, but each day a gem.

No day is ever the same.

It’s beginning to feel Christmassy

It always begins when people come in looking for Christmas presents.

‘I need something for an 8 year old girl who has read everything.’

‘I need something for my brother. But he probably won’t get here anyway.’

‘What do you have for the train lover?’

Customers talk out loud to each other and phone home to consult family about gifts.

‘Does she have this?’

‘Just go and check if he’s got this on his shelf.’

‘Would he have that?’

‘Can you ask Taylor if she’s got any of the Divergent books.’

‘Does he like these? These’ll take him ages to get through.’

‘Can you get me this for Christmas?’

Readers throw in a few titles for themselves or buy books for others and then keep them, and why not!

‘Who is that for?’

‘Jack. Maybe. And this is for me.’

People know we like reading but often won’t buy us a book.

‘Don’t get that for Hilda, she’s got thousands already.’

‘I’m not getting you that. Tony, you’ve got too much shit at home already.’

Books make the best gifts. To choose a book for someone, you have to think closely about them and everything they are. Just this alone makes it special.

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

Some people got out of a car and had a big old argument!

From where I sit, I can hear everything that happens outside the shop. And see everything. All I wanted to know was how these three were related because they clearly were. They were familiar; they knew each other because they finished each other’s sentences and commanded the group while ignoring each other’s commands to achieve the same thing.

She had left something at home.

‘God, where is it then.’

‘Don’t know.’

‘Jesus.’

The other she, and the accompanying he, stood and looked at the culprit, who was on her phone.

‘Might as well go home.’

‘The phone looked up. ‘We don’t even need it. Stop frothing.’

‘God.’ They all turned away from each other.

He got back in the car. The young women looked at each other. One came up to the door and looked in.

‘God. It’s a book shop.’

She returned to culprit, and they both stood looking down at her phone. Culprit was chewing gum fast.

‘Stop looking like that.’

‘We’re going home. Get in the car.’

So they didn’t come into the shop and buy a book. They went home. I watched them through the window in the front room. When they drove off, he was smiling.

Illustration by Jack Vittriano

A couple looking through the door and wondering whether to come in

They almost have their eyes on the glass. I can hear them through the door.

‘Do you reckon this is mask-wearing territory?’

‘What do you say babe, want to go in?’

They adjust their masks and come in. She is serene and quiet and pearlescent and powerful. He is broad and outdoors. He bounces on his feet, cannot contain his energy, calls me ‘mate’, wears his mask crooked, and whistles with admiration at basically everything. He kneels down, stands up, bounces, straightens his shoulders, turns around, alive with purpose.

‘What can I get babe? I could go for this.’

He chooses Nicholas Nickleby. She already has a stack of Charles Dickens chin high. She said, ‘Mmmm.’ He said, ‘Babe, we should get out of here.’ Then to me, ‘Excuse me, what’s your oldest book here.’

He and I searched the books, looking for dates. He said:

‘Cool.’

‘Sick.’

‘Mate. Radical.’

Then he said to her, ‘We should get out of here, babe. I’m going nuts, look at all these.’

She said, ‘Mmmm.’

They come to the counter to pay for their books. I say, ‘Do you want a receipt sent to you phone?’ He does. I ask for his number.

‘Are you cracking onto me?’

I am pleased with his joke because he is young and I am not, but his partner gives a scream of laughter.

‘My God, as if anyone would crack onto you.’ She can’t stop laughing.

He tells me they want books for their library. For their caravan. And for their kids.

They both look at her stomach, just a flicker of a look, but I saw it.

Illustration by Deborah Dewitt

Raining today, and the road is hissing

That’s all I can hear this morning: water on the road and crockery in the bakery.

The rain comes down hard all day.

Someone stopped in my doorway and booked a motel, and a dog refused to go across the road and had to be carried.

A young tradesman dropped his mask in a puddle and put it back on again, and everyone is shrugging back into warm clothing, which last week we had discarded. A lady said, ‘Who brought this weather in?’ and Alan told me to, ‘Enjoy it, mate, because it won’t last’.

I don’t mind. It’s good reading weather, as is all weather. Alan notices water. He’s going home to check the water that’s come to his place, which is somewhere outside of Alice Springs.

Sarah came in, and then backed out because she’d forgotten her mask. She roared through the door as she left that Scott Morrison was at it again.

A couple went past fast, and he was saying, ‘Don’t put the umbrella there, I get all the drips’, and she snapped it shut hard, so he really did get all the drips even though he ducked hard to the side, and then they were gone so I didn’t see any more.

An old couple went across the road, slowly treading through the water, and three cars had to slow down, but nobody tooted.

Still raining. Good reading day.