The walkers on the road through Strathalbyn

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The walkers, they walk past my shop. The door is closed, it’s dark inside, but I am here, working away, listening. Nobody can come in; the door is locked. But out there, on the little path, people pass by, still breathing.

‘And that was fine.’

The friend, nodding, ‘Yes. Yes.’

‘And then, after all of that…’

‘Yeah, I know. But she still didn’t say anything…’

‘Get in, I’ll hand you your stuff.’ There is a man balancing paper bags of hot food next to the car.  She climbs into the car, sits in the front seat. Her hand reaches out, waiting for the paper bag of hot pies, waiting for too long. She’s looking at her phone, waving her hand about, waiting.  He takes too long, he is looking at a motorbike across the road. She looks up, and says, ‘My God!’

The silent prams buzz past. Swift glance in, keep going. Things to do.

One man calling back to another man. ‘I wonder if they still sell kitchener buns, and you know…mint slice.’

‘You’re not allowed to have mint slice.’

‘No, it’s alright now.’

Somebody talking loudly into their phone. ‘And even if they took your temperature….’

‘Na, he hasn’t got anything, na, no, he’s a moron anyway,’

‘Are they open?’ Faces at the window, looking in, frowning.

‘Hang on to me Dee, this perishing corner.’ People trying to cross the road. Carrying strong handbags.

‘You’re getting too close, do you need to do that? Don’t get quite so close. What are you looking at.’ A father to his young son.

‘I can’t read it. It’s too far away.’

‘Oh, Oh, yes I understand.’

A man breathing heavily. Placing paper bags in the back of his ute. Breathless, lighting a cigarette, leaning there, looking out over the apologetic world.  Looking over the road at the closed art gallery and the closed information centre.  Looks down at the road. Climbs into his car. Remembers his lunch and climbs back out again.

‘She’s closed! Yep! Fucking knew it!’ Young people, caring fiercely.

A customer, an old man, passing slowly, looks in straight at me. Nods. Yes.

At the supermarket, I had to wait outside

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I arrived early and stood in the beautiful morning. The man on the door, a shepherd of sorts, waved and gestured us through, slowly, slowly, just a few at a time. You know, because of everything. He apologised as if it was all his fault. As this is a small town, he knew many people. He said, Sorry Sharon, there’s no toilet paper’. She said, ‘Don’t need any, just getting some milk and shit.’

He said, ‘Yeah.’ Plenty of that, mate’.

We stood about and looked at each other. Everyone stood apart.   There was no queue. The man waved an old lady through. The sun shone down.

I stood there in the beautiful morning. The door opened and closed. The security guard was looking at his phone.

A man came up and tried to go in. The man on the door said, ‘Get back mate.’

The man said, ‘Jesus just need some bread and that’.

‘You can’t go in.’

The man said that all this is bullshit.

The security guard said, ‘God Barry, it’s no smoking.’

The man said, ‘Jesus, I’ll just finish me smoke around here then.’

The doors opened and closed. The man at the door, said, ‘Ok, ok, in you go.’ He looked at his phone.

I went in and looked for walnuts. That was all I wanted.

 

Salmon, roadworks, road workers

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Yesterday, I drove through Littlehampton. Roadworks. Everyone was driving slowly. There was a road worker leaning on a car. He was covered in dust. He looked exhausted. My car was just idling there, waiting for the signal to keep going, and I looked at the worker. The sunlight, the dust, the heat and everything still. He was leaning on the car, a helmet on the ground, hands in his pockets, one foot on the helmet, and his head to one side, even and still, and thinking.

Near him, a sign that says, “Atlantic salmon $26.50 kg”. An old lady was leaning forward, trying to read it. Another lady was nearby, searching her handbag for something. The lady called something to her friend and pointed at the sign. But the friend wouldn’t look at the sign.

Then a girl with a sign waved all the cars on. She was young, standing back, and looking for each driver to wave us on. She stooped down, trying to see into each car from across the road, shading her eyes from the sun. Finds the driver, smiles. Waves us forward, concerned for us. Every single car, every single driver.

This morning, the magpies

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This morning there are two magpies. They cast their sounds out and up, haul them back and throw them again. Then they stop, and other birds take over. Then they all stop; someone is hammering in a shed nearby. The hammering stops. The birds begin again at once, lashing the morning with too much news. My cat is on the step and I am packing books to take to the shop. My cat is crouched down with eyes like hairpins, hating the bird noise.

The magpies drop a couple of final calls, stripes of sound that float and rise, split quietly and bow, ironic, over the rest of the screamers, who sit with beaks open and feathers dazed.

The birds are quiet. My cat sits up, and I go to work.

The young girl who wanted a book for her friend

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This young girl wanted a book for her friend. The friend is an exchange student and unable to go home right now. So a group of students are buying her books, for consolation. The exchange student, who can’t go home, reads and reads.

The young girl had a list of books, written in pencil and folded neatly. She showed me the list. It is mostly the classics.  I read, “William Wordsworth”.

I said, ‘William Wordsworth!’

And she said, ‘Oh yes!’

The man who always says,‘How you going?’

 

George Dyachenko (2)

I saw him this morning when I was setting up the shop for the day. He is someone I know by his voice. And his dog. There used to be a group of dog lovers here. They met at the bakery and talked all morning. He would laugh. His laugh bounced out out over the road like some mad buoyant pack of tennis balls, and all the dogs would swing their heads around sharply to look at him, and then turn back to watch the traffic with their eyes half closed again.

I heard him over the road this morning, still with his beautiful dog. He said, ‘How you going?’, to the people sitting on the grass, waiting for buses. His voice is the same. He still says the same things, simple and strong, and happy like chutney that is home made. I heard people answer him, nodding, saying things back to him, and he laughed the same way, leaning back and lobbing it straight upwards into the pine trees and making the cockatoos rustle and look down with jealous eyes.

The people on the grass are all grinning, looking up at him. One man says, ‘Yeah mate, I reckon that too.’

Then the bus comes and I can’t see them anymore, and I have to go inside where all the books and stories about people are, and record another story about another person.

Artwork by George Dyachenko

The excellent argument

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While I am at the window, watching the foot traffic, putting the science fiction back into order, I am thinking that I might go to the bakery. But I can’t. There’s a group of ladies at the door. They don’t come in. They are reading my sign aloud, please come in, and looking through the glass.

They don’t come in. There are about seven ladies. They move up and peer through the larger window; I am right there, but they don’t see me. The sunlight on the glass makes them screw up their eyes and look cross. They are cross. One lady says the books are second hand, another lady, Joan, says they are new. She makes a shrugging movement with her handbag.

‘At any rate, we’re not going in. It’ll be expensive.’

‘Well. Well, I might. I just might have a look. It says, “used books”’.

‘They’re not used, they’re new. We don’t have time. Get the timetable.’

Another lady produces a pamphlet folded in an efficient way. They all lean in, but only one lady reads it.

They all look at each other. Then the lady who had argued with Joan sails for the door, and there I am, opening the door, please come in, indeed, we look at each other triumphantly.

One lady comes up behind the troublemaker and says, we’re going on, Gwen.

Gwen nods.

Outside, the group hesitates, wavers, moves to one side, watches a child on a small bike ride past. They move on slowly. They have rallied, they look good. They have a list of things to do, a timetable, and time.

 

Black Beauty, Monty Roberts, and champagne

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Yesterday afternoon, a man came in with a bottle of champagne. He had seen a copy of Black Beauty in the window. He left the bottle on the counter and examined every book on the window table before returning with Black Beauty. He said he was also hoping for books by Monty Roberts, and that if I wanted to know about horses, I had to read Monty Roberts.

There was another customer here, looking through The Counties of The United States of America, and saying out loud, ‘This really is the nuts and bolts of the USA. It’s so complicated. Look at it. Look at this map.’

The other man said, ‘Have you read Shy Boy?’

‘This is the only book that actually shows how the counties have further subdivisions.’

The other man said we should all read Shy Boy: The Horse That Came in from the Wild, by Monty Roberts. He stood thinking, tapping the top of the bottle, and said that a couple of years ago, he –

Two people passed the door, walking fast. One said, ‘Well, we don’t have to worry about getting married.’

The man with the bottle of champagne turned abruptly and watched them walk by.

The other man said, ‘Look at this statistical table, it’s really up to date.’

 

 

 

Inside, Outside

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There are two ladies here discussing Things. First they talked about their children and then about Woolworths. Then, a water meter (broken). They have not looked at any books yet. Maybe they won’t. It often happens this way when people meet unexpectedly in a shop.

Today, my quiet door is hard at work. Earlier, a young man had thanked me for alphabetical order. He had held both hands out and said, ‘Thank you for alphabetical order…you’ve no idea what a difference it makes!’ His friend said, ‘Let’s go’, and edged the decision toward the door where the talking ladies moved aside without seeing him. But the young man was not ready to go. He was at Poetry. He suddenly said, ‘Get me out of here, I can’t go on’, and his friend said, ‘Thank God’, and they went outside to check phones, holding the door open, and we heard one of them say, ‘Sue isn’t a real vegan anyway.’ We could also hear a man in a suit standing next to his parked car with a coffee, and saying into his phone, ‘Do you want to drop those ladders off? Just go to my house then. Just bloody do it. Yeah….. yeah, ok…..yeah, I know….God. Why?’

The door closed

It opened. It was Don, hoping for his book on the Australian cameleers, but it was not in yet. As he left, he shouted back through the slowly closing door, ‘Off to Moonta with the Mrs, can’t wait. There’s history up there.’

The door shut. It opened.

‘Hello, hello, can we browse? Just been in the bakery. John’s still finishing his bun.’ Then she shouted back to someone else, ‘Get John.’

Outside, the man in the suit was saying, ‘And at the end of the day shit happens. I know that for a fact. Have you heard from your lawyer?’

The door shut.

The talking ladies moved comfortably into the doorway again.

A man asked for Lee Child. A lady asked for Sue Grafton. A couple asked for The Diary of Anne Frank (the uncut version). They told me that when they went to Amsterdam etc.

The man outside finished his call and began another.

People came along the footpath from both directions. There was a wild commotion of dogs. Everyone stopped and apologised, and said that their dog doesn’t usually do that etc.

The man outside is repeating into his phone that at the end of the day, shit happens, and he has always known this.

A child in the front room is standing motionless with a copy of The Hobbit on her head and staring through the window. She says to her mother, ‘Can we get this?’ and her mother nods without looking up.

The ladies in the doorway are leaving. I can hear them going up the footpath, ‘Well, I just tried it with beetroot, and the results were fair at least…’

Why take so long!!!

Zeus and Hera - Athena Fountain by Carl Kundmann, Josef Tautenhayn and Hugo Haerdtl,

Outside the door of my shop, there is shouting. Tradespeople gathering for morning tea, taking all the parking spaces. They wear orange and blue; safety vests, gloves, and there is a helmet on the ground. Next to that, a phone, and a coffee allowing steam into autumn. They lean over utes, sit on the pavement, back against my window, a bookshop. They don’t look in. They are smoking, checking phones, holding paper bags, staring at the ground. Eating.

One worker is outraged. In the bakery there were some old ladies who had Seriously Held Up The Queue. One had argued about, well, nothing, and the other couldn’t see the pies. They had taken a  long time. Mate!

I imagined the tradespeople in the bakery, shuffling in massive boots, watching the savoury slices sliding into other people’s fucking paper bags. Unable to shunt the queue forward because Alice and Gwen were too small for a proper confrontation.

I heard the complaints.

‘Oh my God!’

‘Why take so long? Bring your glasses. Jesus. It was like, 25 mins. WTF! People have to eat.’ The tradesperson speaking, a woman, is glum.

The others, all men, listen politely and nod properly; It Is Not Right.

One man is leaning on a ladder. He has placed all his stuff on a plank that is resting across the ladder in the back of one of the utes. She bangs the plank for emphasis. He holds the plank steady, watching his coffee. He says, ‘Yeah.’

She says, ‘But the lamingtons are good.’

Another person says, ‘Could of eaten three!’

Someone asks, ‘Were you scared of ’em?’

‘Who?’

“Those old ducks?’

She says, ‘Yeah!’

And they all laugh, leaning back, relaxed, looking through my open door and not seeing it, a bookshop.

“Better go.”

But none of them move.

‘Better go’.

‘You go Leo, you dickhead.’

When I next look up, they have all gone. There is just a coffee cup left there, gentle and full.

 

 

Image: Zeus and Hera – Pallas Athena Fountain, erected by Carl Kundmann, Josef Tautenhayn and Hugo Haerdtl