The ute is gone

Two ladies are drifting around the shop, dreamily, and apologetic as if they shouldn’t be here. They say, ‘Sorry’, and tiptoe past me. They are pineapple and blue, bright and delicious. They sway here and lean there.

 ‘I remember half of these books from me childhood.’

‘It’s a bit of a shock isn’t it!’

‘Oh I know.’

Outside the door there is a ute parked, and in the back of the ute, a sheep, quite dead, and next to it, a ladder. I know because I stood up to see. I looked at the sheep’s belly, looking for breathing. None.

A passer-by walked past the windows, absorbed and fluent. He looked into the back of the ute as he walked, his head turning as though on a stalk. He stopped abruptly and looked more closely, and then walked on.

‘Oh my lord.’ A lady stopped and gestured with her bag.

‘Oh no.’

Inside, the pineapple and blue ladies are still drifting. They have solid bags. Their hair is similar, small silver tents. They clasp their hands across their fronts.  The floor creaks under their gentle boots.  Slowly, softly, they exclaim at memories.

Outside in the quiet road, the sheep is still dead, itself now a memory. The driver plods wearily past my windows and climbs in.  He has a tray with two coffees.

I am asked for James Michener, Miss Read, The Readers Digest Motoring Guide to Australia and books that are good for reading groups.

A young woman asks her friend, ‘Would you listen to this if I read it out loud?’

Her friend, breathes out, ‘Maybe.’

The blue and pineapple ladies pass by, thank me and tenderly leave.

The young women search urgently for things to read aloud.

The ute has driven away, and the sheep is gone.

Image by Hugh Stewart

When people go past and don’t come in

Literary Roost A Fool's Errand Camille Engel (2)

It’s a rich world out there. The world that passes the windows of my shop. Not rich in money but rich in movement, intentions, and Woolies bags. And conversation; ribbons of it whip backwards:

‘Can’t believe he keeps going, the dickhead.’

‘Just say no.’

‘Another day, ok? Another day. When we get home, we’ll ask mum. Give me that fruit box.’

A lady screamed, ‘No, no, no,’ at an approaching dog. The owners were offended. ‘Nothing wrong with OUR dog,’ they said darkly, looking at her dog, a chocolate coloured beauty, rubbery with joy and not being obedient. ‘Allowed to have an opinion’, they were told.

I watched them trail to the bakery, wishing they’d been quicker on the retort.

But the other day, someone said, ‘Amazing these little places.’

They meant me.

‘Amazing these little places, aren’t they…’

An unseen listener  must have answered something.

‘Amazing these little places, aren’t they. That just keep going. Do they even get customers? Hope they do.’

Oh well, no need to worry – we do, we do, and we do, and even the passers by are valuable, so cheers to you all!

Painting A Literary Roost by Camille Engel

Outside the window

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There is always, always something going on outside the window.

Today is waiting day. People are climbing off the bus and waiting for each other. They wait next to my window because I am next to the bakery. They tap the window and point and cough and wish for summer.

This morning, two old ladies are waiting for their friend who is over in the art gallery.

They look through my window at a biography of Kevin Rudd. One lady speaks, but I can’t hear, she is looking away, across the road.

Her friend answers abruptly.

‘No. No, that is not right.’

She bangs her umbrella tip on the ground three times.

‘He was not right. ‘I will not have that book.’

The other lady sights their friend and gives frantic signals.

The lady with the umbrella is looking through the window, through the reflection and the unusual sunlight, and directly, piercingly, at me.

When they move away, she continues to watch me, all the way past the windows, until completely out of sight.

Thanks a lot, Kevin.

 

Book Painting by Mike Stilkey

Poor Wombat

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The tradesmen outside my shop need the bakery. They glance in at me, continue past (‘wrong place, this isn’t the food’) and one of them says, ‘lawn weather!’

The rain is blowing sideways.

Back at their ute, the tradesmen, who are wearing shorts and t shirts, stand there with their food, serene, not hurrying. They watch an orange traffic cone skid past them on its hip.

‘Council! They can afford it!’

On the ute, the passenger side windows are all the way down, swallowing rain. But the drivers lean over the ute tray, examining things, passing things, balancing pies and coffee. One man pulled at a rope, help up the end of it. They all look at it and shake their heads. He thumps it against the side of the ute. They discuss something fervently, probably the rope. One man, the youngest, wraps one end around his waist and performs a kind of dance. The oldest man there turns his back and comes to stand in my doorway. The other two laugh. The rain continues – surely they are getting cold…

They are.

‘I’m outta here.’

‘I’ve seen Wombat drive one of them.’ They all look across the road. ‘Wombat is a fool. I told him, too.’

‘All right, Murray Bridge, it is.’

And they all climb into the ute, wet seats, wet clothes, the rope packed in again.

I think, well, goodbye… good luck to Wombat.

 

Artwork by Pascal Campion

What people say when they see me sweeping

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Which is most days because there is always a drift of sand along the pavement outside the shop.

Sweeping is safe. It’s harmless. It’s familiar and comforting. Seeing a sweeper hard at it seems to give everyone a feeling of goodwill. They say:

‘You’re doing a good job.’

‘It’s endless, isn’t it!’

Some people, extra witty, and always male, say:

‘Come do my place next.’

Some passers by stand and watch, and offer emotional support:

‘I wouldn’t bother with that, if I were you.’

‘Just blows straight back again. It’s the wind these days does that!’

‘Well done, you.’

Some people take an elaborate detour:

‘Don’t want to interrupt your good work.’

‘We won’t get in your way.’

One man said, ‘Pretty place this. My mum had one like it. Of course that was back in the fifties. May have been this place. You won’t believe the books she read.’

Some people linger, get involved.

‘It’s the weather for it!’

‘I think there’s something wrong with your broom.’

‘My dad used to make brooms.’

‘Some places around here don’t even  sweep.’

This morning I am outside, hard at it, and taking the cobwebs off the windows. It’s raining lightly, not many people about. Then a man approaches from the Woolworths side, and slows down. This usually means there is something significant about to be said.

‘Be careful with the broom or you won’t be able to get home.’

I said, ‘ha ha ha ha ha.’  (Get fucked).

And he walked on, pleased with his quick thinking and razor sharp jocularity.

Who needs his advice! I have a spare one to get home on anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murdered by a gopher

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There are two men outside the front windows of the shop. They have stopped, are leaning over to read the titles of the books.

Now, I have read that… but what on earth was it about?

He swings his bag at the window and the Lee Child book that sits with its chin on the window, facing the rain.

Don’t know what’s wrong with me head, must be the rain.

His friend looks through the window, at Nelson Mandela: Conversations with Myself. He says, look at that one, that’d be good. Yeah, the rain.

Go in?

Yeah, why not.

But they don’t. They turn instead and look toward the bakery; their wives are out and approaching fast. But suddenly all four of them are pressed uncomfortably into my doorway, needing to let a gopher drive through and one of the men says that the footpaths are damn stingy in this town.

His wife has recovered, she asks if they’ve had a look at the nice little bookshop and he says they’ll have a go at some morning tea first, better get it down before the bloody gophers murder them all.

The weather

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This morning is sunny again, there was not so much rain after all. A knot of three good friends stand up against the shop window to discuss the problem of rain. Because it won’t come.

The rain, it’s shy this year.

It is, Mavis, why don’t you get out there, get it organised.

I’ve got a garden show this morning, after that, it can come, blast it. Needs to wait off till two. Then I’ll allow it.

Well, well then, hope it obliges. You’re a card! That’s what I say!

You don’t anything, Hank!

Then they all shrieked with laughter, picked up their bags and stepped carefully onward to the next part of their day: the information centre, Woolworths, an autumn garden show.

 

The Drought

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This morning when I was outside the shop sweeping, a man stopped to commend my work but thought it was a waste of time until at least we get some rain. He had a tray with four coffees and was walking back to his car, parked across the road. There were three people in his car, looking out at the coffees.

But he stayed to chat for a while, talking about the rain that was coming this week, how the ground needed a drink, about his garden back home, his dog, his library and the dust in the air and how he could tell his wife was getting mad because now she was winding the car window down. He turned to go and said, well, you know what they say about the rain, it always buggers up a good drought!

Alone

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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

Things people say when they walk past my bookshop

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What’s in there do you think? Parents say this cheerily to small children and then fall over their mistake.
Keep going, just keep going. Spoken in urgent tones by friends who don’t read to friends who do read.
Look at this Frank, look at this pretty place. Said to husbands who look across the street instead.
Like video shops these places are, won’t be around for long either. Comments by people who won’t be around for long either.
Is this the bakery? Every tourist.
I hope you are taking part in the Tour Down Under display otherwise I won’t bring you doughnuts or coffee or anything. Said by my friend, Zoe, who works at Incredible Minds around the corner when she brought me an iced mocha.
Where’s the bakery? Every tradesman.
I love this place, they had Black Beauty and one of the Ella Diaries, number five. Children say this in various combinations every day, leaning against the glass and looking though and shading their eyes from the glare of so many choices.
Pointless sort of place, everyone reads online now. Older people predicting the future.
Is it open? People who look through but can’t see if I am there because the open sign is in their way.
I used to put in computer systems though. This place should be in a computer system, be easier that way. A man who stood outside for a long time and told his friend that my shop needed a computer system.
I’m not even going to think about going in there. Retired men who want to come in.
You’re not going in there. Wives of retired men who want to go to the bakery.
This place won’t be here long. Kindly passers by who hopefully can’t foresee the future.
I’ve never been in here, we should go in one day. Frequent visitors to Strathalbyn who never come in.
We are allowed to park here mate so get the fuck out the way. Motorcyclists who park outside my shop and take up the whole space so no cars can get in.
This is bullshit. Motorists who wanted that same car park.
Is it ok if I bring my dog in? Everyone who wants to come in and also has a dog.
I wish that I had this many books in my room, I would put them all over the place same as this because I love this. Children who look through the door and stop to open it a little way and put their flower faces against the gap and call through to me.

Photography by Doreen Kilfeather