The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

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This morning, a ute stopped right outside the door. Tradesman climbed out, all noise and energy, boots huge, dressed for the cold in t-shirts and iPhones.  They looked through my windows and saw me looking out – at them. They both nod and look politely away. To the bakery, relief.

A family came in, dad and two young children. The little boy pleading, dropping with hunger, daddy…..can we get something to eat….his sister wearing a summer dress, but also a good winter beanie, relaxed, holding a copy of Charlotte’s Web, fortified.

A young man bought three books for a young niece. He relaxes, relieved, a very difficult gift achieved. He says, ‘Thanks, thanks, God, thanks.’

Outside it rains and rains and rains. Traffic swishes. Car lights. People hurrying.

A family are caught in the doorway,  and they stand shoulder to shoulder waiting for the rain to ease. The toddler, held in his father’s arms, strokes his mother’s shoulder with one hand and his father’s ear with the other; a tight knot of absolute warmth.

There is an argument about lunch in the back room, ‘We can always have lunch early.’

More talk. ‘Have it your way…’

A young man comes in, thinking me the bakery. He swings through the door strongly. He wraps his arms around himself and backs out. He looks down the street toward friends, ‘Guys, what the fuck..?’

It rains.

A man comes in to tell me there is a water leak in the car park. I said, ‘Yes, but SAWater, they know about it… you know.’ He understands immediately, ‘SAWater…!’

My friend, Callie, admired his hat. He turned and said, ‘Yes it’s a great hat, pity about the head in it, har har har.’ We laugh. We like him. We all agree on SAWater.

Sarah came in. Alan came in. Leah came in. The rain came down. Neville chooses his usual selection of unusual, diabolically brilliant books. People climb off the bus across the road. The water leaks across the footpath. I talk with someone about Mark Twain.

John comes in. Rita and Don come in. We agree the weather is slightly foul.

The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

 

Four things notable about today

Jean-Jacques Sempé

These were:

Three teenagers outside my shop on kick scooters, one wobbling, the others adroit, all watching the ground carefully and weaving in and out of passers-by, graceful in winter.

Two people pass, loud, as people usually are in the mornings. There was a flash of checked shirts and jeans, a tap on the edge of the door, that’s all. But their voices, loud, loud, floated back, hanging in the doorway:

‘I saw a wagon type one the other day.’

‘Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…’

‘It’s really good shit.’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’

Lena visits wearing gardening gloves. Safe.

Terry, in a sapphire blue beanie, reads out loud to me from a little joke book he has just bought. He reads about twenty jokes to me, and says, ‘This is great, it’s just the one – thank you so much. Gunna give these to my grandkids.’

His face is a lit lamp.

Illustration by Jean Jacques Sempe

 

Tonight

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When I put my grandson, Max, to bed tonight here, he said, ‘But this smells like Noah.’

Noah is Max’s cousin, the same age, three, and a strong and signification presence, like breakfast, or mummy, or love.

He indicated the quilt. ‘This is Noah. It smells like her.’ Him.

It does. It smells like the washing detergent that Noah’s family use, and it is Noah.

Then we read about dinosaurs. He falls asleep, strongly living, and asleep. His hand is still reaching for the lamp dial, an Ikea lamp with a brass dial that controls the light.

Then I go and look at some books given to me by a friend who is 94 and can no longer hold the books upright to read them. Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong; a set of four volumes dressed in pale green watered silk, announced in gold, housed in a slip case, and volume one with a large grease stain on the sublime watered frontage from when he last read it, propped at breakfast.

My friend, Richard, who can no longer hold the books up, is lying strongly, asleep.

All is life.

Down and down

The Steps of Montmartre, Paris, 1936, Brassai

This reader has been visiting for years. He always came with his wife, but now he comes alone. They both loved to read. They always bought a stack. They would look at me over the top of the stack and say, ‘Oh yes, it’s the first of the..…’, and then forget what they were saying. Distracted.

This time, he came to the shop alone. He carried a shopping bag, empty.

He is short sighted. He bends over the art books, lifts them close to read the titles. He always did this, I remember it.

He came to the counter to talk about Seneca the Younger. He loves the ancient Romans, the ancient Greeks. The Persians. The mathematicians. The astronomers. He breathes out all the names. There is so much to read. He has a copy of The Mikado in his hands, elegant, slim, green. He looks down at it, ‘Yes, yes, this, you know…’, and then he forgets what he was going to say, lost in Titipu.

This is what happens. We step into Titipu. We go down and down; there’s no stopping it. We can end up anywhere.

He has a stack. He places them on the counter, says, ‘I always find some things…’ He also has The Complete Father Brown and Wind in the Willows. He presents the shining coins.

Then he leaves, wrapped against the winter in brown scarf and beanie, corduroy pants and the good strong shopping bag full of Titipu.

 

The Steps of Montmatre, Paris 1936 by Brassai (1899- 1984)

 

The man in a striped jumper who kept trying to open the door and leave

Gilles Sacksick 1942

He couldn’t leave because his wife was talking to me about Fiona McIntosh.

Whenever she paused, he turned to go. But then she remembered something else and turned back again. ‘Fiona McIntosh, I love her.’

They gradually edged toward the door. She turned back, ‘I love Di Morrissey, too’ He turned back, too, leaning against a shelf. Looking at her. Her books, her passion for reading, her face. Her strong Woolworths bag holding apples, eggs and now books as well. Her shoes picked for walking. He was smiling, looking at her. She began to tell me about D’Arcy Niland.

He held the door open, gently holding the door frame, then he closed it again. Looked outside, looked inside.  He nodded. He laughed. He shone. He looked at her.

Painting by Gilles Sacksick, 1942

But then he came back

Joseph Lorusso

‘Thanks man. Thank you kindly. God bless.’
When this young man came into the shop, I asked him, ‘Are you a teacher or a student?’
‘No, actually, I’m a Christian. You gotta read, man.’

I agreed.

‘Occasionally I’ll drop in, for now on, and I’ll get something, ok?’

I said that that would be great, and he turned to leave, but came back to me.
‘This is great, good on you. This’ll do me for the winter, great stuff. And I want to thank you for being open and being here because we still need books.’
He stood there, a tall bonfire. Gesturing. Holding Plato, Jonathan Swift, and The Lives of the Poets. Trying to find sentences. Unable.
Me, trying to find sentences; unable.
Then he was gone, walking past my window, strongly with his head down, swinging the books in front of him where they admired the winter and dismissed the cold.

Painting by Joseph Lorusso

Oh….

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“Nowadays I can usually tell where a bean was grown, as well as its species. These come from South America, from a small, organic farm. But for all my skill, I have never seen a flower from the Theobroma cacao tree, which only blooms for a single day, like something in a fairytale. I have seen photographs, of course. In them, the cacao blossom looks something like a passionflower: five-petaled and waxy, but small, like a tomato plant, and without that green and urgent scent. Cacao blossoms are scentless; keeping their spirit inside a pod roughly the shape of a human heart. Today I can feel that heart beating: a quickening inside the copper pan that will soon release a secret.
Half a degree more of heat, and the chocolate will be ready. A filter of steam rises palely from the glossy surface. Half a degree, and the chocolate will be at its most tender and pliant.”


Joanne Harris, The Strawberry Thief

I might start reading Hemingway. I might start reading him. See what it’s all about.

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Men in orange work overalls, two of them, came into the shop. I had The Beatles playing, and one said, ‘Penny Lane!’

They had bottles of coke, they wore beanies and silver earrings. They consulted smartphones.

‘I might start reading Hemingway. I might start reading him. See what it’s all about.’ His friend nodded, ok.

They handled the classics. Alex Garland’s, The Beach made one of them put down his coke. He read the back of the book, kneeling on the floor.

The other man disappeared into the back room.

He came back to science fiction.

Leans back to see the top shelf, hands crossed across his front, holding the coke by the neck. Leaning now in front of art. Trying to see the bottom shelves.

Now, leaning into fantasy, resting a shoulder. The other man is still on the floor, his boots are tremendous; clutched by mud.

‘Cheers mate. Better go.’ They move quietly, slowly.

‘Do you take card, mate?’ (to me). One is buying Dexter. ‘I’ve seen this series.’

‘Cheers.’ They turn to leave, but one comes back. His friend treads patiently from side to side.

‘I’ll just get this as well. It’s reasonable.’

He says to his friend, ‘It’s reasonable. Need my wallet.’

He dashes out to a car, then back in, ‘Sorry mate (to me), didn’t have enough.’

His friend stands patiently, holding the door with outstretched arm, head resting on the arm, one boot on top of the other, gently.

‘Better get back.’

He pays. They leave quietly. Out into the bright cold.

I couldn’t get into it

Paola Grizi

People who love to read speak more eloquently of it than they realize.

Two ladies, friends, came into the shop, and one said she was not going to buy a book –  she didn’t need one. But her friend bought two. One was a murder mystery. She said, ‘This is something I’ll get into.’

Her friend read the back of it, and said, ‘Woo.’ Then she said she might get one. ‘I have a library book, but I can’t get into it.’

They both spoke of the act of reading as physical and immersive.

The other lady replied, ‘Why’s that? What is it?’

‘Oh, some mystery. I got lost.’

‘What happens?’

‘Don’t know, couldn’t follow it.’

‘Yeah. Hate that. This looks good, though. Once I’m in, that’s it for me.’

‘Like Sue Grafton.’

‘That the ABC lady?

‘Yeah. I’m really into those. And J.D. Robb. Takes me out of here.’

‘Yeah, yeah.’

 

Sculpture by Paola Grizi