The people who walked past the shop and who were obviously all in the same family  

I was outside. I was leaning against the fence next to the shop getting some good weak afternoon sun. This family came from the bakery all loaded up, and they passed me slowly all in a row. First son: an adult walking gracefully. More like loping, so that I looked down at his ankles, automatically wondering where the loping came from. It was his ankles. They weren’t tense. This is unusual. It meant he wasn’t in a hurry. It’s been many years since I’ve seen someone walking who is not in a hurry. Most people beat past with every bone tense and fulfilled, eyes stiff, and a list somewhere.

But he didn’t. His ankles were fluid so that his feet turned in slightly with each step, a small dip, as though acknowledging something hilarious and hopeless about the footpath. He had time to notice the footpath. He didn’t even hurry toward his car.

He wore charcoal jeans, shirt and shoes and had textas and pens in his back pocket. He held paper bags and coffee. He was followed by a small child, maybe 6 years old who had the same stride and the same ankles. The child turned with every step to survey everything being offered. There was the fence, some falling sunlight, a wet pudding of leaves rotting in the gutter, and me, looking on. But it was enough. The child’s head swivelled greedily from sight to sight. He walked with his small feet turning in on warm fluid generous and tiny hinges.

Then came Dad, or Pa, or Grandpa. He walked with the same lope. But there was stiffness in the joints. He carried more paper bags and a coffee and a small fruit juice. He wore the same jeans as his son but they were deep ancient green. They were new looking and very clean. I looked at his boots because his boots seemed to demonstrate the strange family ability to walk. This unhurriedness he’d given his son and grandson. I guess it’s passed from generation to generation: the ability to not hurry.

The thing is, it was actually their faces that stood out. They all had the same mouths. They had three generations of identical jaw. Their heads turned from side to side with a smile lurking behind the jaw muscles. Their faces were smooth and the teeth slightly protruding, as though acknowledging something humorous about to happen.

I heard Dad say that he couldn’t manage the car seat buckles for Grandson. Dad climbed slowly into the front seat. Son deposited paper bags onto the driver’s seat and jogged back around to the child. He buckled him in easily, and the child was saying that he had a giraffe in his hands, and he held his small hands up to show the giraffe. His dad said, ‘I can see it. Let’s get buckled in.’

Then he closed the door. They all drove off, and I stayed leaning against the fence to get a bit more sun.

Art by Roger Wilkerson

The ballad of people walking dogs past the shop door

I get plenty of time to observe. Most people with dogs go past the shop slowly. They look at the books in the window and their dogs stamp the doorway with nose prints and understand information left by previous dogs.

 Some dogs know what to do when walking along. They lead and owners follow. These dogs don’t stop at my door. The owner’s arms are stretched out and they walk jerkily, eyes on the ground, going faster than they really want to. These dogs are usually small with snaky sharp faces and blurry moving feet.

Other dogs pump it along the footpath turning back and forth following every noise and barking at other dogs and side leaping away from traffic. They have worn out leads and owners on phones. They piss on the side of my door, and the owners don’t notice.

When crossing the road, some dogs lead strongly and owners follow. Some sit and await owner signals and then stand and walk smoothly, often leaning into their owner’s thighs to feel for the next signal.

Dogs leap and writhe and stand upright on two legs when other dogs pass. Some dogs stand with eyes closed and doze while owners look through my windows. Sometimes a back leg shakes slightly and then goes still again.

Some people carry their dogs. I just see them as puddles of fur moving horizontally with flopping paws and the ears pointing backwards.

Some people don’t have dogs and go everywhere alone.

The small tasks that are done on long weekend Mondays

It’s just traffic driving past really, not fast or slow, just endless, and the sky’s dark and the air is grey and cold. Everyone’s going home. Only truck drivers are stopping for food from the bakery. They walk past checking phones and sometimes they look in see me sitting here: one driver smiled and waved. An older couple spend ages trying to park a caravan outside my door. She stood on the footpath waving directions. Eventually they walked past my door; she had a really heavy shoulder bag and stopped to adjust it. She looked cold and annoyed. They both glanced in at me and then away again.

The carpark across the road is empty. There’s just a lady with smooth pale gold hair. She’s coming across to the bakery. She has an evening bag with a long gold chain. She’s dressed completely in motorcycle leather, including the boots. She looks as though she could go anywhere.

Families with small dogs on endless leads: a father has to untangle terriers and little children who won’t let go of the leads, and he says, ‘All right, let’s just do it slowly. Bridget let go a minute, come on.’

A man walking past fast does an about turn and stares at my door. He stacks two coffees and enters hopefully. ‘I’ve lost someone.’

She’s here, looking at books in the back room. She comes out. ‘I’ll be here for ever.’ He hands her a coffee and says ‘Keep looking. Keep looking.’ They stand side by side with their heads on the exact same angle, hugging hot coffees to hearts.

A mother and two small boys sweep past, but the little boys come back and press noses on the window. Then they move away, but the older boy comes back and stares through at something again. Then he disappears, but returns again, and then again. I cannot work out what he is staring at.

There’s a young man eating a pastie. His shoulders are hunched and he keeps one hand in his pocket. He glances backwards without interest into my shop window and away again. A young woman meets him and he says to her, ‘What’d you get me?’

She says, ‘Nothing.’ And he throws his head back and laughs and says, ‘Mate!’ Then he throws his arm across her shoulders and they walk on, and an old man with a grim face and a green Woolies shopping bag walks up behind them, and then a young woman steering a huge pram with just one hand. Her other hand is steadying what looks like loose apples on top of the pram. None of the apples fall; she is so focused on this one important task.

Illustration by Valentin Rukunenko

What was said this morning

I’ve been away from the shop because I’ve had covid. I drooped at home and read books. Sometimes, I went outside in the rain and looked up and down the road to see what other people were doing. I mostly ate instant noodles. I read a book about Queen Elizabeth I caught in the tower of London and doubting the future. Now I’m back at the shop and watching people pass the door, sometimes coming in but mostly not.

Visitors approved my covid reading choice. There’s something about Queen Eliz 1 which catches the ear. ‘Oh yes. She was amazing. And that Mary Queen of the Scots. Were they related?’

A man bought all my Asterix books (except the one in French) and said he’d inherited a stack of Tintins from his dad. He told me about a lecturer who did a thesis on Tintin. He went all around the world to investigate the stories and research Herge, or Georges Prosper Remi, who wrote and illustrated the Tintin books. He said, that’s a thesis people would actually want to read. Probably the only one.

A couple passed the window and stood in the doorway to make some adjustments. He said, ‘The trouble with these straps is they don’t work’, and she said, ‘You’ve got something on one of your thongs.’

A child went past, holding a parent’s hand and wearing a beanie with rabbit ears. They turned their head and I saw their eyes bobbing along, looking in at me before disappearing past the window.

A couple told me about the difficulties of teaching: there’s no support. Someone they knew had a pair of scissors thrown at them. They left their school. There was no support. They said the most destructive thing about schools now is the media. Once they get hold of a story, the truth will never be known.

A woman turned in my doorway and called loudly to someone out of sight. ‘Leave it there, we’re getting lunch.’ Then she walked back towards them and disappeared.

It’s cold and dark. People are dressed thickly. I saw a dad walking past my door, rugged up, scarf, beanie, everything, and his son next to him in shorts and t shirt. The child said, ‘I’m getting chips.’

Colin came in for a while and said he was getting into digital photography. We watched a couple cross the road in front of the shop: they began it together, holding hands, but then parted in the middle and went in completely opposite directions. He looked back and she waved him away. They went into separate chilly areas of the park. He sat down on a bench and she went to their car and threw her bag on the front seat before getting in.

A young man stared down at a copy of Moby Dick.  He had a bottle of coke clamped under one arm. His friend came over and they both stared down at the book. Then they went into the back room, talking about whales.

A very small child handed me a book and told me he liked peacocks. When his family left, sweeping him out through the door with them,  he was singing: dad dad dad dad dad. His dad said, ‘Come on mate. Back to the car.’

On the inside facing directly outward so I can see everyone going past and everything that happens

Now it’s even harder to miss people. I’ve had my counter moved so it sits facing the door. I’m facing that outside space where everything  happens. I don’t have to turn my head anymore.

Things happen at lightening speed. Sometimes a person passes so fast that all I catch is an expression. The thing is: I recognize the expression even though it’s tied to their life and their shopping lists. But it’s good to be part of such a rich and filthy diorama: no solutions, no control, all cream and vinegar and colour.

Sometimes all I catch is a body movement: a shrug or a gesture. And I recognize it, and it looks good. We aren’t aware of how precise our muscles are. Or how delicate. A cheek muscle can express at least a couple of years of solid participation.

All sounds are caught in the scoop of my doorway. Sometimes it’s sheep, caught up in their own private woollen hell, squashed into a truck parked outside so the driver can get to the bakery.

Once two tradesmen (there are always tradesmen) argued at the back of their parked ute. They wore the obligatory orange and blue. One man was talking. The other looked at the ground and shook his head. I liked the way he shook his head at the ground rather than at his friend. This is how I knew they were friends. The road outside was quiet that morning. There was just them. They couldn’t see me. A bookshop is the most invisible of shops. The man looking at the ground said, ‘Jesus. Just hand it in then. Tell ‘em to get fucked.’

The other man nodded and nodded and nodded. Relief.

Once a walking floppy child went past hand in hand with mum. They stopped to look at my wooden smiling cat that guards the front window. The child was turning to soft sad tired rubber. Mummy was trying to cajole her home.

‘Look at the cat. And look at this. It looks like you.’ The child’s face, dripping downwards, suddenly solidified and turned warm. ‘Is that me?’

‘Yes, do you think?’

‘It’s me. Can I have him?’

‘No, he lives here.’ And they moved slowly on, a shopping bag and a jumper dragged along because they were necessary too.

An old man limped past; a lady next to him: his wife. He was being scolded by his wife. They were working hard at the walking but were going slowly. Suddenly he lifted both arms into the air, a gesture meaning that he had no words for it. He eyes flicked sideways and saw the gesture. Then they were out of my sight. Do you get to an age when there  are no adequate words for it? Imagine outliving language.

Once three ladies came in, taking ages to get through the door because they were bringing books in for me. One lady was bent over arranging the bags. They were Woolworths green shopping bags full of books. When she lifted her eyes to me to see if I was pleased with their gift, her eyes were there. Looking at me and at nothing else. The ladies bowed to each other and to me and to the shelves. The kindness of it defeated me that day. I didn’t know what to say.

Paul Keating has an amazing intellect

Somebody said this at my window, tapping on the glass to show his friend that Paul Keating has an amazing intellect. But they didn’t come into the shop.

That’s ok, it’s the school holidays and the readers are out leaping into the shop with narrowed eyes like hunters on the path of something. One young woman announced herself to me but turned midsentence, already at the biographies and not finishing the sentence.

But that’s ok, I needed to sit down after battling the autumn leaves in the doorway again. And again. Every morning they come back and wait for me. My broom is coming apart.

When I was out there sweeping, an old lady asked me, ‘Did you get that book I wanted and can’t remember?’ But I hadn’t found it. I couldn’t remember it either, and she patted my arm and said, ‘Not to mind. I’ll leave you to your sweeping up.’

Sarah came in needing a number for a taxi. She said that what was going on in Lismore wasn’t good enough.

Robert came in after a year’s absence and started right off where we’d finished last May. His newest news was that he’d saved a lot of money by giving up smoking. He’d saved thousands. So now he could buy some books. But then he remembered that he’d taken up smoking again, and he showed me a plastic wallet of tobacco which reminded me of my grandfather. I almost said Tally Ho, but I didn’t. Robert said that the tobacco cost him $150 and looked furious about it. But then he noticed behind me on a shelf, The Secret Doctrine by H P Blavatsky, Quest Book, Theosophical Publishing House. He read all this out loud. Then he said, ‘I’ll have that.’

We looked at each other, pleased, and then talked about tobacco some more. Then he rushed out to do other errands, and Jim came in and ordered an esoteric type of book that I’d ordered before – for Robert. I told Jim, and he said, ‘I know, Robert gave me a lift in to Strath and told me to get one.’ So I got one for him. I said, ‘How’s Clayton, and he said, ‘Yeah, well you know how it is.’ Which I didn’t, but I agreed anyway.

The girl who was amongst the biographies came back to the counter with a pile. There was 1 historical, 5 crimes, 2 biographies, 2 children’s flats and 1 art book. She bobbed up and down while she paid, flexing leg muscles and looking powerful. I said, indicating Wolf Hall, ‘This is good’, and she said powerfully, ‘I know, my mum told me about it.’

Anthony came in for science fiction. An ambulance and police car went past, and then a CFS truck. He said, ‘that sounds bad’.

A silent young couple came in and looked at just about everything and left silently. I said, thanks for coming in, but they didn’t reply. A lady asked for a book about a certain type of guitar. Another lady asked for spiritual Christian fiction and then left with nothing and looking unsatisfied. I went to the bakery for a chocolate doughnut and there were none left and I came back with nothing and feeling unsatisfied.  

Then someone tapped on the window and called out to his friend that Paul Keating has an amazing intellect. The friend nodded with folded arms not looking interested. The man remained bent over and slowly examined all the other books in the window. They didn’t come in.

All in all a satisfying day. Except for the autumn leaves. Lol.

Illustration by Konstantin Mashkarin

A group of tourists passed the door this morning

There were about six of them, they’d all been to the bakery, they all had hot food and coffee, and they’d parked outside my shop.

One man read aloud the sign on my door: “Second hand books. Something for everyone. Please Come In.” He read it in a sing song voice. Then he said, ‘Awwww. No way. Do you think anyone ever goes in?’

They all clattered past to their car, parked just past the verandah. Someone had on bright yellow, and one of them was trailing a bag with a long handle on the ground. One of them, an older man, had a newspaper.

There were two patient dogs on leads tied up under my verandah. They belong to a frequent bakery customer. They are very good dogs. One of the group, a lady, stopped to pat them.

She said, ‘Must belong to the bookshop. Not very nice having them tied up here all day.’

Then she looked through my window and saw Callie, who was working away at Young Readers, tidying up, and putting everything back into alphabetical order. The lady said, loudly, ‘Well there’s someone in here, the owner, I’d say.’

The don’t know we can hear them. We hear everything in here. The alcove doorway scoops up the sounds and delivers them to us in a teacup.

Callie keeps on shelving.

I smile and keep on reading.

The man who had a pair of pliers in his back pocket

Two old blokes  crossing the road in front of my shop door. Waiting at the kerb first because the traffic is busy. They wore famer’s clothes. What are these? I don’t know, it was the boots that made me think it. They were discussing something of intense interest to both of them. When there was a clear spot in the traffic, they didn’t take it. One was finishing a point and the other was listening and nodding. So he must have been right. He used his hand to bang out the importance of it. I could tell that his hands had done a lot of work.

Then another break in the traffic and it got quiet. The sun shone down. I wondered idly if they might take it. Well, they tried. They bent forward and made sprinting motions. They were still talking though. In the quiet I heard them. One man said (as they made their move), ‘Well, my argument on the cat side of it is – ‘

Suddenly a car with small dogs at each window passed in front of them. Each window had about a one inch gap at the top. Three dogs were screaming furiously through the gaps, one in the front and two from the back.

The men stopped abruptly and watched the car go past. One of them said, ‘Jesus.’

Then they finished the crossing. One of them had a pair of pliers in his back pocket. I still remember that.

Painting by Carl Heinrich Bloch

The excellent and very precise things we do

I saw and heard three things happen while sitting here in the shop and looking out the door. They all made sense.

A man was walking past the door. He pulled off his mask, but the mask was caught around his sunglasses. He shook the mask madly, and the sunglasses landed on the footpath in front of him, got caught on his foot, and flew across the footpath. He yelled out, ‘Get back here.’

Across the road a bright red car towing a very vintage caravan has stopped. A man has raised the bonnet and is looking at the engine. There’s a bucket and a bottle of something next to his feet. He walks around and speaks to the driver. Then he walks to the back of the car and opens the boot. He pulls out two camping chairs and throws them on the road. The driver looks in the rear vision mirror and then looks back at his phone.  The man at the boot throws a pair of shoes on the road. Then he slams the boot down and goes back and sits in the passenger seat.

A very small boy, about 3, stops outside the shop to look directly up at one of my hanging balloons. He says, Is that a horse?’ His dad, who is eating a roll, says, ‘It might be. You reckon?’ The child nods. It is a horse.

Illustration by Pierre Renollet

People going past really fast

I thought this morning that I hadn’t seen Sarah or Robert for ages, and they always used to come in to say hello and tell me what they disagreed with at the moment. Things don’t seem the same without this input.

I can hear the little portable fences around the bakery blowing over in the wind. People always walk faster when it’s windy, whether they are walking against it or agreeing with it.

Two teenage boys passed shoulder to shoulder, talking urgently: “She was just staring at me just staring at me like this.” I saw the other boy’s head turn to look, and then they were gone.

‘Fuck this for a stopover.’ Two tradesmen standing next to a dark blue ute just outside my door and discussing I don’t know what but it’s very loud.

‘…and then he pulled the rotary hoe out.’ Two gentlemen paused in my doorway to undo paper bags of hot food, and then moved on again into the wind, still discussing the rotary hoe.

‘I tried to talk to him, but he won’t talk to me.’ This is four girls from the high school. The speaker and a friend, and two more walking close behind and leaning forward to hear it all. One of them shrieked. Then they were gone.