The Umbrella

There is a young girl sitting cross legged in the corner with an umbrella rising up and over one shoulder, the curved handle announcing exactly her small neck.

There is her mother with a rucksack over one shoulder, standing nearby and looking at book after book in Health.

There is silence in here, but outside raining like mad loudly and cars swishing past then stillness and people running across the road trying to be fast because of the rain but they all do the rain dance. This is a highstep dodging the traffic jump sideways kinds of dance where you end up next to a caravan that’s not yours and rain everywhere anyway.

There’s mud all over the footpath;  every time the door opens I can see it. And wet paper bags and a coffee cup blown across from the bakery.

It’s getting darker and darker even though it’s the middle of the day. A couple look in and she says, ‘Want to have a look, Neil?’, and he says, ‘God no, can get them for half the price online.’ He keeps on peering in, looks right at me. She looks at him. They move away.

The mother and daughter are both kneeling next to the shelves. The umbrella has been laid aside. I can still see its curved handle, a perfect expression, holding its ground and not available online.

A car has to brake suddenly right out there next to my shop. The sound of brakes makes me look up. All the occupants have been jerked forward. I can see mouths moving, heads turning all about.

Mother and Daughter are shoulder to shoulder looking out of the window, and the umbrella is still on the floor in the corner, looking warm and useful.

When I look up a little later, the girl is in the chair. Her mother is kneeling next to the umbrella. It looks after her knee. The rain is coming down. The windows are cold dotted with it.

A couple cross the road come towards me. They break into a sprint for three steps, then calm it into a fast walk, avoiding the water in the air but ending up soaked anyway. They don’t come in. They go to the bakery.

The mother and daughter come to the counter. They look happy. The umbrella is hooked over the girl’s arm.

pulled the knife out, and he was still bleeding

Sometimes the street outside the shop is quiet. There is no movement, no noise, and nobody passes the shop. Sometimes I go outside and look up and down the road. Then I go back in and get on with things.

Today, it was chaos out there. People crowded past in groups with maps, bags, and phones. The traffic on the road equalled this, stopping, starting, parking, arguing, sounding horns, calling from car windows. And today, the groups on the footpath were so packed together that I heard them and saw them. Every now and again I looked straight into a face that was looking straight back at me.

Somebody yelled, ‘Got to call in here on our way back.’ I didn’t see them. They moved too fast. I hoped they’d come back.

I saw the next couple because they paused at the door. He peered in with screwed up eyes.

‘What is it?’

‘Dunno. Medical place I think.’ He looked right at me and abruptly pulled away.

I’m not a medial place.

The next burst of information came a little later.

‘…pulled the knife out and he was still bleeding…’

‘Silly.’

The first speaker turned and looked right at me looking right at him. I thought, ‘Shit!’

Then,

‘You want something to eat, mother? All right, but I’m not fussy about going back to that cafe though.’

‘That wasn’t here, Ed. That was another town.’

He (who wasn’t fussy) humped his shoulders and looked in at me. I looked out at him, sympathetic. I know about getting the right doughnut.

Painting by Charles Hardaker

Nice little bookshop

That’s me. I heard it spoken as people walked past the bookshop this morning. They walk so quickly I don’t get to see them. I just see what they think.

He said, ‘Nice little bookshop. Amazing that it’s still going.’

And somebody answered, ‘True!’

I think, well, maybe not so amazing.

Back to Mark Twain. Somebody wants his autobiography – the University of California Press edition in three volumes. As if I could find that and then let it go to someone else!

A group of four sweep past the window. They are all talking hard.

A lady says, ‘Is that sexist?’

He answers, ‘I think so.’

Seven teenagers in a row, loud and clattery. Bent underneath school bags. They are all talking too loud for me to hear it, but I do hear:

‘Uluru. It’s Uluru.’

Then they are gone.

Back to Georgette Heyer and Harry Potter. Back to The Hitchhiker’s Guide. Back to Marcel Proust, Alice Munro, and Irene Nemirovsk.

The door opens and a man leans in and looks at me, retreats abruptly, closes the door. Ok.

Back to Patricia Cornwell. Back to The Odyssey.

A lady I know comes in. ‘How are you, my dear?’ I’m not coming in. I just want to know how you are.’

A man tells me all about The Barossa Valley.

Another man wants to know all about Clayton.

Back to A Gentleman in Moscow, which I have stolen from my own shelves.

Painting by Carol Marine

Four people

This morning four people jumped out of a car parked directly in front of my shop. One had gloves attached to his belt and they twirled about his waist. They were all hungry. They fairly leapt from their car, bouncing and leaping toward the bakery.

Then they came back to eat on the pavement. They looked briefly into my window. One man said, ‘I’ve bloody read that one. God, it was good.’

Another man answered, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever read a book in my life.’

The other man, still eating, looked at him and said, ‘Try it.’

Painting by James Crandall

Hairy Maclary breaks into the new year

Yesterday I put out all the Hairy Maclary books on the front windowsill. This display faces everyone who is walking fast toward the bakery. (Anyone walking away from the bakery faces the political biographies, dull by comparison).  

Hairy Maclary catches people’s eyes. Hairy Maclary needs to be said out loud, or sung, or shouted.

‘Hairy Maclary….number six…see that?’

‘Hairy Maclary shoo!’

‘Hairy Maclary hat tricks!’

Some people are talking loudly about something else, and Hairy Maclary overrides their conservation.

‘She obviously had two accounts. It’s all very suspicious, and I don’t think Tic Tok can keep that. Hairy Maclary sit. Hah! Hah! See that?’

‘You’re learning about it…and we’re learning about it. We’re on the same ride together… aren’t we, buddy… Hairy Maclary’s Showbusiness…’

Inside the shop, children pull them down, read them and replace them gently. One child said ‘Scarface Door, Scarface Door’ as he walked around the shop.

A grandmother bought three of them. ‘Lovely’, she said.

A teenage boy stood outside the window wearing headphones and eating a pasty. He stared at all the Hairy Maclary books, nodding his head, eating, and nodding and nodding.

Inside, a lady asks me if I sell books for kiddies.

On the footpath a family walks past, and Hairy Maclary downloads himself right into their conversation.

‘Do you want to go to that rabbit place? Or do you want vegemite and toast? Quickly please. Hairy Maclary’s rumpus at the vet… we do need to get to the vet as well. Might go there first. Quickly now.’

Hairy Maclary books and illustrations by Lynley Dodd

Alan

Alan always talks to me side on. He stares through the door while telling me the story. Sometimes he breaks off before finishing and leaves to talk to someone he just saw over the road. But he always comes back to tell me the rest. They are excellent stories, and all of them true. He adds sound effects, especially when he is cross. He can do an excellent imitations of ducks. Some days he doesn’t come in but will always knock on the window as he passes. He doesn’t want any books from here. He has other things to read, and a family that is always giving him ‘a hard time of it.’ They don’t listen to him! They don’t respect him! But they’ll learn! He wonders about the government. This morning he said of someone that they didn’t know bullshit from vegemite. Then he said sorry, didn’t mean to swear.

The man going past the window

Last Friday it was hot outside. Everyone was slowing down, and children were walking with their eyes screwed up.. The glass along the front of the shop was hot. The purple tinsel waiting to be put up was warm, and when I went home, the ducks sat on the side of the road with their beaks down and eyes shut.

People still came in to look for books. The man who came past the window was moving fast. This is why everyone inside looked up. He was striding along, talking on the phone without looking left or right, and he had his phone on speaker.

 ‘He said that what he really respects about me is that…..’

The other person said something.

Then the man that we could still see stopped dead, and leaned back and laughed hugely, and banged one knee with his hand and said,

 ‘Oh mate, thank YOU.’ Then he walked on, was gone.  

Painting by Elizabeth Jose

Walk properly you idiots

There is a row of people waiting to cross the road. They are lined up precisely, like a fence. Across the road there is another row of people, also waiting to cross.

Everyone’s heads are turned in the same direction, assessing the gaps. But the wait goes on and on, people begin to talk, especially those who know each other.

One lady says, ‘This road…’ but I cannot hear the rest. A man nods, his face turned to the traffic.

Across the road, people come off the kerb, move out, then go back in again. They shrug and laugh, showing nonchalance and humour.

On this side, three tradesmen have joined the row, carrying food and cokes. They brace their shoulders and wade out, their orange vests illuminating a path. The traffic slows. Everyone surges.

A group of three friends make to follow, hesitate, move back, move forward. Splutter, laughing.

One girl says, ‘For God’s sake, walk properly you idiots, and they hold on to each other and move with determination. But there is a long quiet gap now, they walk across easily, and behind the group, a little old lady moves quickly, darts between them, and makes the kerb first.

Image by Julia Whitehead

It’s raining. There’s a man pacing up and down….

It’s raining. There’s a man pacing up and down outside my shop. His phone is on speaker. I can hear the phone speaking back to him, a thin stream of information, like a pilot giving air directions, and none of it making sense to anyone else.

‘The things they get away with down there is ridiculous.’

The phone answers what sounds like a long list of facts.

‘You can times that by five, mate. The problem is… the problem is… what they don’t realize is…’

The phone speaks back. Agreeing.

The man is pacing, agitated, up and down. It is still raining.

‘I contracted it all out though. It’s such a hassle. Turns out that – ‘

The phone interrupts.

‘Yes, yes, yes, yes…is it though?’

The phone delivers a short lecture, this time without interruption.  

‘All right buddy, better let you go.’ The conversation ends. The man, wearing an orange safety vest, muddy boots, and a beanie, picks up his coffee from my windowsill and strides away.

It’s quiet again. It’s dark and raining, not right for September. There are long heavy trucks outside, slow and creaking and hissing. But now they have all stopped. This is unusual, and I look out. There’s an orange indicator going somewhere out of my sight, the rain and the hot orange light flicker and flacker all over the front of the shop. K and S Freighters are stuck out there, massive and shining, then a huge carrier with cows looking out at the rain, a soft wall of eyes, then a cement mixer with its wet belly turning slowly, then a bus.

Someone walks past whistling, a bright light idea uninterested in rain.

When the sun comes out, it is warm, its light has gold edges that are told in the puddles, the puddles read it swiftly in gold lines with metal stops. The puddles are flints. People look down, then up and shade their eyes.

Everyone becomes a jogger, simply everyone. They have to cross the road. The sun has dropped abruptly, rain again. I stand at the window and look out.  People run rustily, puffing dramatically, eyes screwed up, legs lifted high to avoid the spray, laughing because there is so much water, and because we need it.  My town, thirty minutes away and always dry, lay on its back this morning drinking heavily, weighed down by liquid, the trees hanging sodden, their roots and toes alive with water and digging for more.

Customers come wheezing in, happy and unbothered, ‘Do you have book two of Tim Severin’s Viking stuff?’

The trucks drag nets of spray behind them. A child in a car parked just outside the door has his arm out of the window catching the drops. He is on his knees. He puts his head out. A drench catches him, and he shakes and shakes, alive with nourishment. Somebody inside the car speaks, and he abruptly withdraws.

Another child, on the footpath, is being a duck. I am startled because his duck sound is so real, so loud and so close.

‘He’s being a duck, Grandpa.’

There’s a whole family out there. They’ve been to the bakery and are noisy with paper bags and loaves of bread and coffee.

‘Show Grandpa how you’re being a duck.’

The child is wearing soft thick clothing, red and dark blue, and tiny stout boots protect his webbed feet, and he quacks and quaeks and hoots.’

 ‘Hey, come here duck’, says Grandpa.

But he does not want to get into the car.

Grandpa, who drops to help the youngster, gets a boot in the side, and the son, the father, takes over, stern. ‘Get in. Now. Get in. Stop it.’

Now the ducky is in, fitted into a duckling seat, the rain runs down the windows and I can see him making duck hands to himself, and there are little arrows of sun smoking down and making a sheen of warm green emeralds on the top of their lolly green car, and then another truck goes speeding past sending us all us a new version of the same water.

You got caught

The sky behind the trees is silver and bright – so bright it hurts your teeth to look at it. The wind is cold. People coming past the shop do it fast, collars up, faces prepared.

A young mum gets caught in a brief chilly shower that lasts the exact time it takes her to cross the road with a pram, a baby, a toddler, two bags of shopping, a drink bottle, and a toy white rabbit that gets dropped on the shining road half way over.

The child wails.

There’s a tradesman outside my door, waiting it out with coffee. He shouts:

‘You got caught in the rain.’

She shouts, ‘I know, it’s terrible.’

The rabbit lies there, its eye a desperate button.

He dashes and scoops.

‘Thank you, thank you so much.’

‘No worries.’

Illustration by Margaret C. Hoopes