Life is so urgent

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Outside the shop, this morning, there was a clang. Five ladies all bumped into each other, unexpectedly.

‘Well, ha ha ha, how are we all?’ Somebody took charge.

There was also a little dog, Marco. Yvonne and Marco pass every morning. Yvonne once gave me a picture (on a glazed tile) of a bookshop she thought looked like mine. This was when I first opened, and it made me very happy. Yvonne grew up in England and said she was quite a dish when she was young.

Everyone laughed and leaned in. There was discussion about an email.

‘It took me 20 minutes to open it.’

‘Ridiculous!’

‘Ahhhhh. Well. Technology!’ They all agreed on technology.

Through the window I could see bright jumpers, shopping bags, a rose coloured beanie, and Marco, the patient gentleman.

‘The sun, isn’t it good.’

There was more discussion, low voices and leaning in. Laughter.

‘Yes.’

‘Catch you next time.’ Laughter. ‘Isn’t this funny.’ Laughter.

‘Bye.’

‘See you, girls.’ Laughter.

‘Yes, see you next time.’

‘Yes, and I’ll get that email.’ Laughter. They part. They move, and they let each other go.

‘What’d she say? I missed that bit.’ This is Yvonne to her friend, moving slowly on. ‘Didn’t she say something about dogs?’

‘I don’t know, I missed that bit.’

‘Yes.’

And on they go, past my door, past my window. Nobody looks in. I imagine the outside of my shop as if in a dream. I imagine it as beautiful. But nobody looks in. Life is so urgent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

On the beach, yesterday

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It was cold. The stone seat was cold. Everywhere uninterrupted; just cool spaces without argument. There were signs describing the rules; keep your distance…be respectful. The paths ran just above the beach in both directions; walkers trudged by with a kilometre between each of them, everyone leaning into the wind, wearing good coats and sporty shoes. There are seats along the paths. Someone has tied a bunch of flowers to one. An old couple stand near one seat, hanging onto the back of it while they hold plastic cups and open a thermos. My daughter and I take the sand, and we sink into it awkwardly instead of joyfully because it is not summer. The houses are all silent. I name all the trees wrongly. I note the plants that survive here, the seaside varieties with thick ankles and bright sparky flowers, relaxed in the salt wind. There is rain. Then sunlight, metallic, so that we are suddenly hot.

We pass a tiny bay with a danger sign at the top. This makes us look down to find the danger.  Over the other side, two ladies are also gazing down into it. It’s a tiny bay with nice rocks and stones, and waves coughing in and out of its narrow throat, glassy and cold.

There was an old couple near the toilets. She told him to go and move the car, perhaps bring it closer. Because it was cold. He shuffled off slowly, dressed warmly, his hands hanging down, checking now and then in his pockets for the car keys which were in his hand. While we were at the toilets, he drove back, slowly, slowly, the only car in the whole area. We watched them greet each other again, slowly and unperturbed.

The happy couple who jumped about the shop (despite their advanced age)

Anton Pieck 1895-1987

When they came in, they said, ‘Sorry’ and ‘Thank you’, both at once, although there is nothing to be sorry about. I have been open for two days. I don’t put my signs out. It is very quiet. People still want to read.

A man came in and said, ‘Do you do printing?’

Another man came in and said, ‘Sorry, I wanted the bakery’.

An old customer from Milang opened the door and said, ‘GOOD ON YOU, YES!’

People are very kind. They comment that we are lucky here. They ask for books that I mostly don’t have and are kind about it. They choose other books. People come in that I’ve never seen before. They look at my bottle of hand sanitizer and use it with kind faces.

A lady stood and looked out of the window at the empty street for a long time.

Then a couple came in. They looked carelessly happy. I have not seen this for a long time. They said, ‘Ah, sorry…thank you. We’ll just look about.’ They are the only ones here, but the shop seemed full, so much conversation, so much noise, so much crossing paths. He said, ‘Good find, good find.’ She said, ‘I know’. On they went, around and around.

Some people passed the window, very fast. Tradesmen. One said, ‘A book, a book, you want to buy a book?’

‘Don’t think so. What’s a book keeper?’

‘Dunno’. ‘Not a good day to go to the beach, though.’

‘Yeah, I know, and then I look up, and there’s this bus, like, right at my side, and I’m like, move over mate’

‘Yeah.’

They are gone. It’s quiet again. Just leaves blowing, red and gold disks snapping under my door, a nuisance, and very beautiful.

But the couple are still here. Beaming, joyous. They had discussed bird watching in the back room. They asked for a certain book which I did not have. Never mind. Because instead, they had some very fine histories. They lingered, undecided. Maybe they had missed something. They said, ‘we always get something good.’ She gave a jump, ‘look at this.’ He spun around, ‘What?’ She jumped at the shelf. ‘My God, I’ll have it.’

I wondered about them. Whey were they so happy? Had they been here before? Why were they so happy? Where did they live? I wondered where they lived. I imagined a house with many books.They stacked their books and paid, and I stood up. So much happiness, it was at chin level.  I had to stand up.

 

Artwork by Anton Pieck (1895- 1987)

The structure of the day

alexandre-perotto

 

I wrote this just before Christmas in 2015. The shop had started to become something, and I was beginning to fit it. Again, I realise (now) that it was the regulars that made it happen, and that a small town is the best place to be.

“The structure of each day in the bookshop has become quite nice.

Each day forms, bulges out toward the afternoon, trims itself, and tries to return to normal by closing time.

Each day the flow of information is generous.

Each morning seems to be about Henry James.

At closing time, I am anxious to get home and keep going with Henry James. I am slow. Leon told me that I am slow with books, it is true. But I am justified – The Spoils of Poynton is a thicket. I have to go slowly.

Young families wash in on a tide of enthusiasm and spare time because the school holidays have begun, and it is summer. And there is a new Star Wars film. When they leave, the door is covered in fingerprints, and there will be an empty juice bottle amongst the Geronimo Stiltons.

‘Where’s that book The Cross Sections of the Man of War? Is it still here? Last week it was.’

‘Nanna is getting us books and we can pick our own. This one is about the war, but it’s book two, so do you have books one and three? I’m getting it anyway.’

‘Do you have William Gaddis? I’ve been looking for The Recognitions all my life. It’s up there with Gravity’s Rainbow and books like that.’

In my spare minute I have another go at Henry James. Not many people have ever asked for his books.

Karl came in with his book list and told me that his eyes gave way earlier in the year, which was disappointing as he has always been one for the written word. But now he is fine and ready to roll.

John complained that every time he went to the bakery his doctor would go pass the window and see what he was eating and then give him a rocket because of his health – his cholesterol is way too high. ‘Small town bullshit that’s what it is. You can’t even take a piss without somebody telling everyone at Woolworths about it. I’m enjoying that Dick Francis though, the only one of those crime mugs that can actually write.’

I am lucky to receive a consistent commentary on the weather. This is a topic with a satisfying variety of expressions available to share it.

‘How’s this heat? Keeping you busy?’

‘Cool in here.’

‘This heat is ridiculous!’

‘Good weather for reading, that’s what I say.’

‘Foul weather. And here I am out in it.’

‘Damn strange weather!’

‘Damn fine weather!’

‘This weather takes the cake.’

‘Don’t know how Christmas will go with weather like this.’

‘Heat’s bad but nothing like in the sixties.’

A lady told me that Gould’s Book of Fish has her flabbergasted.

All day I am offered suggestions for the best things to read. I free fall amongst the suggestions.”

 

Photography by Alexandre Petrotto

Dad

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I am at the shop, but it is not open. There is lots to do. There are spiders in here. I am cleaning and polishing, waiting for the day.

While I work at the dust, I watch people go past. Little strikes of life, flaming up the windows, then disappearing again.

‘She’s got horses, she’s got bloody dogs, what else is there going to be….’ This was a couple, walking swiftly. Everyone walks swiftly, now, under obligation. He, the listener, was gazing down at her, showing concern, getting a reply ready. She was carrying a bag, leaning forwards, outraged about the dogs and the horses.

‘I’ve always had an interest in war histories.’ This was an old man who was hustled into a waiting car. ‘Get in dad.’

Keeping dad safe.

But dad was looking out at the books in the windows. His eyes the size of eyes, seeing books, unable to get them.

The dog man was over the road, standing at the BBQ, standing at the required distance. His laugh, which I can hear from inside the shop is still the same, up and over and not respecting the required distance. His dog sits patiently.

A couple came past (swiftly) and saw someone they knew. The halted. Their dachshund gave a small shriek as the lead gripped his neck. Then the couple remembered, and continued on (swiftly), mustn’t stop. The dog whirred into another trot, its legs circling like clock hands going too fast. The lady said, ‘Come on. Quickly.’

John cycled slowly past; on the back carrier of his bike was a bunch of carnations, tied securely.

‘Did you eat all your Easter eggs?’ This family passed (swiftly) all arguing. Someone has eaten more than their share of Easter eggs. Unfair.

Two people, maybe a couple, throwing keys. ‘You threw it on the wrong side, wake up fukr’.

A mother and two children, scurrying. ‘We can’t go in, its closed, but it’ll be open again.’

One day. For sure.

Yvonne

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Yvonne was one of my first customers. When she came in, she apologised for using a kindle. She said, ‘You may as well know’.  She loved racy thrillers – Clive Cussler, and she said that when she was young, she was quite a dish.

Every day she walks the block with Marco. She rescued him. She said he’s a gem, but terribly naughty. She always asked after my family. When she was young, she learnt an instrument that nobody had ever heard of.

One day, she brought me in a glazed tile. She’d bought it up the road. It was a picture of my shop (as close as you could get) and she wanted me to have it. I was very flattered. I hung it on the wall. Every day, customers would ask, ‘Where did you get THAT?’

Yvonne said, ‘Gawd. You can get that picture anywhere.’

The day I closed the shop, I saw her walking calmly by, Marco clicking away at her ankles. She passed me when I dashed over the road for groceries. She said, ‘Times are grim,’ but she was squared up, ready for a challenge.

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.

 

I remember Dion

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I remember Dion. He was one of my first customers. This was back when hardly anyone came in. Dion came in, and said, ‘Wow! This is great!’ Then he asked me how I was. I did not know back then that he would ask me this for the next five years. I also didn’t know that he wasn’t ok himself.

The first book he asked for was Twilight. He had seen the film, and thought it was the greatest film ever. He bought the book from me.

Still he visited, weekly, fortnightly, then monthly. I have not seen him for a long time now.

I remember when he gave up smoking. He asked me for a book on sharks. I showed him one and he bought it. Said it was fantastic. His hands were shaking.

Once he said that I would not want what he had. He never went into details about his health, or lack of it. He always asked after mine. No matter what.

Once he came in, full of head pain, and said, ‘Kerry, you’re gunna love this joke.’

Once he came in on a rainy day to say hello, and make sure that the shop was ok. I said that all is going well, and he said: except the weather.

The last time I saw him, he said, ‘Don’t worry about me, Kerry.’

I haven’t seen him since.

 

Artwork by Gürbüz Doğan Ekşioğlu