The coffee people

Come into the shop with extra muscles and more blood than other people. Come in grinning. Eyes sparking humorous energy. Can get down to the bottom shelves even when balancing hot coffee; the bottom shelves are fun. They get the music I’m playing, sometimes executing a few imperceptible dance steps next to Biographies.

When the sound of motorbikes shaves the air away from the inside of the shop, the coffee people don’t notice. Coffee is a hot fragrant cushion. The young couple nursing steaming hot coffee look at me and nod happily. There’s another family in here too this morning, flushed and fresh from cold grass and junior soccer. They are on their way to get coffee.

One of their children bought a book about chocolate to the counter. His two golden coins were hot clutched. He handed them to me, hot, clutched, melting.

A smaller girl appeared at the counter, just her face. Then a five-dollar note flapped onto the counter in front of me.

Then her book poked up slowly and was laid next to the five dollar note: Lego Star Wars. I gave her back a coin and her eyes widened, then softened.

The coffee people cross and re cross the floor, going from room to room beaming light, carrying Ernest Hemingway and Chaucer. Reaching for Johnathon Swift, The coffee illuminating and warming sudden new interests.

I can hear children quarrelling smally in the back room.

Now the green grass soccer family are leaving, everyone with a carefully chosen book, and mum with a paper bag, a newspaper, her book, and a son burying his head into her stomach as they bundle through the door and into the cold which isn’t cold for them.

The coffee people continue, ‘What about the collected works of Charles Dickens..?’

‘We’ve got most of them.’

She nods and dives at the lower shelves. Something else.

Why are people so quiet when they look at books?

Sometimes customers are so quiet, I forget they are there. They’re in danger of being locked in, something that’s happened in bookstores before. But never here (yet). People can be silent when it’s necessary.

Browsers of books are always moving; it’s just that you can’t see the movements; imperceptible downloads of information and ideas so astonishing, that on the outside the reader appears as though paralysed. They move from shelf to shelf, giving back only delicate breath, and sometimes not even that.

An arm reaches. A finger touches a spine, asking something. The book is grasped and held, examined. Rejected. Or, held while the reader’s head tilts back, giving ceiling to the eyes, which need it because the memory they are interrogating is too large for this small shop.

Sometimes the paperback is placed under one arm and carried softly along.

Readers gaze into long barely lit thoughts which are ignited and hiss briefly before going out again, sparked by pictures on covers, images on spines, the dry smell of paper, the thick loving waist of a paperback no longer new, the cough of an opening sentence that you remember icily from high school.

Small children are the stillest. All the action happens in the small roaring rooms of their minds. Sometimes their eyes go wide and their lips compress. Then back to normal, all in a second. Once a child shook his head sharply as though trying to dislodge something back into the book.

Some readers press hands to hearts while they read. Others go up on toes and down again. Men jangle keys and coins and say, ‘HA!’ to the page. Readers come and tell me what they just found, and others place their books before me apologetically, as though admitting inferiority of choice. There’s no such thing.

 Sometimes readers just gaze at a book, neither touching nor opening the covers. Why? What are they thinking? They might turn their heads just slightly, and that’s all.  

The man who wanted a book written by an old Australian rabbiter who possibly never existed

I remembered him because he stood so close to me when he asked me about this book written by an old famous rabbiter. He’d had the book a long time ago. Lent it out. Never been able to find another copy.

He came around to my side of the counter and peered at my computer screen. Told me that his old grey matter wasn’t working any more. Said that the book may not have existed. He wasn’t sure anymore.

We couldn’t find the book. I said, ‘Never mind,’

He nodded and went into the back room, and I heard him talking to his wife. She was back there with books under one arm. She had a turquoise blue jacket and iron grey smooth hair and bottle green winter weight trousers.  Her face was strong and humorous. I thought this because she when she looked at me she was there.

Some people aren’t there. They look at me with half of themselves. The other half is busy with something else. That’s ok because I’m like that most of the time.

But she was there. She said, ‘We’ve come in before. We always come in to stock up again. It’s part of our trip to drop in.’ And I thanked them for it. Then she looked at me again, and that’s when I saw something else, some extra energy or a decision reached, or a way of going about things that was actually working.

Her husband came back and stood behind my counter again. She said, ‘Rex, come over here.’ He did. He picked up her books and took them over to the door. She said, ‘Bring them back, we haven’t bought ‘em yet. What have you got?’

He looked at me seriously and then asked me about a book he used to have about a flock of sheep. Probably can’t get it any more. I looked it up and he watched closely, but nothing emerged on the internet that was of any use. He said, ‘Well that’s technology for you.’ He said, ‘My old grey matter’s not working anymore.’

He and she looked at each other. She said, ‘Come over here.’ And he did and she squeezed his elbow. She bought the books, and then they left. When they went out of the door he was looking at her and she held his arm and their hands were clasped together.

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.

Liking the new spaces in the shop

There are two rectangular bookshelves in the front of the shop, side by side and shoulder to shoulder, bone to bone. The books are not related. But they still get on because they’ve been shelved so precisely that they must. They take up and face out, exact squares of meaning. Customers say, ‘This looks nice.’

I think they’re referring to order. Order is nice right now. When you open the door to the shop, there’s a big new free space. We moved the counter back out of the way. I prefer to be out of everyone’s way. You can get your pram in now. The space is bordered and held by bookshelves holding all kinds of possibility. That’s what I call it because you can get in the door so easily that the rest of the shop seems possible. My assistant, Callie, came in and saw the new arrangement for the first time. She said, ‘I like.’

The books sit tight and obedient. But their contents don’t. There are all kinds of strange books sitting there looking at the visitors coming in. When visitors come in, they move their heads from side to side, fast and interested. Then they say, ‘This is nice.’ They look carefully and softly at simply everything. Spike Milligan. Andrew Lloyd Webber. Blinky Bill. A Biography of Judy Dench. Longfellow. Asterix and the Soothsayer. European Trains in the 19th Century. We’re Going On A Bear Hunt. Rabindranath Tagore: The Complete Writings.

‘Just get it over and done with…..like…hello?’ I overheard this from two teenagers passing the door and discussing getting things over and done with. The girls walked shoulder and shoulder, heads together, dragging schoolbags.

A man came strongly through the door into my new space and then backed out again. He said, ‘Zen moment. Sorry. Books here. Sorry.’

When visitors come in together, they stand for a little while and whisper to each other. There’s no need to whisper though. It’s not a quiet place. Books are not quiet.

A mother and child browsed a while and left looking happy. The mother had bought The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. She said, ‘I want to cry’. At the door the child said, ‘I’m going to die from holding in my pee’, and the mother screamed with laughter. I thought that was good.

Every time I go past this window I see a book, and I’ve read it

Three ladies together came into the shop, travellers; they told me they’re in their happy place in a bookshop. They gave each other things to look at.

‘This will do you, Nabby.’

On lady said, ‘When I was growing up, I got all my books free.’

Another lady said, ‘I really love the very old Penguin books because you get some fabulous writers….right back to the 1900s.’

The third lady said, ‘Look at this. This book was just waiting here for me.’

They moved around holding things up and talking about them. They were all wearing delicate colours and scarves and reusable soft bags they unfolded from tiny rectangles. They talked about the beach.

‘The beach is finished now girls. Next year.’ They were all looking down at books, and they all laughed into the books.

Painting by Angela Morgan

The ice cream: was it necessary?

Another window scene delivered with clarity and precision. A couple pass the window fast. It’s a warm afternoon. They are speaking in small shouts, which is why I look up. I look up in time to catch a still. Then they’re gone.

They were leaning forward in hurrying positions. She said, ‘Well, did I need to buy that ice cream?’

His head was turned to her. He said, ‘Well.’

She said, as though he’d said a lot more, ‘No. No. No. I just spend that $10.00. Did I?’

He said, (his voice fading) ‘it’s all good.’

So, the ice cream –  it was necessary. And good.

Then, inside the shop, an lady bought a copy of My Goblin Therapist by Morgan Taubert, and said, ‘I shouldn’t come in here.’ I looked at her and her face was a lit lamp. Then she said, ‘I’ll be back on the weekend for the Vera Brittain. I said, ‘Ok’, my face, a lit lamp.

On the street this afternoon when I was leaning against the fence with a coffee

Nothing is so satisfying as seeing what people do in autumn on Saturdays when it’s warm and nearly Easter, and we know that the warm weather is nearly at its finish line. It’s done a good job here. The fence is warm. Over the road two people are lying on the lawn. They have their phones on their chests, not looking at them because they are kind of asleep. It’s quiet most of the time, I’ve hardly had any customers. So I went outside and leaned against the warm fence.

First of all a ute and trailer went passed. Huge rolls of straw like golden Swiss rolls. And then a truck with sheep, so everything smelt like hot sheep. And then a ute with black smoke at the exhaust, so everything smelt precisely like …. that.

I moved down the fence, sticking to the sunshine because I like it today. It doesn’t have its February commitment.

A father and child pass me close. They’re silent. They walk exactly the same way. Their ankles turn in at the same angle. The child walks behind, then side by side, then in front, carrying paper bags of food from the bakery. The father adjusts his pace to avoid collision and to look after the truth.

Another younger couple come the other way. The young dad is wearing a backpack with a rope tied to back. The other end is tied to a go-kart. The go-kart burrs along behind him with a small child in the driver seat. The child is pedalling furiously and breathing hard but only goes at the pace of the parent pony anyway. The mother, turning back to look at them, looks pleased. She turns her head to one side to get all the information in and looks pleased. The father plods along. The child pedals. The child raises one hand in the air. The father, sensitive to the air, looks back and says, ‘Nearly there’.

Across the road a four-wheel drive pulling a trailer is trying to exit the carpark. In the trailer is a neat little dog kennel, tied in with a thousand straps and ropes. It will not fall out. The man, an older man, is talking to another man in the passenger seat. I can see them talking hard. I think they are father and son.

The reason I think they are father and son is because when the car behind them sounds the horn (this is because they are so slow the exit the carpark) they both jerk to look behind them in the same way.

Right in front of me a man has parked a motorbike and left two helmets dangling from the handlebars along with a beautiful pair of lime green gloves. It’s the gloves that make me stare. And the phone left on the seat. Sitting there on the bike seat and shining in the sun Not important enough to take to the bakery. Good.

Across the road a man climbed out of his car and walked across the park to the toilets. He walked with a stiff gait. He looked as though he’d been driving for a long time. He came back via the rubbish bins and threw something away. Then he stood with hands on hips and looked at the bin for a long time.

There’s a huge group of people coming up the road, and I might go back inside the shop. There’s about 12 of them. But when I look down the road again, they have all disappeared. Then a car passes and I see a face at the window smiling and smiling, apparently at me, but I don’t know who it is. I just remember the mouth and the smiling teeth that caught me in their beam.

That’s how people drive past. I just see an intense flash of person. Drivers slumped back. Drivers upright or leaning forward over the steering wheel, urging the engine onward. Masks hanging from the rear vision mirror. A passenger talking and talking at a driver, whose face over the steering wheel is frozen.  I can see the talking mouth of the passenger, like energetic moving rubber describing too many ideas.

There’s a man crossing the road straight toward me. He looks left and right, checking traffic, and continues on straight at me. He looks left and right and then at me. I think, do I know you? But I don’t. He looks determined. I think, why is he aiming right at my piece of fence. He strides on and gets to the kerb. I think, turn left you dick. And he suddenly does, not even seeing me, aiming clumsily for the bakery and stumbling a bit over the kerb and me backed against the fence thinking I’m going to write about you.

Two young men pass with masks, keys, wallets and phones in their hands, jangling all their necessity. A car passes with one person inside: the driver. She stops to give way at the intersection. She is talking away at something and gesturing, as though trying to understand it. Like I am.

Sculpture by Elizabeth Price

The money exchange and the man who only got a coffee for himself

A reader in the shop needs money for her books. She calls her husband from the back room, and he comes slowly because he is carrying his own books. But he offers his wallet. Then he says,

‘You just snatched. You just took a whole hundred.’

‘Well get some more. Go get some more.’

The husband looks at me and says, ‘Oh My God.’ Then he leaves his books on the counter and goes out.

It’s a slow day. Two other people are talking about land development in the front room. One says, ‘Yes, but that’s very sensitive information.’

Browsers are moving slowly. We all have the autumn slows. The money lady is checking her phone against the books she is holding.

A group of three ladies, all wearing black jackets, pass the door, all talking fast and loudly. I hear one sentence:

‘How does she know about it none of us talk about it I mean settle down.’

Then they’re gone.

Then the husband comes back with more money and a coffee. His wife, the one checking her phone, looks at the coffee. He says, ‘Oh My God,’ again, and looks up at the roof, and then gives her his coffee.

Then they pay for all their stuff, all good books, even a copy of Cosmo Cosmolino, and go back out in the sun to the bakery to get another coffee probably. When they walk away, they are both looking down at their books and she is drinking the coffee.

Painting by Im Buchladen