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

Salmon, roadworks, road workers

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Yesterday, I drove through Littlehampton. Roadworks. Everyone was driving slowly. There was a road worker leaning on a car. He was covered in dust. He looked exhausted. My car was just idling there, waiting for the signal to keep going, and I looked at the worker. The sunlight, the dust, the heat and everything still. He was leaning on the car, a helmet on the ground, hands in his pockets, one foot on the helmet, and his head to one side, even and still, and thinking.

Near him, a sign that says, “Atlantic salmon $26.50 kg”. An old lady was leaning forward, trying to read it. Another lady was nearby, searching her handbag for something. The lady called something to her friend and pointed at the sign. But the friend wouldn’t look at the sign.

Then a girl with a sign waved all the cars on. She was young, standing back, and looking for each driver to wave us on. She stooped down, trying to see into each car from across the road, shading her eyes from the sun. Finds the driver, smiles. Waves us forward, concerned for us. Every single car, every single driver.

Catch you…

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Certain people have been visiting my shop for a long time. Nothing will stop them now. In my final days I have had to keep the door locked, and we all stare at each other through the glass. This morning, an old lady came by with her daughter. They were both young once. Now they are themselves. The mother loomed up to the door, looking for me. Her daughter said, ‘She’s not there, mum’. Her mother said, ‘She is. She’s right there.’

And I am there. I come to the door, and we all stare. On the mother’s face, joy blooms.

‘I told you. She’s there.’

I call through the glass, ‘Hello”.

They are delighted.

I call, ‘Did you want a book?’

They both nod. But I know they don’t. (Their gift to me).

I say, ‘I’ve no books left, go away.’

They laugh, delighted.

‘That’s not true.’

The daughter pulls her mother back.

‘Come on’.

The mother, who is kind, is also powerful. Wealthy in the new ancient currency. Kindness.

She looms up to the glass, simple, worried, looking for me.

‘Catch you in better times’, she shouts.

The whole empty aching street, turns, listens.

 

 

Written for the both of you who will never know what your visit meant to me.

The Unsquare Dance

Artwork by Victor Vasarely (1906-1997)

Andrew has a journal with every book he wants written in a neat list. The other morning he showed me the next list – about 60 books.…. can I please find them…?

He reads history.

But now he has added John Steinbeck, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, and Solzhenitsyn, and he almost shouts. ‘There’s so much. So much. It’s so great. Where’s my glasses?’

He turns around in circles as he speaks, checking the other shelves, forgetting about his glasses.

He says, ‘My God, that’s Brubeck you’re playing. Good for the mind.’

His glasses are in his hand. He puts them on and stacks up his books to carry out.

I caution him. He tends to read as he walks.

Outside, some young men are walking past, leaning forward into the wind, moving fast. One of them is yelling to the other:

‘I’m not saying the footy oval, I’m not saying that…’

Andrew, eyes on Kafka, moves gently in front of them. They look up, surprised, and part abruptly to let him through. They resume.

‘It’s not the footy oval, it was the other way….’

 

Artwork by Victor Vasarely (1906-1997)

 

 

The young girl who wanted a book for her friend

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This young girl wanted a book for her friend. The friend is an exchange student and unable to go home right now. So a group of students are buying her books, for consolation. The exchange student, who can’t go home, reads and reads.

The young girl had a list of books, written in pencil and folded neatly. She showed me the list. It is mostly the classics.  I read, “William Wordsworth”.

I said, ‘William Wordsworth!’

And she said, ‘Oh yes!’

The man who always says,‘How you going?’

 

George Dyachenko (2)

I saw him this morning when I was setting up the shop for the day. He is someone I know by his voice. And his dog. There used to be a group of dog lovers here. They met at the bakery and talked all morning. He would laugh. His laugh bounced out out over the road like some mad buoyant pack of tennis balls, and all the dogs would swing their heads around sharply to look at him, and then turn back to watch the traffic with their eyes half closed again.

I heard him over the road this morning, still with his beautiful dog. He said, ‘How you going?’, to the people sitting on the grass, waiting for buses. His voice is the same. He still says the same things, simple and strong, and happy like chutney that is home made. I heard people answer him, nodding, saying things back to him, and he laughed the same way, leaning back and lobbing it straight upwards into the pine trees and making the cockatoos rustle and look down with jealous eyes.

The people on the grass are all grinning, looking up at him. One man says, ‘Yeah mate, I reckon that too.’

Then the bus comes and I can’t see them anymore, and I have to go inside where all the books and stories about people are, and record another story about another person.

Artwork by George Dyachenko

Black Beauty, Monty Roberts, and champagne

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Yesterday afternoon, a man came in with a bottle of champagne. He had seen a copy of Black Beauty in the window. He left the bottle on the counter and examined every book on the window table before returning with Black Beauty. He said he was also hoping for books by Monty Roberts, and that if I wanted to know about horses, I had to read Monty Roberts.

There was another customer here, looking through The Counties of The United States of America, and saying out loud, ‘This really is the nuts and bolts of the USA. It’s so complicated. Look at it. Look at this map.’

The other man said, ‘Have you read Shy Boy?’

‘This is the only book that actually shows how the counties have further subdivisions.’

The other man said we should all read Shy Boy: The Horse That Came in from the Wild, by Monty Roberts. He stood thinking, tapping the top of the bottle, and said that a couple of years ago, he –

Two people passed the door, walking fast. One said, ‘Well, we don’t have to worry about getting married.’

The man with the bottle of champagne turned abruptly and watched them walk by.

The other man said, ‘Look at this statistical table, it’s really up to date.’

 

 

 

Inside, Outside

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There are two ladies here discussing Things. First they talked about their children and then about Woolworths. Then, a water meter (broken). They have not looked at any books yet. Maybe they won’t. It often happens this way when people meet unexpectedly in a shop.

Today, my quiet door is hard at work. Earlier, a young man had thanked me for alphabetical order. He had held both hands out and said, ‘Thank you for alphabetical order…you’ve no idea what a difference it makes!’ His friend said, ‘Let’s go’, and edged the decision toward the door where the talking ladies moved aside without seeing him. But the young man was not ready to go. He was at Poetry. He suddenly said, ‘Get me out of here, I can’t go on’, and his friend said, ‘Thank God’, and they went outside to check phones, holding the door open, and we heard one of them say, ‘Sue isn’t a real vegan anyway.’ We could also hear a man in a suit standing next to his parked car with a coffee, and saying into his phone, ‘Do you want to drop those ladders off? Just go to my house then. Just bloody do it. Yeah….. yeah, ok…..yeah, I know….God. Why?’

The door closed

It opened. It was Don, hoping for his book on the Australian cameleers, but it was not in yet. As he left, he shouted back through the slowly closing door, ‘Off to Moonta with the Mrs, can’t wait. There’s history up there.’

The door shut. It opened.

‘Hello, hello, can we browse? Just been in the bakery. John’s still finishing his bun.’ Then she shouted back to someone else, ‘Get John.’

Outside, the man in the suit was saying, ‘And at the end of the day shit happens. I know that for a fact. Have you heard from your lawyer?’

The door shut.

The talking ladies moved comfortably into the doorway again.

A man asked for Lee Child. A lady asked for Sue Grafton. A couple asked for The Diary of Anne Frank (the uncut version). They told me that when they went to Amsterdam etc.

The man outside finished his call and began another.

People came along the footpath from both directions. There was a wild commotion of dogs. Everyone stopped and apologised, and said that their dog doesn’t usually do that etc.

The man outside is repeating into his phone that at the end of the day, shit happens, and he has always known this.

A child in the front room is standing motionless with a copy of The Hobbit on her head and staring through the window. She says to her mother, ‘Can we get this?’ and her mother nods without looking up.

The ladies in the doorway are leaving. I can hear them going up the footpath, ‘Well, I just tried it with beetroot, and the results were fair at least…’

Why take so long!!!

Zeus and Hera - Athena Fountain by Carl Kundmann, Josef Tautenhayn and Hugo Haerdtl,

Outside the door of my shop, there is shouting. Tradespeople gathering for morning tea, taking all the parking spaces. They wear orange and blue; safety vests, gloves, and there is a helmet on the ground. Next to that, a phone, and a coffee allowing steam into autumn. They lean over utes, sit on the pavement, back against my window, a bookshop. They don’t look in. They are smoking, checking phones, holding paper bags, staring at the ground. Eating.

One worker is outraged. In the bakery there were some old ladies who had Seriously Held Up The Queue. One had argued about, well, nothing, and the other couldn’t see the pies. They had taken a  long time. Mate!

I imagined the tradespeople in the bakery, shuffling in massive boots, watching the savoury slices sliding into other people’s fucking paper bags. Unable to shunt the queue forward because Alice and Gwen were too small for a proper confrontation.

I heard the complaints.

‘Oh my God!’

‘Why take so long? Bring your glasses. Jesus. It was like, 25 mins. WTF! People have to eat.’ The tradesperson speaking, a woman, is glum.

The others, all men, listen politely and nod properly; It Is Not Right.

One man is leaning on a ladder. He has placed all his stuff on a plank that is resting across the ladder in the back of one of the utes. She bangs the plank for emphasis. He holds the plank steady, watching his coffee. He says, ‘Yeah.’

She says, ‘But the lamingtons are good.’

Another person says, ‘Could of eaten three!’

Someone asks, ‘Were you scared of ’em?’

‘Who?’

“Those old ducks?’

She says, ‘Yeah!’

And they all laugh, leaning back, relaxed, looking through my open door and not seeing it, a bookshop.

“Better go.”

But none of them move.

‘Better go’.

‘You go Leo, you dickhead.’

When I next look up, they have all gone. There is just a coffee cup left there, gentle and full.

 

 

Image: Zeus and Hera – Pallas Athena Fountain, erected by Carl Kundmann, Josef Tautenhayn and Hugo Haerdtl