Checking in

Everybody’s fluent entry into the shop is checked now. The door is darkened with hopefuls doing their phone. They are, without exception, patient and kind.

‘Shall we check in?’

‘It’s not working.’ A lady swayed and bent over her phone, but her group were looking into the windows, faces on the glass, eyes screwed up.

‘Look at this.’

‘MARK TWAIN.’ Said in a scream.

‘Weird guy him.’

‘For sure,’

‘This isn’t working. The lady on the glass is turning her phone around and around.

‘Turn it this way. What are you doing? Turn it this way.’

‘No good.’

‘God. Government probably changed it.’

‘It’s worked.’

‘Get in then.’

‘I think that lady at the counter’s going to give me a dirty look if I try and take this coffee inside, so I’ll wait out here.’

I heard her say it, as I pretended not to hear her say it.

Then she crept in. ‘Can I have this?’

I said, oh yes, drinking my own.

They all stood and whispered. The rain banging away outside. Everything dark. I couldn’t place them, family or friends, hard to tell; a kind of magical people, especially the lady with the orange coat because the others all gathered about her, and they held up books for her to see, but she only wanted Charlotte’s Web; I heard her say it.

‘These are good.’

‘So are these.’

‘Look here.’

Are you getting that Twain?

‘Nope.’

Charlotte’s Web?’

‘Yes.’

And they all laughed.

Illustration by Outcrowd

Today

Not a lot happened. People came in and whispered and left.

Some rain came down.

There was an argument at the intersection. I watched. A young man got out of his car as he waited to turn right. The ute in front was too slow. His shoulders were upped and roundy, threatening, like cat’s fur hit by electricity. The young men in the ute watched him with narrow eyes. Just as he approached their car, they accelerated, leaving him there, middle finger raised. Alan was at my door, watching. Delighted. He laughed his laugh, no doubt wishing it hadn’t ended so easily.

Fred knocked and waved.

Sarah came in and complained. She’d been thrown out of the craft group. She showed me her botanical colouring book. I admired the hot pink petals on all the roses. She was pleased.

Alan came back, peered through the door and left again. He and Sarah don’t always get on.

Some rain came down.

A man came in looking for Dr Who. He said, ‘I daren’t get any of those, they might be wrong. I’ll wait till she’s out of school.’

Someone phoned to book into the history tour, but ‘all the tours are finished now’. They hung up abruptly.

I shelved a few books. Thought about Edith Sitwell and Vita Sackville-West. Virginia Woolf. Leonard Woolf. I have been tugged down a rabbit hole; I followed a biography of Edith Sitwell, and now it is hard to recover. Nobody has heard of Edith except Virginia Woolf.

A young woman came in, looked about and left in a rush. She said, I’m sorry.

Some children come past. A boy is pushed, and he falls into my doorway.

‘Get him up.’

The child is hauled to his feet. ‘Shit, sorry. God. Why’d you even fall? Did a trap get you or something?’

Another child screams, ‘There’s someone in there. Get the police.’ They all look at me, and then they are gone.

A truck goes past.

I sort things. A woman comes in with books to sell, but I can’t buy. I have no space. She looks around with a tense mouth. She says, ‘OK’, and leaves.

Lovely Marion comes in and checks Fantasy. She’s collecting Terry Goodkind but has just discovered he died last year. She is not impressed. We talk about Sara Donati and Diana Gabaldon. She waves. ‘Bye, dear.’

There’s a crash of plates from inside the bakery. We hear it inside my shop. A customer says, ‘Jesus!’

I remember yesterday, during the rain, a grandson came in. He’s two. There was a crowd (unusual for May), and Finn called, ‘Nanny, Nanny, Nanny’, over the conversation, over the hustle, over the entire planet, and I heard, easily.We locked eyes. Kin.

Last night I read him ‘Hairy Maclary’, six stories, till he fell away, but I kept reading the seventh before switching to Edith Wharton because there she was in the same stack of books I made last week when I was reading to a different grandson.

A customer nearly buys a book about Yoga.

A young man buys a pile. He can’t speak. He just looks at his books. He chokes and says, ‘these’.

Yes.

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

The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

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This morning, a ute stopped right outside the door. Tradesman climbed out, all noise and energy, boots huge, dressed for the cold in t-shirts and iPhones.  They looked through my windows and saw me looking out – at them. They both nod and look politely away. To the bakery, relief.

A family came in, dad and two young children. The little boy pleading, dropping with hunger, daddy…..can we get something to eat….his sister wearing a summer dress, but also a good winter beanie, relaxed, holding a copy of Charlotte’s Web, fortified.

A young man bought three books for a young niece. He relaxes, relieved, a very difficult gift achieved. He says, ‘Thanks, thanks, God, thanks.’

Outside it rains and rains and rains. Traffic swishes. Car lights. People hurrying.

A family are caught in the doorway,  and they stand shoulder to shoulder waiting for the rain to ease. The toddler, held in his father’s arms, strokes his mother’s shoulder with one hand and his father’s ear with the other; a tight knot of absolute warmth.

There is an argument about lunch in the back room, ‘We can always have lunch early.’

More talk. ‘Have it your way…’

A young man comes in, thinking me the bakery. He swings through the door strongly. He wraps his arms around himself and backs out. He looks down the street toward friends, ‘Guys, what the fuck..?’

It rains.

A man comes in to tell me there is a water leak in the car park. I said, ‘Yes, but SAWater, they know about it… you know.’ He understands immediately, ‘SAWater…!’

My friend, Callie, admired his hat. He turned and said, ‘Yes it’s a great hat, pity about the head in it, har har har.’ We laugh. We like him. We all agree on SAWater.

Sarah came in. Alan came in. Leah came in. The rain came down. Neville chooses his usual selection of unusual, diabolically brilliant books. People climb off the bus across the road. The water leaks across the footpath. I talk with someone about Mark Twain.

John comes in. Rita and Don come in. We agree the weather is slightly foul.

The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

 

Winter’s come back

Inge Look

A couple visiting the shop, said to me, ‘Warm in here!’

I said, ‘It is, I have the heater on today.’ They hunched their shoulders and laughed loud enough to startle everyone nearby. One of them shouted, ‘Winter’s come back.’

They shrugged down into their coats to show they were warm. They went up and down on their toes, screwed up their eyes as though looking into the rain, and said, ‘Well, it takes all weathers!’

Then they took The Gardener’s Guide to Dahlias, and launched easily back out into the cold. Then I heard them say, ‘Now for lunch!’

The little boy who looked through the window

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They were running past the window, a group, against the wind and streaming. The little boy, about six, darted at the door, bent low to look through, his face for a second right against the glass, fogging up, owl’s eyes, not blinking. He disappeared behind his own breath and then tapped the glass and flew away.

But he came back. His face, pressed to the door again, was all eyes and ideas. His family must have stopped and come back because somebody, suddenly, opened the door and in he fell.  There was a little sister with rainbow gumboots just behind. She put one finger in the air and said, Harry Potter. Her brother, breathing hard, said, book two or one. I gave them the books and they took them under a table to have a look. The parents drifted.

It was getting darker, quieter , and it began to rain.

There was a young woman here that afternoon, too, who sang while she searched for books. I remember the children gazing at her shoes, and then looking at each other. She didn’t know they were there. She sang on, they drew up their knees and hugged their hiding place, the parents drifted and outside, it rained on and on.

Artwork by Rebecca Dautremer

Poor Wombat

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The tradesmen outside my shop need the bakery. They glance in at me, continue past (‘wrong place, this isn’t the food’) and one of them says, ‘lawn weather!’

The rain is blowing sideways.

Back at their ute, the tradesmen, who are wearing shorts and t shirts, stand there with their food, serene, not hurrying. They watch an orange traffic cone skid past them on its hip.

‘Council! They can afford it!’

On the ute, the passenger side windows are all the way down, swallowing rain. But the drivers lean over the ute tray, examining things, passing things, balancing pies and coffee. One man pulled at a rope, help up the end of it. They all look at it and shake their heads. He thumps it against the side of the ute. They discuss something fervently, probably the rope. One man, the youngest, wraps one end around his waist and performs a kind of dance. The oldest man there turns his back and comes to stand in my doorway. The other two laugh. The rain continues – surely they are getting cold…

They are.

‘I’m outta here.’

‘I’ve seen Wombat drive one of them.’ They all look across the road. ‘Wombat is a fool. I told him, too.’

‘All right, Murray Bridge, it is.’

And they all climb into the ute, wet seats, wet clothes, the rope packed in again.

I think, well, goodbye… good luck to Wombat.

 

Artwork by Pascal Campion

Robert Frost

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The rain to the wind said, 

You push and I’ll pelt.

They so smote the garden bed 

That the flowers actually knelt, 

And lay lodged  – though not dead.

I know how the flowers felt. 

Lodged by Robert Frost

 

Sculpture “Rain” by Nazar Bilyk

Please come in

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I have a sign on the door that says, “please come in.”

People walking past read it out loud. Often my door is mistaken for the door of the bakery and they have to back out again, apologetic, disappointed, sometimes annoyed. This week one man shook the rain from his umbrella and then hurled the umbrella at the door as well. His wife was pretty mad and said, what an earth are you doing? He said, the blinking thing let go of me. She turned her back and walked off. He looked in a worried way at the water all over my door.

Children see my sign as a direct invitation addressed to them. They stop and point at it. One man read it and then came in because it was cold. Then he left again. He said, just getting warm, don’t actually read.

People read the sign out loud and then say, yeah as if! Who’d go in there? A bookshop! One man called Harold would not let his wife come in, he said, that’s where you pay new prices for useless old books. His wife, who had been in earlier, looked at him perhaps thinking that he was a useless old book. That she’d paid a new price for.

One lady sang out, pleeease come in. Her friend sang IIIIII don’t thiiink sooooo.

One old man said, thank you for the invitation. He had stood there looking at it on the door for ages. He bought a biography of Ernest Hemingway.

Passers by come fast down the street, especially if it is cold or raining. This is why they come through my door or bang up against it or look through hoping to see cream buns and cups of tea. Then they have to straighten up and keep going, their faces ovals of apology and confusion.