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.

A devil for reading

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I remember this couple. They came from Murray Bridge, and they only visited once.  They spent the whole time telling me about their granddaughter. They laughed so much and they were so proud. That was in 2015, and I never saw them again. I remember they wanted the Tintin books by Herge.

Their granddaughter would be 20 now. If only she knew how they had collapsed in on themselves, silent, pained, because there were no sounds that could carry enough value to ease their contentment at having received her into their quiet road, wooden breakfast table, tomato garden lives.

 

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

I remember

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Before I had a bookshop, the idea of having one lit up the back fence like some kind of unwanted answer from the past.

I remember looking at empty shops. When I found one, I thought, well! I never expected any kind of commercial success, but I did hope to survive. What the shop was to look like was paramount. It had to look like Diagon Alley –  because this was what I liked. Thus, the shop was based on what I wanted, what I liked, what I thought was good. A good selfish start.

(I had a lot to learn.)

Once a child said, “This is like Diagon Alley’, and sealed the happiest day of my first year.

I was surrounded by thousands of oblongs, each one containing an unexpected rich fuse. I felt so wealthy that I had to lie down and cradle my head.

It was not possible to explain such an abandonment of logic.  I remember experiencing it early in life; after reading Tubby and the Lantern. This was because Tubby and Ah Mee had a bunk bed.

In Little House on the Prairie, there was snow.

In Sam and the Firefly, there were lights, gold gems stinging an emerald blue sky.

In Whispering in the Wind, Crooked Mick could sit on a horse and drink two cups of tea while it bucked.

Later, Helen Garner, John Steinbeck, Dal Sijie…. uncovering the diabolical ache of life without solutions. So much. So little time.

Then, repeated visits to Jeff’s Books to learn how to do it:

What happens if…..

What do I do when…

Who is…

What is…

How do I…

What should I….

How can I…

Finally, back to my shop to actually do it. I had to learn how people read, and why. This was different, and it was difficult, and it still is. So much to learn, so little time. Luckily,  I recorded it all.

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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.

This morning, the magpies

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This morning there are two magpies. They cast their sounds out and up, haul them back and throw them again. Then they stop, and other birds take over. Then they all stop; someone is hammering in a shed nearby. The hammering stops. The birds begin again at once, lashing the morning with too much news. My cat is on the step and I am packing books to take to the shop. My cat is crouched down with eyes like hairpins, hating the bird noise.

The magpies drop a couple of final calls, stripes of sound that float and rise, split quietly and bow, ironic, over the rest of the screamers, who sit with beaks open and feathers dazed.

The birds are quiet. My cat sits up, and I go to work.

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