They are streaming past the windows of the shop, ribbons of them flowing up and down, like birds that jump and bounce because it is morning and amongst them their teacher saying: work it out you kids, tell me the best way to get through to the oval.
There followed an immediate thousand answers called out in a symphony of help and cooperation, would he hear a single one of them? They keep on filing past.
Strathalbyn is actually so bad… I caught this sentence, chipped out with precision and authority.
Can we go Pestkas…? This call was fluted over the top of the lines, intended for a teacher somewhere.
Can we stop Woolies…?
Which way to the oval? I heard the same young teacher just before he was drowned again in assistance.
Can we go Franks? I wondered where this was.
I’m not carrying your stuff!
He’s got a second storey mansion.
No, he doesn’t.
A boy hopped past leaving behind a trail of bird calls. There was a teacher following and looking annoyed. She told him to keep to the footpath. He regarded her. He was a canary and had no need of footpaths.
What’s your name?
What name? This girl was walking backwards, turning and turning but always remaining backwards.
This place, it’s always closed.
I know, right..
These were the last of the last, the girl tapped a water bottle against the windows as they passed.
Soon the street was silent again and there was nobody out there.
When I was a child, colours in glass meant Christmas, but I don’t know why. I know we lived next to a church with stained glass windows that would have shouted their outrage all through the summer. Colours of boiled lollies. We sat on the smooth wooden pews in church every Sunday morning, already hot, already ready to leave, across the road the sea went on and on and didn’t even care about Christmas. Our bikes leaned against the gate close by because we only lived next door. Once my brother threw a brick into the outside church toilet and busted the porcelain bowl and we sprinted without stopping all the way home which was only ten metres. Because the minister’s kids shouldn’t do stuff like that.
Christmas time was rich and heavy and brilliant with the sea across the road, Santa in a front end loader and it was a real Santa not some bullshit farmer dressed up and riding in their own front end loader. This was a real one and his reindeer were in the old stone barn at the back of the bank. The kids whose dad ran that bank said this was true and I remember that girl, Susan, in my class, had a dragster bike with pink things on the wheels so it was real what she said. Christmas was stained glass and the nativity, a brilliant tranquil story fired though with candles and sheep, lit up at the back with a stained glass window of another entirely different story, set on fire with the summer, threaded through with the last days of school where we made lanterns with green, blue, red, orange, yellow cellophane, the classrooms blazing with tinsel, the final concert where we sang too loud and the infants teacher was tired and said keep calm and that family that lived in the sandhills in a shack that had no electricity and sand going in the front door. And then we ran home fast as anything because if you were outside when the sleigh went over you only got a bag of sand. The green and blue bottles at the window reminded me of all of that.
When I was in grade 4, I got into trouble for doing the wrong thing. This, back then, was to read all the readers in the box too fast, and then ask for more. The teacher said I was selfish. I tried to read more slowly, and I tried really hard, I ached with slowness and generosity and cooperation.
But then I committed a worse travesty. Our grade 4 task, back then, was to write a review of one of those books. I chose the best one: about a goat and possibly a wizard and there were white and purple illustrations and this little reader had been read a thousand times and not all by me. I believed that to review meant to write out the whole book, word for word and so I did, my pencil wearing down in spirals of ecstasy, the words printing themselves in disbelief.
The teacher said: is there anyone so stupid as you!
She made me jump and I crept back to my desk, wondering if I was still there. But I was and I was and I was. The teacher had handed me back, in contempt, my lovely copy, to keep.
And so at the end of the day the teacher packed her bag full of bad temper, fatigue and the end of summer in 1974 and I packed mine, choked it to the straps with treasure, my own copy of a book about a wizard and possibly a goat, copied out by me, and then I dragged its immense value home, dancing.