People want the sun

Victor Ngai The Day

 

There’s not much space outside the shop because there are tradesmen out there, and hard at it. Ladders, paint pots, shouting, traffic cones, a hat thrown down, a bottle of coke, one cake tin. Passers by make comments.

‘Good job.’

‘Looking good.’

‘Good day for it.’

One man crashed through my door backwards, still in conversation with the painter outside.

He said to me, ‘Sorry about the door, you’ll get a new one won’t you!’ His wife looked at him and he went back outside.

On old lady edges around the painter’s van, trying to find a spot to finish her coffee. She says, ‘Don’t mind me.’

People want the sun.

‘A bookshop! Well!’ These two ladies paused to admire me, a miracle. One man bought a book about Mannum to post to his grandkids ‘in the outback’.

The takings for the Strath show tickets are picked up. The lady says, it’s nice out in the sun.

Alan puts his head in to say, G’day mate. (He’s going home for a curry).

My mum brings me a block of chocolate to take home for the family, which I eat here.

The painter is leaning against a post in the sun, shouting into his phone, ‘I’m having a record day, I’ll read it in a minute, just send it again’.

There’s a family stranded in the middle of the road, and a truck showers them with outraged beeps. They all stare as it goes by, and the driver stares down at them. A lady in here says the council should do something about that.

The painter is still shouting into the sunlight, ‘I’m having a record day.”

 

Artwork by Victor Ngai

 

It’s harder with a piano: The old couple who read a poem out loud

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Have you ever seen a mind thinking?

A couple read this line out loud from a poem I have taped to the wall in the shop, bobbing about, delighted to find a poem on the wall and looking at each other with amazed, hilarious eyes.

(They are side by side, leaning in, shoulders touching, experienced and fearless).

Out loud, they read it to each other:

Have you ever seen a mind

Thinking?

It’s like an old cow

Trying to get through the pub door

Carrying a guitar in its mouth;

Who are they reading it to? Not to me. They haven’t even noticed me. It’s to each other. They sway about and laugh and keep reading: HA, HA, HA, this is brilliant!

I agree; it’s Chris Wallace-Crabbe, and it is brilliant. It’s just that nobody ever noticed it before. They turned around, and said to me, we like your bookshop!

Have you ever seen a mind

thinking?

It’s like an old cow

trying to get through the pub door

carrying a guitar in its mouth;

old habits keep breaking in

on the job in hand;

it keeps wanting

to do something else:

like having a bit of a graze,

for example…

And they keep reading, down, down, and down, dropping through the poem, which, being Chris Wallace-Crabbe, is astonishing and endless, right to where the cow gets through the door but doesn’t know how.

Because, how do minds (with guitars) get through doors?

Anyway, the cow has to know that it’s harder with a piano.

It’s harder with a piano.

When they read this, the delicious middle line, the wife shrieks, and says, briiiiiilliant. She looks at her husband: oh, don’t you remember? I do.

 

 

Introspection by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

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Honey, do you have it?

 

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A young couple came into the shop out of the cold today, he was cradling a tiny baby. She was carrying parcels and bags and she ran into things because she was looking so hard at the spines of the books. He carried the infant on his chest in a sling and he kept one hand on the side of the sling and the baby clutched one of his fingers, holding on tightly while it buzzed in sleep.

He searched the shelves as carefully as she did and he found book after book that looked promising and he said: honey do you have it?

Sometimes she said: yes, got that one…

Sometimes she said: oh I need that one…

Then he would rise up and take the book and place it gently on the counter and cradle the baby again and look down at the tiny hand coming out of the carrier and holding onto his own hand and he looked broadsided by the joy of so many events at once.

 

Hand sculpture by Bruce Nauman

The Shelf of Blue Books

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There is a car stopped and parked directly outside the front window of the shop and it is another quiet day but those people getting out of that car are not quiet. They are a group of five retired people and the first lady out of the car swings her door vigorously into the veranda post.
She says: Oh, shit John.
He comes around to her side, kindly. Did you dent my door… you bloody did too.
They examine the dent, leaning close, she has her glasses on the absolute end of her nose. She says: oh, don’t worry about that, that’s nothing… but he bends closer, looking doubtful. There are two more ladies, crowding in and looking solitious.
She says: I’m going over to the tootie, come on girls. And they shuffle off together, carrying bags, cardigans, hats and irreverence.
Another man emerges from the car and comes around to stand on the footpath. He calls out: you girls watch what you’re doing.
He says to the luckless John: If she gets run over, she’ll blame me. Then they examined the post that injured his car.
When’s your insurance due, mate? They move to the edge of the road and talk in low voices.
Then they turn and look through the shop window, They say nothing. They bend to look through the window. Still they say nothing. Conversation has come to a halt, they are looking at books and there is nothing to say.

Then the second man says: pointless sort of places there, aren’t they? Pointless having these anymore.

He looks back across the road, back to something that is not pointless: gawd, here they come, look at ’em coming across that road like that.
But the first man, John, stood for longer looking through at the books.

He says: well, my grandmother had a shelf, full of book and all of em blue, actually it was nice, we kiddies used to stand in front of it, not allowed to touch them, wouldn’t have dared, my grandfather was a bastard, a cruel old fool. But those books, they were important. Because they were nice, added colour to her life that was really shitty. I only just remembered it.

The others crowded close, breathing on my window, looking polite, waiting for the story to end.
One lady said: very nice.
Then John took his hat off and nodded at the window. The he put his hat back on. He said: well, let’s get a cup of coffee then.

 

 

 

 

I don’t know how these places even keep going…

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Outside, some passers-by look through the window at the biographies and one man says: I don’t know how these places even stay open. Fucking hell, we can just get books on the internet, just as easy. His friend says: yeah…

It is a public holiday here in South Australia and Strathalbyn is full of people on their day off.
I am reading The Brimming Cup by Dorothy Canfield and looking up every now and again wondering if anyone will come in to the shop and buy a book. Maybe no one will, but Dorothy Canfield makes this all ok.

The door does open though, and two old ladies come in and they are confident and bright and a propelled onwards by their solid and purposeful cardigans. They know already what they need to say:
There’s your Ken Follett.
I’m not usually one for that kind of thing.
Oh, see the Ray Bradbury…
I wanted to get on well with it but…
There’s a relation somewhere there – some one with Dickens, a grand daughter or something.
I’ve got most of the Dickens.
I’ve got all of the Dickens. You’ve seen them.
I don’t hold with that sort of writing.
What do you mean?
Clive Cussler.
Oh, good heavens, we don’t bother with him. I told you that.
I like Bryce Courtenay.
Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes…
But that film –
No, that’s all right, of course it is –
I’ve read some of those
I’ve read all them all.
Oh nonsense…
Isn’t Herriot still very good
Very good indeed.
Gracious and serious…
I have a problem with that.
I’m one for having books around me.
It’s the way now isn’t it, though, to have no books.
Look at this rubbish.
Well, yes but why make a whole new film about it… 
Well, that’s right.
I think we need to give all the young people one each of all these grammar books.
Well, you can try can’t you….
I shouldn’t just blanket across everything, I know I’m judgemental.
Yes you are, now look at that…I’ve got that…
Yes, I’ve got that too
Yes, I’ve got all of hers.
Gradually they pass by, they don’t see me, they don’t need to purchase a book and they pass by and out though the door, they confront the solid spread of bikies that are gathered on the footpath outside and part them like butter with a hot knitting needle and they go on home.

And then  –

The skateboard family is back! The oldest boy has a book which he carries around and carries around. His mother is within the novels, his brothers are by and by, here and there but mostly with Star Wars. One brother is eating from a paper bag –  sherbet bombs. He is looking at the roof through a haze of sherbet, he is in sherbet bomb heaven. The oldest brother is waiting outside, balancing on his skateboard and staring significantly through the window at his family that are keeping him waiting.
The boy with the book presents it to his mother, he is staring upwards into her face, in an attitude of prayer. She looks down at her son. She says: you got that book last time.
He says nothing at all.
She says: but you gave it to your friend. We should get that one for you this time. He looks at her, astounded by her memory. He hugs the book to his chest and leans backwards under its enormous valuable weight.
They all weave around and around and here and there and then eventually purchase their books and leave together, with skateboards and sherbet and the book of life and one brother saying: get out the way…and the boy outside saying: thanks for taking a thousand years.

 

The boys who piled their skateboards next to the bookshelf so they could go and look through the shop

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This young family came in carefully and steadily, out of the summer and containing neatly four young boys, brothers, and a young mother who warned everyone to take care. The boys then stacked their skateboards next to a bookcase. They stacked them precisely and gently, taking care.
They moved amongst the books, scanning, pointing, experienced. Soon one boy came to the counter and told me how his friend was reading all of the Cat Warrior books and that it was funny that I had those exact books in the window. Then he moved away again. Their mother was reading in the chair. Two of the boys were under the table reading The Eleventh Hour, which they had at their school. Another boy was high stepping neatly and soundlessly around everyone else, he was saying:
Strike one, strike two, pinto on the road…
The first boy returned to the counter to tell me about Inkheart. He said: Inkheart is really good.
His smaller brother is now over in Poetry and Plays, he holds the shelf and stands on one leg, he is still chanting: strike one, strike two, pinto on the road…he holds a copy of One Dragon’s Dream on his head.
The first boy tells me that Skulduggery is really good, and The Hunger Games might be good and Dragon Eternal is really good. A Wrinkle in Time is mental, it is so good.
Their mother reminds them to take care. More visitors came in, they tell me about the heat as they enter, they take off sunglasses and look down at the skateboards…
Strike one strike two, pinto on the road…
South of Darkness isn’t that good, His Dark Materials, ok maybe, Elidor is fantastic…
The boys under the table are making a stack of books to read, they haul them across the carpet, they glance at their mother and take care.
Beast Quest was good but not anymore…
…strike…strike….one for luck…
The boy at the counter is resting his head on his arms, drowsing as he thinks of all the books that must be listed, the shop is going to sleep, the hot day is going to sleep and the kindly chime in the front room ticks slowly onwards (strike seven, strike eight… no pinto on the gate…) he is taking care with it and he is taking us with it…

Book rehab…

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There is a man outside the shop securing a load of permapine poles onto his trailer, it is hot and he is hot, everyone outside is walking around leaning against the heat and with their eyes half shut. Inside the shop, a man is standing against the counter and complaining that when his wife is finished he will need a trailer for all the books she buys. He calls out the door to the man with the trailer: tie them on tighter than that, mate!
But nobody hears him.
His wife is looking for some really good reading. He tells her to try Clive Cussler but she is not listening to him.
He tells me that there should be a place called book rehab for all the people that cannot stop reading books. He is pleased with this idea and repeats it again. His wife comes back to the counter with only four books and he is disappointed. He had thought she might get more than that! He tells her, anyway, that she might consider book rehab and she looks at him fondly and says: that’s a good one.
Then he is as pleased as anything. He admires her books, he carries them for her, he opens the door for her and attends her through it and into the next hours of their life and as they leave the shop, he is saying to her: do you think that book rehab is a real thing?
And she is looking at him as though he were the king of the world, which he is.

 

Captain Cock

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Outside my shop window, passers-by linger, waiting for friends, for carparks and for arguments. My bookshop is on a busy corner, opposite a carpark and a train station and next to a bakery. Most people don’t come into my shop.
But I can hear everything:
Are you buying a book, Raymond? There are two men outside, one is looking through the glass, they have parked a caravan at the kerb, it shadows the window, everything is in reflection, they can’t see me.
God no, can’t read a book when I’m driving… you dumb idiot, but I’m just looking at this thing about Captain Cook, I always wondered about –
His friend, who is trying to read the titles, says: Who’s Captain Cock?
The man who wondered something about Captain Cook, said: Jesus, you’re a dumb prick, you need to read some stuff.
They moved away from the window and into the afternoon, still arguing, looking for lunch, placid with holiday.

The House of Brie

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It is September and it is warming up. Passers-by are not so huddled and they do not walk by so fast. They stand in the sun and look through the shop window.

A couple came into the shop and bought Alice in Wonderland for their daughter and a Star Wars novel for their son.

They said: Well, this is great, this book being blue, also with summer coming and everything.

Outside there are young people leaning against the wall, the warm wall.

Robert visited and said he wouldn’t look around because he knows what will happen to him: he will be ambushed by some book on the Ancients and at the moment he just needs to pay his AGL bill, even though they don’t deserve to be paid. He also said that the Thames and Hudson Art and Imagination Series is the best thing he’s ever seen.

I am asked for dozens of obscure titles, the sun is warming up everybody’s old reading lists.

A little boy sent his grandmother to the shop to with a pirate book reading list. There were hand drawn illustrations on the list to make sure she got the right books. She said: he always makes me these lists.

I take longer going down the street because I want to stay in the sun, so does everybody else.

An older couple spend ages looking at a copy of Pinocchio.

I am asked if I think Harry Potter is a suitable series for a young person.

A man buys three very worn out cartoon books and tells me they are brilliant but his wife says they are stupid.

Down the street I see Alan, buying wine and beer. Alan is Swiss and has the fabulous Swiss accent. He is gloomy because he grows his own vegetables but his wife said they are all shit and just bought a lettuce from Woolies. He looked at the brie I had bought and said I must leave it out of the fridge for at least ten days before eating it, as is proper for brie.

I said: maybe.

He said: then you pack it into a good house of  bread, cuddle it up with roasted garlic, a square of butter over the top and bake it. It is the proper way.

I said I was going home to make it.

 

You are not having the keys.

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A mother says: You are not having the keys. You are not having my keys. And the baby gazes back, tranquil. She speaks to a young girl who has come into the shop with her: Will you read this do you think? No, the girl shakes her head.

“He still wants the keys.” They both gaze down at the baby who is sitting on the floor.

The older girl has found two books and is holding tightly to them: Bulfinch’s Mythology and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Her mother offers her The Silver Brumby and then The Fault in Our Stars. The girl shakes her head.

The baby has the keys; he shakes them over and over again with his head bent to one side. He drops them, picks them up, drops them and leans over, he puts his small ear directly onto the keys.

The mother says: well, you should not be having my keys. They both look at the baby again. The mother leans back in the chair and closes her eyes. The baby shakes the keys, clenches his eyes, enchanted by the noise, the sounds, the music.

The young girl holds her books up in the air and away at a distance and regards the covers. She herself is away at a distance. She eventually drifts over to the counter and tells me that she is going to bring her dad here. Her mother stands up and follows; she tells me that she has no time to read anymore, you know how it is.

The girl asks me for Brave New World and the mother announces that she might wait in the car and the young girl turns back to the shelves, she holds the chosen books in front of her, both arms tightly around them, she gazes up at Samuel Pepys and Vikram Chandra.

Outside in the street the baby hurls the keys across the footpath.

 

Photography by Ryan Holloway