Pausing at the door to get the mask on properly

Visitors to the shop now have to pause and fumble about at the door before they come in because we all have equipment to manage.

‘Dale, your mask.’ This couple had to go back to the car. Then they went past me to the bakery and got coffees. Then they returned and came in, looking refreshed, and asked for good Australian political biographies and anything about breeding poodles.

‘Forgot m’mask. Gotta go back.’ This man left and came back with his mask in his top pocket, and left it there while he browsed.

‘Got yr mask?’ This man, who didn’t have his mask, was sent back to the car by his wife. I saw him reading the paper in the front seat. She browsed the shelves for another half an hour. They both looked happy.

‘Oh my god, where’s my mask?’ A young mum, who found it in the pram wrapped around half an apple.

A car went past and turned at the corner. The driver wearing a mask hanging from one ear.

A man passing the window wore a pink mask with a devil’s face, hanging sideways from his sunglasses.

A child walked by with an adult mask over his entire face, hanging onto the side of the pram so he could walk straight.

We wear them upside down and inside out, with faces drawn on, and the elastic knotted and twisted to make a snugger fit. We wear them as chin straps and wrist wraps. In pockets and wallets, in phone cases, shopping bags, shoulder bags and looped around coat buttons, thrust through belts. Clutched in one hand while the other hand manages the phone.

One girl wore an emerald green mask that was covered in gold and blue butterflies. She talked to me through the butterflies about reading and about the Divergent books, and she described her bookshelf at home.

A couple walking by paused at the window to take off masks and undo drink bottles for their small children. One child asked if you have to wear masks on the jetty.

Then he said that he’d lost his bucket on the jetty. The parents, still drinking, looked down at him. They were leaning against the window, and looking down at him, not saying anything, just looking at him with besotted faces because he is theirs.

Painting by Claire McCall

The couple who showed each other every book they found

I recognized them, they’ve been here before; they come through the door nonchalant and smooth, and head straight for their shelf.

They both lean into the shelves the same way, head on the necessary angle, flip the pages and look closely at the back of the book. If it suffices, they straighten and hold the book up for each other to see.

They lean back and grin at each other. They whisper and nod and examine book after book.

They cradle the chosen ones in their arms and move on to the next shelf.

Painting by Edward B. Gordon

…cut snake virus in its doll’s house…

A selection of 6 opening lines I really really like:

1) “In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages.”
Perfume by Patrick Suskind

2) “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.”
Brighton Rock by Graham Green

3) “It was Mrs May who first told me about them. No, not me. How could it have been me – a wild, untidy, self-willed little girl who stared with angry eyes and was said to crunch her teeth.”
The Borrowers by Mary Norton

4) “Upstairs in my brain, there lives this kind of cut snake virus in its doll’s house.”
The Swan Book by Alexis Wright

5)”It was night when the Nargun began to leave. Deep down below the plunging walls of a gorge it stirred uneasily.”
The Nargun and the Stars by Patricia Wrightson

6) “The old bus is a city reject. After shaking in it for twelve hours on the potholed highway since early morning, you arrive in this mountain county town n the South.”
Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian 

Some people got out of a car and had a big old argument!

From where I sit, I can hear everything that happens outside the shop. And see everything. All I wanted to know was how these three were related because they clearly were. They were familiar; they knew each other because they finished each other’s sentences and commanded the group while ignoring each other’s commands to achieve the same thing.

She had left something at home.

‘God, where is it then.’

‘Don’t know.’

‘Jesus.’

The other she, and the accompanying he, stood and looked at the culprit, who was on her phone.

‘Might as well go home.’

‘The phone looked up. ‘We don’t even need it. Stop frothing.’

‘God.’ They all turned away from each other.

He got back in the car. The young women looked at each other. One came up to the door and looked in.

‘God. It’s a book shop.’

She returned to culprit, and they both stood looking down at her phone. Culprit was chewing gum fast.

‘Stop looking like that.’

‘We’re going home. Get in the car.’

So they didn’t come into the shop and buy a book. They went home. I watched them through the window in the front room. When they drove off, he was smiling.

Illustration by Jack Vittriano

A couple looking through the door and wondering whether to come in

They almost have their eyes on the glass. I can hear them through the door.

‘Do you reckon this is mask-wearing territory?’

‘What do you say babe, want to go in?’

They adjust their masks and come in. She is serene and quiet and pearlescent and powerful. He is broad and outdoors. He bounces on his feet, cannot contain his energy, calls me ‘mate’, wears his mask crooked, and whistles with admiration at basically everything. He kneels down, stands up, bounces, straightens his shoulders, turns around, alive with purpose.

‘What can I get babe? I could go for this.’

He chooses Nicholas Nickleby. She already has a stack of Charles Dickens chin high. She said, ‘Mmmm.’ He said, ‘Babe, we should get out of here.’ Then to me, ‘Excuse me, what’s your oldest book here.’

He and I searched the books, looking for dates. He said:

‘Cool.’

‘Sick.’

‘Mate. Radical.’

Then he said to her, ‘We should get out of here, babe. I’m going nuts, look at all these.’

She said, ‘Mmmm.’

They come to the counter to pay for their books. I say, ‘Do you want a receipt sent to you phone?’ He does. I ask for his number.

‘Are you cracking onto me?’

I am pleased with his joke because he is young and I am not, but his partner gives a scream of laughter.

‘My God, as if anyone would crack onto you.’ She can’t stop laughing.

He tells me they want books for their library. For their caravan. And for their kids.

They both look at her stomach, just a flicker of a look, but I saw it.

Illustration by Deborah Dewitt

The man who badly needed a cup of tea

He came in to browse and told me that his wife was Dux of Woodville High School, but three weeks ago had walked out of his life. He knelt down to examine all the bottom shelves and said that the books were wonderful. Just wonderful; especially the bird books.

Then he sang me a hymn and asked if I knew it. I didn’t. He found a book on Scotland (The History of) and told me about his Scottish parents. He began to make a pile of books while he talked.

‘I’m worried about this generation. All they do is sit on the couch and drink fat.’

He said he didn’t hold with televisions, and that he badly needed a cup of tea.

‘After my wife left me, I had to do something with my life, so I started lifting weights. I’m 77, and you probably don’t believe it.’ I said it was amazing.

‘I just got the first TV of my life the other day. It’s for my new lady, and I’ve put it in its own room. Not with the books. Young people don’t know about the war.’

He went into the other room for a while. Then he came back.

‘Everything, Honey, has a city mentality. Even the birdlife. People only think of coffee and cakes. It’s artificial. I once knew some idiot called Charlie who was like that’.

I agreed.

He sang me another hymn, which I admired. Then he paid for his books, told me that he can’t abide a show off, and said goodbye.

Himself, a flash of unique bright birdlife, gone!

Raining today, and the road is hissing

That’s all I can hear this morning: water on the road and crockery in the bakery.

The rain comes down hard all day.

Someone stopped in my doorway and booked a motel, and a dog refused to go across the road and had to be carried.

A young tradesman dropped his mask in a puddle and put it back on again, and everyone is shrugging back into warm clothing, which last week we had discarded. A lady said, ‘Who brought this weather in?’ and Alan told me to, ‘Enjoy it, mate, because it won’t last’.

I don’t mind. It’s good reading weather, as is all weather. Alan notices water. He’s going home to check the water that’s come to his place, which is somewhere outside of Alice Springs.

Sarah came in, and then backed out because she’d forgotten her mask. She roared through the door as she left that Scott Morrison was at it again.

A couple went past fast, and he was saying, ‘Don’t put the umbrella there, I get all the drips’, and she snapped it shut hard, so he really did get all the drips even though he ducked hard to the side, and then they were gone so I didn’t see any more.

An old couple went across the road, slowly treading through the water, and three cars had to slow down, but nobody tooted.

Still raining. Good reading day.

A man here browsing gave me the impression that he was looking for something specific

He was with a friend. She kept bumping his shoulder gently so he had to keep moving along. He frowned and read titles closely and bit his lip, put them back and went on to the next one. He gave each book a long fair go. He tipped his head back and narrowed his eyes to get at the reviews on the back and the dates of publication.

‘You find it?’ She asked. He shook his head. She put headphones in.

In Classics, the man rested on one knee. One elbow resting on the knee. One hand resting on the shelf right next to Steinbeck and Stevenson.

His friend took her headphones out and said they needed to go to Woolies later. He nodded. She put her headphones back in. Began to nod gently to another rhythm. He bent closer to the shelf, angling toward another vision. His feet were uncomfortable, splayed out for balance, and he soon moved back and knelt on both knees instead. He was now backed up against the leg of his friend. She had her eyes closed, and was moving, in tiny imperceptible movements, from side to side.

She reached down with her left hand took hold of his ear. She continued listening. He continued looking. Joined.