At the supermarket, I had to wait outside

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I arrived early and stood in the beautiful morning. The man on the door, a shepherd of sorts, waved and gestured us through, slowly, slowly, just a few at a time. You know, because of everything. He apologised as if it was all his fault. As this is a small town, he knew many people. He said, Sorry Sharon, there’s no toilet paper’. She said, ‘Don’t need any, just getting some milk and shit.’

He said, ‘Yeah.’ Plenty of that, mate’.

We stood about and looked at each other. Everyone stood apart.   There was no queue. The man waved an old lady through. The sun shone down.

I stood there in the beautiful morning. The door opened and closed. The security guard was looking at his phone.

A man came up and tried to go in. The man on the door said, ‘Get back mate.’

The man said, ‘Jesus just need some bread and that’.

‘You can’t go in.’

The man said that all this is bullshit.

The security guard said, ‘God Barry, it’s no smoking.’

The man said, ‘Jesus, I’ll just finish me smoke around here then.’

The doors opened and closed. The man at the door, said, ‘Ok, ok, in you go.’ He looked at his phone.

I went in and looked for walnuts. That was all I wanted.

 

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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Why take so long!!!

Zeus and Hera - Athena Fountain by Carl Kundmann, Josef Tautenhayn and Hugo Haerdtl,

Outside the door of my shop, there is shouting. Tradespeople gathering for morning tea, taking all the parking spaces. They wear orange and blue; safety vests, gloves, and there is a helmet on the ground. Next to that, a phone, and a coffee allowing steam into autumn. They lean over utes, sit on the pavement, back against my window, a bookshop. They don’t look in. They are smoking, checking phones, holding paper bags, staring at the ground. Eating.

One worker is outraged. In the bakery there were some old ladies who had Seriously Held Up The Queue. One had argued about, well, nothing, and the other couldn’t see the pies. They had taken a  long time. Mate!

I imagined the tradespeople in the bakery, shuffling in massive boots, watching the savoury slices sliding into other people’s fucking paper bags. Unable to shunt the queue forward because Alice and Gwen were too small for a proper confrontation.

I heard the complaints.

‘Oh my God!’

‘Why take so long? Bring your glasses. Jesus. It was like, 25 mins. WTF! People have to eat.’ The tradesperson speaking, a woman, is glum.

The others, all men, listen politely and nod properly; It Is Not Right.

One man is leaning on a ladder. He has placed all his stuff on a plank that is resting across the ladder in the back of one of the utes. She bangs the plank for emphasis. He holds the plank steady, watching his coffee. He says, ‘Yeah.’

She says, ‘But the lamingtons are good.’

Another person says, ‘Could of eaten three!’

Someone asks, ‘Were you scared of ’em?’

‘Who?’

“Those old ducks?’

She says, ‘Yeah!’

And they all laugh, leaning back, relaxed, looking through my open door and not seeing it, a bookshop.

“Better go.”

But none of them move.

‘Better go’.

‘You go Leo, you dickhead.’

When I next look up, they have all gone. There is just a coffee cup left there, gentle and full.

 

 

Image: Zeus and Hera – Pallas Athena Fountain, erected by Carl Kundmann, Josef Tautenhayn and Hugo Haerdtl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paddington

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A little girl opened the door to my shop and wedged her face between the lock and the doorway and stared inside, pressing up and down on her toes. She said, ‘This is my dream. This is like Paddington.’
Her mum, coming up behind her said, ‘Come on, we’re going over the road.’ They crossed the road, hand in hand, the little girl still going up and down on her toes, and talking and gesturing backwards and forwards all the way. She had a knitted scarf tied around her waist and one purple sock and one white one.

It is a day of children

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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.

Gin and Tonic

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A man came into the shop and told me that he is reading Henry Miller as an experiment. That he was documenting his own reading as a history of his own reading and so far it was amazingly erratic.

His little girl said: ohhhhh is Henry here?

A young man said: I am going to read the Harvard Classics. The whole lot, all 51 books, I saw them in a list and they are all very important: He was pushing a pram with an infant daughter beaming from inside,  watching as he found a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress and Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species.

He was hoping to get His Autobiography by Abraham Lincoln as this is the first one in the list but was content with the others instead. He angled the pram out expertly, his books stacked on the top along with a copy of Possum Magic, the first volume of Baby’s Harvard Classics.

An old lady came in with her friend and saw me drinking from a water bottle. One of them asked me if it was a gin and tonic.

But I had to tell her that it was just water.

She said that the river in The Wind and the Willows was just water too…

It is September but visitors are already thinking about Christmas, they argue over books, intending to gift them to that family member or this family member. One boy said: dad, don’t get it, that book is shit. He won’t want it.

A lady bought two Asterix books, one for each grandchild. She was laughing and laughing, she said that Asterix is just so funny.

Another old lady tells me that motorcycles should not be allowed in Strathalbyn anymore.

The steam train comes in, the bakery is busy, the street is warm, three young boys pass the window with skate boards on their heads. There is an altercation between small dogs tied up outside and the owner comes in and tells me that he wished he had not brought the bloody dogs down the street, but his wife makes him. And have I got a copy of Spartan Gold by Clive Cussler?