On the way to work in a bookshop

Two minutes away from the driveway, and I need to think about what I’ve left behind. I can hear books sliding across the back seat and thumping against the boot, but the one I need won’t be there.

And it’s not. I left it on the edge of the kitchen table next to a small container of peanuts, a fowlers jar preserving ring and a set of keys not mine.

So, Anne won’t get Hubert Wilkins today.

I stop at our general store and complain to Jake about Australia Post and he agrees.

I drive to Callington trying to avoid the galahs that scribble all over the roads in small groups of about 8 million.

Through Callington hoping no train comes through and holds me up for a year so that one carriage can come through at a perfect walking pace.

Through the farms, which are all perfect slabs of golden toast at this time of year.

Woodchester, stone walls and quietness and the row boat on the corner made up into a Christmas display.

Weave around the farm machinery going from paddock to paddock, one with silver tinsel tied to each door handle.

While driving, go through orders in my head not completed yet, orders not yet picked up, and wonder how to keep going with James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Into Strathalbyn and more galahs, white ones in clumps of one hundred, I can see them standing on the road and screaming in each other’s faces.

Then the ducks, quiet and always together and never knowing quite when to get out of the way of the traffic.

I watch huge trucks swerve at the last minute and somehow miss them all, and motorists swerving into the oncoming lane to avoid making ducky pancakes, and oncoming motorists nodding, fair enough, but I can see them all saying fukn ducks because I can read lips when driving this slowly.

Kids on skateboards fast and a lady with a walker slow.

The wooden Christmas trees on the corner. Ruby baubles tied to fences, a lady walking her dog with tinsel twisted through his collar.

At my shop, a caravan parked but has left just enough room for me to get to my tiny park next to the shed. A stack of bakery trays piled against the shed for some reason.

A black face mask on the ground and a small purple drink bottle.

Struggle around to the door and enter within with a good plan for the day. Decide against most of it.

Have another brief go at Ulysses.

Shelving, dusting, clean windows. Someone says, “she’s closed”, and I quickly snap the sign to open, but they are gone. More shelving, orders, book searches, message people for pickups, tidy displays, turn on the Christmas lights.

Have another go at Ulysses. Serve customers. More shelving, more orders.

A man tells me about World War 2.

I find a copy of The Incredible Journey for someone.

A young man wants a classic to read and I show him 20 possibilities, but he leaves without getting any of them. I take Grapes of Wrath, which I’d showed him, and begin reading it myself.

Someone asks me how to get to Woodchester.

Not a very lucrative day, but each day a gem.

No day is ever the same.

Four people

This morning four people jumped out of a car parked directly in front of my shop. One had gloves attached to his belt and they twirled about his waist. They were all hungry. They fairly leapt from their car, bouncing and leaping toward the bakery.

Then they came back to eat on the pavement. They looked briefly into my window. One man said, ‘I’ve bloody read that one. God, it was good.’

Another man answered, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever read a book in my life.’

The other man, still eating, looked at him and said, ‘Try it.’

Painting by James Crandall

A small look at a bit of world outside

I stood outside at the fence today and ate a sandwich and watched everything go past. A grey day, warm, and some rain, and a group of tradesmen over at the picnic table drinking coke and iced coffees.

A couple came past. They looked in my windows. They don’t notice me up the street a little, at the gate of the little carpark. So they don’t lower their voices. He says, ‘Wonder why Strath has two bookstores!’

‘Yeah.’

‘Don’t reckon there’s a need for either of ’em myself, I don’t.’

‘Yeah.’

As they pass me, they join hands and lean against each other.

The thing about bookshops is that their owners are so mindlessly besotted with them that nothing can dampen our enthusiasm or distract us from our purpose. Except other bookshops. Obviously.

Chris drove up in her gopher and said a bit of rain is always useful.

We stood companionably. The traffic is smooth. Cows in trucks. Chris said, ‘Look at them, poor dears.’ She’s not that lucky herself, but never sees it that way.

Lunch people with brown paper bags. Joggers. Workers. A crooked crocodile of junior primary children going somewhere, and who shout at my wooden cat in the front window as they go past.

The rain gives a smell. The wind brings my hanging balloons down. Terry comes in for gardening books and browses without me in there. He manages the Covid app on the door skilfully, calls out to me, ‘You eat your pie. Don’t you worry about a thing.’

More wind: passers-by hold onto their hair. A little boy cries, leaning his head against a pram, the baby in the seat looks out at him. The mother places her hand on the little boy’s head and he stops crying.

A man leaning forward, walking fast with a newspaper. Two youths with a radio on a shoulder, playing rap, black caps, gum, black boots, they walked in rhythm, each looking at the other carefully, sideways. I eat my cheese sandwich. Alan stops and tells me about his problematic family.  Said that Strath is made up of all sorts, and that he’s painting again, a big scene this time, and I will love it.

Alan

Alan always talks to me side on. He stares through the door while telling me the story. Sometimes he breaks off before finishing and leaves to talk to someone he just saw over the road. But he always comes back to tell me the rest. They are excellent stories, and all of them true. He adds sound effects, especially when he is cross. He can do an excellent imitations of ducks. Some days he doesn’t come in but will always knock on the window as he passes. He doesn’t want any books from here. He has other things to read, and a family that is always giving him ‘a hard time of it.’ They don’t listen to him! They don’t respect him! But they’ll learn! He wonders about the government. This morning he said of someone that they didn’t know bullshit from vegemite. Then he said sorry, didn’t mean to swear.

Walk properly you idiots

There is a row of people waiting to cross the road. They are lined up precisely, like a fence. Across the road there is another row of people, also waiting to cross.

Everyone’s heads are turned in the same direction, assessing the gaps. But the wait goes on and on, people begin to talk, especially those who know each other.

One lady says, ‘This road…’ but I cannot hear the rest. A man nods, his face turned to the traffic.

Across the road, people come off the kerb, move out, then go back in again. They shrug and laugh, showing nonchalance and humour.

On this side, three tradesmen have joined the row, carrying food and cokes. They brace their shoulders and wade out, their orange vests illuminating a path. The traffic slows. Everyone surges.

A group of three friends make to follow, hesitate, move back, move forward. Splutter, laughing.

One girl says, ‘For God’s sake, walk properly you idiots, and they hold on to each other and move with determination. But there is a long quiet gap now, they walk across easily, and behind the group, a little old lady moves quickly, darts between them, and makes the kerb first.

Image by Julia Whitehead

Jesus, God, you’re a moron

I can sit and watch through the window the way people cross the road. The bakery and the bookshops are on this side, but the car park, the information centre, the art gallery, the grass, the trees, the seats, the toilets, and the playground are all over the other side. Sometimes the road is silent. But mostly it is busy. To cross over, one needs to be organised.

One little girl, still holding the book she just purchased, steps from side to side, lifting one foot then the other as they wait on the kerb.  ‘This is gunna be a good one.’ She held the book up to her dad, and he looked down briefly, kindly, agreeing, but keeping an eye on the road, the kerb, the cars, his child, his life. ‘Looks good. You reckon you’ll read it?’

‘Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah.’ She is confident. She is about eight. I could see her still piping up at him as they crossed over, and him nodding, still watching, watching, swinging his head from side to side and checking everything.

One lady has wild pink hair. Her partner raised his arm to indicate an opportunity to cross the road. She continued past my windows and crossed at a different place. She had purple jeans and orange shoes. She did not look back. She crossed alone, carrying a bag of apples.

One lady stayed on the kerb. She did not cross. She turned and stayed on my side, watching the ground as she walked. Every now and then she turned and checked the road, stopping and turning her whole body to see.

One young man strode out and across, checking his phone. A ute, travelling slowly sounded a horn. The young man gave the thumbs up, without looking away from his phone. He wore heavy work boots and a beanie. He had keys hanging from his belt. He laughed out loud and shook his head, not because of the ute but because of something on his phone; negotiating his way between virtual and real with ease and humour. At the kerb, he picked up something from the ground and handed it to a motorcyclist parked there and who was removing his helmet. The motorcyclist leaned back in surprise, and there was a conversation I could not hear. They shook hands.

A couple argued on the kerb right against my window. He said, ‘I’m not walking fast, I’m walking exactly the same as you. At a normal pace.’ She launched herself across the road, alone. He stayed outside my window and watched.

Children, not realizing the danger zone, hop. Their parents hang on, alert and scanning for wolves. ‘Come on. Walk properly.’

A motorbike sits alive outside my door waiting for a park, it’s throat rich and irritated. But the idling car stays. The motorbike lurches away, spitting angry stones.

It’s now quiet and rather beautiful outside. Across the road, the pine trees rise against the blue. Two young men on my side try to cross and are driven back by a cattle truck. One man thumps the other on the back.

‘Jesus, God you’re a moron.’

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.