The Empress

Red Shirt on the Steps by Darren Thompson  (2).jpg

I’m just going to look in the bookshop.
A woman said this outside the shop, she said it to her family, or perhaps they were friends, but anyway, they were all male and all young except one, her husband maybe.
Are you serious….one boy said this on a note of desperation, his voice slid around on the word “serious” trying to find something positive to stop the downward slide.
I won’t be long. I thought she was calm and good and I hoped she might come in. They had stood for ages in the doorway, they looking down (at phones), she looking in.
Are you serious…this said by another boy, he had headphones and long black jeans that rolled underneath his shoes and were worn away like old matting. He had a black singlet and on the front of this was the word Satan.
Just get into the car. This was what she said next while I was hoping she might come in.
… are you serious… This again from the first boy who swayed back and then downwards, marking the agony of his life right now.
Get in the car. And so, like that, she trimmed the arguments and parted the agony, opened the door and came in and I was pleased. She was serene and upright, pulling the summer in after her and needing nobody for attendance.
Outside the window were her menfolk, family or friendfolk, slumped in a sort of comfortable defeat, dropped against the window, one boy hoisted his shoulder against all new ideas. The headphone boy stood still in his own private response, eyes closed anyway. Another, a third boy made binoculars out of his hands and telescoped her through the glass, his orange T-shirt stained the light, and I saw that his eyes tracked her from shelf to shelf and sometimes he made his eyes desperate  thinking she was looking at him. But she wasn’t. He wanted to go home but she didn’t.
All those boys drifted over to their car and I watched them. The car was parked right outside the shop, it was white, they opened the doors and left them open. There were chip packets all across the back seat.
One boy lay across the back seat. One boy sat with his legs on the dashboard and the other possible brother slowly baked his evening plans, sitting on the footpath.
There was a father too, he was already in the car, was reading the newspaper and not bothering to question the rather beautiful afternoon.
Inside the shop it is cool and nice and she, (the empress), is leaning with Janet Evanovich, leaning against the cool wall, an empress, not hurrying, not concerned with outside.
When she left, much later on, she paused in the doorway and re entered the summer exactly in the way she wanted and all the sons stared at her wordlessly and she stared back at them in exactly the same way. It was excellent.


Artwork: Red Shirt on the Steps by Darren Thompson

Mother and Son


They were waiting at the door of the shop for me when I came back from the bakery.

The son, a child of about 12, came inside and began counting the Eragons, counting to make sure they were all there, which they were not. His mother wondered if it mattered. He said that it did, and he did not choose the Eragons.

They swung around, moved around, browsed gently and talked to themselves. He examined Flyte, book two of the Septimus Heap series. He said: this one. His mother asked him why he wanted that one and the boy put his hands into his pockets and leaned back and looked up through the depths of his reading and closed his eyes.

He said: it’s really good, mum.

She looked at the book kindly and nodded, ok then.

The Staff Meeting


In all businesses there must be staff meetings.

I do not have staff meetings because the only staff member is myself. But eventually I can agree that any discussion of brilliant books could be a staff meeting of sorts.
This staff meeting was attended by four of us. We discussed Jared Diamond, anthropology, possibly Terry Pratchett, possibly Asterix, definitely Australian history, and probably fiction as it is important.
The babies shouldered in, sticky, warm, breathing too loudly, ignoring the social rules of public meetings: they did not dress to impress and they did not prepare a list of books they have Just Read. Noah threw a board book into the midst of the speakers without introducing it appropriately. Max brought a rattle which was not relevant.

They are scornful of the meeting guidelines.

Max stands too close to other members and eats loudly, forgetting previous eating out loud advice. He also prefers to stand with one sticky starfish hand holding on to a neighbour’s shoulder, an infringement at best.
Sometimes they allow a baby shout of fervour, a hoot or a loud laugh at something which nobody else can see. They make each other laugh. So obviously next time they will not be permitted to be near each other.
Once when offered a volume, Noah hurled it to the floor. Both babies looked down at it confounded by the solid pitch of its landing. They breathe hard, exhaling a world of information concerning the physics of the crash. Then they abruptly turned and left, walking on  fat and rolling feet with no ankles yet or crawling rapidly, aiming for distance, stopping to think, continuing without explanation.

Then they are suddenly back again, my grandsons, sure of their welcome, turning toward the ribbons of talk, rotating amongst the enthusiasm and eyeing unblinking the volumes that are held aloft. They gaze at faces, hold out hands toward the books, stir richly through enthusiasm, walk across books, warming themselves on a bedrock of unlimited and imperishable treasure.