Inside, Outside

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There are two ladies here discussing Things. First they talked about their children and then about Woolworths. Then, a water meter (broken). They have not looked at any books yet. Maybe they won’t. It often happens this way when people meet unexpectedly in a shop.

Today, my quiet door is hard at work. Earlier, a young man had thanked me for alphabetical order. He had held both hands out and said, ‘Thank you for alphabetical order…you’ve no idea what a difference it makes!’ His friend said, ‘Let’s go’, and edged the decision toward the door where the talking ladies moved aside without seeing him. But the young man was not ready to go. He was at Poetry. He suddenly said, ‘Get me out of here, I can’t go on’, and his friend said, ‘Thank God’, and they went outside to check phones, holding the door open, and we heard one of them say, ‘Sue isn’t a real vegan anyway.’ We could also hear a man in a suit standing next to his parked car with a coffee, and saying into his phone, ‘Do you want to drop those ladders off? Just go to my house then. Just bloody do it. Yeah….. yeah, ok…..yeah, I know….God. Why?’

The door closed

It opened. It was Don, hoping for his book on the Australian cameleers, but it was not in yet. As he left, he shouted back through the slowly closing door, ‘Off to Moonta with the Mrs, can’t wait. There’s history up there.’

The door shut. It opened.

‘Hello, hello, can we browse? Just been in the bakery. John’s still finishing his bun.’ Then she shouted back to someone else, ‘Get John.’

Outside, the man in the suit was saying, ‘And at the end of the day shit happens. I know that for a fact. Have you heard from your lawyer?’

The door shut.

The talking ladies moved comfortably into the doorway again.

A man asked for Lee Child. A lady asked for Sue Grafton. A couple asked for The Diary of Anne Frank (the uncut version). They told me that when they went to Amsterdam etc.

The man outside finished his call and began another.

People came along the footpath from both directions. There was a wild commotion of dogs. Everyone stopped and apologised, and said that their dog doesn’t usually do that etc.

The man outside is repeating into his phone that at the end of the day, shit happens, and he has always known this.

A child in the front room is standing motionless with a copy of The Hobbit on her head and staring through the window. She says to her mother, ‘Can we get this?’ and her mother nods without looking up.

The ladies in the doorway are leaving. I can hear them going up the footpath, ‘Well, I just tried it with beetroot, and the results were fair at least…’

I’ve got two impatient men out here

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A lady visited the shop this morning and stayed mostly with the biographies. She circled around briefly, noting this and that, nodding and looking, but always returned to the biographies. She said, ‘I love them.’

Then she said, ‘I’d stay longer, but I’ve two impatient men out there.’ She wagged her head from side to side and raised her eyes to the roof. She remained looking thoughtfully upward, as though seeing some solution up there.

Then she looked back into the biographies. There was a tap on the window and an urgent face appeared.

She said, ‘Oh damn them.’

She opened the door an inch and stared out, and they stared back. She said, ‘I just told her in there that I’ve got two impatient men out here.’

They jumped back in alarm. One said, ‘Well that’s not true is it. We just want a cup of tea. You go back in there to your books and fancies. Can’t she Frank! Why can’t she do that!

But Frank was not helpful. He had turned away. A cup of tea! He disappeared from view.

She joined them outside, sighing, suffering, and I heard her say, ‘Well, my goodness”, as they continued down the street.

 

 

 

 

A small business surviving

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Just a note to thank everyone around me who sends people my way. I can’t afford to advertise, so word of mouth it is.

Small businesses don’t survive so well anywhere these days – but everyone who drops in on a visit here, tells me it’s precisely because of the small businesses in Strathalbyn that they come.

And of course books are supposed to be “on the way out”. But books are always on the way out, or at least on the way somewhere (in people’s arms). And young writers everywhere are writing madly. And reading.

So, it’s worth staying on in a micro business that means no profit but endless joy. Not that hard to keep going!

And thank you to everyone who reads my stories. At first I was just writing them for myself – because I didn’t want to forget the people who came to the shop. But now, when there is something important to capture in writing, I am excited to tell everyone – look at this!!

Readers, and what they do – so astonishing to me. I am glad I am not alone.

Uncle Don

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Just turned eighty. He said in photo one, he is fifteen, in photo two, he is half full.

In my stories of him, I remember the country, the heat, and the Cadbury chocolate blocks, the big ones (happiness).

There were cousins, strawberry fates and crabbing (somewhere).

So important, the memories and stories.

He just told me one of his stories:

When he was fifteen, he left school. He was forced to stay till fifteen. His mum (my Nanna) said, ‘Well you’re going then, and don’t you come back.’ She gave him ten shillings, a pack of cigarettes, one change of clothes and a new pair of R. M. Williams boots. Stirrup boots. He said, ‘My dad tried them on. I saw him in the hallway there, trying them on, reminded him of the bush you see.’

I remember his dad, my grandfather. His garden captured in rectangles, the vegetables obedient, the bizarre horse radish unkind to my mouth. There was a pool. It was a water butt, a tank overflow, waist high and diabolically beautiful. I played there with a set of plastic animals that I helped across the terrifying water to another place. In the shed nearby, my grandfather, a bushman and miserable in the city, worried pieces of wood into new smooth pieces, a pony, a seal, a round thing that clung to my small hand like an impossible, silken enchantment.

So my Uncle Don went off to Gulnare. On a property, there was a fine horse called Lady Claire, and my Uncle was given her foal to break in –  Dr Penney, he was called, after that Maralinga bloke, William Penney…

That horse would come to a whistle, no matter where he was.

He sewed wheat bags and fenced, one quid per mile if hilly, eight shillings and sixpence when not. He worked all day till it got too dark to see.  Then to the pub with a whole quid, ‘That bought a meal and four bottles of beer to take home, and change in my hand.’

‘I was a rich man.’

Bought himself an Austin 7 with my Nanna going guarantor, and she said, By God, Donald, don’t you let me down.’

My Nanna was a silent person. When I played on her back lawn, near the unkind horse radish, when I build small houses with cardboard and blankets with the livid, galloping imagination of the lonely child, she would approach silently, and leave at the entrance to the realm, a dish with five white peppermints and a glass of fizzy.

Well, my Uncle flipped the Austin 7. And that was the end of that!

But not the end of the stories. There is never an end to the stories; I just have to worry at everyone, and turn them into the impossible enchantments that they actually are.

 

 

The raspberry saddle

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There are three of them here in the shop, a family, an adult daughter and her parents and the father is silent and examines the door locks. The mother looks at the books, closely, with her eyes half shut. The daughter carries books around. The daughter tells me about a copy of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising that she had once, the glue let go, it unglued itself, the binding fell apart. She said it was her mother’s fault for reading it aloud so much.

Her mother said, what was the accusation? And the daughter said, without looking up, you know…

The mother leaned back and looked into the past with pleasure. She said yes, it was our fault, our generation did it, read like that. I remember. Remember Lord of the Rings? And you used to be into the unicorns.

I’m not into unicorns, I never was.

You used to be.

I never was.

Then the father said: yes you was.

The daughter looked at me and said, see, I had a mum who read to me like anything.

The mother thought about this with her eyes kind of half shut and then said, thanks babe!

After they left, they stood in the alcove outside the door for a long time. The daughter was telling them a story about a unicorn, she said it had a raspberry saddle, she said, do you remember it mum, do you remember that, and the parents were nodding and nodding and trying to remember it.

 

Artwork by Emma Ersek

Western Star, isn’t it?

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Looky at this door, look at the sign… the two old men stopped together to look at my shop door this morning and examine the sign hanging on the glass. They read it out loud: please come in, second hand books, har, har, har, who’d go inta here do y reckon? Then they turned abruptly, and I saw them looking, frowning up the road: crikey the trucks are noisy, but I don’t mind the Western Star outfits…that’s one thing I do not mind.

Now they are both looking up and down the road and up and down their memories and they review their knowledge of the superior value of American trucks. And then they remember their original point which was that nobody reads anymore. No that’s right. My grandkids only have phones and things. Not one of em can even fix a flat. Don’t tell me about them! They both lean back, contemptuous. They are looking through the second window now, then they move to the third. And then it is time to go and the first man grips the second man’s shoulder and the second man, his friend, turns steadily and considerately and safely and everybody stays upright and then I can’t see or hear them anymore, two old friends, their stories written long ago in many, many books, many countries, safely preserved and still important.

That’s the thing!

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Yvonne continues to look in the door of the shop most mornings and ask me how the babies are. I tell her they are growing and happy. She always says: Well that’s the thing isn’t it!

When Morgan looks at his infant son, his son looks at him and they exchange evidence that each now lives for the other. Noah’s face is too small to hold in all the joy. And that’s the thing.

Outside the shop there is a father securing a sheepdog in the back of the ute. The son, about 8, stands patiently by. He asks his dad if he can get an icecream and a hero disk. His dad says: yep, soon as I tie in Baily. The son balances on the edge of the gutter and puts one finger on Baily’s nose to help and his dad says: well done. The child smiles. And that’s the thing.

Once a boy told me that he was 10 years old and going to read Brisingr. He asked his dad if he could get him Brisingr and his dad said yes. Then the child made a good joke: he said – can you get me a dragon? And his dad said: maybe… and the child laughed darkly to himself.

And that’s the thing.

Joe visited two days ago to pick up his Charmian Clift book and said that he has had a win. That he kept his every book he ever had on making furniture, but nobody wanted them. So he asked his son if HIS son, an apprentice cabinet maker might like them, and his son said: he won’t want them, just chuck them dad.

But Joe called his grandson himself and the boy said: I’ll be down on Saturday, Grandpa, keep them for me. Joe said: I’ve had a win haven’t I! And that’s the thing!

Dale’s dad told him that he should read history as it occurs. Dale said that he just wanted to read Skulduggery, all 10 of them in the right order. His dad argued for the reading of history (as it occurs) but they left with 5 Skulduggery books and no history and Dale was very happy. He carried all the books himself. And that’s the thing.

Small things are always the things.

Twirling

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There is a little girl here and she is 8 years old. She has placed a copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on the counter and is twirling slowly around and around, waiting for her sister, waiting for her father, waiting for her grandma. She tells me that she can fly.

But her younger sister, who is 4, is causing a consternation. She has rejected every book her father holds out. Though he is hopeful, she still discards every one. It is easy to think that a small child will read any book. This is wrong.

I think that with reading, with stories, in libraries, in book collections, wherever the books are, there is always someone searching, someone concluding, someone triumphant, someone refusing and someone twirling, who can also fly.

Artwork by Duy Huynh