The Umbrella

There is a young girl sitting cross legged in the corner with an umbrella rising up and over one shoulder, the curved handle announcing exactly her small neck.

There is her mother with a rucksack over one shoulder, standing nearby and looking at book after book in Health.

There is silence in here, but outside raining like mad loudly and cars swishing past then stillness and people running across the road trying to be fast because of the rain but they all do the rain dance. This is a highstep dodging the traffic jump sideways kinds of dance where you end up next to a caravan that’s not yours and rain everywhere anyway.

There’s mud all over the footpath;  every time the door opens I can see it. And wet paper bags and a coffee cup blown across from the bakery.

It’s getting darker and darker even though it’s the middle of the day. A couple look in and she says, ‘Want to have a look, Neil?’, and he says, ‘God no, can get them for half the price online.’ He keeps on peering in, looks right at me. She looks at him. They move away.

The mother and daughter are both kneeling next to the shelves. The umbrella has been laid aside. I can still see its curved handle, a perfect expression, holding its ground and not available online.

A car has to brake suddenly right out there next to my shop. The sound of brakes makes me look up. All the occupants have been jerked forward. I can see mouths moving, heads turning all about.

Mother and Daughter are shoulder to shoulder looking out of the window, and the umbrella is still on the floor in the corner, looking warm and useful.

When I look up a little later, the girl is in the chair. Her mother is kneeling next to the umbrella. It looks after her knee. The rain is coming down. The windows are cold dotted with it.

A couple cross the road come towards me. They break into a sprint for three steps, then calm it into a fast walk, avoiding the water in the air but ending up soaked anyway. They don’t come in. They go to the bakery.

The mother and daughter come to the counter. They look happy. The umbrella is hooked over the girl’s arm.

There were these men

There were these men outside the shop today. All climbed out of one car. Dressed pretty nice. They wanted food though, not books. They were supposed to meet people for lunch at the pub, but they’d parked at the wrong end of town. I watched them working this out.

They checked phones.

One man looked through the window of my shop. He moved closer and looked again. I thought, that’s good. He didn’t come in though.

The others, bless them, look in and then look away. Politely. A bookshop.

‘Where’s the pub?’

‘Here, I reckon. That’s what he said.’

‘Who?’

‘Dale.’

‘God, as if he’d fuckin know. Where is it?’

I felt sorry for Dale. I was a dale. They milled around on the footpath, pulling at their shirts. They all bent over their phones. Except one man who looking in at me. He didn’t come in.

Then, when I looked up again, they were all gone.

Photography: Odd Man In, by Louis Stettner, 1922

pulled the knife out, and he was still bleeding

Sometimes the street outside the shop is quiet. There is no movement, no noise, and nobody passes the shop. Sometimes I go outside and look up and down the road. Then I go back in and get on with things.

Today, it was chaos out there. People crowded past in groups with maps, bags, and phones. The traffic on the road equalled this, stopping, starting, parking, arguing, sounding horns, calling from car windows. And today, the groups on the footpath were so packed together that I heard them and saw them. Every now and again I looked straight into a face that was looking straight back at me.

Somebody yelled, ‘Got to call in here on our way back.’ I didn’t see them. They moved too fast. I hoped they’d come back.

I saw the next couple because they paused at the door. He peered in with screwed up eyes.

‘What is it?’

‘Dunno. Medical place I think.’ He looked right at me and abruptly pulled away.

I’m not a medial place.

The next burst of information came a little later.

‘…pulled the knife out and he was still bleeding…’

‘Silly.’

The first speaker turned and looked right at me looking right at him. I thought, ‘Shit!’

Then,

‘You want something to eat, mother? All right, but I’m not fussy about going back to that cafe though.’

‘That wasn’t here, Ed. That was another town.’

He (who wasn’t fussy) humped his shoulders and looked in at me. I looked out at him, sympathetic. I know about getting the right doughnut.

Painting by Charles Hardaker

Nice little bookshop

That’s me. I heard it spoken as people walked past the bookshop this morning. They walk so quickly I don’t get to see them. I just see what they think.

He said, ‘Nice little bookshop. Amazing that it’s still going.’

And somebody answered, ‘True!’

I think, well, maybe not so amazing.

Back to Mark Twain. Somebody wants his autobiography – the University of California Press edition in three volumes. As if I could find that and then let it go to someone else!

A group of four sweep past the window. They are all talking hard.

A lady says, ‘Is that sexist?’

He answers, ‘I think so.’

Seven teenagers in a row, loud and clattery. Bent underneath school bags. They are all talking too loud for me to hear it, but I do hear:

‘Uluru. It’s Uluru.’

Then they are gone.

Back to Georgette Heyer and Harry Potter. Back to The Hitchhiker’s Guide. Back to Marcel Proust, Alice Munro, and Irene Nemirovsk.

The door opens and a man leans in and looks at me, retreats abruptly, closes the door. Ok.

Back to Patricia Cornwell. Back to The Odyssey.

A lady I know comes in. ‘How are you, my dear?’ I’m not coming in. I just want to know how you are.’

A man tells me all about The Barossa Valley.

Another man wants to know all about Clayton.

Back to A Gentleman in Moscow, which I have stolen from my own shelves.

Painting by Carol Marine

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

We waited a whole hour, and not even a sausage roll

Today, people are discussing Christmas. Christmas is receding gently, but there are things to discuss. I can hear them where I sit, and I think about them.

‘I made pavlova but nobody ate it. Won’t make it again.’

‘They made a wreath out of crystal or something.’

‘Why would they do that?’

‘No idea.’

Two young men pass by, fast. They are talking about skiing. They wear black jumpers and black beanies because it has turned unexpectedly cold today. One of them spins to the right and then to the left, acting out a significant manoeuvre for his friend, who is not watching. He is checking his phone. ‘Jazz didn’t like her present…’

‘No way.’

‘Who’s got a spare hand?’ This is a young family carrying too many things. They line up to cross the road, and the father, hoping to pass around some of his parcels, is ignored. ‘Just like the other day, hey! Just like Christmas.’

Another family climb out of a parked car. There are sleeping bags and tents strapped to the roof, and they climb out slowly and stretch and look at each other not very happily. ‘Can we go somewhere where we can eat?’ They all walk slowly to the bakery except for a teenage boy wearing white headphones who remains in the front seat of the car.

A group of motorcyclists across the road are leaving in a group. They are so loud that the customers in my shop pause and look up to watch. Each motorcyclist leaves the same way: pulls out slowly, dramatically, straightens up, adjusts the helmet, moves forwards, and then abruptly lurches into a deafening roar. Fifty metres or so down the road, they roar again, but this time more loudly. Outside the shop, people are standing watching on the kerb. The teenager with the headphones has joined them. Then he sees his family returning and swings back into the front seat of the car. He slams the door. He winds the window down and yells gently to a younger sibling, ‘Give it here. Give us one. Give us a pastie. Oi, Luke, give us one. Ta mate.’

A lady and her friend are near the counter, shoulders together. ‘I really don’t think he can cope anymore. You should have seen. We waited a whole hour and not even a sausage roll. I’m not going there for Christmas next year, and we’re going to have proper custard.

‘I know, I know. Yes. I thought that too.’

Painting by David Hettinger

The family on the footpath and the mystery of the keys

There’s a parked car outside my door. It’s hot out there.  The passengers of the car climb out to meet the passengers of another car parked up the road, out of my sight. They meet up outside my window and mill around, talking and shouting, and swinging bags around; then they abruptly part because there is a problem with a bunch of keys.

‘Dad’ is holding them in his open palm, standing at the back of the car. Another man, younger, moves close and looks down, and there is a discussion with their heads close together. The older man shakes his head, no, no, no. The younger man turns and raises his eyes at another man who is standing against my door. I can’t hear them. It’s too windy.

Two women approach from the other car and look closely at the keys. All the men move in again. Intense discussion, shaking of heads. One man makes a phone call, and as he lifts the phone to his ear he is shaking his head.

An old lady is helped from the front seat of their car by a teenager, and she moves close to the group, not smiling, not hurrying. Everyone realizes this at the same time, and there is a tiny movement of surprise,and then they all move apart and look down at her, kindly. She says something and nobody answers, and then she takes the keys from the older man and puts them in her cardigan pocket. The teenage girl turns away from the group with her shoulders raised, grinning, and puts one hand over her mouth, and I hear her say, ‘Yes!’

Sculpture by Will Kurtz

Softly, softly past the bookshop

Softly is what the footsteps are as the walkers approach my windows. I can’t see anything, I don’t hear anything – and then they burst across the glass in swinging lines and elbow angles and singular bobbing heads, and there are swirls of conversation bits that all go upwards.

‘It was like, fifty bucks, on the sale section. I was like, yeahhhh.’

People walk past in rows and clots. A slow plodding adult will be followed by totting small shapes with softly moving spokes; I see their eyes flash enormously at the wooden cat in my window.

‘Quickly, come on…’

Bright orange blooming briefly against the glass indicates workers moving and eating and reading phones at the same time, even while crossing the road. They stop and start and spill soft drink.  ‘You got my keys? Troy, where’s the keys?

Once a lounge cushion was thrown out of a parked ute which then backed over it and drove away, leaving the cushion to be flattened again by the bus behind them. The bus driver looked out of the window and shook his head, not smiling.

A still shadow means someone has stopped and is probably peering in. A lady once stood writing the names down of the books in my window, but she didn’t come in. She kept biting her lip and frowning to see the titles.

Large groups are usually heading somewhere together. They darken the whole window and deafen even the traffic beside them. They make jokes, ‘Look, Joel, there’s a book about you here.’ Everyone looks at The Dork Diaries in the last window and exchange a bit of laugh with each other, then move on, anticipating the pub. The Dork Diaries will be hilarious then.

Older people go steadily and stop often and turn to each other to talk, sometimes for a few minutes. They check bags and tissues at the same time. They rarely check a phone.

‘Yes, yes, yes, yes. I heard her say that…she should stay there is what I think.’

‘It takes all sorts.’

‘Well I suppose that’s true in its way…’

This moving activity, like a single day-length message, never ends. It is endlessly comic, delicate, and alive.

Sculpture by Jurga  

The man going past the window

Last Friday it was hot outside. Everyone was slowing down, and children were walking with their eyes screwed up.. The glass along the front of the shop was hot. The purple tinsel waiting to be put up was warm, and when I went home, the ducks sat on the side of the road with their beaks down and eyes shut.

People still came in to look for books. The man who came past the window was moving fast. This is why everyone inside looked up. He was striding along, talking on the phone without looking left or right, and he had his phone on speaker.

 ‘He said that what he really respects about me is that…..’

The other person said something.

Then the man that we could still see stopped dead, and leaned back and laughed hugely, and banged one knee with his hand and said,

 ‘Oh mate, thank YOU.’ Then he walked on, was gone.  

Painting by Elizabeth Jose

The ute is gone

Two ladies are drifting around the shop, dreamily, and apologetic as if they shouldn’t be here. They say, ‘Sorry’, and tiptoe past me. They are pineapple and blue, bright and delicious. They sway here and lean there.

 ‘I remember half of these books from me childhood.’

‘It’s a bit of a shock isn’t it!’

‘Oh I know.’

Outside the door there is a ute parked, and in the back of the ute, a sheep, quite dead, and next to it, a ladder. I know because I stood up to see. I looked at the sheep’s belly, looking for breathing. None.

A passer-by walked past the windows, absorbed and fluent. He looked into the back of the ute as he walked, his head turning as though on a stalk. He stopped abruptly and looked more closely, and then walked on.

‘Oh my lord.’ A lady stopped and gestured with her bag.

‘Oh no.’

Inside, the pineapple and blue ladies are still drifting. They have solid bags. Their hair is similar, small silver tents. They clasp their hands across their fronts.  The floor creaks under their gentle boots.  Slowly, softly, they exclaim at memories.

Outside in the quiet road, the sheep is still dead, itself now a memory. The driver plods wearily past my windows and climbs in.  He has a tray with two coffees.

I am asked for James Michener, Miss Read, The Readers Digest Motoring Guide to Australia and books that are good for reading groups.

A young woman asks her friend, ‘Would you listen to this if I read it out loud?’

Her friend, breathes out, ‘Maybe.’

The blue and pineapple ladies pass by, thank me and tenderly leave.

The young women search urgently for things to read aloud.

The ute has driven away, and the sheep is gone.

Image by Hugh Stewart