The ballad of people walking dogs past the shop door

I get plenty of time to observe. Most people with dogs go past the shop slowly. They look at the books in the window and their dogs stamp the doorway with nose prints and understand information left by previous dogs.

 Some dogs know what to do when walking along. They lead and owners follow. These dogs don’t stop at my door. The owner’s arms are stretched out and they walk jerkily, eyes on the ground, going faster than they really want to. These dogs are usually small with snaky sharp faces and blurry moving feet.

Other dogs pump it along the footpath turning back and forth following every noise and barking at other dogs and side leaping away from traffic. They have worn out leads and owners on phones. They piss on the side of my door, and the owners don’t notice.

When crossing the road, some dogs lead strongly and owners follow. Some sit and await owner signals and then stand and walk smoothly, often leaning into their owner’s thighs to feel for the next signal.

Dogs leap and writhe and stand upright on two legs when other dogs pass. Some dogs stand with eyes closed and doze while owners look through my windows. Sometimes a back leg shakes slightly and then goes still again.

Some people carry their dogs. I just see them as puddles of fur moving horizontally with flopping paws and the ears pointing backwards.

Some people don’t have dogs and go everywhere alone.

A group of tourists passed the door this morning

There were about six of them, they’d all been to the bakery, they all had hot food and coffee, and they’d parked outside my shop.

One man read aloud the sign on my door: “Second hand books. Something for everyone. Please Come In.” He read it in a sing song voice. Then he said, ‘Awwww. No way. Do you think anyone ever goes in?’

They all clattered past to their car, parked just past the verandah. Someone had on bright yellow, and one of them was trailing a bag with a long handle on the ground. One of them, an older man, had a newspaper.

There were two patient dogs on leads tied up under my verandah. They belong to a frequent bakery customer. They are very good dogs. One of the group, a lady, stopped to pat them.

She said, ‘Must belong to the bookshop. Not very nice having them tied up here all day.’

Then she looked through my window and saw Callie, who was working away at Young Readers, tidying up, and putting everything back into alphabetical order. The lady said, loudly, ‘Well there’s someone in here, the owner, I’d say.’

The don’t know we can hear them. We hear everything in here. The alcove doorway scoops up the sounds and delivers them to us in a teacup.

Callie keeps on shelving.

I smile and keep on reading.

People going past really fast

I thought this morning that I hadn’t seen Sarah or Robert for ages, and they always used to come in to say hello and tell me what they disagreed with at the moment. Things don’t seem the same without this input.

I can hear the little portable fences around the bakery blowing over in the wind. People always walk faster when it’s windy, whether they are walking against it or agreeing with it.

Two teenage boys passed shoulder to shoulder, talking urgently: “She was just staring at me just staring at me like this.” I saw the other boy’s head turn to look, and then they were gone.

‘Fuck this for a stopover.’ Two tradesmen standing next to a dark blue ute just outside my door and discussing I don’t know what but it’s very loud.

‘…and then he pulled the rotary hoe out.’ Two gentlemen paused in my doorway to undo paper bags of hot food, and then moved on again into the wind, still discussing the rotary hoe.

‘I tried to talk to him, but he won’t talk to me.’ This is four girls from the high school. The speaker and a friend, and two more walking close behind and leaning forward to hear it all. One of them shrieked. Then they were gone.

Raining today, and the road is hissing

That’s all I can hear this morning: water on the road and crockery in the bakery.

The rain comes down hard all day.

Someone stopped in my doorway and booked a motel, and a dog refused to go across the road and had to be carried.

A young tradesman dropped his mask in a puddle and put it back on again, and everyone is shrugging back into warm clothing, which last week we had discarded. A lady said, ‘Who brought this weather in?’ and Alan told me to, ‘Enjoy it, mate, because it won’t last’.

I don’t mind. It’s good reading weather, as is all weather. Alan notices water. He’s going home to check the water that’s come to his place, which is somewhere outside of Alice Springs.

Sarah came in, and then backed out because she’d forgotten her mask. She roared through the door as she left that Scott Morrison was at it again.

A couple went past fast, and he was saying, ‘Don’t put the umbrella there, I get all the drips’, and she snapped it shut hard, so he really did get all the drips even though he ducked hard to the side, and then they were gone so I didn’t see any more.

An old couple went across the road, slowly treading through the water, and three cars had to slow down, but nobody tooted.

Still raining. Good reading day.

Shouting going on and on

Shouting outside goes on and on; it’s a conversation about floorboards between three men with coffees who are leaning companionably against the bakery veranda posts.

An old couple across the road are arguing over their dog who has just completed a large poo on the footpath. The man has a dustpan, but the couple can’t agree on the cleaning up. They both keep pointing at it. The dog sits and watches the traffic.

The floorboard men have moved up to my veranda posts and are discussing someone called Craig.

‘He’s in a difficult situation. Very hard to deal with. I’m going to try and smooth things over for him. Yeah. I’m going to give him some ammo, something useful to help his argument.’

‘Yeah.’ Everyone is nodding.

Another group pass; broad and heavy shouldered and dressed for motorcycling. They are all drinking from water bottles.

‘It’s 34 minutes, man.’

‘Is it?’

‘Yeah, that’s by Tailem Bend. We’re not going there. Enjoy your ride guys.’

‘No worries.’ They all part in various directions. One looks into my shop as he passes and says, ‘Spike Milligan. What a legend.’

The floorboard men, who have leaned back to let the cyclists pass, gather in again.

‘Well, if this is what I have to do.’

‘Yeah mate.’ Everyone is nodding again.

I notice that the couple with the dog have left. There is a car and caravan there now, and the couple inside it have a map spread out over the dashboard.

Suddenly the door opens and Sarah comes crashing in with four shopping bags and a newspaper and settles in to tell me about that moron Scott Morrison.

A dish cloth was all that was needed

Parked outside the shop is a car with a trailer holding a red air compressor, which is secured with broad yellow straps. There is a vinyl square cushion strapped against its flank. This cushion is a square the colour of caramel and is covered in dust.

We once had this lounge suite; the seat was three cushions side by side and the back was one long rectangular slab. A dish cloth was all that was needed to remove jam or drawings in chalk, or blood. Under the cushions there were broad straps webbed from end to end and that gradually sank over the years. The arms were made of wood with thick wrists and carved hard elbows. When we got rid of ours, there were matchbox cars and marbles caught in the webbing.  

It was a good couch for reading.

Wanting the peacock

This morning, there was shouting outside the door. An argument. The participants separated but then drew together again.

‘F you, Matt.’

Matt crossed the road, hands in pockets, looking glum. Then another scream right at my door.

‘Look at this. Look at this. Frink’n hell. That’d be good, oy, Matt, get here.’

‘Matt.’ (Even louder)

Matt came back. ‘What, mate! God.’

‘Look at this. Gunna get one.’

They are looking at my metal peacock outside under the larger window, and which is in poor shape and not for sale anyway.

The door swings open. The couple stand in my doorway, breathing hard, and they carefully sign in with their phones. They also very carefully adjust their face masks before looking at me and shouting a request for the peacock. But I can’t help.

‘I’m sorry. I don’t have any others.’

They are cheerful. ’No worries, mate. Bummer. Not a problem.’

He picks up a six pack of beer he’d just put down outside the door. She turns back just as the door closes and presses her mouth through the gap, ‘Really really nice place you’ve got here.’

Broom stories 2

These are the things that happen when I am outside the shop sweeping the footpath. I have to keep out of the way of passers-by. I have to be wary of trucks parking right next to me with the reverse tune singing on and on. But people seem to like seeing a person sweeping. There’s something soothing about it. It’s normal. It’s never ending. The footpath gets itchy and I sort it out, and people comment on my work.

‘You’re making a difference, mate.’

‘Looks lovely.’

‘You’ll be doing that all day.’

‘Come and do mine.’

Two men came past, arguing: ‘That was an Ebola outbreak.’

‘No. There wasn’t. It was meningococcal.’

‘Don’t reckon.’

A man came past in a raspberry and white striped shirt and stood right in my way. A lady carrying an enormous cake box strode past both of us.

The man jumped, and said, ‘My word, I’m sorry.’

Everyone wears masks.

The lady with the cake box wears a black mask. Her shoes are black. Everything matches. She comes past again with a second cake box. I’m taking cobwebs off the fence and starting to feel hungry.

The lady comes past with a third cake. I move out of her way. She says,

‘All good dear.’

There’s a man with two boys. He wears a mask hanging from one ear. They all have the same baseball caps and they walk the same way with their feet turning softly inwards with each step. He is drinking coffee, and they all have paper bags. The boys have cokes.

When they come past, he says, ‘Watch where you’re going you boys. Don’t get in the way.’ The boys, who are not in the way, jump backwards to get out of the imagined way. They cradle drinks against their chests, and one says, ‘Sorry. Sorry.’

An old lady walks past, slowly, slowly, and turns to look at me. She has to turn her head and shoulders to find me, but she does, and she says, ‘Looks very nice, dear.’ Then she turns back and grips her walking frame and continues on.

A lady with a dog, says, ‘Sorry honey, we’ll get out of your way.’

But I am finished. The path looks restored. In an hour it will be wearing its normal skin again.  But that’s ok.

Portrait in orange a couple of days ago

Workmen in bright orange shirts in my doorway eating food. They have iced coffees.

They have to keep moving out of the way of all the other passers-by. It’s cold.

An older couple move past swinging motorbike helmets, him watching her closely to see where she wants to go. They go on to the bakery and the workmen in orange crowd against my door again to let them pass. The food they have is hot and in paper bags; about eight bags each. I can see the steam. They have packs of smokes and huge boots, muddied. I can hear them scraping about out there.

‘I’m never going to get it.’

‘That’s what I reckon.’

‘So hungry.’

They go back and forth to the bin. One of turns and gazes in at the books. They keep eating. They stop chewing only when a truck passes, and then they gaze at it until it’s gone. Then they start eating again.

‘I don’t know, man. Just don’t know.’

‘Na. Me too. Where you going?’

‘Bog.’

‘K. See you at the car.’

One crosses the road slowly, still eating. When I look up again, they are both gone, and the orange landscape is now grey.

What to talk about when things get uneasy

I know that people who come into the shop are a little more concerned than usual, and that if they weren’t before, they will be now. There have been conflicts and difficulties in the past, and I have had to intervene. But things have changed. The biggest change is that it is so easy to get things wrong, especially in a small shop where everyone can hear everyone else.This means I have to intervene more often.

Now I have something that can help a little. When there was angst about the government, I used it. Once, during an argument about Bob Hawke, I used it. Once, after an enraged threat, ‘Well, I’ll fucking tell you something’, I soothed the participant with it. Once some travellers from Victoria in my shop were told sharply that they had no right (to something). I fired the accuser with a new issue, and luckily it worked. A man leaned over me angrily about vaccinations, (‘it’s all about profit’), and I moved him on gently to a greater issue.

This is because there are common issues. We can bend our anger and hatred upon these, and they deserve it.

The greatest of these is phone updates.

I ask, ‘Do you like your phone?’

We mostly don’t. People bend over their phone screens for me, trying to find the words for something that, while vital, provokes endless rage. If necessary, I probe the wound:

‘Do you do the updates?’ No argument can survive this question. Everyone takes out their phone and looks at it, looking for the update still sitting there like an arsehole.

‘God, updates. With this phone, I can’t update anything. Look at this.’ And they show me the source of all evil, previous argument gone.

‘Fucking hate this phone. Don’t get an Android.’

‘Samsung. Useless. Apple is better. But…’

I ask, ‘Should I do this update?’ This provokes intense anxiety (except in young people, who will fearlessly update anything) in case I am mis-advised.

‘Don’t do it mate.”

‘Na, fuck that.’

‘Never.’

‘Do all of ‘em. Else you’ll be hacked the shit out of.’

There are other things. Printers. All people hate their printers. This includes me. They always work for the first eighteen pages… ‘

So, what printer do you recommend?’

‘God, I hate Canon. So shit. And Epsom. They’re wankers.’

“God. Don’t ask me. I got this one at home that….’

Australia Post. People look stern and severe.

‘You tell me why it takes ten days for a pack to get from here to Woodside. I mean, what are they doing with the stuff!’

‘You know what they charge? You ever been in there? You have to queue from here to the river. That’s because they’re all dickheads with fancy watches. Actually they’re ok here. But they’re shit in Mt Barker.

‘Well, they lost my stuff. Everyone knows they smash the parcels to bits and reckon they didn’t. No compensation for me.’

Developers.

I only use this for emergencies. Because after this one, everybody is family, and nobody will go home.