David

Three people have just stopped at the window. Their car is parked behind them; one lady holds onto the car door, steadying herself before stepping to the footpath. They others lean to look through the door.

‘David would in there if he were here.’

‘Yes, he would.’ The third lady joins them. She also leans to look through the glass.

‘Yes. I think so, too.’

‘But not now.’

‘No.’

The old couple trying to cross a busy road

It’s hard out there. There’s more traffic outside my shop now. There’s a bus stop, a train station, a bakery and carpark exits. Endless rushing to somewhere. This couple held hands. They wore similar bright red shorts, running shoes and white t shirts, and she carried a bottle of orange juice, and she led him. As they made their way through a gap in the traffic, she led him. They were not fast, and several cars had to slow down, one to stop altogether. The man looked at his wife, stared at her face as she led him along, and although there are horns and hurrying all day long, nobody sounded their horn at them, or otherwise insisted they hurry along.

Painting by Benjamin Bjorklund

The young couple with a pram

She came into the shop, but he stayed outside with the pram and the shopping and all their morning stuff. She stood in the doorway and looked out at him, and he looked in at her.

‘Are you coming in?’

‘Maybe.’

He continued looking through the door, comfortable, leaning on the pram, ‘I don’t know. I might go get a bun. A cream one. Shall I?’ He stood with one foot resting on top of the other one, cars cross stitching the air on the road behind him.

‘Maybe.’ She had begun to browse from the doorway, her eyes running up and down the shelves. Their child lay in the pram gazing outward. I could see its dark eyes moving, listening, and not blinking.

‘Ok, I’ll get a London bun.’

‘Mmmm.’ She let the door close and they parted, tranquil.

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.’

On this day

A day when ordinary things happen. The ordinary lives come past my windows and in and out of the door and show some of their scratches and gardens. A lady came in with her husband and bought a book for her adult son – it is for his research. She is going to photograph the pages and email them to him. On the way out she said, ‘There. That’s my good deed. I can help him. He was really please about this book. I could tell.’

Her husband, the father, nodded. They turned toward the bakery, both of them looking pleased and happy. I could see them still talking and nodding down at the book in her hand.

An older lady lifted her shopping high on either side of her to jog across the road in the rain. Her shopping bag, her handbag, her hat, her shoulders, all jogged up and down, the mother ship making for the coast, not fast but accurate.  The cars slowed down. There, on the kerb, was her group, all cheering.

Someone shouted, ‘You’re game Eddie!’ And they gathered around her, took her bags, brushed off the dust of the journey, admiring, adoring.

A young man strode past, banging the windows of the bakery, banging on my windows, shouting and furious, ‘Fucking fuck. Ten o’clock and no food.’ He was leaning forward, walking fast, and betrayed already at only 10am.

A grandfather bought his granddaughter three books. She said, ‘I love this series.’ She looked at her grandfather. He said to me, ‘She’s a reader. She’s a real reader. Better than me.’ He presented the money, still looking at me, and swayed slightly, unable to balance the pride.

When they left she linked her arm tightly through his.

Painting by Marcel Rieder (1862-1942)

It’s all right, just done me hands at the doctors

A couple came into the shop together, but he tried to leave. She said, ‘No, stay, Frank’, and he did.

She said to me, ‘It’s all right, just done me hands at the doctors, Frank, do your hands’, and he did.

Then she said, ‘This is very nice here, but I’ll think we’ll go get a cup of coffee instead’, and they did. But they came back.

She loved books. ‘Vanity Fair, I loved that on the television, the blond guy. That actor, he was gorgeous, do you know the one?’ But I didn’t know it.  

‘I’ve read 22 biographies of the stars. Now that Yoko – she was a terrible, terrible person. It’s now wonder he was the way he was. It’s because she was terrible to deal with.’

She stood at the counter, dignified and straight and kind, and told me about various things. She bought Vanity Fair, a biography of Vanessa Redgrave, David Copperfield, The Harp in the South, The Constant Gardener and Pinocchio. Then she turned to find Frank, but he had left the shop.  

She said, ‘He’s got hearing aids, but I swear he still can’t hear anything, especially me.’

I thought that this was probably true. She darted out of the shop, was swift in the doorway, she flitted past the window to their parked car. Here, through the window I could see Frank, leaning against the passenger side, smoking.

She said loudly, ‘Frank, you have to pay for the books, that’s what I said, remember.’

He said, ‘I’m ready. Where’s your stuff?’

They came back in, and she picked up her books from the counter, he handed me a credit card. She sighed and frowned, but he looked unperturbed. He winked, paid, and said, ‘All done Mrs.’

Illustration by Marius van Dokkum

It’s raining. There’s a man pacing up and down….

It’s raining. There’s a man pacing up and down outside my shop. His phone is on speaker. I can hear the phone speaking back to him, a thin stream of information, like a pilot giving air directions, and none of it making sense to anyone else.

‘The things they get away with down there is ridiculous.’

The phone answers what sounds like a long list of facts.

‘You can times that by five, mate. The problem is… the problem is… what they don’t realize is…’

The phone speaks back. Agreeing.

The man is pacing, agitated, up and down. It is still raining.

‘I contracted it all out though. It’s such a hassle. Turns out that – ‘

The phone interrupts.

‘Yes, yes, yes, yes…is it though?’

The phone delivers a short lecture, this time without interruption.  

‘All right buddy, better let you go.’ The conversation ends. The man, wearing an orange safety vest, muddy boots, and a beanie, picks up his coffee from my windowsill and strides away.

It’s quiet again. It’s dark and raining, not right for September. There are long heavy trucks outside, slow and creaking and hissing. But now they have all stopped. This is unusual, and I look out. There’s an orange indicator going somewhere out of my sight, the rain and the hot orange light flicker and flacker all over the front of the shop. K and S Freighters are stuck out there, massive and shining, then a huge carrier with cows looking out at the rain, a soft wall of eyes, then a cement mixer with its wet belly turning slowly, then a bus.

Someone walks past whistling, a bright light idea uninterested in rain.

When the sun comes out, it is warm, its light has gold edges that are told in the puddles, the puddles read it swiftly in gold lines with metal stops. The puddles are flints. People look down, then up and shade their eyes.

Everyone becomes a jogger, simply everyone. They have to cross the road. The sun has dropped abruptly, rain again. I stand at the window and look out.  People run rustily, puffing dramatically, eyes screwed up, legs lifted high to avoid the spray, laughing because there is so much water, and because we need it.  My town, thirty minutes away and always dry, lay on its back this morning drinking heavily, weighed down by liquid, the trees hanging sodden, their roots and toes alive with water and digging for more.

Customers come wheezing in, happy and unbothered, ‘Do you have book two of Tim Severin’s Viking stuff?’

The trucks drag nets of spray behind them. A child in a car parked just outside the door has his arm out of the window catching the drops. He is on his knees. He puts his head out. A drench catches him, and he shakes and shakes, alive with nourishment. Somebody inside the car speaks, and he abruptly withdraws.

Another child, on the footpath, is being a duck. I am startled because his duck sound is so real, so loud and so close.

‘He’s being a duck, Grandpa.’

There’s a whole family out there. They’ve been to the bakery and are noisy with paper bags and loaves of bread and coffee.

‘Show Grandpa how you’re being a duck.’

The child is wearing soft thick clothing, red and dark blue, and tiny stout boots protect his webbed feet, and he quacks and quaeks and hoots.’

 ‘Hey, come here duck’, says Grandpa.

But he does not want to get into the car.

Grandpa, who drops to help the youngster, gets a boot in the side, and the son, the father, takes over, stern. ‘Get in. Now. Get in. Stop it.’

Now the ducky is in, fitted into a duckling seat, the rain runs down the windows and I can see him making duck hands to himself, and there are little arrows of sun smoking down and making a sheen of warm green emeralds on the top of their lolly green car, and then another truck goes speeding past sending us all us a new version of the same water.

You got caught

The sky behind the trees is silver and bright – so bright it hurts your teeth to look at it. The wind is cold. People coming past the shop do it fast, collars up, faces prepared.

A young mum gets caught in a brief chilly shower that lasts the exact time it takes her to cross the road with a pram, a baby, a toddler, two bags of shopping, a drink bottle, and a toy white rabbit that gets dropped on the shining road half way over.

The child wails.

There’s a tradesman outside my door, waiting it out with coffee. He shouts:

‘You got caught in the rain.’

She shouts, ‘I know, it’s terrible.’

The rabbit lies there, its eye a desperate button.

He dashes and scoops.

‘Thank you, thank you so much.’

‘No worries.’

Illustration by Margaret C. Hoopes

Two conversations, one inside and one outside, both at once

1) A group of six passed the windows of the shop. They were jumbled and jostling and loud. It seemed as though they have all climbed off the same bus. The tone of their conversation is concern. Their speech is stretched and knocked about. This is because it was windy. So, they repeated themselves and called and argued, trying to knead logic back into the excursion.

‘If you turn right you’ll get to Adelaide.’

‘Right?’

‘No, left. If you go right you’ll get to Harry’s.’

‘That’s where I want to go.’

‘Jesus, make up your mind, mate.’

‘What’s that? What are you saying?’

I watch them blow past, silently thanking them for life. For, of course, this is where life is.

2) There are two ladies. They are great readers, and they are friends. Or maybe they are great friends, and they are readers. They talk in doorways. I only have two doorways, so there they are, digging into the afternoon; quite close to the counter, and therefore close to me.

‘I can cope with the dead bodies, but those little Scandinavian noir things, well…yeah those.’

‘Find a dead body, you know, all that sort of stuff?’

‘That’s it!’

‘I get sick of it. I quite like McCall Smith though. When I read, everything folds around me. Don’t know where I am.’

‘Have you read The Narrow Road to the Deep North, it’s a war story?’

‘What are we talking about? Which one?’

‘Wait, do you think Google are listening to us?’

‘No doubt.’

They buy a modest stack of outstanding reads. They look at me kindly, ‘we’ll be back, don’t you worry.’

I watch them go, silently thanking them for life, for this of course, is where life is.