Small things like shapes

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I wrote this in January 2017, on Australia Day. It was summer. Now it is winter, which always makes me think about summer.

“A child said to me that he likes my glass lantern because he likes small things like shapes. He said that when he looked into the glass he could see cars going past, and that the cars looked better in the lantern than they did going along the road as real cars. His mother told him there were Beast Quest books on the shelf, and he said, ‘Maybe’.

She said there were also some Star Wars, and he said, ‘Maybe’.

A lady was pleased to see a copy of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. She said it is on her to read list which has a thousand books on it already. She said the list is wearying. She did not see the lantern.

It is Australia Day. The family with the small boy who likes shapes are across the road; they have been to the bakery. The father is trying to interest the child in some food but he is standing with his nose pressed against the fir tree, he must be looking at more shapes. The father looks weary. The child drops the paper bag on the ground and looks down at the spilt food. He makes binoculars with his fists and looks down at the broken food. His knees are bent with concentration. The parents are having an argument.

Just outside the door of my shop a man has opened his esky on the pavement, and there is no ice. His wife asks him why he can’t even pack an esky properly. He raises both hands in the air and stands there motionless, but she has gotten back into the car. Then she locks all the doors.

I wonder if anyone else will come in for a book today. Then I remembered the small boy who likes shapes; he had chosen a book called Pharaoh’s Boat which had pyramids on the front. So I did sell a book today!”

On the jetty, Edithburgh, at dusk

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I’m just watching. It’s all I want to do right now.

The jetty is warm.

The fisher people are patient, they move in and out of all the rooms of the evening. They are on the jetty looking for squid. One man handles his rod as if it is a pencil. He only needs one hand, light, delicate. He writes on the water. He leans over, frowning, as if looking for mistakes.

There is a child who is running in circles with a green bucket. The father says, ‘Here, bring it back.’ The mother continues to hold the line, staring downwards. She is wearing raspberry coloured sports shoes. She is blown about, swaying, and looking downwards, into the water, looking for signs in the green, green water, wondering how to improve things.

One man sits in a chair. He wears shorts, a singlet and rubber boots. He says, ‘Away then, away then, come on you.’  The next man is motionless.

The child is chasing seagulls. They hop backwards, an inch, another inch. She is so fast; they must hop back…two inches this time, hop, hop, and then they tilt their heads. She stretches and dips. Maybe she will put a seagull in her bucket. But she can’t, her father is calling and calling, ‘Here…. where’s me bucket…?’

The jetty is warm.

My family land a squid and it releases its life, in ink. Heads turn. Heads nod.

They are going for green tonight. They only want the green jigs. The information is passed on.

The sun settles, depressed, smoky. It can’t get clean. The eyes of the squid are wet emeralds, soft and gone. More fisher people pass us, heading for a place on the jetty, finding it, a precise place, a warm spot that works for them. They stop to prepare fishing rods, put down a plastic bucket and kneel to the sun.

My family land another squid; it releases another finale, across the jetty, ink, fire, a catastrophe, whatever. The running child with the green bucket pauses, glances across the stain,  reads it, moves on, calls back, ‘Got it’. She runs and leaps, entirely alive.

I am only watching.

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Lemonade, dancing, a hot day

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Outside, on the footpath, (a hot day), is a child with a can of lemonade and a family. He is spinning around the post just outside my door, slender and agile, spilling none.

He turns and dips around his mother. She’s standing in the shade, using her phone. She says: Please concentrate on what you are meant to be doing. And he, in acknowledgment, turns faster, round and round, spilling none.

There’s a sibling sitting in the front seat of the car, door open, hot seats, sticky with his own drink and watching on. The dancer dips and hoots, making outrageous angles with his head and elbows.

Spins…

…around the post, around his mother, dances madly for his brother. The brother nods.

Back to the post, a cool metallic partner that supports his smooth zigzag to the ground and back up into the heat. Spills nothing. It’s time to go.

Mum says, ‘Use the bin,’ and he does, smoothly.

They leave.

 

Artwork by Denis Gonchar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quietly, quietly

Reading a book by Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres

There are two people here and they don’t know each other. They both greeted me when they came in. He said, ‘Nice in here.’ She said, ‘Cold outside’. Every time they passed each other, they nodded. He had three enormous history books. She had Hans Christian Anderson, one volume: the complete collection.

In the back room there is an argument. It is three old ladies. They won’t agree on Patricia Wentworth. They each bought one small paperback and wouldn’t look at each other. One said, ‘Hold the door, Dilly.’

Dilly said, ‘I like these strong doors, they get the muscles going.’ And she stood strongly against the door, letting her friends out, and the last lady said, ‘Well, let it go now, you’re letting the weather in.’

And the quiet lady, who’d been waiting, said, Isn’t it wonderful!’

I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I agreed that it was, and the quiet man, who had lost his phone somewhere, called out that he’d found it, on top of Louis Fischer. And he said, ‘Thank God there are still bookshops.’ And then the door opened and someone came in, and backed out, calling, ‘Sorry, don’t want books, isn’t this meant to be the bakery?’ And he nearly fell over a child who had pressed in behind him, and who now said, ‘Watch out for me though’ and held up her arm to show a green watch, and he said, ‘Just let me shut the door first, it’s a good watch, a very good watch.’

And the quiet lady said again, ‘Isn’t it wonderful…’

 

Painting: Reading A Book By Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès

It is a day of children

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They are streaming past the windows of the shop, ribbons of them flowing up and down, like birds that jump and bounce because it is morning and amongst them their teacher saying: work it out you kids, tell me the best way to get through to the oval.
There followed an immediate thousand answers called out in a symphony of help and cooperation, would he hear a single one of them? They keep on filing past.
Strathalbyn is actually so bad… I caught this sentence, chipped out with precision and authority.
Can we go Pestkas…? This call was fluted over the top of the lines, intended for a teacher somewhere.
Can we stop Woolies…?
Which way to the oval? I heard the same young teacher just before he was drowned again in assistance.
Can we go Franks? I wondered where this was.
I’m not carrying your stuff!
He’s got a second storey mansion.
No, he doesn’t.
A boy hopped past leaving behind a trail of bird calls. There was a teacher following and looking annoyed. She told him to keep to the footpath. He regarded her.  He was a canary and had no need of footpaths.
What’s your name?
What name? This girl was walking backwards, turning and turning but always remaining backwards.
This place, it’s always closed.
I know, right..
These were the last of the last, the girl tapped a water bottle against the windows as they passed.
Soon the street was silent again and there was nobody out there.

The whole day, full of day

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On the last day of the holiday to Port Vincent, the family is packing up and packing in and running for the deadline of vacate the property by eleven am etc. but the boys, who are not quite two, and a bit more than two, have found a garden bed that apparently wasn’t there before.
In it is an attractive collection of wet bark chips and curly wood shavings that were not there before. There is also, underneath, a bed of earth that was not there before. There is also a level lovely plank to stand on, lean on, climb on, balance over, fly from, that was not there before. From this lofty height they watch the packing up, watch the potty as it is carried past to be repacked and they watch it with narrowed eyes. They will defeat it. They will not use it.
There are parent warnings but these are always there. These are signals of caution, dull, predictable and vital to measure the importance of one’s existence. The existence of Max and Noah is paramount and so they are surrounded with concerns and reminders, cautions and nags, the watch and the overwatch, fuelled by love and by its necessity which is love.
Noah and Max climb and clamour and ignore the warnings, scale the heights and run onto the road outrageously, ignorant, unheeding of parent agony, not giving a shit for the correct rules. They do not even use the potty with precision.

One day they will be 17 and they will say for fuck’s sake and so will pierce safety with the correct rage and anger because one time long ago they were adored and told repeatedly to get off the fence.

The Evening Meal

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It is time for dinner and the babies must take the high chairs and be contained. There is good food, spaghetti, and bread and cheese and jugs of cold water and noise and the evening heat dusting though the front windows and over the swing and ding of the evening meal.
Nobody listens much to anybody else. Everybody eats, everyone has had a hard day, worse than anybody else’s, that’s for sure.
Noah and Max, lords of cheese, glance about, sighting opportunity, examining small pieces of carrot, spilling anything possible, shout on urgent notes that end before they can think of the exact meaning, kick and become abruptly silent and then swing again at the escaping idea.

Sometimes they unexpectedly notice each other as though from a vast distance even though it is about five cm. Then they join hands, share evidence of their existence which consists tonight of mirth and carrot mostly and also spilled and other edible things. Then they can shriek with triumph, kingly because they still rule the experience, their thistly hair seems to stand on end in amazement.
Later, tidying up, I find a small plastic tractor and a lego block amongst the mess on the floor and I put them in the sink with the rest of the dishes.

Rick and Lenore

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Rick and Lenore came into the shop before I had opened for the day: they came in accidently (they said) and stepped over the vacuum cleaner and said sorry, sorry, sorry mate…and kept on going around the shelves, shedding enthusiasm and criticism and telling me that it was going to be a grey old day. Every time Lenore found something of stupendous value she said: Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick there’s more of it ‘ere.
And Rick said: Yeah, yeah, yeah, ha! Don’t rush me, mate.
And Lee stood impatiently, the air around her became impatient, the whole gray day became frustrated until Rick came to his senses, sensed the atmosphere, sensed the danger and said: …all right, all right, all right…mate! All right. Mate!
Then she looked pleased even though he had not yet looked at the pearl she had found, she moved to another shelf, she found Footrot Flats and she said: Rick, Rick, Rick, look what I got… and he kept her enthusiasm and discoveries protected in the same good way while he distributed his own fervour from shelf to shelf with narrowed eyes and a questing face. He found the Westerns, that poor, limp, worn out collection that live near the counter, and he himself became limp with delight and he whispered to himself: God, look at this lot, he brought five of them to the counter, he seemed to bow down with sheer approval.
Well, I’m goin’ in ‘ere. Lee said this loudly, winning back devotion, earning consideration and so Rick came to his senses again.
All right, all right…don’t go on…and he looked pleased.
Do you want to get this, remember we saw the movie…? Remember that movie…. I could of died.
Rick agreed with the movie. They looked at each other and drew the movie around them and they were together.
When they came to the counter to pay for the trembling westerns, Lee said to me that there is a frog shop in Goolwa and there are some real beauties in there too,
Then, like everyone else, they left, taking the Westerns, their movie, the frog shop and their rich, delicious life of they, themselves away again and they were gone.

Illustration by Korean artist, Park Dami

Noah Vacuums the Shop

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Noah came to visit on a really hot day. But the heat does not cause a toddler to slow his breathing or his intentions. The heat does not exist when there is a task to do. In my shop there is a vacuum cleaner and it is outrageously sitting idle. Noah knows what to do with idleness and he immediately puts the pieces together, provides the engine with his own heart and the voice of the machine with his own throat and he vacuums furiously here and there and all round his feet and all around his world.
He rebuked me soundly when I shortened the pole for his own shortness because he is not short and because this was wrong. He does not need ill-informed assistance from me; what he needs is the floor of my bookshop, a machine and an opportunity. And then, while he laboured across the small estate of my bookshop his small face was both alive with intention and lit with approval.

When I went to Melbourne to buy books for the shop but it was too hot so ended up drinking chilled white in the suburbs instead.

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It is too hot. I got the books for the shop but it is too hot. We packed the books into the hot, hot car. But the weatherman had minced the carpark with the asphalt and the gum trees and when somebody backed their car into another car, a Mercedes, everybody stood and looked at the incident through the heat with narrowed eyes and hot feet and then turned away to swim through the heat to find their own car and get on home and the owner of the stoved in Mercedes looked at their car through the heat and just got in and drove away with their shoulders raised and ears flat, easier to get through the Melbourne heat that way. Who wants more things to do…
But then I am back in the suburbs of Melbourne, the hot- heated gold dust suburbs alive with weatherboard and coffee and jacaranda and heated evening and I am eating steak and salad and iced cabernet sauvignon and looking at the Melbourne city shape that is welded across the horizon and listening to family gossip that is all true but you didn’t hear this from me…
I did get Wide Sargasso Sea, the Gormenghast trilogy in three penguin volumes and the David Malouf Complete short stories.
It was worth it. What’s heat anyway.