There’s a meeting out in the bay

There’s a meeting out in the bay. I saw them in the water, five or six women all wearing hats, and in their midst, an esky floating. Some were sitting and some lying down, the water lapping at shoulders. What age…it is impossible to know. But all made strong outlines; the circle was a strong circle. The sun shone, and the bay was quiet and held its waters evenly so as not to annoy the speaker.

When the speaker spoke, and this could be any one of them at any time, the others listened as women who are friends do. I guess they talked of nothing less than life as women do. I guess the rummaging in the esky paused for the important bits. On the shore a fisherman stood at a stone sink and looked at the group every now and again. Another man stood in the doorway of a shack with a beer and a lightly anxious expression. In front of one of the shacks, a child, a little girl in bathers and one red sandal, scoped the group fiercely through a pair of binoculars.

The boy turning rocks over

There’s a boy turning rocks over in the bay. I noticed because of the way he balanced himself on two larger rocks and then leaned to pick up smaller ones, one after another. He inspects them with his nose almost on the smooth skin of each stone. The bay he is working in is silent and hot. The child labours on. I can hear the soft click of each rock as he replaces it. Every now and again, the plop of a stone sliding into a rockpool. There’s the horizon, a bar of blue above him, the black spoky jetty to one side, and a row of shacks, oblongs of colour, holding the other side. And him right in the middle.

The unique texture of caravan parks

Caravan parks have a sizzling texture. They are warm and busy maps, put together with crayons, crayfish, late bookings, barbeques, and ice melting on the ground outside the kiosk. They are mostly pretty much the same, especially in summer.

‘Hellooo, it’s just teatime, love.’ This was called out next door to me. Next door means just three meters down, past the tap, the hose, the flapping towels, and bathers and two upturned eskies draining last night’s philosophy.

Everywhere there are kind bowls of clean water for dogs. Family pets that sleep exhausted under the edge of every second annexe. Hoses, camping chairs, fishing rods, bathers hanging in trees.

There’s a pink surfboard leaning against the shack across the track, and three children sitting at a table in bathers playing cards and eating chips. It is so quiet that we can hear the seagulls on the beach, and the  people on the jetty.

‘Beautiful.’ This is yelled out across a warm evening, along with the snap of beer caps.

‘You’re going the wrong way.’ Called out hilariously to someone backing a boat slowly down the wrong track. ‘Yeah, yeah, sorry mate.’

‘I’m going the jetty,’ Children calling back to parents.

‘Hello, how are ya?’ Called out by everybody meeting anybody.

‘Mal. Where are the frozen chips?’ This conversation shattered the stillness of the hot afternoon when most campers were slewed about in camping chairs, eyes shut, mouths open (‘Not asleep, Di, just resting’).

‘Mal – did you get the frozen chips?’

 ‘The what?’ The man was half in the car, searching frantically through the shopping.

‘The chips, the frozen chips.’

‘I dunno.’ She turned and went back inside. She banged the shack door.

‘Who left the fridge open?’ We heard this from three rows down. A gaggle of children running past in thongs and clutching streaming ice blocks looked back and kept going without answering.

‘And I said…and I said, well it’s your marriage. It’s your marriage. What’d you expect? It’s your marriage. I mean, he was like fordy. What’d he expect? I know. Yeah. I know.’ This from neighbours on a warm and still evening, sun streaking across barbeques, and the wine flowing.

At our backs, the beach, empty and clean.

It gets dark. It’s still warm. In front of us, children zig zig and dart about on bikes and scooters in and out of light and shadow like soft moths in flight.

Hairy Maclary breaks into the new year

Yesterday I put out all the Hairy Maclary books on the front windowsill. This display faces everyone who is walking fast toward the bakery. (Anyone walking away from the bakery faces the political biographies, dull by comparison).  

Hairy Maclary catches people’s eyes. Hairy Maclary needs to be said out loud, or sung, or shouted.

‘Hairy Maclary….number six…see that?’

‘Hairy Maclary shoo!’

‘Hairy Maclary hat tricks!’

Some people are talking loudly about something else, and Hairy Maclary overrides their conservation.

‘She obviously had two accounts. It’s all very suspicious, and I don’t think Tic Tok can keep that. Hairy Maclary sit. Hah! Hah! See that?’

‘You’re learning about it…and we’re learning about it. We’re on the same ride together… aren’t we, buddy… Hairy Maclary’s Showbusiness…’

Inside the shop, children pull them down, read them and replace them gently. One child said ‘Scarface Door, Scarface Door’ as he walked around the shop.

A grandmother bought three of them. ‘Lovely’, she said.

A teenage boy stood outside the window wearing headphones and eating a pasty. He stared at all the Hairy Maclary books, nodding his head, eating, and nodding and nodding.

Inside, a lady asks me if I sell books for kiddies.

On the footpath a family walks past, and Hairy Maclary downloads himself right into their conversation.

‘Do you want to go to that rabbit place? Or do you want vegemite and toast? Quickly please. Hairy Maclary’s rumpus at the vet… we do need to get to the vet as well. Might go there first. Quickly now.’

Hairy Maclary books and illustrations by Lynley Dodd

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

Alan

Alan always talks to me side on. He stares through the door while telling me the story. Sometimes he breaks off before finishing and leaves to talk to someone he just saw over the road. But he always comes back to tell me the rest. They are excellent stories, and all of them true. He adds sound effects, especially when he is cross. He can do an excellent imitations of ducks. Some days he doesn’t come in but will always knock on the window as he passes. He doesn’t want any books from here. He has other things to read, and a family that is always giving him ‘a hard time of it.’ They don’t listen to him! They don’t respect him! But they’ll learn! He wonders about the government. This morning he said of someone that they didn’t know bullshit from vegemite. Then he said sorry, didn’t mean to swear.

Christmas when you’re little

It was always really good. There was snow and lights at night even though the days were 42 degrees and leaned sideways to get out of their own sun, and it didn’t get dark anyway. Santa came in a front end loader down one end of the wide dusty main street where I lived. The front end loader was a sleigh. The sleigh must’ve landed on the beach. The reindeer were resting in the stables at the back of the bank. Santa was real even though all the farmers standing on the edge of the pageant made out they knew him.

We had a school concert and sang, ‘Turn on the Sun’, as loudly as possible, and the teacher said, ‘Not so loud but very good’, and looked tired, and we were told to wear orange T shirts for the concert, and one kid wore green anyway. And at school, we made coloured cellophane stained glass windows that always looked magical even if you messed up the glue and got told off for taking more than your Fair Share of the slipping cellophane that drenched the world in hot emeralds and lemonade and made the teacher not be there.

There was always snow, snowmen, lanterns, bonfires, and mice that delivered peanuts. We decorated the classroom with paper chains made from brennex squares from that cupboard, and the teachers talked in the corridors, watching their classes through the doors, ‘Four days to go, ladies,’ and us kids kept on snipping away trying to make the longest chain which was always won by Jennifer, whose dad was a doctor so that was why.

I got a copy of Heidi, from my Nanna, brand new, and I lay on the couch willing it to not disappear. The decorated tree caused sickening sensations because it was behind a closed door, and only glimpsed if the door was snapped open, only giving the mind an overheated look at broken rules, ‘You at that door again?’

‘I’m not.’

We drove to nativity services in all the neighbouring places because my dad was the minister, and we went past paddocks and farms and silos and sand dunes, staring through the car window at the impossibly black blue sky with too many stars, scoping for the sleigh which was following our car anyway, too close to be seen. At the little peninsula churches, the warm stone sitting comfortably against all the hard work, the back hall all lit up with the people making food, the tree decorated with their paper loops that were not as good as ours, and the service that you sat through waiting for your name called so you could go out and get a Christmas stocking that might have the glory of glories, a bubble blowing kit. It did. And the carols piled up massively with that many voices, and no one said, too loud to Silent Night, and all the adults quiet for once. And the nativity, the real hot blowing animals, the sheep with hooves that dented your ears, and wise men wearing magic genie colours and proper shepherd’s stuff and a baby doll that was ok, and Judith as the Mary (her again), and the stink of it all, and it shot through your body and your mind making it into your bones so you always had it in you, and you looked for it every Christmas.

‘Come on, we’re going home now.’

‘Can’t.’

Trying to get at the lamingtons, knowing you’d get another one because the minister’s kids always did. And beating Susan, whose dad had the bank who had the reindeers but so what.

Next year, all again.

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

Being gorillas

No matter how hot it is, they run fast. They make for the mulberry tree, running with gumboots on the wrong feet, intensely aware of their own moving bodies, their faces move and throb with running, their eyes flicker watching the ground drumming under their heels. They are very little.

The mulberry tree is green and attractive but they ignore this. There is a gap and a low, wide branch that is more useful, and they push through and are now gorillas, and they need something intensely which they must think of soon.

They stand on a branch and examine ideas. They make gorilla noises and put bunches of hard infant mulberries to their noses.   

One gorilla holds on and commands the other. He needs some sand. The other gorilla climbs down for sand which he then throws up over both of them, and they are pleased. They climb up. They climb down. They are birds. They are gorillas. They are a fence. They don’t live here. They want chips. They might find a nest. One falls and is gripped within a branch and screams for rescue and is towed to the bottom, and then they climb up and try once more with hopeful mouths the sour toes of the unborn fruit. They spit it out with strong, satisfied mouths.

They are covered in dust and leaves, sunlight and heat, sand, sweat and scratches. When the galahs in neighbouring gumtrees screech they go silent and look at each other. They fold their hands around the branches and test their arms. They make bird noises. They need sand. They want chips.

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!”