The Doll’s House

My grandfather, Ben, made me a doll’s house when I was small. It was rough. It was perfect. His work-shed at his house in Richmond had aeroplanes flying over it, low enough to warm your hair and fill your ears with engine and wind.

The shed was dark and warm. The carpet made of wood shavings. Small windows. He made me a merry-go-round with horses made steady with a pearl of glue under each tiny hoof, polishing the circles of wood first with sandpaper and finally with felt made fragrant with talk powder.

He was an alcoholic, miserable in the city after a life in the bush. Then the war. There was nobody to ask if men were ok. There was only the bottle.

He always bought me liquorice.

He polished small disks of wood for me. He made them into mirrors. I tided the shed. I shuffled the tools and the wood about, and he looked on uneasily, thanking me, nodding and nodding, needing eucalypts and space and heat and getting only Adelaide.

He nodded and began the doll’s house. I’d always wanted one. He made it properly, with an attic. He must have heard me say it, ‘an attic’, and he made one, a proper one. I would see him sanding and cutting, his shoulders still wearing the war and heavy with poverty and city.

Now he’s gone.

 I set it out for my grandsons, and they filled its rooms with new knowledge. They piled all the tiny plates and cups into a front end loader. They set up the kitchen with cupboards and beds. They put a tractor in the garage. They put the bath outside. They put the baby’s cot in the tractor. They continued my grandfather, and may they never know war.

Minecraft, Minecraft

A child sang ‘Minecraft, Minecraft…all the Minecraft” while standing at the window. There’s a stack of Minecraft novels there. He laid both hands palms flat against the glass and continued his interested little song. A piping song, higher than the stack of books. Higher than the window. Then his family called him away.

‘Into the car, come on Dale’

‘Here we go again…’ A older couple at the door turn their phones this way, then the other way, trying to find the right square. ‘Here we go again. Take us half an hour to get in here.’ But they persevere bravely and make it inside.  Later, she reads a children’s book to him, out loud, and he edged slowly away.

A young couple went past the cat shelf. She said, ‘Oh my God, a cat shop. It’s a little cat shop. With cat books. That’s cool. Look Evan.’

‘Yeah, it’s cool.’

‘Because of the cats.’

‘Yeah.’

‘I love cats. I need ’em.’

‘Yeah.’

Painting by Mars Black

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.’

No Go, the Bogeyman

How do people select a book? Well, I know it’s intensely private. Books are sharp. Readers look at them from every angle, examining especially carefully the blade.

Books, like any tool, fulfil a purpose if they are good enough. They can remove (with one sweep) a lifetime of tiring and inaccurate responsibilities. And, they can move inwards to the core of beliefs, at best an uncomfortable and confronting experience. For instance, I read Ethan Frome, and realized that I was normal. Only a blade can do this.

Readers come to the shop and pause over books for long periods of time. There is always this pause. Then they decide and carry the book to the counter.

I am respectful no matter what the book is.

I once chose a book called No Go, the Bogeyman (after a pause). I haven’t read it yet. It’s a history of terror by Marina Warner. The kind of terror that comes softly and sits with you at night. I don’t know why I bought it, but I treasure it.

Painting by Sasha Beliaev

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains the the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Mary Oliver


Painting by James Crandall

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.

Notes on the year right now right here

The year went fast. It hopped about with anxiety many times. People came to the shop even when I was closed. People rang me and emailed me and texted me. People kept reading, increased their reading, and many people began reading.

Classic literature and poetry were purchased the most followed by history. Self-help sold the least. Fiction outsold nonfiction.

Locals and regulars became more and more important whether they purchased a book or not.

My landlord made it possible for me to stay even when I had to close.

Young readers bought the most books. Children still knelt on the floor and shouted to me that they had already read Peppa Pig, the same way they did last year.

Some customers purchased enormous stacks of reading to help me out, and thought that I did not notice this, but I did, and it did help me out.

Many of the visitors who came in angry in April were not angry in November.

It took three times longer to order in books for customers, but not a single person complained about it except me.

My fantasy and science fiction shelves need restocking. Everything by Anh Do sold out. I sold more Charles Dickens than ever before. I hardly sold any biographies except ones about dogs. I couldn’t get in any Asterix books.

I listened to a podcast about ancient Rome and took all the Roman history books home for myself. I discovered Iris Murdoch (and took all those books home too).

I was asked for Moby Dick about ten times.

A mother who loves reading came in with her son and said that mothers who read always have sons that read. Not so with daughters. Until much later.

Two customers died this year and left two holes there.

I never saw young people work so hard as the young people did this year in Woolworths across the road. This is not a reflection on Woolworths. It’s a reflection on those young people themselves.  

I cleaned about 3000 little handprints off the front door, same as any year.

Trucks still park across the driveway, same as any year.

People still come in thinking I’m the bakery, same as any year.

None of these things annoy me anymore.