The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

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This morning, a ute stopped right outside the door. Tradesman climbed out, all noise and energy, boots huge, dressed for the cold in t-shirts and iPhones.  They looked through my windows and saw me looking out – at them. They both nod and look politely away. To the bakery, relief.

A family came in, dad and two young children. The little boy pleading, dropping with hunger, daddy…..can we get something to eat….his sister wearing a summer dress, but also a good winter beanie, relaxed, holding a copy of Charlotte’s Web, fortified.

A young man bought three books for a young niece. He relaxes, relieved, a very difficult gift achieved. He says, ‘Thanks, thanks, God, thanks.’

Outside it rains and rains and rains. Traffic swishes. Car lights. People hurrying.

A family are caught in the doorway,  and they stand shoulder to shoulder waiting for the rain to ease. The toddler, held in his father’s arms, strokes his mother’s shoulder with one hand and his father’s ear with the other; a tight knot of absolute warmth.

There is an argument about lunch in the back room, ‘We can always have lunch early.’

More talk. ‘Have it your way…’

A young man comes in, thinking me the bakery. He swings through the door strongly. He wraps his arms around himself and backs out. He looks down the street toward friends, ‘Guys, what the fuck..?’

It rains.

A man comes in to tell me there is a water leak in the car park. I said, ‘Yes, but SAWater, they know about it… you know.’ He understands immediately, ‘SAWater…!’

My friend, Callie, admired his hat. He turned and said, ‘Yes it’s a great hat, pity about the head in it, har har har.’ We laugh. We like him. We all agree on SAWater.

Sarah came in. Alan came in. Leah came in. The rain came down. Neville chooses his usual selection of unusual, diabolically brilliant books. People climb off the bus across the road. The water leaks across the footpath. I talk with someone about Mark Twain.

John comes in. Rita and Don come in. We agree the weather is slightly foul.

The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

 

Four things notable about today

Jean-Jacques Sempé

These were:

Three teenagers outside my shop on kick scooters, one wobbling, the others adroit, all watching the ground carefully and weaving in and out of passers-by, graceful in winter.

Two people pass, loud, as people usually are in the mornings. There was a flash of checked shirts and jeans, a tap on the edge of the door, that’s all. But their voices, loud, loud, floated back, hanging in the doorway:

‘I saw a wagon type one the other day.’

‘Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…’

‘It’s really good shit.’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’

Lena visits wearing gardening gloves. Safe.

Terry, in a sapphire blue beanie, reads out loud to me from a little joke book he has just bought. He reads about twenty jokes to me, and says, ‘This is great, it’s just the one – thank you so much. Gunna give these to my grandkids.’

His face is a lit lamp.

Illustration by Jean Jacques Sempe

 

That baby seat

Cornelius Jetses (2)

There is shouting directly outside my shop door. Two couples conversing powerfully from one side of the road to the other, over the traffic. They are discussing a baby seat. It is important. The women quickly take over. The far couple have the baby seat, but the near couple need it, urgently.

‘How can we…?’

Some children pass, then a truck, then a couple with a dog, then another truck and a series of annoying cars.

‘What are you going to do…?’ Called strongly from this side.

The couple over the road dither on the kerb. They are talking to each other.

The couple on this side stand against my door.

‘Ok, then.’

‘Doesn’t matter. Leave it Di, there’s too much traffic.’

‘They could go and get the thing. It’s our grandchild too.’

They stand side by side looking across the road. The couple across the road wave strongly and cross over, a diagonal path that avoids my shop and leads straight to the bakery. Inside, with me, a child is choosing a bookmark. She does this by staring at them all without blinking, twice choosing, twice changing, finally selecting a gold one with a cat and beads of raspberry glass. Her dad pays without looking at it, and she holds it in front of her and gives little hops all the way to the door. Over her hopping head, I see that the couple who needed the car seat are gone.

Inside, a lady says, ‘Brian, not in there, your books are not in there. Those are the kiddie books. Your fiction is in this room.’ But Brian remains in the wrong section.

Soon he is called again, ‘Brian!’ He obeys. In the other room, I hear her say, ‘Don’t stand too close to people, love. Here’s the Westerns.’ Then she says loudly, ‘Don’t be a pain in the neck.’ He comes out with Clive Cussler (but no Westerns). He opens the door and waits. He and I both watch three boys pass by. One is saying, ‘Yeah, they flogged Hahndorf!’ They are all eating from paper bags, looking happy.

Artwork by Cornelius Jetses

 

At Motherduck

Yelena Sidorova (2)

Walking along in Goolwa, suddenly hungry, and a little place leaps right at me; so there we eat. It is beautiful. It is warm and sunny; it feels as though summer is approaching again, but this is just a memory in the wrong place. Summer is a while away yet.

But it isn’t just me. Everyone is ambling.

Motherduck has a sign right in front of their door. We bend down to read it and puzzle it out. We can’t get in. We dither and wait. And someone comes.

‘Can we sit here (outside)?’ We can. ‘Of course you can.’ She bows us to a table right in the sun, in the warmth, in the middle of what seems everything.

The coffee is proper. A punch from a good friend.

Our food is simple and divine and gets its picture taken.

There is time to watch the passing by of the passers-by. People approach this little place with enthusiasm and bend down kindly to read the sign. Some read it, and their lips move. Some read it out loud, loudly. Only ten people allowed inside, only eight allowed outside. We apologise for any inconvenience. But there is no harm done. People turn and count. And dither, like we did. Then the kindly young waitress comes and beams everyone upright, and they are happy again.

One man tried to get in without waiting. His wife pulled him back. She said, ‘You can’t go in.’ He is genuinely perplexed. ‘Why?’

‘You know, it’s the virus.’

‘What, in here?’

‘Just get back, here she comes.’ The waitress approaches and gathers them in. The cross husband beams.

A couple have a table, a high one, but no chairs. A man, dining alone, gives them the chairs at his table, including his own chair. They all look at each other. They beam.

Two ladies pass that know each other. One calls out shrilly, ‘Jan!’

The other turns and scans us all. ‘Who…’

‘Jan, it’s me.’

‘God, you gave me a shock. How are you? Been ages.’

They look at each other. ‘Well, you know, with everything…’

‘I know. I’m on my way to see the grandies, two of ‘em now. Guess you haven’t any yet?’

‘Hell, yes, four now.’

They looked away from each other so there is no need to acknowledge a winner. They win. They beam.

‘Keep you busy.’

‘Yes, yes. Yes. Well.’

‘Good to see you, Jan.’

Behind them, a man was bending solicitously over the sign. ‘It says only ten people, Bridget.’

‘Just wait dad, there’s people leaving.’

We start to eat faster, feeling guilty.

The waitress flew, carrying coffees, a pepper grinder, beautiful little rounds of gentle, soft bread, burgers clasped within a shouting sourdough that wins every time. Beetroot dip in a bowl: a bowl of blended jewels.

A man sipped coffee. The waitress beamed. A couple sat on stools at a thick wooden bench, leaning over each other, melting.

We finish our food. Honoured. Give up our little table.

An older couple stop abruptly, ‘Albert…here..’

 

Art by Yelena Sidorova

 

 

But then he came back

Joseph Lorusso

‘Thanks man. Thank you kindly. God bless.’
When this young man came into the shop, I asked him, ‘Are you a teacher or a student?’
‘No, actually, I’m a Christian. You gotta read, man.’

I agreed.

‘Occasionally I’ll drop in, for now on, and I’ll get something, ok?’

I said that that would be great, and he turned to leave, but came back to me.
‘This is great, good on you. This’ll do me for the winter, great stuff. And I want to thank you for being open and being here because we still need books.’
He stood there, a tall bonfire. Gesturing. Holding Plato, Jonathan Swift, and The Lives of the Poets. Trying to find sentences. Unable.
Me, trying to find sentences; unable.
Then he was gone, walking past my window, strongly with his head down, swinging the books in front of him where they admired the winter and dismissed the cold.

Painting by Joseph Lorusso

The small hand waving; a moth’s wing

Alexandros Christofis (2)

This family; three adults, one child. Spent a long time here in the bookshop talking, nodding, browsing, talking more. And the child – I hardly saw him. He was quiet, absorbed in a book about rockets. He sat in the cane armchair under the heater. His family circled, murmuring, calling out to one another. One of them took a phone call, which was mostly laughing in low tones to the caller.

The child read.

The phone call ended.

‘What’d he say?’

‘Said it’s still on.’

‘No way.’

‘Yep.’ More laughing.

The child read laying back, head relaxed, the book held up in the air.

They gathered to go. Suddenly they were all in front of me, tangled, talking and jostling, trying to get out of the door. I said ‘goodbye’. But they didn’t hear me.

But the child did. He had one finger looped into the pocket of his mother’s jacket. She was pulling him along, gently. He looked back; looked at me. His other hand, down at his waist, waved, a wing, a fin, held up in acknowledgement and kept there until I saw it, then lowered. I looked at him. He looked at me. Then they left.

Boy Reading by Alexandros Christofis

I might start reading Hemingway. I might start reading him. See what it’s all about.

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Men in orange work overalls, two of them, came into the shop. I had The Beatles playing, and one said, ‘Penny Lane!’

They had bottles of coke, they wore beanies and silver earrings. They consulted smartphones.

‘I might start reading Hemingway. I might start reading him. See what it’s all about.’ His friend nodded, ok.

They handled the classics. Alex Garland’s, The Beach made one of them put down his coke. He read the back of the book, kneeling on the floor.

The other man disappeared into the back room.

He came back to science fiction.

Leans back to see the top shelf, hands crossed across his front, holding the coke by the neck. Leaning now in front of art. Trying to see the bottom shelves.

Now, leaning into fantasy, resting a shoulder. The other man is still on the floor, his boots are tremendous; clutched by mud.

‘Cheers mate. Better go.’ They move quietly, slowly.

‘Do you take card, mate?’ (to me). One is buying Dexter. ‘I’ve seen this series.’

‘Cheers.’ They turn to leave, but one comes back. His friend treads patiently from side to side.

‘I’ll just get this as well. It’s reasonable.’

He says to his friend, ‘It’s reasonable. Need my wallet.’

He dashes out to a car, then back in, ‘Sorry mate (to me), didn’t have enough.’

His friend stands patiently, holding the door with outstretched arm, head resting on the arm, one boot on top of the other, gently.

‘Better get back.’

He pays. They leave quietly. Out into the bright cold.

Choosing a raspberry cardigan

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I went shopping for clothes with my daughter. We entered a young person’s clothing store. Beautiful, with wood, space, light, and music. And metal – the racks, the posts all shone.  The clothing displays matched – hazelnut, vanilla, snow grey, powder blue, black. Cinnamon. Chocolate. Everything caring about the approach of winter. The staff were young. Confident. They approached my daughter, but not me. I stood near the boxes of coat hangers and clothes relegated to discards. This is the place to be. From here, all of life.

There are people turning in front of mirrors, first one way, then another, faces softening between despair and possibility.

‘It’s not me.’

‘I love this.’

‘What’s it doing back there…is it straight?’

‘Is this all right?’

Staring hard, intensely, into the streaky shop mirrors at reflections that won’t obey. Not blinking. Willing it to work.

‘This isn’t working.’

‘Ok, that’s ok, do you want another size?’

‘No.’ Depressed.

Levi’s, Moto, Lee. Outland. A sign that says Nudie Jeans are coming. Another sign taped to the wall, Recycle Your Jeans Here. Ask Us How.

A young woman stretches gently a raspberry cardigan. It is still on its hanger. She turns it this way. Then another way. She rubs her thumb delicately across the tiny fruit buttons.  Is it soft? Is it strong? Will it be kind to me?

What are we looking at? What are we looking for? What do we know?

‘I’ll get this.’

‘Great. Isn’t it great. It looks great. I love this too.’ The shop girls, they love everything. Everything is cute.

I’ll pay with card.’

‘Great. That’s a cute bag.’

‘Oh my God, thanks,’

There are huge crosses on the floor. At the entrance, a table with hand sanitizer. And printed instructions on how This Shop is Keeping You Safe.

‘How much are the shoes?’

‘Do you have any eights?’

‘I was hoping for black maybe..’

At the entrance, a commotion because school has finished and young people are gathering, loud, exuberant, and not standing on the crosses.

One saleswoman calls, ‘Ellie, can you go sort those kids, none of ‘em have used the sanitizer.’ I watch Ellie, with chewing gum, head strongly for the door.

 

The meeting

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There is a meeting outside the shop.

It makes steady progress, everyone is loaded with pies and coffees and cakes, but they move slowly on and on, past the window, stopping briefly, talking and talking, moving on again, then circling back to my doorway.

Winter’s over, mate.

Two men face each other, take a few more steps, stop again. They gesture with paper bags. Several others join them, backs to the cold. They look through my door, but don’t come in. A few more steps, talking and arguing, faces muffled through paper, sighing over the coffee, the coffee’s good.

Need to tie up loose ends…

I’ve zero tolerance…

120 bales..

Get your invoices in…

Worst thing ever…

There are always two people in front of each window. Some men are strolling up and down. I can’t work out where they’ve all come from. There are no vehicles parked outside.

No, mate, never heard of it!

Works really well.

Seven days a week?

I’ve a grandson back there though.

There’s no right way.

They are still coming out of the bakery, the group stretches past my shop. There are calls for more coffee.

Here, Ian. Someone tell him to get a carton of milk.

When I bought that spirit level, might have been a good ten years ago…

Everyone stops talking to stare at a truck that has stopped across the road. The driver jumps out and heads to the bakery, leaves the engine running.

He’s keen.

There was a guide, some sort of guide…wasn’t there?

No, there wasn’t.

All the shit you have to go through…I could tell you…

There’s a shout from down the street, out of my view. Everyone turns.

Is that Charlie?

There are footsteps, calling, movement, everyone preparing to leave, looking for a rubbish bin.

Weather’s coming in.

Don’t use the government guide.

Government? Is there one?

There was a turning of heads and a general, agreeable dismissive noise of contempt.

Government!

 

Gone

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Scraping softly across the top of the soil, they found it. The worm. They gazed down at it in astonishment.

Worm.

Noah, see.

Worm.

Where Pa?

Worm.

Worm. He’s in here.

No. Not.

They shuffled and dug and lost the worm. Great Grandma came out.

They said, Worm.

She said, Is there? That’s good.

They dug and pushed and piled things up. They breathed in garden, worm and disappointment.

Worm gone.

Great Grandma went past the other way.

They said, Worm gone.

She said, Oh well, there’ll be another.

They watched her go up the path and along the veranda.

Pa went past.

Max pointed downwards. Pa said, Good work!

They squatted down and inspected the soil. They put their noses down to the surface (just in case). Noah laid his head flat to the ground, ready for any possibility.

They waited.