I remember

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Before I had a bookshop, the idea of having one lit up the back fence like some kind of unwanted answer from the past.

I remember looking at empty shops. When I found one, I thought, well! I never expected any kind of commercial success, but I did hope to survive. What the shop was to look like was paramount. It had to look like Diagon Alley –  because this was what I liked. Thus, the shop was based on what I wanted, what I liked, what I thought was good. A good selfish start.

(I had a lot to learn.)

Once a child said, “This is like Diagon Alley’, and sealed the happiest day of my first year.

I was surrounded by thousands of oblongs, each one containing an unexpected rich fuse. I felt so wealthy that I had to lie down and cradle my head.

It was not possible to explain such an abandonment of logic.  I remember experiencing it early in life; after reading Tubby and the Lantern. This was because Tubby and Ah Mee had a bunk bed.

In Little House on the Prairie, there was snow.

In Sam and the Firefly, there were lights, gold gems stinging an emerald blue sky.

In Whispering in the Wind, Crooked Mick could sit on a horse and drink two cups of tea while it bucked.

Later, Helen Garner, John Steinbeck, Dal Sijie…. uncovering the diabolical ache of life without solutions. So much. So little time.

Then, repeated visits to Jeff’s Books to learn how to do it:

What happens if…..

What do I do when…

Who is…

What is…

How do I…

What should I….

How can I…

Finally, back to my shop to actually do it. I had to learn how people read, and why. This was different, and it was difficult, and it still is. So much to learn, so little time. Luckily,  I recorded it all.

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Catch you…

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Certain people have been visiting my shop for a long time. Nothing will stop them now. In my final days I have had to keep the door locked, and we all stare at each other through the glass. This morning, an old lady came by with her daughter. They were both young once. Now they are themselves. The mother loomed up to the door, looking for me. Her daughter said, ‘She’s not there, mum’. Her mother said, ‘She is. She’s right there.’

And I am there. I come to the door, and we all stare. On the mother’s face, joy blooms.

‘I told you. She’s there.’

I call through the glass, ‘Hello”.

They are delighted.

I call, ‘Did you want a book?’

They both nod. But I know they don’t. (Their gift to me).

I say, ‘I’ve no books left, go away.’

They laugh, delighted.

‘That’s not true.’

The daughter pulls her mother back.

‘Come on’.

The mother, who is kind, is also powerful. Wealthy in the new ancient currency. Kindness.

She looms up to the glass, simple, worried, looking for me.

‘Catch you in better times’, she shouts.

The whole empty aching street, turns, listens.

 

 

Written for the both of you who will never know what your visit meant to me.

The Unsquare Dance

Artwork by Victor Vasarely (1906-1997)

Andrew has a journal with every book he wants written in a neat list. The other morning he showed me the next list – about 60 books.…. can I please find them…?

He reads history.

But now he has added John Steinbeck, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, and Solzhenitsyn, and he almost shouts. ‘There’s so much. So much. It’s so great. Where’s my glasses?’

He turns around in circles as he speaks, checking the other shelves, forgetting about his glasses.

He says, ‘My God, that’s Brubeck you’re playing. Good for the mind.’

His glasses are in his hand. He puts them on and stacks up his books to carry out.

I caution him. He tends to read as he walks.

Outside, some young men are walking past, leaning forward into the wind, moving fast. One of them is yelling to the other:

‘I’m not saying the footy oval, I’m not saying that…’

Andrew, eyes on Kafka, moves gently in front of them. They look up, surprised, and part abruptly to let him through. They resume.

‘It’s not the footy oval, it was the other way….’

 

Artwork by Victor Vasarely (1906-1997)

 

 

The young girl who wanted a book for her friend

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This young girl wanted a book for her friend. The friend is an exchange student and unable to go home right now. So a group of students are buying her books, for consolation. The exchange student, who can’t go home, reads and reads.

The young girl had a list of books, written in pencil and folded neatly. She showed me the list. It is mostly the classics.  I read, “William Wordsworth”.

I said, ‘William Wordsworth!’

And she said, ‘Oh yes!’

The man who always says,‘How you going?’

 

George Dyachenko (2)

I saw him this morning when I was setting up the shop for the day. He is someone I know by his voice. And his dog. There used to be a group of dog lovers here. They met at the bakery and talked all morning. He would laugh. His laugh bounced out out over the road like some mad buoyant pack of tennis balls, and all the dogs would swing their heads around sharply to look at him, and then turn back to watch the traffic with their eyes half closed again.

I heard him over the road this morning, still with his beautiful dog. He said, ‘How you going?’, to the people sitting on the grass, waiting for buses. His voice is the same. He still says the same things, simple and strong, and happy like chutney that is home made. I heard people answer him, nodding, saying things back to him, and he laughed the same way, leaning back and lobbing it straight upwards into the pine trees and making the cockatoos rustle and look down with jealous eyes.

The people on the grass are all grinning, looking up at him. One man says, ‘Yeah mate, I reckon that too.’

Then the bus comes and I can’t see them anymore, and I have to go inside where all the books and stories about people are, and record another story about another person.

Artwork by George Dyachenko

The visitors

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Noah and Finn visited the shop this morning. They are packed with energy, ideas, and water bottles. They picked up the pottery cat and put it down. They read the robot book, the dinosaurs book, the wildlife book, and A History of Great Australians. They moved the owls and the clay bird, and put a copy of The Complete Angler in the back room. They smudged the glass, and opened the door, moved the teddy bear, shook the gem tree, sat up at the counter. They picked up the pottery cat and put it in a different place. They are wearing good autumn jumpers. They are grandsons. They are everything.

Black Beauty, Monty Roberts, and champagne

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Yesterday afternoon, a man came in with a bottle of champagne. He had seen a copy of Black Beauty in the window. He left the bottle on the counter and examined every book on the window table before returning with Black Beauty. He said he was also hoping for books by Monty Roberts, and that if I wanted to know about horses, I had to read Monty Roberts.

There was another customer here, looking through The Counties of The United States of America, and saying out loud, ‘This really is the nuts and bolts of the USA. It’s so complicated. Look at it. Look at this map.’

The other man said, ‘Have you read Shy Boy?’

‘This is the only book that actually shows how the counties have further subdivisions.’

The other man said we should all read Shy Boy: The Horse That Came in from the Wild, by Monty Roberts. He stood thinking, tapping the top of the bottle, and said that a couple of years ago, he –

Two people passed the door, walking fast. One said, ‘Well, we don’t have to worry about getting married.’

The man with the bottle of champagne turned abruptly and watched them walk by.

The other man said, ‘Look at this statistical table, it’s really up to date.’

 

 

 

Inside, Outside

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There are two ladies here discussing Things. First they talked about their children and then about Woolworths. Then, a water meter (broken). They have not looked at any books yet. Maybe they won’t. It often happens this way when people meet unexpectedly in a shop.

Today, my quiet door is hard at work. Earlier, a young man had thanked me for alphabetical order. He had held both hands out and said, ‘Thank you for alphabetical order…you’ve no idea what a difference it makes!’ His friend said, ‘Let’s go’, and edged the decision toward the door where the talking ladies moved aside without seeing him. But the young man was not ready to go. He was at Poetry. He suddenly said, ‘Get me out of here, I can’t go on’, and his friend said, ‘Thank God’, and they went outside to check phones, holding the door open, and we heard one of them say, ‘Sue isn’t a real vegan anyway.’ We could also hear a man in a suit standing next to his parked car with a coffee, and saying into his phone, ‘Do you want to drop those ladders off? Just go to my house then. Just bloody do it. Yeah….. yeah, ok…..yeah, I know….God. Why?’

The door closed

It opened. It was Don, hoping for his book on the Australian cameleers, but it was not in yet. As he left, he shouted back through the slowly closing door, ‘Off to Moonta with the Mrs, can’t wait. There’s history up there.’

The door shut. It opened.

‘Hello, hello, can we browse? Just been in the bakery. John’s still finishing his bun.’ Then she shouted back to someone else, ‘Get John.’

Outside, the man in the suit was saying, ‘And at the end of the day shit happens. I know that for a fact. Have you heard from your lawyer?’

The door shut.

The talking ladies moved comfortably into the doorway again.

A man asked for Lee Child. A lady asked for Sue Grafton. A couple asked for The Diary of Anne Frank (the uncut version). They told me that when they went to Amsterdam etc.

The man outside finished his call and began another.

People came along the footpath from both directions. There was a wild commotion of dogs. Everyone stopped and apologised, and said that their dog doesn’t usually do that etc.

The man outside is repeating into his phone that at the end of the day, shit happens, and he has always known this.

A child in the front room is standing motionless with a copy of The Hobbit on her head and staring through the window. She says to her mother, ‘Can we get this?’ and her mother nods without looking up.

The ladies in the doorway are leaving. I can hear them going up the footpath, ‘Well, I just tried it with beetroot, and the results were fair at least…’

Three ladies look through the window at the political biographies

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The political biographies occupy the window in an arrogant and useless kind of way.

Three ladies are out there, together, come off a bus across the road. I can see the driver sprinting for the bakery.

I can hear the ladies. They are bent over, peering in.

‘Sue was reading one of his books…’

They laugh wildly. (I wonder, who is Sue…?)

‘Caroline read it, too. When she…you know…’

I knew she wouldn’t lend me, so I asked for it at the library.’

‘They take an age though.’

They all agreed that libraries take too long. I still don’t know what they are referring to. I remain still. Eavesdropping is rude. It would not do for people to know. Is it Paul Keating? Surely not.

‘I wouldn’t mind it. She said it makes you feel good.’

(Paul Keating?)

‘You know you can read it and…’

‘Enjoy it.’

Whee yes! That’s what she said.’

‘I’m going in.’

‘Anne’s going in, bless her’.

“Anne” poked about amongst the political and knocked Keating to the floor. She picked up The Happiest Refugee and brought it to me. She said, ‘A hardback, no less. That makes me happy. It’s Anh Do!’

She opened her kind handbag and found the money. She looked at me and said richly, deeply, ‘Read it read it read it! You must read it. It’ll make you feel good.’

Then she left, thrusting the book at her friends, who bobbed up and down and exclaimed, ‘Anne, you’re a one!’

And they walked on, Anne with the book, and the others talking about having a colonoscopy.

Artwork by Pat Brennan

Daughter and mother

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They came in together yesterday and looked around confidently. I could tell they approved. Connoisseurs of bookshops always enter with full sails. ‘Here we are…’

Then they pause, broadsided by higher authorities. An enormous spiteful Pepys. Tintin. Dickens, Pratchett, Adams. Sendak, Steinbeck, Atwood, Dai Sijie, Garner. Proust. The Quincunx and Ibrahim Nasrallah on the front shelf. Anais Nin. All out the front to help me meet the ego. Authorities, like me, pretend to have read everything. But we bloody haven’t.

The mother and daughter approved and warmed immediately. There was a burst of a Christmas excitement.

I want this.

I heard you. I heard you.

The mother came up to the counter and leaned in comfortably to tell me softly about What She Read. Outlander. It took over her eyes. She had to look away so she could see the plot and tell some of it to me.

The daughter kept on sorting. She loved the World Classics. She loved Lewis Carroll. She’d read Treasure Island. It was violent. She loved Charles Dickens. She loved hefty classics in small dense volumes. Red covers.

I love these.

I love these. I want this.

I have that…

The mother ordered copies of the Outlander series. The daughter looked pleased.

‘Then I’ll read them. After you.’

‘We have too many books.’ (We all do).

Then they gathered themselves together, paid for their books, moved out, hanging onto each other and talking about Game of Thrones.

 

Mother and Daughter at Table by Jean Edouard Vuillard