Liking the new spaces in the shop

There are two rectangular bookshelves in the front of the shop, side by side and shoulder to shoulder, bone to bone. The books are not related. But they still get on because they’ve been shelved so precisely that they must. They take up and face out, exact squares of meaning. Customers say, ‘This looks nice.’

I think they’re referring to order. Order is nice right now. When you open the door to the shop, there’s a big new free space. We moved the counter back out of the way. I prefer to be out of everyone’s way. You can get your pram in now. The space is bordered and held by bookshelves holding all kinds of possibility. That’s what I call it because you can get in the door so easily that the rest of the shop seems possible. My assistant, Callie, came in and saw the new arrangement for the first time. She said, ‘I like.’

The books sit tight and obedient. But their contents don’t. There are all kinds of strange books sitting there looking at the visitors coming in. When visitors come in, they move their heads from side to side, fast and interested. Then they say, ‘This is nice.’ They look carefully and softly at simply everything. Spike Milligan. Andrew Lloyd Webber. Blinky Bill. A Biography of Judy Dench. Longfellow. Asterix and the Soothsayer. European Trains in the 19th Century. We’re Going On A Bear Hunt. Rabindranath Tagore: The Complete Writings.

‘Just get it over and done with…..like…hello?’ I overheard this from two teenagers passing the door and discussing getting things over and done with. The girls walked shoulder and shoulder, heads together, dragging schoolbags.

A man came strongly through the door into my new space and then backed out again. He said, ‘Zen moment. Sorry. Books here. Sorry.’

When visitors come in together, they stand for a little while and whisper to each other. There’s no need to whisper though. It’s not a quiet place. Books are not quiet.

A mother and child browsed a while and left looking happy. The mother had bought The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. She said, ‘I want to cry’. At the door the child said, ‘I’m going to die from holding in my pee’, and the mother screamed with laughter. I thought that was good.

On the inside facing directly outward so I can see everyone going past and everything that happens

Now it’s even harder to miss people. I’ve had my counter moved so it sits facing the door. I’m facing that outside space where everything  happens. I don’t have to turn my head anymore.

Things happen at lightening speed. Sometimes a person passes so fast that all I catch is an expression. The thing is: I recognize the expression even though it’s tied to their life and their shopping lists. But it’s good to be part of such a rich and filthy diorama: no solutions, no control, all cream and vinegar and colour.

Sometimes all I catch is a body movement: a shrug or a gesture. And I recognize it, and it looks good. We aren’t aware of how precise our muscles are. Or how delicate. A cheek muscle can express at least a couple of years of solid participation.

All sounds are caught in the scoop of my doorway. Sometimes it’s sheep, caught up in their own private woollen hell, squashed into a truck parked outside so the driver can get to the bakery.

Once two tradesmen (there are always tradesmen) argued at the back of their parked ute. They wore the obligatory orange and blue. One man was talking. The other looked at the ground and shook his head. I liked the way he shook his head at the ground rather than at his friend. This is how I knew they were friends. The road outside was quiet that morning. There was just them. They couldn’t see me. A bookshop is the most invisible of shops. The man looking at the ground said, ‘Jesus. Just hand it in then. Tell ‘em to get fucked.’

The other man nodded and nodded and nodded. Relief.

Once a walking floppy child went past hand in hand with mum. They stopped to look at my wooden smiling cat that guards the front window. The child was turning to soft sad tired rubber. Mummy was trying to cajole her home.

‘Look at the cat. And look at this. It looks like you.’ The child’s face, dripping downwards, suddenly solidified and turned warm. ‘Is that me?’

‘Yes, do you think?’

‘It’s me. Can I have him?’

‘No, he lives here.’ And they moved slowly on, a shopping bag and a jumper dragged along because they were necessary too.

An old man limped past; a lady next to him: his wife. He was being scolded by his wife. They were working hard at the walking but were going slowly. Suddenly he lifted both arms into the air, a gesture meaning that he had no words for it. He eyes flicked sideways and saw the gesture. Then they were out of my sight. Do you get to an age when there  are no adequate words for it? Imagine outliving language.

Once three ladies came in, taking ages to get through the door because they were bringing books in for me. One lady was bent over arranging the bags. They were Woolworths green shopping bags full of books. When she lifted her eyes to me to see if I was pleased with their gift, her eyes were there. Looking at me and at nothing else. The ladies bowed to each other and to me and to the shelves. The kindness of it defeated me that day. I didn’t know what to say.

The family who read a lot

Two women and a heap of kids came into the shop. One of the women hugged an atlas. She kept looking at the front of it, turning her head to one side. A little boy chose one small Zac Powers book at a time and ran it over to me. Then returned for another one. Sometimes he took a book and flew it from room to room like a plane before adding it to the stack in front of me. He added 11 Zac Powers books. A little girl removed half the Zacs and put them on the floor in front of the counter. The boy added another one.

The women with the atlas passed the counter again in a serene ordered way. The other women had novels. She said, ‘I love novels’. Another child watched the atlas float by at her eye level and found her own atlas. She added it to the stack, standing, I think, on the Zac Powers pile, luckily left there for her small sandalled foot.

An older child piled a series of novels she’d found on the top of the Zac Powers.  ‘I’ve been looking for this a long time’. She added a Minecraft book. One woman said, ‘I don’t really know what this Minecraft is, but she does, so we’ll get it. The older child’s face became a lit lamp. The little girl added a book about snakes. Then one about frogs. The atlas passed us again, now with another smaller art book lying on top of it like a slice of something else. The Zac Powers boy zoomed and swooped and added a copy of Possum Magic. His mother said, ‘Oh good.’ And his face became the second lit lamp.

Paul Keating has an amazing intellect

Somebody said this at my window, tapping on the glass to show his friend that Paul Keating has an amazing intellect. But they didn’t come into the shop.

That’s ok, it’s the school holidays and the readers are out leaping into the shop with narrowed eyes like hunters on the path of something. One young woman announced herself to me but turned midsentence, already at the biographies and not finishing the sentence.

But that’s ok, I needed to sit down after battling the autumn leaves in the doorway again. And again. Every morning they come back and wait for me. My broom is coming apart.

When I was out there sweeping, an old lady asked me, ‘Did you get that book I wanted and can’t remember?’ But I hadn’t found it. I couldn’t remember it either, and she patted my arm and said, ‘Not to mind. I’ll leave you to your sweeping up.’

Sarah came in needing a number for a taxi. She said that what was going on in Lismore wasn’t good enough.

Robert came in after a year’s absence and started right off where we’d finished last May. His newest news was that he’d saved a lot of money by giving up smoking. He’d saved thousands. So now he could buy some books. But then he remembered that he’d taken up smoking again, and he showed me a plastic wallet of tobacco which reminded me of my grandfather. I almost said Tally Ho, but I didn’t. Robert said that the tobacco cost him $150 and looked furious about it. But then he noticed behind me on a shelf, The Secret Doctrine by H P Blavatsky, Quest Book, Theosophical Publishing House. He read all this out loud. Then he said, ‘I’ll have that.’

We looked at each other, pleased, and then talked about tobacco some more. Then he rushed out to do other errands, and Jim came in and ordered an esoteric type of book that I’d ordered before – for Robert. I told Jim, and he said, ‘I know, Robert gave me a lift in to Strath and told me to get one.’ So I got one for him. I said, ‘How’s Clayton, and he said, ‘Yeah, well you know how it is.’ Which I didn’t, but I agreed anyway.

The girl who was amongst the biographies came back to the counter with a pile. There was 1 historical, 5 crimes, 2 biographies, 2 children’s flats and 1 art book. She bobbed up and down while she paid, flexing leg muscles and looking powerful. I said, indicating Wolf Hall, ‘This is good’, and she said powerfully, ‘I know, my mum told me about it.’

Anthony came in for science fiction. An ambulance and police car went past, and then a CFS truck. He said, ‘that sounds bad’.

A silent young couple came in and looked at just about everything and left silently. I said, thanks for coming in, but they didn’t reply. A lady asked for a book about a certain type of guitar. Another lady asked for spiritual Christian fiction and then left with nothing and looking unsatisfied. I went to the bakery for a chocolate doughnut and there were none left and I came back with nothing and feeling unsatisfied.  

Then someone tapped on the window and called out to his friend that Paul Keating has an amazing intellect. The friend nodded with folded arms not looking interested. The man remained bent over and slowly examined all the other books in the window. They didn’t come in.

All in all a satisfying day. Except for the autumn leaves. Lol.

Illustration by Konstantin Mashkarin

The ice cream: was it necessary?

Another window scene delivered with clarity and precision. A couple pass the window fast. It’s a warm afternoon. They are speaking in small shouts, which is why I look up. I look up in time to catch a still. Then they’re gone.

They were leaning forward in hurrying positions. She said, ‘Well, did I need to buy that ice cream?’

His head was turned to her. He said, ‘Well.’

She said, as though he’d said a lot more, ‘No. No. No. I just spend that $10.00. Did I?’

He said, (his voice fading) ‘it’s all good.’

So, the ice cream –  it was necessary. And good.

Then, inside the shop, an lady bought a copy of My Goblin Therapist by Morgan Taubert, and said, ‘I shouldn’t come in here.’ I looked at her and her face was a lit lamp. Then she said, ‘I’ll be back on the weekend for the Vera Brittain. I said, ‘Ok’, my face, a lit lamp.

On the street this afternoon when I was leaning against the fence with a coffee

Nothing is so satisfying as seeing what people do in autumn on Saturdays when it’s warm and nearly Easter, and we know that the warm weather is nearly at its finish line. It’s done a good job here. The fence is warm. Over the road two people are lying on the lawn. They have their phones on their chests, not looking at them because they are kind of asleep. It’s quiet most of the time, I’ve hardly had any customers. So I went outside and leaned against the warm fence.

First of all a ute and trailer went passed. Huge rolls of straw like golden Swiss rolls. And then a truck with sheep, so everything smelt like hot sheep. And then a ute with black smoke at the exhaust, so everything smelt precisely like …. that.

I moved down the fence, sticking to the sunshine because I like it today. It doesn’t have its February commitment.

A father and child pass me close. They’re silent. They walk exactly the same way. Their ankles turn in at the same angle. The child walks behind, then side by side, then in front, carrying paper bags of food from the bakery. The father adjusts his pace to avoid collision and to look after the truth.

Another younger couple come the other way. The young dad is wearing a backpack with a rope tied to back. The other end is tied to a go-kart. The go-kart burrs along behind him with a small child in the driver seat. The child is pedalling furiously and breathing hard but only goes at the pace of the parent pony anyway. The mother, turning back to look at them, looks pleased. She turns her head to one side to get all the information in and looks pleased. The father plods along. The child pedals. The child raises one hand in the air. The father, sensitive to the air, looks back and says, ‘Nearly there’.

Across the road a four-wheel drive pulling a trailer is trying to exit the carpark. In the trailer is a neat little dog kennel, tied in with a thousand straps and ropes. It will not fall out. The man, an older man, is talking to another man in the passenger seat. I can see them talking hard. I think they are father and son.

The reason I think they are father and son is because when the car behind them sounds the horn (this is because they are so slow the exit the carpark) they both jerk to look behind them in the same way.

Right in front of me a man has parked a motorbike and left two helmets dangling from the handlebars along with a beautiful pair of lime green gloves. It’s the gloves that make me stare. And the phone left on the seat. Sitting there on the bike seat and shining in the sun Not important enough to take to the bakery. Good.

Across the road a man climbed out of his car and walked across the park to the toilets. He walked with a stiff gait. He looked as though he’d been driving for a long time. He came back via the rubbish bins and threw something away. Then he stood with hands on hips and looked at the bin for a long time.

There’s a huge group of people coming up the road, and I might go back inside the shop. There’s about 12 of them. But when I look down the road again, they have all disappeared. Then a car passes and I see a face at the window smiling and smiling, apparently at me, but I don’t know who it is. I just remember the mouth and the smiling teeth that caught me in their beam.

That’s how people drive past. I just see an intense flash of person. Drivers slumped back. Drivers upright or leaning forward over the steering wheel, urging the engine onward. Masks hanging from the rear vision mirror. A passenger talking and talking at a driver, whose face over the steering wheel is frozen.  I can see the talking mouth of the passenger, like energetic moving rubber describing too many ideas.

There’s a man crossing the road straight toward me. He looks left and right, checking traffic, and continues on straight at me. He looks left and right and then at me. I think, do I know you? But I don’t. He looks determined. I think, why is he aiming right at my piece of fence. He strides on and gets to the kerb. I think, turn left you dick. And he suddenly does, not even seeing me, aiming clumsily for the bakery and stumbling a bit over the kerb and me backed against the fence thinking I’m going to write about you.

Two young men pass with masks, keys, wallets and phones in their hands, jangling all their necessity. A car passes with one person inside: the driver. She stops to give way at the intersection. She is talking away at something and gesturing, as though trying to understand it. Like I am.

Sculpture by Elizabeth Price

A group of tourists passed the door this morning

There were about six of them, they’d all been to the bakery, they all had hot food and coffee, and they’d parked outside my shop.

One man read aloud the sign on my door: “Second hand books. Something for everyone. Please Come In.” He read it in a sing song voice. Then he said, ‘Awwww. No way. Do you think anyone ever goes in?’

They all clattered past to their car, parked just past the verandah. Someone had on bright yellow, and one of them was trailing a bag with a long handle on the ground. One of them, an older man, had a newspaper.

There were two patient dogs on leads tied up under my verandah. They belong to a frequent bakery customer. They are very good dogs. One of the group, a lady, stopped to pat them.

She said, ‘Must belong to the bookshop. Not very nice having them tied up here all day.’

Then she looked through my window and saw Callie, who was working away at Young Readers, tidying up, and putting everything back into alphabetical order. The lady said, loudly, ‘Well there’s someone in here, the owner, I’d say.’

The don’t know we can hear them. We hear everything in here. The alcove doorway scoops up the sounds and delivers them to us in a teacup.

Callie keeps on shelving.

I smile and keep on reading.

The money exchange and the man who only got a coffee for himself

A reader in the shop needs money for her books. She calls her husband from the back room, and he comes slowly because he is carrying his own books. But he offers his wallet. Then he says,

‘You just snatched. You just took a whole hundred.’

‘Well get some more. Go get some more.’

The husband looks at me and says, ‘Oh My God.’ Then he leaves his books on the counter and goes out.

It’s a slow day. Two other people are talking about land development in the front room. One says, ‘Yes, but that’s very sensitive information.’

Browsers are moving slowly. We all have the autumn slows. The money lady is checking her phone against the books she is holding.

A group of three ladies, all wearing black jackets, pass the door, all talking fast and loudly. I hear one sentence:

‘How does she know about it none of us talk about it I mean settle down.’

Then they’re gone.

Then the husband comes back with more money and a coffee. His wife, the one checking her phone, looks at the coffee. He says, ‘Oh My God,’ again, and looks up at the roof, and then gives her his coffee.

Then they pay for all their stuff, all good books, even a copy of Cosmo Cosmolino, and go back out in the sun to the bakery to get another coffee probably. When they walk away, they are both looking down at their books and she is drinking the coffee.

Painting by Im Buchladen

The man who had a pair of pliers in his back pocket

Two old blokes  crossing the road in front of my shop door. Waiting at the kerb first because the traffic is busy. They wore famer’s clothes. What are these? I don’t know, it was the boots that made me think it. They were discussing something of intense interest to both of them. When there was a clear spot in the traffic, they didn’t take it. One was finishing a point and the other was listening and nodding. So he must have been right. He used his hand to bang out the importance of it. I could tell that his hands had done a lot of work.

Then another break in the traffic and it got quiet. The sun shone down. I wondered idly if they might take it. Well, they tried. They bent forward and made sprinting motions. They were still talking though. In the quiet I heard them. One man said (as they made their move), ‘Well, my argument on the cat side of it is – ‘

Suddenly a car with small dogs at each window passed in front of them. Each window had about a one inch gap at the top. Three dogs were screaming furiously through the gaps, one in the front and two from the back.

The men stopped abruptly and watched the car go past. One of them said, ‘Jesus.’

Then they finished the crossing. One of them had a pair of pliers in his back pocket. I still remember that.

Painting by Carl Heinrich Bloch

Buy books then,

“Buy books, then, that you have read with profit and pleasure and hope to read and reread.
Buy books that you may underscore passages and write upon the margins, thus assuring yourself that the book is your own. Keep the books that mean the most to you close at hand, one or two, if possible, on a table at your bedside.
Do not hide away your favorite books or keep them locked in enclosed shelves. Do not keep them under glass.”

Burton Rascoe, The Joys of Reading: Life’s Greatest Pleasure