A young girl in the shop is browsing. Browsing means to take a leisured survey, and in a bookshop, browsing is a slow dance, unique to the reader, the shop, and the shelves.
This girl takes a book, examines the spine, the pages, the top, the bottom, the back, the front. She carefully balances three books flat on her left hand, while turning to look for some more.
The lady next to her stands as straight at a doorway
The man behind her is bent like a bow. He is reading on the lower shelves.
The next man holds his hands and his phone behind his back and leans forward. Protrudes his head even further forward and reads titles with screwed up eyes, and every so often, nods. His partner follows behind him looking at her phone.
The browser, the first one with the careful balance of three books has added a fourth. A couple enter and turn in circles looking for the Covid thingo. They hold their phones and sunglasses in front of them. After checking in, she turns to the biographies and says ‘woooooo’. Her partner looks at her and then goes back out. A child going past says loudly, ‘Hairy Maclary.’
The movements of bookshop browsers can be almost imperceptible, but the flickering muscles of the eyes tell the real story.
Painting by Casey Childs
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn, 1819
Painting “Imagem de Leiture” by Silvana Cimieri
“Form itself, even if completely abstract … has its own inner sound.”
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Sculpture by Athena Jahantigh
“But life is never a material, a substance to be remoulded. If you want to know, life is the principle of self renewal, it is constantly renewing and remaking and changing and transfiguring itself, it is infinitely beyond your or my inept theories about it.”
Boris Pasternak, Dr Zhivago
Art by Paul Klee
“What does a mirror look at?”
Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune
On Goolwa beach the evening was in waves. Down the twelve steps we went and across the fine, clean sand that is still releasing generously the day’s heat and the ocean is kind and my family are in it and to one side the beach is cool slate and to the other a dazzling promotion of silver and lemon, olive and gold, all in waves.
The beach breathes in waves. There is no wind, there is one lone fisherman, standing, gazing out into his life, there is a family running in circles, running in spirals, the sand coughing around their feet, it is so quiet I can hear them urging fair play of the rules, Dylan!
There are three seagulls, sitting on the wind even though there is no wind. I wonder what they are waiting for.
There is no space between the sea and the sky.
There is no space between the sea and the sand.
The light moderates all the colours and they weave together, except for the tiles of orange on the horizon, everything else is stitched together, like fair play, like gladness and grief, unable to get at one without the interference of the other and everything in waves.
The tide moves in pursuit and retreat, around and past me, unmoved by me.
The fisherman is wading out into deeper water, my family are finishing, the hilarious family are making for their car, the last child trailing a blue towel across the blue evening and being told to hurry, and then we too, going home.
Yvonne continues to look in the door of the shop most mornings and ask me how the babies are. I tell her they are growing and happy. She always says: Well that’s the thing isn’t it!
When Morgan looks at his infant son, his son looks at him and they exchange evidence that each now lives for the other. Noah’s face is too small to hold in all the joy. And that’s the thing.
Outside the shop there is a father securing a sheepdog in the back of the ute. The son, about 8, stands patiently by. He asks his dad if he can get an icecream and a hero disk. His dad says: yep, soon as I tie in Baily. The son balances on the edge of the gutter and puts one finger on Baily’s nose to help and his dad says: well done. The child smiles. And that’s the thing.
Once a boy told me that he was 10 years old and going to read Brisingr. He asked his dad if he could get him Brisingr and his dad said yes. Then the child made a good joke: he said – can you get me a dragon? And his dad said: maybe… and the child laughed darkly to himself. And that’s the thing.
Joe visited two days ago to pick up his Charmian Clift book and said that he has had a win. That he kept every book he ever had on making furniture, but nobody wanted them. So he asked his son if HIS son, an apprentice cabinet maker might like them, and his son said: he won’t want them, just chuck them dad.
But Joe called his grandson himself and the boy said: I’ll be down on Saturday, Grandpa, keep them for me. Joe said: I’ve had a win.! And that’s the thing!
Dale’s dad told him that he should read history as it occurs. Dale said that he just wanted to read Skulduggery, all ten of them in the right order. His dad argued for the reading of history (as it occurs), but they left with five Skulduggery books and no history and Dale was happy. He carried all the books himself. And that’s the thing.
Small things are always the thing.
I think that my grandson, Max, has super powers, but my mum says that this is nonsense. When she dropped into the shop yesterday I said that Max has survived his first hot summer, and she said that this is nonsense. That when she was born in Broken Hill her mum had to put the cot outside in the summer because the corrugated iron house was hotter inside than out. Her mother hung wet nappies around the edges of the cot so that the hot wind blew cool. Her mum always put the cot under the pepper trees. She said the dining room table bowed in the heat of those roasting dark little iron rooms.
I said I would like to put that story on Facebook and she said that Facebook is nonsense; who on earth would want to read about her.
When my mum was 14 years old she made her own dress at school and wore it for a photograph sitting. I have that photograph, and it is one of my favourite things. They were very poor and she only ever had one photograph taken. She said her dress was pretty good, probably the best one made, and her mum had told her that this was nonsense.
Max, my grandson loves colour. He leans toward colours and frowns. His head wobbles when he catches the purple of my glass necklace. He leans in panting and dribbling, wanting that slab of cool glass in his mouth. But we have coloured glass slabs around the front door, too. These are wine red, mint green, champagne, butter yellow and icy pink. In the fading evening light they change character and jump. Max stares into the hot colours and is silent and noisy; breathing and ingesting colour. Soon the red becomes purple and the greens turn to blue. The yellow turns to cider. The pink fades to clear, cool water. He stares for minute after minute at the thick glass, dripping with evening colours.
Then later, my daughter says that he won’t go to sleep, and I say that this is nonsense.
One morning at the shop, Yvonne put her head in the door and called out: How’s Max? How much does he weigh? I told her and she said: God bless his dear little heart.
Well, the other evening, when it was hot, very hot, it had suddenly rained. And I was in the garden with the secateurs and then, when it rained, there was only the dark rich green, the leaves, the water running down the leaves and the silver of the secateurs. That silver under the rain was so silver.
Then it stopped raining so I went inside and brought Max outside to walk through the raining water and the raining garden.
From the doorway, it was too bright to see. So we went the short distance to the lime tree in a tub and looked carefully at the basil underneath. In that wet, hot evening light it was all emeralds. It seemed valuable. I crushed one leaf close to Max, close to his nose and we went on down the wet path, pursued by basil. Then the white cockatoos are overhead, they tear the sky with their screaming joy. Max is frowning and looking up through water and light and we stand for a long time looking up at those scribbling nuisances.
Then down again, down the path, past the Chinese Elm that is not doing well, the lavender, the rogue fig tree that we did not plant, the lemons and then beneath our feet, gum leaves, gum leaves and gum leaves. Then we are at the gate and you might be asleep.
But you are not. Your eyes are buttons, fastened to the rinsed light and the blowing gum trees.
It is the end of summer, and the air is full of that strange, footless summer breathing. Why does my grandson pant in my ear when I hold him? What is he looking at? The oblongs coloured like jewels along the back wall. These are books. The horizontal streaks of the bamboo blinds on the front door framed in lozenges of coloured glass? You sit for one baby minute after another staring at these.
The grape vine, the plum tree, the basil under the lemon tree. There is too much basil. The died roses, the pegs on the ground, the golden orb webs. We don’t like them, but you do.
Your head wobbles on a stalk not strong enough to hold it still. When you have completed your wobbling examination of a thing you grumble slightly. Time to move on. But once you stared thoughtfully at a lemon for nearly three minutes. Drenched in yellow, we could finally move on. Then we are under the wisteria and startled by purple. The whole house is breathing Max: powder, soap and milk, light, shapes and heat.