‘My wife, Roz.’
The man speaking was visiting my shop again, and when he said ‘Roz’, he went still and looked upwards.
He had come back to give me a gift – a copy of Trollope’s The Way we Live Now from his own collection. We had talked about this book a few days ago. We had leaned toward each other, acknowledging Trollope and Barchester Towers. So funny, all about people, all about people right now.
He asked, ‘Why is it, do you thank, that nothing changes…?’
‘It’s delightful. Delightful.’ I watched him judge humanity.
He held his cap under one arm to talk about the free bench seats at concerts in the Adelaide Town Hall when he sat when he was a boy.
‘I didn’t like Elvis, I really tried though. I really did. But I was poor. Did you know that at school, I joined the cadets to get a free uniform. Then I wore that to the concerts. The music. That music. Because…’
‘There, then, on those seats, the orchestra, something happened. To me.’
He, my customer, having given me my book, the gift, edged toward the door, but then came back. I noticed these things:
He would often look upwards, at something that would not allow itself to be shelled easily in sounds.
He would change his cap from hand to hand.
He would apologise in case he was boring me. He wasn’t.
He said: ‘Why is it that.’
‘Of course, Thackeray.’
‘And Charlie Dickens, well look at him…’
‘And of course we must consider…’
‘Music.’ He continued on, sliding through one joy to the next.
‘Rudyard Kipling. Beethoven. The lights in those places at night, from outside, in winter. Oh, the concerts. But I didn’t mind. I had to sell all my things. My tools, I was a tradesman, I didn’t mind. But when it came to the books, I went and stood next to the auctioneer. It was awful. It was severe.’ To see them go like that.’
He shifted his cap and returned to me.
‘My wife, Roz. She paints’. You should see – metallic oxide on glaze – the glaze becomes mobile and the oxides sink. It’s difficult, you need to see it.’
He shifted his cap again; the cap was in the way. He gazed forward at his wife who was not there. His head bent slightly, it too, in the way. ‘My wife, she paints.’
‘I must go. Please do enjoy your book.’