They are workmen, and they’re doing the gutters on my shop; they’ve been busy up there for three days. Customers, noticing the boots treading above their heads, tell me that it’s busy up there. There are hammers, drills, voices calling out, ‘Where’s the end of that one going?’
Crashes. Things dropping. More footsteps, faster this time, criss crossing above me, mapping out a hard day’s work. My customers look up, then down. Some lean backwards, allowing for stiff necks, and screw up their eyes to help them see through the roof.
‘Something going on up there, I reckon.’
‘You got pigeons up there?’
‘I used to do roof work.’
‘I see their ladder out there. It’s in the wrong place. They ort to go up over the tanks. Be safer.’
‘My word, what a noise. Do you have anything by Di Morrissey?’
I fiddle about and tidy the shelves. A drill shatters a customer conversation about Freud (that has been going on for some time).
‘God. What was that?’ (Freud probably).
A man told me about his successful teaching career (nobody can teach properly anymore etc) until a series of precise deafening blows silenced him with a different kind of success. He left abruptly, refusing to buy his book…which lay on the counter looking up at the dust shifting left and right under the hammer blows.
I read a bit more of The Lady and the Peacock and I can’t hear anything around me because I’m in Burma.
A man in History, jerks around at the drill. He says, ‘That’s not right.’
A young man wearing a backpack and earphones can’t hear anything either. He is serene underneath a crash of guttering. He is reading Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. A young mother (with twin babies and a toddler) sways over the infant story books. She is also oblivious. This kind of chaos is her every day. She smiles. She’s reading a Mem Fox. The toddler leans against her. Her pram babies bubble and breath.
The drill screams.
The man in history leaves.
The toddler yawns and leans tightly against the smiling mother, and the babies in the pram joggle about, kicking against the sides of comfort.
Image from “The Sistine Madonna” by Raphael, c.1513