Rembrandt used to do that

John came in today. He’s always looking for history. He always has a list. The list is in a huge notebook with creased and folded pages, and with a pencil eased in and held against the muscles of the book’s spine.

He is usually quite worked up. This is always because he has found more reading.

‘For God’s sake, more reading. And I’m getting on in life.’ He leans hopelessly against the counter.

We go through the list. Today it is John Maynard Keynes, the English economist who died in 1946.

‘I really need this.’ (Essays in Persuasion).

He tells me about his high school. ‘The maths teacher used to beat me.’

‘And I want this one.’ (A Treatise on Possibility).

‘And this. Can you get this?’ (Essays in Biography).

Suddenly he asks me about Clive Cussler. ‘Does he write his own books?’

I said that he did. But then, later on, he collaborated with other writers.

John gave a shout of laughter. ‘Like Rembrandt, then! He used to get his students to do some of his stuff. You know, the apprentices. There they were, all doing the backgrounds.’

He kept laughing. His beard swung about. Other customers looked around.

‘And John Macarthur. You know him? It was Elizabeth that ran the place, did the sheep, brought in the merinos. Not him, the old scoundrel. Not the same thing as Clive Cussler of course. But it was still Elizabeth that brought in the merinos.’

Then he left, taking his notebook and pencil, and with his beard subdued for the time being.

Self Portrait with Saskia by Rembrandt c.1635

The man who forgot his glasses

Shishkin Andrey.jpg

How we rotate our faces! Try to add levers to the eyes to push them further out – work properly, for God’s sake. Draw the mouth backwards, teeth forwards,  screw up the eye sockets.

‘What’s that one?”

“That’s Kingsley Amis. That’s Bennett…but I don’t think you agree with him.’

“No…no, indeed.’

This couple are examining the top shelf of Classics, but he can’t see properly.

‘That’s Enid Bagnold.’

‘Who the devil?’

 ‘National Velvet.’ And that’s James Baldwin.”

‘Silly writer.’

‘I don’t think so.’

They continue on, murmuring, agreeing and arguing.

‘No. Listen, I said…Bellow. Saul Bellow.’

‘Well, I don’t like the young writers. Is that Dickens?’

‘That’s Dickens.’

‘Ah…David Copper?’

‘Oliver.’

‘AH….My God, is that Durrell? Which brother?’

‘Lawrence.’

‘God, really? What have they got?’

‘All of them.’

‘…I’ll take Justine.’

‘I bet you will.’

They moved to Art. I can’t hear what they are saying, but I can hear the click and whir of the interested eye sockets, the loaded brain, the immense experience. He turns around.

‘Damn those glasses.’

‘Well, go and get them.’ She glares him into a decision.

He made one.

When he came back to the shop, he stood outside in the cold, pinned to the window outside, looking through at a Roald Dahl biography that he could have looked at in the warmth inside.  He peered, turning his head back and forth to get the details. He finally came in, and bent a brief sideways glance on me, his eyes, now magnified, were enormous, a three dimensional glare. But he was pleased. He continued onwards.

He forgot Art. He got caught in Young Readers.

He examined Swallows and Amazons. He said, ‘Ah.’

He looked at Geoffrey Trease, No Boats on Bannermere, and said, ‘Ah’.

His wife called out, ‘Look here.’

And he said, ‘EH?’ He didn’t move. He was back with Durrell. ‘Ah, goody, good and good,’

His wife called again, ‘Look at this.’

But he didn’t move.

She said, ‘Are you coming?’

He lifted his shoulders and shuffled past me; he said, ‘There’s no peace.’

 

Artwork by Shishkin Andrey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lady who read The Silver Brumby

Old Woman Reading Boris Mayorov (2)

Two ladies, friends, came in together and split immediately into classics and crime. A third lady entered, passed her friends without greeting and folded herself into young readers; horses, ponies, Australian classics, where she sat with The Silver Brumby until the others had finished. She looked up once to say that I did not have the complete series here. She said she thought that I would have that. And Tennyson.
One of the other ladies had worked hard to bring down a volume of Heinrich Boll, short stories from the top shelf – she was delighted because as a young girl she had read this book in German. She’d had to translate one of the stories from German to English at school. If only she’d had this very book she could have cheated the whole assignment through. Both ladies leaned in and laughed darkly. The Silver Brumby lady read on silently.
The friend who had read Boll in German brought the book to me and described one story, a girl who crossed a bridge halfway but would go no further; she had never forgotten this story. They prepared to leave, rustling, packing, removing reading glasses.
The third lady brought her books to the counter and reminded me that I didn’t have the complete set (or Tennyson) and that she was disappointed.
She said, you’ve probably not read Tennyson.
She said, you’re a thousand years too young. I looked at her, delighted.

Artwork: Old Woman Reading, Boris Mayorov