Three Brief Stories about Commerce.
By IAN SEED.
One Day When I was Seven
I WAS WALKING with my mother in the almost empty park on the hill.
We passed the small museum with the little shop, and I jangled the coins in the front pocket of my short trousers. ‘I wonder if they’ll have any sweets,’ I said.
My mother shrugged her shoulders and waited in the cold sunlight while I went inside.
A little old man with spectacles behind the counter smiled at me. I could see the jars behind him were almost empty.
‘Don’t you have any sweets?’ I asked.
‘I’m afraid we’ve run out. But you can come with me on my magic carpet to the village to get some more’.
He unrolled a thin ragged rug. I couldn’t tell what colour it was. He sat on one end and asked me to sit on the other. I expected the rug to take off into the air, but instead we went bumping down the hill. I knew I’d end with bruises on my bottom and have to explain them to my mother.
We came to a tiny shop with a bevelled-glass window on a narrow, cobbled street.
‘Now wait here,’ he said, and disappeared inside.
Hardly anyone passed by and no one seemed to notice me sitting on the rug.
A few minutes later, the little old man came out with a jar full of stripy, speckled sweets and told me to hold it carefully.
Then we went bumping back up the hill, so hard I was afraid the heavy jar would slip from my grasp.
When we arrived at the top, my mother was nowhere to be seen. It was only then I realised I couldn’t pay the man because all the pennies in my trouser pocket had fallen out.
I WAS CHATTING to the new owner of the tiny corner shop at the end of our street, when her baby started crying.
‘Excuse me a moment,’ she said, disappearing behind a curtain at the back.
But the crying went on, and Jessie, my half-breed collie, tied to a railing outside, began to bark.
‘Maybe you could help,’ the shop owner called from behind the curtain.
I thought Jessie might do the trick, so I went to fetch her.
The baby was in a cradle in the middle of a queen-size bed which took up nearly all the space in the small back room. The shop owner was lying on one side, so Jessie and I lay on the other. When Jessie began to lick the baby’s waving hands and then the tears from her face, the baby soon settled.
The doorbell rang. ‘Excuse me a moment,’ the shopkeeper said.
I recognised the voice of the famous poet P. He was complaining about the paparazzi who kept bothering him whenever he stepped outside the building where he lived on King’s Street, Chelsea. I’d once lived near there myself, on the other side of the river, in Battersea, renting a room in a flat which I’d fled in a hurry when a woman I’d never seen before turned up claiming the baby in her arms was mine, conceived during a one-night stand after an evening of drinking in a pub on King’s Street long before anyone had ever heard of the poet P.
ITWAS BY sheer chance that I bumped into my old colleague Jeanne on the busy high street. I felt embarrassed because I hadn’t got in touch with her to offer my condolences when someone told me her dentist husband had died. There was a new, seductive look in her eyes.
‘Hello,’ she said. ‘Fancy seeing you here.’
She asked me how I was doing in my new job, not giving me time to mention her husband. ‘I’m on my way home now,’ she said. ‘Why don’t you come back for coffee?’
When we arrived at the block of flats, she told me to wait while she made sure the coast was clear. ‘You know how people gossip in this town,’ she said.
A little later, I heard a ‘tsk’ from the balcony just above my head. It was Jeanne beckoning me to come on up.
When I entered the flat, I saw, to my astonishment, her husband Pierre sitting on the couch, watching the news. Someone must have been mistaken about his death.
He said I should try smiling once in a while. Perhaps I was embarrassed about my teeth, he suggested. As a favour to an old colleague of Jeanne’s, he was quite happy to have a look at them right there and then. He invited me to sit next to him, then he asked me to throw my head back and open my mouth wide.
It was only when he took out his dentist’s drill, switched it on and without warning plunged it into my mouth that I tried to protest.
Ian Seed’s publications include Operations of Water (KF&S, 2020) and a quartet of prose poetry from Shearsman: The Underground Cabaret (2020); New York Hotel (2018), selected by Mark Ford as a TLS Book of the Year; Identity Papers (2016) and Makers of Empty Dreams (2014). I Remember is published by Red Ceilings in 2021. His translations include The Thief of Talant (Wakefield, US, 2016), the first translation into English of Pierre Reverdy’s Le voleur de Talan, and Bitter Grass (Shearsman, 2020) from the Italian of Gëzim Hajdari’s Erbamara. Amongst other projects, he is currently working on a new translation of Max Jacob’s The Dice Cup, due out from Wakefield in 2023. Ian Seed teaches at the University of Chester and is a contributing editor of The Fortnightly Review.