Thats right, honey. I was having a good time talking here with . . . Im sorry, friend, I dont know your name.
Jan, I said quickly. But friends call me Janeck.
Lindy Gardner said: You mean your nicknames longer than your real name? How does that work?
Dont be rude to the man, honey.
Im not being rude.
Dont make fun of the mans name, honey. Thats a good girl.
Lindy Gardner turned to me with a helpless sort of expression. You know what hes talking about? Did I insult you?
No, no, I said, not at all, Mrs Gardner.
Hes always telling me Im rude to the public. But Im not rude. Was I rude to you just now? Then to Mr Gardner: I speak to the public in a natural way, sweetie. Its my way. Im never rude.
Okay, honey, Mr Gardner said, lets not make a big thing of it. Anyhow, this man here, hes not the public.
Oh, hes not? Then what is he? A long-lost nephew?
Be nice, honey. This man, hes a colleague. A musician, a pro. Hes just been entertaining us all. He gestured towards our marquee.
Oh right! Lindy Gardner turned to me again. You were playing up there just now? Well, that was pretty. You were on the accordion, right? Real pretty!
Thank you very much. Actually, Im the guitarist.
Guitarist? Youre kidding me. I was watching you only a minute ago. Sitting right there, next to the double bass man, playing so beautifully on your accordion.
Pardon me, that was in fact Carlo on the accordion. The big bald guy . . .
Are you sure? Youre not kidding me?
Honey, Ive told you. Dont be rude to the man.
He hadnt shouted exactly, but his voice was suddenly hard and angry, and now there was a strange silence. Then Mr Gardner himself broke it, saying gently:
Im sorry, honey. I didnt mean to snap at you.
He reached out a hand and grasped one of hers. Id kind of expected her to shake him off, but instead, she moved in her chair so she was closer to him, and put her free hand over their clasped pair. They sat there like that for a few seconds, Mr Gardner, his head bowed, his wife gazing emptily past his shoulder, across the square towards the Basilica, though her eyes didnt seem to be seeing anything. For those few moments it was like theyd forgotten not just me sitting with them, but all the people in the piazza. Then she said, almost in a whisper:
Thats okay, sweetie. It was my fault. Getting you all upset.
They went on sitting like that a little longer, their hands locked. Then she sighed, let go of Mr Gardner and looked at me. Shed looked at me before, but this time it was different. This time I could feel her charm. It was like she had this dial, going zero to ten, and with me, at that moment, shed decided to turn it to six or seven, but I could feel it really strong, and if shed asked some favour of me if say shed asked me to go across the square and buy her some flowers Id have done it happily.
Janeck, she said. Thats your name, right? Im sorry, Janeck. Tonys right. Id no business speaking to you the way I did.
Mrs Gardner, really, please dont worry . . .
And I disturbed the two of you talking. Musicians talk, I bet. You know what? Im gonna leave the two of you to get on with it.
No reason to go, honey, Mr Gardner said.
Excerpted from Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro. Copyright © 2009 by Kazuo Ishiguro. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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