There was a panicky sort of wind about, swirling everything up from the gutter and blowing dirt in your face. Eyes full of grit; with my case and the bin liner, I was preoccupied with weather, the fret on the air. I wasnt stopping; not stopping even to thank the boy on the flower stall, not stopping for anything. I was wearing my silver coat. Precisely, if Im true, I was wearing my silver coat with the plastic bag in the inside pocket, and the shoes Id got from the Salvation Army the week before. I had my case with me. I always took my case. It was all so ordinary, but these things seem important now: the pumpkins grinning, me carrying the sack, wheeling my case along, not stopping, wearing my silver. As if to alter just one thing would have brought about a different end.
I forgot myself in all that, worrying about the wind and would it bring rain, and would my hair get wet. That was my worry: would my hair get wet. I feared the rain, when it came. I had a routine; getting soaked through was not part of it.
I planned to make a fire when I got back, straight away, to dry things out. Not drying things makes them smell. I do not smell. I do not want things that smell.
When I settled in Hewitts, there was plenty to tear, lots of things to burn. Hed left the storeroom piled with boxes full of unclaimed shoes, and row upon row of insoles sliding on each other like dead fish. Under the counter at the front of the shop he kept thick wedges of tissue paper, leather-bound books of accounts. There was the open cabinet near the door, the kind that people have in their houses to show off their china and glass. Hewitts cabinet was full of carved wooden feet lasts in an assortment of sizes. Each had its own brass plate with a name etched on it. They looked like museum pieces now.
Everything was torn and burnt, in the end. The boxes went first, then the counter, then the shelves, and then the cabinet itself. At night Id hear the lads downstairs, smashing and cracking and breaking the wood into pieces small enough to fit in the hearth. Sometimes one of them would call me down. Robin, he said his name was. He was the only one that didnt have a dog.
Im wary of commitment, thats my trouble, hed say, which would make the rest of them laugh. He was a nice boy, too thin though, always near the fire, always toasting something. The others would joke about my boyfriend the ghost, but Id put up with it, and Robin would give them a look, or change the subject. They werent to know, were they, and I was thankful for the warmth. How could they understand the twists a life could have? They were so young. And so sure of themselves. They could talk all night; gossip and dreams and wishful thinking what theyd do if they won the lottery. Robin would always say it would never change him, and one of the others would laugh and say, yeah, sell your granny for a fiver, you would.
Now I have to think about it, I consider another thing: I liked to watch it all being ripped to bits, the lads tearing out the pages from the ledgers, balling the paper up in their hands and throwing it in the grate, or twizzling a long strip in their fingers and using it to light their cigarettes. The account sheets looked like a musical score, with its lines and notations; the owing and debt carefully registered in old brown ink. It was satisfying to see Hewitts neat little figures go up the chimney, watch the flames lick around his writing, see him burn in hell. But I never let on. I never let on how much I enjoyed it, not even to myself.
When the ledgers were gone, only the lasts were left. No one liked to destroy something that looked so human, but after a while, they went too. Cold alters your thinking: they were only made of wood. Wed sit and watch them go black and blacker, then burst into flames, like the foot of a mythical god. I kept one back, just for me. It was divine to hold, small and perfectly smooth. It had a name cut into the brass plate. I put it in my case, for safe keeping.
Copyright © 2004 by Trezza Azzopardi. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.
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