Bryn; Molly; Gary & Elena
From At the Flea Market
Mulita Small Editions, 2019
Bryn sells books, on art and history and poetry and religion. On the table there is a book about Mussolini, with a striking illustration of him on the cover.
That’s very rare, says Bryn. It is written by one of his lieutenants, and was published in Scotland. Il Duce, I say. A madman, he says. Perhaps you have to be mad to have ideas that grand, I say. Bryn shakes his head.
I prefer Napoleon, says Bryn. He was mad, too. But Napoleon is France. French law, architecture, finance, thought — Napoleonic to this day. They still love him. Napoleon runs through Paris as though he had never died.
And poisoned by the British, he says. Arsenic in the wallpaper. I say, Are you sure about this? And Bryn says, Yes. On St Helena, when he was in exile.
I say, Have you read Conan Doyle’s Brigadier Gerard stories? He says, No. I say, You might like them. Napoleon is an incidental character in the book, cropping up from time to time to make the Brigadier’s life difficult.
Bryn is tidying the books. I have overestimated his interest in Napoleon.
I am with my friend Craig. We are looking at boxes of dug-up things: buckles, thimbles, coins. One box is marked CROTAL BELLS.
Craig asks Molly, who owns the dug-up things, What is a crotal bell? She says, It’s a bell that you put around the neck of an animal so that you know where it is. They are from the Middle Ages.
The crotal bells are made from bronze, green with age, and are about the size of a walnut. Each one has a little ball inside it that makes it tinkle. Some of the bells have intricate patterns carved into them, which I think expresses a tender consideration for the beasts that will wear them.
I pick one up and shake it. The little ball inside it tinkles. I say, I am probably the first person to ring this bell since it fell to the ground hundreds of years ago.
Apart from the person who found it, says Craig.
Gary & Elena
A little book, in what I presume to be Russian. It has 1961 printed on the cover, but that’s all I can understand. I ask Gary, who owns the stall, What do you know about this little Russian book? Nothing really, says Gary.
I ask, where did you get it? He says, A house clearance. I ask, was the owner of the house Russian? He frowns and asks his colleague, Did we do a clearance for a Russian?
I’m Russian, says a lady. What do you want to know?
I ask her if she knows anything about the little book. It’s Ukrainian, she says. It’s a calendar for Orthodox Christians, so they can observe all the feasts and holy days and all the rules and rituals. Most days there is something you have to do or not do, and people need to know which day they have to do or not do each thing.
I ask her her name. She says, It’s Elena.
Thank you! I say.
She hugs me and rubs my back, as though I were cold.
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