Dad is situated in the passenger seat, the green oxygen canister between his feet, the walker in the trunk. Darn, he wanted to bring his cane. If we are able to park close to the store, a cane will make it easier to get around. I go back upstairs and get it.
Sure enough, we park right in front of the Antique Brokers. (One good thing about sprawling American cities is the relief from parking neurosis. There’s parking everywhere, including the freeways.)
Dad’s left hand grips my right as we make our way through the forest of large wooden furniture, maple and cherry and walnut. In my left hand I carry the plastic bag full of pens and the canister. He is bent forward, a tree that has grown in a steady wind. He has hardly more flesh than his cane, but as sticks go, he is handsome. He is offered a chair.
My impression on the phone when I called earlier was correct; the proprietor is a gentle man, and treats Dad with a bemused respect. The pens are displayed on the counter, in their 4 checkbook boxes, the elegant old fountain pens, the 50’s and 60’s novelties. “What do you want for them?”
Dad hitches his mouth around. “How much would you give me?”
“You’ve got some nice ones but I don’t know pens all that well.”
“Well how much do you think they’re worth?”
The dickering makes me nervous, so I wander off through the woods. When I come back the deal still hangs in the air, with another voice added. “Jack here knows more about pens,” Louis says. “He can give you a price.” Jack’s look takes bemusement to another level, to the gates of amusement: I can’t believe you’re pulling me into this and I’m letting you. “Jack’s got everything in the world upstairs. You should go up and take a look.”
Upstairs is a squirrel’s nest, stuff stuff stuff, most in glass cases. Actual seeing requires discipline or perhaps a shopping gene I lack. I do my best, but am overwhelmed by the clamor of worthless objects sucked into the sinkhole of the past. Despite the odds, something catches my eye, an 8 by 10 photograph, 3 Indians in hides and furs posed in front of a simple white wooden structure, an image of great dignity and tragedy. “How much are you asking for that?” I ask Jack.
“It’s one of a set of 4. Three hundred dollars.”
Downstairs the original offer of $50 has risen to $75. Dad asks what I think. “These guys seem fair.” I say, and immediately suspect that isn’t the answer he wants. He puts the lid back on the boxes. “Thank you for your time. We’ll try somewhere else.” We are sincerely wished good luck as we go out the door.