At Penn Beacon market last weekend, I bought a dozen National Geographic magazines (dated some four decades ago, but for one with a beautiful African savanna on the cover, that was from April 1982; the paper of which was considerably thinner) from a man who, as well as cheap collections of periodicals – such as Readers’ Digest, Mayfair, Vogue, Needlecraft and American Classics – all bound with twine, sold old mirrors and rough frames for new mirrors, among other objects, including an accordion of pale spines – Nabokov, Powell, Waugh and Greene (clasped at each end in a heavy bronze palm); shellac slates of thick vinyl in brown paper sleeves; outdated OS maps collapsed into oblongs; shoeboxes of postcards from the past, many threaded with loose blue laces of ink; other ephemera, such as passé business directories from German cities that I had never heard of, tatty car manuals, beer mat stacks gathered in those thick red rubber bands that can be found on any street and, I have learnt, abandoned by postal workers. He had various further sundries of diminishing interest, all spread on a bare board trestle beneath a noisy blue tarpaulin.
The ring finger of his left hand was stubbed to the second knuckle and the tip of that hand’s middle finger where the nail would be, was missing also. This was only apparent as he fished for my change in a rusty tobacco tin and, as such, only bears mention because such detail demands it.
My face, caught at a surprising angle (among glimpses of other faces), flashed in a collection of different sized mirrors as he counted out the coins into my palm. The mirrors turned on lengths of twine tied to the gallows crossbeam of the stall. I wanted to ask after his disfigurement, merely out of curiosity, but in that brief moment could not conjure what I felt would be the appropriate wording and probably only gazed slightly too long at the spaces.
I returned again this weekend to the market and was determined to visit his stall under the premise of needing some trivia – perhaps that directory of German businesses – and strike up a conversation that could be guided in a roundabout way to his missing digits, but his stall was nowhere to be found. I did, however, on visiting the public lavatories, hold up my left hand to the mirror there and make a pretence of my own by bending my ring finger at the knuckle and studying it, with a squint, in the glass. I decided that I would have lost my digit in some careless way involving, perhaps, daydreaming at work on a noisy production line at the Volkswagen factory in Bremen.