Figure XX

July 21, 2006

pim20.jpg

In Nothing Happens, Jo has a system. Nothing is labelled with its actual price, but a little paper tag is hung from it, marked with a code of letters: PO, SI, NR, AK, etc. Quite what these letters mean, only Jo can say. Not even Laura is permitted an insight into their complex cipher. For a while she attempted to crack the code. Perhaps the numeric value of the two letters added together… perhaps it merely indicated where the item was bought… but then she realised that when one customer asked “How much is the…” it did not mean that the same answer would be given, when another would ask the same question. So now, as the young man with the shaved head and stubble asks her:

“How much for the figurine of the crying girl?”

She is left with no option but to shout to the back of the shop:

“Jo, how much for the figurine of the crying girl?”

A pause. Laura smiles, flicks her eyebrows upward as if to say “this usually happens”, and finally a reply is shouted out from the darkness

“Twenty pounds.”

The man looks at the figurine more closely. He stoops forward, bending double, inspecting the glaze and poorly executed painting.

“Will you take fifteen?”

Jo appears from the gloom, interested now in who wants to buy the item.

“We’ll take eighteen. For a new customer.”

The man takes the money from the pocket of his jeans and hands it to Laura. She takes it from him with an air almost of apology. “For a new customer” is a common phrase of Jo’s, one that seems to accuse the purchaser of wilfully not visiting the shop before then.

“Do you want it wrapping?” Laura asks him.

“No it’s okay,” he says and puts the figurine into the record bag that hangs from his shoulder.

“What did he want with that?” says Jo once he has left the shop.

“Jo, you could ask that about pretty much anything in the shop, if you had a mind to.”

“But it’s such an ugly-looking thing.”

“Okay, but,” she picks up a framed photograph of a woman reading that had stood beside the figurine on the counter, “I mean this; why would anyone want to buy this?”

“Well it’s pretty.”

“It’s a bit sentimental though. It’s not as if anyone who buys it is going to know who she is, they’ll just buy it because it’s old.”

“It’s my mother actually.”

Laura jolts slightly. This has happened before. Quite often objects in the shop would be revealed to have some apparent emotional connection to Jo; her father’s wristwatch, a cameo containing a lock of her grandmother’s hair, all now sold off for a couple of pounds. So she speaks slowly, more carefully.

“Okay… well why would someone…” (she means to say “someone other than you” but it is clear that not even Jo wants a photograph of her mother) “want to buy a photograph of your mother?”

“Well at least it’s not ugly, like that other thing. It’s all going like that. People seem to want to buy tat rather than pretty things.”

“Well it’s ironic isn’t it? It’s kitsch.”

Jo whistles through her teeth, shaking her head. “When did it happen? Pretty thing like that; woman reading in the sunshine, it’s lovely. When did it happen that folks started valuing irony above sincerity? That photograph, it’s felt. There’s real emotion in it. The way she’s sitting, the way the sunshine’s landing on the book. You can sense the feeling between the photographer and the subject–”

“But I guess it’s just a bit ordinary, it’s not immediately clear what it’s about.”

“But it’s real. It’s what really happened.”

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