I met an old man who could draw. He was tall and cadaverous, and he always wore the same shabby brown suit and hat. He looked as though he slept in the suit and it had worn to the contours of his frame to the point that it no longer wrinkled. His hand was long and frail and it would tend to shake until he made a fist to steady it, and his eyes were milky and dim, but he could still weave together a picture in minutes like he was conjuring the image out of the air. It was amazing to watch him work, and I got the idea for the two of us to open a shop together. We rented out a space for the store, and I displayed some of his work in the front window on a couple of small easels with spotlights shining down on them.
I tried to find some angle, some specific type of drawing or merchandise that would become our stock and trade. I wanted to have some part in this. If the old man’s gift was lightning in a bottle, I wanted to at least be the one that designed the bottle. I thought, for instance, of having the walls on either side of the store lined with racks of hand crafted greeting cards. I would concoct the sentiments and the old man would draw the illustrations, and we would be in the greeting card business. But it never worked out that way. We never settled on anything definite. I never knew what kind of store we had. The two of us would just stand there in the middle of the empty shop, the stone walls and the floor all completely bare, and we would wait for people to come in out of the rain.
And people would come. The pictures out front would catch their eye and they would wander in, looking all around. They all wanted something different. They put forward their requests uncertainly, not sure if such a thing could be done, or if it could be done right, or if it could be done by us. One woman wanted a simple family portrait of herself and her children, her hands resting on their shoulders. Another man wanted the face of his late wife drawn from memory. That is, he wanted his memory somehow conveyed to the old man’s hand. People wanted landscapes that they had seen in their mind, or moments they had long since lost. The old man’s supplies would materialize upon request, his pens and his pencils, and with broad curving strokes he would indelibly etch their vision onto the paper. I stood by with the customers and watched him work, and I never got tired of it. Afterwards, when the old man was packing his tools away in a small wooden case, the customers would always dab their eyes with a tissue and they would press the tissue into my hands as a token of gratitude and as payment for our services. I took the tissues and locked them away in the cash box in the back room of the shop, but I knew they weren’t for me or for anything I’d done.