I am the kind, generous, humble Mr Carlos. I have a red flowing gabardine overcoat that was part of an Opera, worn by a dying old queen soprano in a romantic piece. But I am a well old man and I wear this for the full day over black slacks and a white singlet. It is my Van Gogh coat. I do not know what Van Gogh wore, I only know him for his long nose – and I sport a fantastic, long nose – but I believe he would dress like this. I am the whimsical, playful Mr Van Carlos.
The widow Miss Widow comes to see me and is pacing in her black churching clothes and wet feet from crossing the creek. I am chasing her wet footsteps in small shuffles and we’re both dragging damp and dust around the room with our coats.
She is my second visitor today. I often take several, always in the library. From here I can see all the way to town, the little buildings and the people fussing around them in circles.
‘Sit, sit, Miss Widow, please! You’re making me anxious and it is not the time for nerves. It is the lovely sunny morning and this is the best time for sitting and for talking silly things. The Great Doctor says I am wrong, and it’s the time for walking and fasting, but he is fat and look at this’, I say, pulling my coat and spinning on one foot. ‘I move well for an old, lazy man, I think. I am the Lizard, Lizard Carlos. I should like that name, do you?’
She stops and watches me but does not spin on her foot, as I wish she would.
‘Sir Mr Carlos, I can’t sit, I worry!’ says Miss Widow, throwing her arms by her side in defeat. ‘I saw Mr Butcher leave here.’
‘Yes, Mr Butcher is a fine man, we spoke of many things. He has many thoughts and interests, do you know, Miss Widow?’
‘Mr Carlos, I am worried, will you have the time to talk on thoughts and interests again?’
‘Miss Widow, please! It is my greatest honour to talk and think. Talking is among the few things in the world of great supply with next to no demand, did you know that?’
‘I did not, Mr Carlos.’
‘Well stop walking in circles, at least, please! Mr Butcher and I spoke of many, many great things. He is a learned and curious fellow, Mr Butcher. He is particularly interested in evolution – did you know that, Mrs Widow?’
‘No I don’t know what that is, sorry Mr Carlos.’
‘That is not to mind, at all. To the butcher it is as growing cotton is to the tailor. It is the very beginning. Maybe it is even before the beginning – astrology to the farmer? I never read the Evolution Books, did you, Mrs Widow? No, neither did I. We will ask Mr Butcher for his thoughts on these, I think.’
‘But please, sit, Mrs Widow. There will be water for you along, any time, and coffee – you take your coffee, if I remember? You take it with milk or sugar, or anything or nothing, I remember. Coffee is a great thing, life giving. I have enough life, so I do not coffee any longer, but it shall all be along shortly. I had ordered it at your arrival. Patience and calm, now, Miss Widow!’
‘Mr Carlos, but Mr Waiter left for the Other Town some time before? I am sorry to say. Sorry as well that I’m here and sorry I got to speak of something shocking.’
‘Yes, of course. It’ll be along now, just, please, Nevermind Mr Waiter, all is well. The Chinese Thinker says that it is in space that we find purpose and function. That a vessel is nothing but the space inside it. Like the door. And there are other things, too, I don’t remember. Be the Chinese Thinker, Miss Widow.’
‘I am unsure of what you mean, Mr Carlos, but I will try to be that.’
‘Yes, yes, I am, also unsure, but it is a thought, something to think about. Let us not worry about it, it is not a matter, let us go on, we will both sit – if I will sit, will you sit with me?’
‘Yes, I can sit if you do, I have to speak and ask a great, great ask. Please, good, lovely Mr Carlos.’
We are meeting each other’s eyes as we lower ourselves to sit, and I pause to trick her and she sits first. She is upset at this and I feel bad for tricking the poor little Miss Widow. She raises a little in her seat, and I stay, and she is now content in having sat following me.
I am the wise, gentle, ever-caring Mr Carlos. I am some sort of great person in the Town. I am not the Mayor, the Mayor is a lovely lady with big spectacles and tiny hands, and she often takes my council and talks with her back to me, looking over Town from my tall windows. She takes a book on political thought that we agree may assist in the search for a new school teacher – it was by The Greek Stoic or one of those calm types.
I am a sort of consultant, and my advice is sought on many topics for my wide library and experience. I have spoken on family disputes of the virginal and marriage nature. I take court on business dealings and sons who are bad. I am sought for economics, in all instances, as economics is the heart of all dispute, I believe. One has demand for which another does not have supply, or one has an opinion whose dismissal they will auction and a price at which they might bid for the opposing opinion. Not yet have I found this thought in my books, so this may be original thinking; fancy that!
I hold sittings in my library, where I also review the Great Thinkers, of whose interpretation and quotation is my hobby of preference. It is in the West Wing of the Large House, a stone wing of a stone house on the largest and roundest hill of the Town, the dustiest and poorest town of the Country, and I am it’s wealthiest citizen. I have lived here all my life. I previously worked at instructing Dear Mother on ideas – interior design, acquisition and hospitality. We parlayed much on dinner, where to eat it, and what we might wear to it. Blank Father was a quiet dinner guest and worked on writing numbers on paper and uneventful tasks as that.
Now, I am the town’s wealthiest in thought, house and dress. In hair, I am not, I must concede to you, but I supplement hair with flair (oh!). I am in disagreement with Wise Doctor that without hair my brain breathes well and better, which no doubt is responsible for the increase in intelligent thought and speech in my later years.
‘How is your son, Boy, Miss Widow? How did he enjoy the writing on the Great Engineers that I passed to him?’
‘Yes, very much, he did, Mr Carlos. He is very smart in this, now.’
‘It is a topic that I have not had desire to explore, to be frank, Miss Widow. It is, literally the foundations of our lives – at least in our homes. And in this house we see it at its greatest practice, and at its worst in the poor foundation of that bridge that fell in the creek.’
‘No, yes, Mr Carlos – I am the same. It was an awful bridge. My feet are wet.’
‘No, no, your feet are perfectly fine. Are you cold? I will light the fire, Mr Waiter will be by any moment. Mr Waiter?’
‘Please, Mr Carlos.’
‘You worry too much, Miss Widow.’
Miss Widow is on the old leather settee that my guests take in their visits, falling apart and ragged like the town they walk up from. My parents, Mr Blank Father and Dear Mother Carlos, now resolved in Heavenly Rest, built the house and the stables that founded the town. It became a centre of trade, a junction between Other Town and Some Town. There were many horses and horsemen, many brothels and many brothers in many families. In the year 40 Years Ago, the Mayors of Other Town and Some Town shook hands in determination to trade directly. The route was shorter and simpler without climbing the hills of our Town, and our contribution to the economy of moving seeds and saddles and Things from There to Here was ended. Then, in the year 25 or So Years Ago, cars bypassed horses and we find ourselves here – Miss Widows and others with ill-fitting shoes and no teeth and a taste for wine, hands on their knees or scratching their heads, sitting on the torn settee in distress of the economic nature.
‘And where is Mr Boy, now, Miss Widow? Is he achieving his engineering ambitions?’
‘Mr Carlos, Husband calls me this, but I am no liar. With your great book he has many ideas, and finds travel and a house in Other Town. He has married before he expects Child. But he is not achieving engineering.’
‘Yes, of course, I remember. We spoke of this last time. Well, engineering is not for everyone. Damn it, I say – I prefer the Chinese Thinkers, don’t you, Miss Widow?’
‘Yes, if you say I do, Mr Carlos.’
‘Do you know what I think, Miss Widow?’
‘No. Mr Carlos, I don’t know, I am so sorry.’
‘I think that there is something – a question, perhaps – that you may not yet know to ask. Do you think, Mrs Widow?’
‘Yes, I think.’
‘I believe we do not ask the hardest question. We look under the bed for our slippers, not knowing that we long to find our lost scarf there. Maybe we find something that shall keep us warm, all the same. And we never know that we longed for the scarf, or that we had lost it at all, if we ever had one. But the question that we do not ask is why should I not be warm, if my neighbour is? It is a curious thought that is occurring to me just now, Mrs Widow, and I think that this may be the very conversation that your visit demands.’
‘I do not have a scarf, Mr Carlos.’
‘No, I have lost my scarf, too, I feel, Mrs Widow.’
‘You are quite receptive to the Eastern Literature, Mrs Widow. This has been a fantastic conversation, and I have enjoyed it with you, dearly.’
‘I too, Mr Carlos.’
‘There is a book that I feel you will enjoy. It is a great book of Eastern Thoughts, as these. It is valuable, valuable thinking. I think you shall take it today’
‘Oh please Mr Carlos, I cannot take a book of great value, I couldn’t.’
‘But Mrs Widow, all thought is valuable. I should love to share with you the richest of thinking, not the poorest! Although it is also of great economic value, that is true. It is a very special edition, in fact.’
‘Oh yes, a very special, beautiful edition. You cannot price this sort of edition, in fact.’
‘Really Mr Carlos?’
‘No, absolutely not.’
Mrs Widow holds her hat in her lap, and leans forward with sad eyes. She is rubbing her feet on the ground, still cold.
‘Absolutely not. Although I have known Mr Bookseller in Other Town to ask about this particular book.’
‘This very book?’ Mrs Widow asks and gets up and turns to the bookshelf.
‘Yes, it seems he is, also, greatly interested in the Eastern Thoughts.’ I get up and Mrs Widow follows me very closely towards the bookshelf.
‘Mr Bookseller has told me that this book is worth at least $5.’
‘Oh Mr Carlos, that’s far too valuable for me to take.’
‘But, Mrs Widow, we have agreed that knowledge is invaluable! And you would never sell, of course!’ I say and take the book down.
‘Mr Carlos, of course! I could never sell, not even for $5.’
She takes it from me with quick, nervous hands; the last of the books on that shelf that previously held many great ideas that have solved problems of the economic nature.