THE MEMORY PEDDLER
My other job is selling pictures, but mostly, I sell memories. Like the old guy gazing up at the life-sized picture of a shirtless Angus Young playing guitar with his hair flying up from his head. The old guy swayed on his walking stick as though it was sucked into the ground and the earth twirled him like a straw through a slice of watermelon on a smoothie.
Or the hippie who came through on a Harley and parked outside the toilet block. He had a small djembe tied across his shoulders and started slapping a childish rhythm. At his feet was a wooden box. He declared to those walking past that he would give one-hundred dollars to anyone who guessed what was in the box. The manager of the markets, a stout woman with wiry hair, confronted him and told him he could not set up in front of the women’s toilets. The hippie loomed over her and told the manager he could prove beyond doubt that Jesus Christ still exists. She was unmoved by his hawkish stance, nor by his call to divinity. She stood in steely resolve until he moved on. Later the hippie stopped to look at the pictures. I told him I sell memories. He lifted his box and said he collected dreams.
“I was there.” The old boy said swaying on his stick. “Seventy-six it was, ACDC touring with The Ted Mulry Gang. I was a bass player in one of the support bands. Them days they didn’t have roadies, not like now. Roadies were volunteers, anyone who could lift a ‘W’ bin with a radial horn got the job. My job was to clear the guitar lead from under Angus’ feet so it wouldn’t trip him up as he duck-walked the stage. You see, he starts playing as soon as he gets off the steps and onto the stage. The others had their leads gaffer taped to the speaker grill or taped to the floor. They couldn’t do it for him. He strutted the full length of the stage like a demented chicken. I had to follow him, whipping the long coils of guitar lead away. It was shortly after that my life ended.”
I left the old bloke with his memories, and held back from the usual quips—for a dead man, the guy was doing an awesome send-up of the living, and so on. He would come round and continue soon enough, they always did especially the ones who could pin a story to a picture.
“Worked the Brisbane Expo, eighty-eight it were. I picked up a bug, and later they told me I had six months to live.” He turned to me in expectation. I performed a well-practised look of awe and amazement... it sometimes helps selling a picture.
“Yep,” the old fellow chuckled, seemingly impressed with my performance. “I collapsed, you see, had a hard time breathing. Spent ages in hospitals before they found out what was wrong with me. A bug was eating my brain. A virus called Guillain-Barre Syndrome lay dormant in my chest for a while until it took hold. I picked it up from a campylobacter infection at Expo, you know, the one that gives you the squirts. At the thirty-two my working life and pretty much everything else was cactus.” His free hand wandered over his crotch to lightly squeeze his balls. I let it pass. Most memories are pretty inane—a little girl sings Let It Go upon seeing Elsa, or a kid recalls spending the whole school vacation in the hot funk of his bedroom playing Halo, that sort of stuff. Even as I noticed a flicker of defiance in the old guy’s face when he said he outlived his doctor’s prognosis, he looked to exist and not live, as though he was on a long wait until it was over.
“Been on benefits ever since—can’t to do things, you know, a shit number in the Centrelink queue, give you just enough to get by.”
I thought to lighten the mood a bit by asking if I should be standing so close to him in case the virus is infectious.
“Only if I kiss you,” he said with a wry smile. He went on to say his brain was a shambles. But he remembered the concert night well enough. He twisted on his walking stick to confront Angus Young. “You know what Angus said to me that night, yelled it across the stage, if you must know?”
The old boy paused. I wondered what the great rocker would have said. Perhaps something profound that sustained him through his illness, or perhaps philosophical. Something like, ‘live like you’ve been thunderstruck’.
“He said to me, get the fucking lead, will yer,” The old guy smiled as though it was the best thing to happen before bugs began eating his brain.
He sauntered off.
As I said, my other job is dealing in memories, and sometimes I also sell a picture.