Dispatches

London Double

Veronica Gaylie

For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more…
—Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Lamplighter”

Deep in the basement of the department store, in the lamp section, I ask for a lamp.

Lamp? asks the lamp man.

Surrounded by lamps in blue, red and black, he asks: Lamp? He shakes his head like I asked for a bank.

I say, Lamp?

Lamp? he asks.

Yes, lamp, I say.

No, he says. No lamp. Light bounces off his head. Lamps surround us as far as London Bridge. Light seems to stream all the way to Westminster.

Lamp? he asks.

Yes. Lamp? I ask. I look at lamp. I ask for lamp.

Lamp? he asks.

Yes, lamp, I say. I point to lamp. He looks at my hand as if the world ended there. He checks the computer.

No. No lamp, he says in the light of a lamp he swears is not there while I, a foreigner, stand and glare, invisible in this city.

THAT THERE'S A BADGER

On the top floor of the London department store, I carry a pillow with a picture of a bear to the till.

The cashier says: Oh, that’s fancy.

I point to the cover.

Bear, I say, lightly.

He says, Oh no. That is a badger.

I say, Oh no. It is a bear.

He says, No, it’s a badger.

I say, No, it’s a bear.

He says, Luv. Vat ver’s a badger. I know.

I say, I’m Canadian. And that’s a bear.

He says, I’m English. And vat’s a badg-ah.

Look at the round ears, I say.

Look at the long nose, he says.

I say, That’s an artist’s interpretation of a bear. A cubist bear. An imaginative take.

He says, Look at the white stripe on the nose.

I say, That’s moonlight. That’s a bear in moonlight.

He stops. He looks. Vat ver. Is a badger. I’m an artist, he says.

I’m an artist! I say. And that is a bear.

He pauses. He looks.

Vat ver is a badger. Let me tell you what they do to badgers in this country. They breed lovely pit bulls to go down holes and, well, you don’t want to know what vey do to badgers in this country. He shakes his head. Vat ver’s a badger.

It’s a bear.

He shrugs. He begins to look like a badger. Grey hair on the sides, white face down the middle. Hair grows out the round ears. He’s almost a badger in moonlight.

That’s a bear, I say.

Do you like dogs? he asks.

Yes.

What kind?

Cocker spaniels.

I like cocker spaniels. And Labs. But then, Ralph. Good old Ralph. He was a pit bull. He found me. One of me cricket mates had a baby and well, pit bull is a big breed. So, he gave him to me. Lived seventeen years. I did an oil painting of him and he ended up on a postage stamp. And a rug. So he’s been well acknowledged. I loved me Ralph. When Ralph died I thought I’d never recover. Nothing will ever replace him.

He picks up the cushion and puts it aside.

He looks at me with two dark eyes.

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Veronica Gaylie

Veronica Gaylie is a writer and professor. Her work has been published in many periodicals, including Grain, Ditch, Room, Lake, Carte Blanche, thetyee.ca and Geist. She lives in Vancouver.


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