No device in need of fixing can fail to find a home inside the repair shop just around the corner. You’ve noticed the place, its windows blocked by stacks of faulty toasters, hunched typewriters, addled adding machines and paralyzed fans. Covered in dust and flies from Caesar’s time. Speak softly should you enter. Know that nothing has ever been solved by the bearded old man in skullcap eating an egg salad sandwich at his workbench. But simply to carry a damaged mechanism out of one’s home, to be announced by bells tinkling above a door and then to set one’s burden down upon a counter as he stands and wipes his hands on his pants is a blessing. “I’ll get to it before the world ends,” he wheezes. “That’ll be good,” you reply. “May your burdens grow lighter,” he says. Indeed, to stride into bright afternoon— half a numbered tag slipped into a pocket— yields the same quiet satisfaction as the well-attended funeral of an elderly acquaintance.
Here’s one of the man selling oranges and rabbits from his car trunk. Another shows the blind horse meandering the bone market in a straw hat. A striking view of the city’s smokestacks, bridges and spires as seen through your cracked window. Soon, after you’ve gone, we’ll print one of you sipping coffee oblivious to the dirty-faced urchin picking your pocket. Don’t worry, we’ll hang him later. I know, I know: you feel worse than a stranger. You check your phrase book, pronounce the words as written only to have shopkeepers, prostitutes, police and schoolchildren laugh and point and repeat what you said, slapping their thighs, doubling over, helpless, hanging onto one another for support as they guffaw, wiping the tears. Yes, your meat has been consistently overcooked and dust floats in your every glass of water. There is —we know! we know!— a stink of rotten flowers following you like a cloud. For all this we sincerely apologize. Still, you must remember: you’re our only tourist. We’d do anything for you.
Old people recall pale flocks of melancholiacs coughing in the park. Half the city writing elegies. Government men tuned everyone’s violin on Sundays. Then came other measures, a crackdown— sad movies, books and records snatched up, martial naptime declared. No speaking. The disease faded. But the last fevered souls kept penciling cryptic notes on the blue slips provided. Placed them on bedside tables for the pretty nurse to read. In the morning, when she threw open the tall windows, they scattered like loose petals.
Philip Brooks grew up in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park “as an aspiring melancholiac. To that end,” he attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as a fiction writer. Several of his stories appeared in Gordon Lish’s “defunct but really swell” The Quarterly, others in Willow Springs and The Kenyon Review. Some of his poems have appeared in recent postings at Elimae.com. He lives in Ohio with his wife, Balinda, and young son, Felix.