Brooks has of course returned to us today to overawe us with his personality and the scent of burnt plastics (and because Aunt Tatiana keeps inviting him & hopes to entrap him into marriage by stuffing him with teacake). The first day they met, Brooks informed me aunties that he would be purchasing their house for a dollar and made something of this point. “A dollar. A buck. One hundred cents. A single – golden – coin, ” said he, as if to clarify, while we stared at it on the table. Aunt Olga glared and Aunt Stacy sobbed and Aunt Tatiana swooned and started to fan herself with the nearest blue legal document to hand; but Brooks went on in a casual tone, as though it might interest us: “It’s only gold coloured, I’m afraid. They stopped making coins out of actual gold when someone high up finally realised that the metal used was of a greater value than the denomination of the coin itself. Why, when I was a boy,” (he was growing happy in his reminiscences) “Oh, about your age…” (he looked at Aunt Olga, who is 180, then at Tatiana, who is 170, then at Anastasia, who is 160) “Or maybe even younger still…” (gesturing with a handful of tea-cake at me, who is in the bloom of youth) “I was a paper boy! Yes! That’s right! Did you guess? Can you imagine? Me? A wee tike? A teeny lad? A diminutive Brooks – a trickle? He he he,” he giggled. It was unbecoming in a full grown man of his phrenological attributes.
Evidently he had stumbled onto another of his fondest conversation topics. “Every Saturday and Sunday without fail from 1962 to 1973 I cycled over town through snow and sleet for Mr. Forest, the pederast news agent, and for my trouble at the end of each day I got a new shining coin. Then the same night I would sit up in my room in the orphanage with a box of stinking poisons and a little blue fire to melt the coins down into their component metals, which I then sold on to the Gas & Electric Company. And that is how – And THUS –” Mr. Brooks said, correcting himself, and stretching his arms wide, and throwing his voice, as though to achieve a more impressive stance upon his plaid-clad spindle legs – “THUS I MADE MY FORTUNE BY TINY INCREMENTS!”
I pictured him in his suit stinking at school the next day and couldn’t imagine that he was very popular as a lad.
“School–schmool,” Mr. Brooks sniffed. “If you can get one dollar and 2 cents value out of a one dollar coin – that is one hundred and two cents for every one hundred – well, bankers will tell you that that is no joke. And nothing to sniff at. And better than a kick in the pants. Why, when I was your age…”
[Mercifully word processing will allow me to edit his speech from the tale.]
I asked him if there was any way he would consider not taking my aunts’ house, since they were so obviously old, old ladies and had been so generous to the community in their time.
“CERTAINLY NOT!” shouted Mr. Brooks. Then, “Preposterous!” He wiped his palms down the front of his suit to straighten his tie. He jerked at his wrists so a one-inch bit of yellow hounds-tooth shirt showed below the wash-free, iron-free cuff. Then he was calm again. He looked at each of my old aunts in turn and then he looked at me, as though he had forgotten what he was saying and he was coming up from somewhere underwater. There was a queer blue flame flickering at the back of his little eyes. If you were of a cynical nature you might think he was was figuring out how many cents he could sweat out of us.
“What a nice man,” said Aunt Tatiana, when he was gone. She was drooping over the arm of the couch. “It seems but yesterday that we met.” (It was yesterday.) “And now the house feels so empty without him…”