As I walked past the couturier’s shop in Collins Street, peering in as a beggar at a feast, I sighted a chic young lady within. She looked at me and beckoned. I looked at myself. I saw myself, dressed for my work, in all the formality and
the finery of a downtown medical professional. And I bethought myself: I do not look chic. I will not look right within those bright halls. I shook my head, but the chic one persisted. She nodded emphatically. I approached the crystal doors and the chic one emerged. ‘How good to see you, Howard! Come in! Come in!’
I came in. A large man dressed in tails stood on the threshold. He bowed and smiled a welcome. He finished his smiling and remained where he stood, large and decorative and solid.
My friend looked really happy to see me. I looked about me. I was the only person present who was not a member of staff. Perhaps I should be a customer. I looked at the goods on display. I sighted handbags. In a discreet undertone I remarked to my friend: ‘I am glad I am not wealthy enough to buy this one’ – indicating an overdecorated number in a shade of steatorrhoea. My friend looked at me searchingly: ‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean this probably costs the earth and it’s grotesque.’
My friend gasped. I must be joking.
We crossed to the sunglasses. I wear sunglasses about as often as I wear a handbag. I asked: ‘Can you show me your most expensive pair?’
Good naturedly my friend indicated a pair of sunglasses resting in a box labelled ‘First Edition.’ I asked, ‘How much?’
‘One thousand, nine hundred.’
I thought of my First Editions at home. Patrick White’s first novel was published in a limited print run. He came to judge the novel, ‘Happy Valley’, an embarrassing failure. He forbade reprint. As a result, copies of that First Edition are extremely rare and quite costly. The purchase price of my copy was less than the price of the couturier’s sunglasses.
I decided I would not buy that pair. I sighted another pair whose convex lenses shone golden in those halls of light. I tried them on and admired myself in a mirror. ‘How much?’ ‘Seven hundred.’ I put the glasses down carefully.
My friend and I surveyed the shop. ‘Nice shop’, I said. My friend smiled, ‘Yes, we like our boutique.’
Before us, seven young ladies and one nearly young, gazed at us, smiling warmly. I find it pleasant when young ladies smile at me. I smiled back, revealing the broken paling fence of my front teeth. ‘This is my friend Howard,’ said my friend. The smiles shone, still warm. ‘He’s a doctor,’ said my friend.
‘What sort of doctor?’, asked the nearly young one. She looked truly interested. She rested a friendly hand upon my forearm.
‘A GP’, said my friend.
I looked around. Seven young ladies, one nearly young, one old friend and one large man keeping station at the threshold. My eyes feasted on their finery. ‘I think I’m the only customer, ‘ I said. My friend gasped. ‘Shhhh’, she said. I shushed. I made my farewells and I stepped out into the autumn.