half a mile from the Portuguese baker

We are surrounded by reclaimed doors, stacks of them, each one at least a hundred years old. ‘That one’s probably a hundred and fifty,’ he says, rubbing his hand up and down the pine. ‘And d’you know what that is?’ he asks, pointing to a groove in the wood. He pats me on the upper arm when I tell him I do. ‘Proper joinery,’ I say. ‘Good girl,’ he replies. ‘These days you pay hundreds for that sort of work, but mostly they use glue.’ He pulls out several doors for me, so I can take a good look and decide which one to buy. ‘Thirty-five quid they’ll cost you,’ he says, and points to the price written in black felt-tip along the side of the door now in his hands. We stand together, side by side, feeling the old wood, rubbing our fingers up and down, searching for damp, and sticking our nails into cracks. He says things like, ‘Nothing better than the Victorians’, and I respond with clichés that I never normally use like, ‘They don’t make ‘em like this any more’. I try to hide my accent by dropping Ts and running words together in curious loops that feel unfamiliar between my lips. He must notice, but he seems not to mind. ‘Your man’s a lucky one,’ he tells me when I end a telephone conversation about one of the doors. ‘Where did he find you?’ He laughs when I tell him we met in Hackney, or Finsbury Park, or thereabouts. He tells me that he thinks women are wonderful. ‘It’s us lot who do all the damage,’ he says. ‘Men. We’re an awful bunch.’ We talk about war and I give him chapter and verse on men and soldiers, but he says I shouldn’t pity them. ‘Women are the ones who really suffer,’ he says. And then he starts talking about breast-feeding and how awful it must be for women to have to breast-feed. ‘Not bad at the beginning when the thing pops out, but you wouldn’t want to be doing that for months on end would ya?’ He seems to know I don’t have kids. I wonder how he can tell. He says he’ll drop the door off but it’ll cost me a tenner. I tell him I’m not sure. We shake hands and I wander back through the village looking into people’s front windows, their front rooms full of reclaimed furniture and Victorian doors and fireplaces and retro light fittings. The old man waits for the bus to Loughton.

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