Martin had always wanted to write a novel. He imagined his name on the cover, and thought ‘Martin Harwood’ would look good, especially after the words ‘The new bestseller from…’.
He had a solid idea for the story too. It would be about the frustrations of a forty-something man from the big city, a man whose life hadn’t quite worked out as he planned it. More or less his own story of course, but he would change the name of the main character, that was a given. Still, there were a few obstacles to overcome. For one thing, he didn’t own a computer. He had thought about typing the whole thing onto his mobile phone, but he soon gave up on that plan. He could save up and buy a computer, perhaps even a second-hand one, but he had been out of work for so long, cash was tight. Besides, he had always imagined himself clattering away on a typewriter, like real writers used to. Cold coffee in a mug by his side, and an ashtray filled to overflowing with cigarette butts at his elbow. That was another problem. Martin didn’t smoke.
Anything to get out of the flat, he had taken to wandering aimlessly around the back streets of the run down district he now called home. He did it at the same time every day, usually just as the street market traders were packing away, and less people crowded the narrow alleyways. It was good to have some routine in your day, a reason to get washed and dressed. He crossed over to head home, past the small shops that stayed open after the market closed. Something made him stop outside the window of one of them. It was an old typewriter, standing in its zip-up case. Nice and neat; a portable with a cream-coloured metal frame, the keys shining as if they had never struck a sheet of paper. He felt drawn into the cluttered shop, finding himself surrounded by ancient cameras, telescopes on stands, and binoculars hanging by their straps, from hooks in the ceiling.
Everything he had seen so far led him to expect the appearance of some elderly, shabby man behind the counter. But when the curtains leading to the room behind parted, he was surprised to be greeted by a very smart man, in an immaculate three-piece suit. His hair was slicked back, and he wore a fresh flower in the buttonhole of the jacket. Martin looked him up and down. To say this character was out of place in such a shop was an understatement. “What can I help you with sir?” The voice sounded younger than the man speaking, and the accent was European, perhaps Dutch. “The portable typewriter in the window, could I look at it please?” Martin tried to sound disinterested, no need to let the bloke think he was too keen. The shopkeeper moved to the window, his action smooth, as if gliding on ice. “Ah you have a good eye, sir, if I may say so. That’s a classic, the Remington Ten Forty, the writer’s friend”. As he handed it to Martin, he winked, as if they were sharing a secret.
It was surprisingly heavy, for such a small machine. Martin thought it might even be designed for a child, but everything was there. He pressed down on the space bar, watching the carriage move smoothly until a sharp ‘ding’ sounded the end of its travel. He unfolded the carriage return, and slid it back. It was as smooth as the shopkeeper’s walk, like it was running over oil. Even the keys looked untouched. Black letters on a cream background, not a wear or smudge visible. The man gave him some time, waiting patiently as Martin zipped up the case, and lifted the whole thing by the carrying handle. “The ribbon is new, and I will include a spare. You can still buy them of course, but if you have any trouble, just come and see me”. He was talking as if Martin had already bought the thing, and the price hadn’t been mentioned once.
Trying to use some haggling psychology, Martin put it back on the counter. “Do you have any others I can look at? I’m about to start work on my new book, and may need something more substantial”. The man grinned, enjoying the game. “Sadly not, sir. But I assure you this is all you need. Some of the greatest works of literature have been written on machines just like this one”. Martin hoped he would mention a price, but he didn’t, leaving him to begin. “So how much are you asking for it then?” Moving a hand to rest under his chin, the man stared at the typewriter for a ridiculously long time. “I couldn’t let it go for less than forty, I really couldn’t”. Martin fought hard to conceal his surprise. He had expected it to be twice that, but he wasn’t about to just agree to the first price. He nodded pointlessly for a moment, before countering. “I was thinking more like twenty-five. It’s old, but hardly an antique”. The reply came back so quickly, it made Martin jump. “Say thirty, and we have a deal”. With that, the man extended a hand, and they shook on it.
“I have to go to the cash machine in Rolt Street, is that OK?” Martin hoped the man wouldn’t suddenly pretend to have another customer for it. “Of course sir, I will be here waiting”. The balance on the cash machine showed he had less than a hundred in the current account. That would mean transferring some of his fast-diminishing savings next week. He took the three ten pound notes from the drawer of the machine, and hurried back to the shop. He was surprised to see the man standing in the doorway, the typewriter zipped up in its case, ready to go. Martin handed over the cash, and received another huge grin. “Good luck with the book, sir”. With that, he shut the door and turned the sign behind the glass to ‘Sorry, we are closed”‘.
Martin got all the way back to his front door, before he realised he hadn’t asked for a receipt.