Patti Smith

Just Kids

Valeria Sokolova

 Why can’t I write something that would awake the dead? That pursuit is what burns more deeply.

Shortly after I started working there, the boy I had briefly met in Brooklyn came into the store. He looked quite different in his white shirt and tie, like a Catholic schoolboy. He explained that he worked at Bretano’s downtown branch and had a credit slip he wanted to use. He spent a long time looking at everything, the beads, the small figurines, the turquoise rings. 

Finally he said, “I want this”. It was a Persian necklace. 

“Oh, it’s my favourite too,” I answered. “It reminds me of a scapular.”

“Are you a Catholic?” he asked me.

“No, I just like Catholic things.”

“I was an altar boy.” He grinned at me. “I loved to swing the frankincense censer.”

I was happy that he selected the piece I singled out, yet sad to see it go. When I wrapped it and handed it to him, I said impulsively, “Don’t give it to any girl but me.”

I was immediately embarrassed, but he just smiled at me and said, “I won’t”. 


After Robert died, I agonised over his belongings, some of which had once been ours. I dreamed of his slippers. He wore them at the end of his life, black Belgian slippers with his initials stitched in burnished gold. I agonised over his desk and chair. They would be auctioned off with his other valuables at Christie’s. I lay awake thinking of them, so obsessed I became ill. I could have bid on them but I couldn’t bear to; his desk and chair passed to strange hands. I kept thinking of something Robert would say when he was obsessed with something he couldn’t have. “I am a selfish bastard. If I can’t have it I don’t want anyone else to.”

Why can’t I write something that would awake the dead? That pursuit is what burns more deeply. I got over the loss of his desk and chair, but never the desire to produce a string of words more precious than the emeralds of Cortés. Yes, I have a lock of his hair, a handful of his ashes, a box of his letters, a goatskin tambourine. And in the folds of faded violet tissue a neckless, two violet plaques etched in Arabic, strung with black and silver threads, given to me by the boy who loved Michelangelo. 

[1] Just Kids by Patti Smith (2010)

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