A Short Story By Manelle Oliphant
I had waited in the car for over an hour. Roger still hadn’t come back. That boy! For all he was grown, he never showed his mother any respect. Even on that cool day, the sun beat down and heated the interior of the convertible like an oven. I would’ve been quite brown if I’d stayed much longer.
Determined to get out of the heat, I stepped out onto the sidewalk. This wasn’t my usual shopping district, but I thought maybe I could find a shop to distract me.
I walked past a tacky hat shop. The window display wasn’t horrible, but none of the hats were up to my quality standard. The next shop had a curious door. Its vivid blue color reminded me of a holiday I’d taken to a lake when I was a child. The color looked like it used to be more vibrant and the paint was peeling. The glass needed cleaned and a layer of dust coated the panes. I started to walk forward, but uncharacteristic curiosity drew me back. I glanced around. No one watched so I pulled open the door and stepped inside.
I cringed at the gray blanket of dust that coated everything, but couldn’t bring myself to leave yet. Shafts of sunlight shone through the grimy windows illuminating shelves full of old paintings, pots and pans, clocks, books, and every kind of brick-a-brack imaginable.
I stepped forward, careful not to brush against anything. My movement stirred the air. The smell of old paper and dried flowers brought back a childhood memory of my grandfather’s library.
Behind the shop counter sat a small child reading a giant book. She looked up as I approached. I gulped. She was the ugliest child I’d ever seen. Huge glasses magnified her eyes. She had pointy ears, and her skin looked closer to blue than any normal color. I squinted; maybe it was the dim lighting. “Welcome, Mrs. Saunders, I hope you enjoy your shopping experience today.”
I stared for a moment, unsure what to do with myself. The child knew my name, which should have shocked me, but I decided she must read the society pages. My real problem was that I didn’t have a reason for being in the horribly dirty shop and I didn’t want to appear foolish. I finally settled on saying “Just browsing. Thank you, child.”
The girl smiled with hideous yellow pointed teeth. It made me feel like she knew some secret. I made a show of looking at the objects on the shelf nearest to me. They seemed familiar but I ignored the feeling as I moved around. I needed to leave but didn’t want to look silly, so I walked by the shelf and pretended I wanted to buy something. I wished I’d never come in. Why had I done so? I couldn’t explain it, not even to myself.
Once I decided it had been long enough, I turned to thank the child. On the shelf behind her sat a globe. I’d seen it before. It was unique. My grandfather had gotten if as a gift from his father on his 18th birthday, the day he joined the navy. The globe had been hand painted, every country it’s own color with the ocean a bright blue. Its stand had carved figures who represented the four winds. I used to spin it round and round as my grandfather told me stories of the places he’d visited. Even under its layer of dust I recognized it.
“How much is that globe?”
The girl glanced behind her at the globe. “Sorry ma’am, it’s not for sale.”
“Why ever not?”
“It’s not actually here.”
“I see,” I said, even though I didn’t. The child was obviously teasing me. I was never very good with children. “Is there an adult here, your parents perhaps, to whom I could speak?”
She smiled her yellow pointed smile. “No.”
I stared at her for a moment hoping she would break under the stern look of her elder, but she watched me back without reaction. I glanced again at the globe. My grandfather left it to me when he died. I remember the day. I’d graduated from school and was looking forward to a house party that weekend. Before I could go, my parents made me travel with them to the lawyer’s office so they could take possession of the estate. Afterward, we’d gone to my grandfather’s house where my parents gave the globe to me. It sat in the back seat of the car as I drove away to see my friends. I don’t remember seeing it again.
“I believe that globe is mine, or was meant to be. I insist you sell it to me.” I said to the child.
“I’d be more than happy to do so if I could. But as I said, it’s not actually here.” She waved her arm out at the shop. “I do recommend you look around. You might find other objects you”¦ well”¦ like.”
I glared at the girl, but she remained unfazed. “Fine,” I said through my teeth. I turned and stalked toward a rack of dresses. They looked well made but quite out of style. I shuffled through them. Again they looked familiar. I pulled out a green walking dress to have a better look and gasped. This dress had been mine as well! It used to be my favorite dress. At the time, it was very stylish. Memories flooded back into my mind. I’d worn it to walk through Central Park with Matthew the day we’d become engaged.
I turned back to the rack and looked closer. They were all my dresses or had been. I pulled a few of my remembered favorites. I would buy them as well. I moved on through the shop, more interested than before.
Shelves behind the clothing racks were full of toys. On the top shelf I found a few of my old dolls. Marie-Clare Olivier stared down at me with her glass eyes. I smiled. As a child I often dressed her in beautiful clothes and took her on outings with my nanny. I couldn’t leave her here. On a lower shelf was Roger’s ark and some of his wooden animals. Tears threatened to appear as I remembered him playing as a boy. I added them to my growing haul.
I made my way through the shop as memories flooded my mind. When I arrived back at the front, my arms were full of objects from my past. I didn’t know why they were here, but I knew this child had no right to them. They spilled out of my arms onto the counter. Then I walked behind the little changeling, grabbed my grandfather’s globe, and placed it next to the other things.
“How much for all of this?”
The girl blinked at me with her unnerving, too huge eyes. “I already told you they aren’t for sale. Besides, why should I sell to you? I don’t believe you ever much appreciated them.”
“What would you know about it, you little runt? I’ll have you know these are some of my most prized possessions.”
She blinked again. Maybe she was a little slow in her mind? “I can’t sell you these things because they are already yours or were at some point.”
I grabbed for one of the dresses. It stuck to the counter. “Young lady, I insist you stop playing games.” I yanked at the globe and a photograph of my father, but they wouldn’t move. “These things are right here, and they’re coming home with me.” I pulled at the toys but they remained stuck fast.
The girl behind the counter didn’t move. “They are mine. You said so yourself. I’m taking them. They are mine.” I wrapped my arms around the whole bundle and pulled. Nothing. With my eyes squeezed tight I pulled some more. “What kind of an establishment is this anyway?” I said to the girl as I yanked blindly at my treasures. “A shop with nothing for sale. It’s insane!”
Roger tapped me on the shoulder. “Mother, what are you going on about? What’s insane?”
I opened my eyes. My arms were wrapped around an old rubbish bin. I dropped it and turned. Roger stood behind me with a worried expression on his face. I turned full circle. We were in a vacant lot between the haberdasher I’d seen earlier and another shop. The car sat out on the sunny street where I’d left it.
Roger had a worried look on his face. I took a breath and glanced behind me. No shop. No counter. No ghoulish child. Weeds grew under my feet. To either side of us were the brick exteriors of other buildings.
Roger took my arm. “Too much sun today maybe. I think we should stop for a small lunch. Then I’ll take you home.”
“Maybe you’re right, Roger. I could do with a glass of water.” I let Roger lead me to the car. He entered on the other side and put his keys in the ignition. The car sputtered before the engine started in earnest.
Roger scowled. “Stupid car, why don’t you work?”
When he said it, my brain realized something I wouldn’t have an hour before. The awful child in the shop was right. I hadn’t appreciated many of my things. I turned to Roger. “I thought you loved this car? You were so proud of it when you bought it last year.”
Roger glanced at me as he pulled onto the road. “I did. I do. It’s, well, she hasn’t been running as well as she once did so I was thinking about a newer model.”
I thought about the loads of dresses I used to own. How many times had I thought the same as Roger? My brain felt hazy as we rolled down the road. What an odd experience. What had happened to my grandfather’s globe? Maybe in the next few days I’d go through the boxes I had in the attic. A real, rather than imaginary, walk down memory lane might be fun.
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