A scene from the Antique store

my first piece of fiction…I hope you enjoy

It was a beautiful fall day, a light breeze playfully toyed with the colorful leaves littering the small but bustling street. The street, much like the town, was old but well kept. The town, like so many small Anytown USA’s, had lost its “Big Company” and the jobs that it provided. Most of the younger families had long moved away but it’s loyal, remaining citizens insisted on preserving their little town. A particular source of pride was the row of shops on Main St, where a mother and her young daughter were walking hand and hand along the cobblestone sidewalk. They were clearly not local, their pace lacked deliberation as they alternated between staring in the storefront windows and glancing around in all directions. Their clasped hands suggested fear of separation more than of a maternal bond. Mom looked nervous, out of her element and intent on holding her little girl, no more than 8, as close to her as possible.

They continued down the sidewalk, almost going into several stores, only to turn and continue walking. It was not until they came upon one shop, more inviting than the others, that caused them to stop and stare. The name Yesteryear Today was displayed in golden letters on the thick glass window. The mother, clearly a lover of antiques, gently tugged her daughter through the massive mahogany door. A bell announced their arrival.

They were immediately greeted by the smell of cinnamon. No stranger to antique stores, the woman stood in the doorway, her daughter obediently clutching her hand, and surveyed the enormous room. She was greeted by afternoon sunlight streaming through skylights and 3 walls of shelves overflowing with pictures, dolls, books and knick-knacks (as her mother had called them God rest her soul) with the floor full of tables, chairs, desks, cabinets and sofas that she knew (from her mother again, God rest her soul) had names like Edwardian, Davenport, Divan, Fauteuil, and the list goes on. She noticed the conspicuous absence of the pungent, mildewy odor of old books and discarded memories common in most antique stores. Perhaps it was the cinnamon.

“Cider?” a voice called out to her, surprising her. She had been so fixated on a rolltop desk to her left that she had not noticed the elderly man approach her. He looked to be about 75, wearing khakis, a white shirt with a grey sweater and a bow tie. His appearance immediately struck her as meticulous, right down to the knot in his tie.
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“Beg your pardon?” she asked.

“Sorry to have startled you, Ma’am. I was offering you and your lovely little girl a hot cider. Fall is in the air you know. I may be a bit early but I admit it, I’m a sucker for the season, hot cider and all.” He turned his attention to the little girl, “Do you smell the cinnamon, young lady?” I add real sticks to the cider” he said excitedly. The little girl hugged her mother’s leg and looked at the floor.

“You’ll have to forgive my daughter’s shyness, please don’t take it personally”.

“Don’t be silly, young lady, no offense taken. What is her name?”

“This is Lily”. She looked down at her daughter and smiled. “And I’m Kelly. Kelly Swanson”.

The old man’s brow furrowed and a concerned look crossed his face, “As in the Swanson family over on Hemlock Lane?”

“That’s the one”. He knows about the accident “It’s been in probate for a year but since I just lost my apartment this seems to be my best, most logical move. We dropped off our bags this morning and decided to check out the town before we unpack. I hate moving.” Stop prattling on! she scolded herself. He doesn’t need to know your life’s story. He’s going to think you’re nuts and you just met him. She noted to herself that he was almost unsettlingly easy to talk to.

“Well, Miss Swanson, welcome to our town, circumstances as they are. I must say, that accident took a little of all of us. We haven’t had a crash like that in decades. Just awful. I’m so sorry for your loss. Again, may I please offer you a cider?” and he gently steered Kelly and her daughter to the small table with the old-fashioned hotplate with a small steel pot of cider. He ladled some into a cup for Kelly and went out back for a couple of ice cubes for the one he would give to Lily.

After he returned and had stooped to convinced the ever-shy Lily to try his cider, he again turned to Kelly. “My name is Bernard Steele, proprietor of this fine establishment” and he bowed to her slightly. She was visibly taken back by his old-fashioned mannerisms as she was his pristine appearance. “Please look around the store, I take great pride in my collection of memories”.

“I will Mr. Steele, thank you so much.” She reached down for Lily’s hand and was surprised to not find it. Apparently, her shyness had worn off a bit. Kelly scanned the room anxiously and was relieved to find her Lily intently staring at a very old bicycle. Relax, she told herself, we’re not in the city anymore. She can be five feet away without calling in an Amber Alert. She fervidly wished to herself for the ability to lighten up and not worry so much. My mother smothered me, I’m not doing it to her dammit! She took a deep breath and exhaled, staring bemusedly at her daughter. She certainly looked like she was happy all the way over there. She again caught herself and looked away. Her gaze was immediately met by an old roll-top desk. If she didn’t know better it could be the one her Grandmother had in her basement. She walked over and studied the antique desk, running her hands over the aged wood marveling at the craftsmanship.

Next thing she knew she found herself sitting at the roll-top. I don’t remember sitting down she thought to herself. She had a fountain pen in her right hand, a jar of black ink open beside her. A half-written letter lay under the thumb and forefinger of her left hand, barely visible below the fluttery sleeves of her blouse. I don’t own such a blouse! Tucked into the corner of the leather blotter was a letter. Confused, she looked around her and realized she wasn’t in the antique store anymore, but instead a room she had never been before. Puzzled yet intrigued she took the letter from the blotter, opened it and began to read.

Dear Marion:

I’m so sorry I didn’t write you yesterday. We had a surprise inspection below deck that took all day. Then we spotted a Kraut Sub that we chased all damn day. I had KP at night so no letter time.
I hope you are doing ok with the little one, I’m sure she’s a handful. I saw the pics, she looks like the Milkman. I kid of course, I know you wouldn’t do that to me. It’s a damn shame what’s happening to some guys though. Wives running off with Gardeners and handymen, war-dodging bastards, while their husbands are at sea. Not you. You wouldn’t do that to me would you kid?
Listen, we got something big coming up. I can’t tell you much more but you may not hear from me for a few days. Know that I love you and as soon as we win this damn war we’ll pick up where we left off.
Love you kid, Mel.

She then scanned over to her letter.

 My dearest Mel,

I have been getting your letters. I wait for the mailman every day, but not like you joked about you silly man. I will never do that to you. Your daughter is growing fast and she wants to see her Daddy so do what you have to do and please come home so that we can

That was all she had written. The paper had a small circular wet spot where a tear had fallen. She looked at the date of the postmark. It was dated June 5, 1944. Stunned, she frantically scanned the massive desk for a calendar. She found it, it was opened to July 10, 1944. Stunned, she pushed away from the desk.

“Miss Swanson, are you ok?” Mr. Steele was next to her, a look of consternation on his face. She was back in the store. What the hell is going on here! She remembered the letter.

“June 5, 1944!” she exclaimed. “That date! That’s the day before D-Day!”

“I’m sorry Miss Swanson, but it’s clearly October and we are considerably past the year 1944. Are you sure you’re ok”?

“It was July, I mean it could’ve been. I…I don’t know. Something very strange just happened to me and I’m a little rattled”. She noticed the cup of spilled cider on the floor next to her and sheepishly apologized to Mr. Steele. He scurried off to find some paper towels.

Meanwhile, Lily was admiring a bicycle. As she touched the old, worn rubber grip she closed her eyes as a satisfying, warm sensation coursed through her body. She felt a strong gust of cool air dust her long brown hair from her face. She felt the warmth of the sun on her face as she opened her eyes. How did I get outside? She wondered. She then realized she was coasting down Main street past the shops on a bicycle! When did I learn how to ride a bike? The shops looked different, newer. And there were so many people. Women with big flowy skirts bustling about with paper bags and children in tow. Boys in jeans and tee-shirts and cigarettes dangling from their mouths leaned on the lamp posts. Music from big cars blasted from all directions. Everything was so clean. One of the children yelled to her “Hi Cindy!” But my name is Lily! She found herself calling out to the boy “Hey Bobby”.

“Cindy let’s go to your house”!  A voice to her left called to her. This must be a friend of mine that I’m riding my bike with. She found herself answering,

“Ok, follow me”. And then watched in amazement as the little girl and three others fell in behind her. They rode through town, carefully avoiding the big cars until they reached the end of the block and rolled down a side street. Her “friends” in tow. As she approached a big white house with a white fence with lovely roses growing in front she saw a mailbox with the word Little in block letters. She pulled into the driveway and almost in unison, she and her friends dumped their bikes on the thick front lawn. Waiting for them on the front steps was a tray of glasses of Lemonade. She was sweaty and pulled her hair away from her face as she turned towards the street to face the breeze. The street was beautiful, lined with small but neat houses with tidy, green lawns and shiny cars in the driveways. The flowers still vibrant, making their last defiant stand against the approaching winter.

A voice to her left called out “Lily!” Ignoring it, she thought to herself No, they’re Roses silly. Again, the voice called “Lily!” and again she ignored it. Suddenly she felt a hand grab her shoulder and she pulled away quickly.

The sound of the bike crashing to the floor startled her. Almost as much as the look on her mother’s face as she stared at her.

“Lily, are you alright? I called you twice and you were just looking off into space like you were in a trance. Here, let me hold you…” and extended her arms for a hug.

“No” Lily said and pushed the outstretched hands away. “I’m ok, I don’t need a hug. You hug me too much. I want to ride my bike now”.

Her mother kneeled down and said. “Ok, no hug. But honey, you don’t know how to ride a bike”.

“Yes, I do. I can do it all afternoon and ride all over town with no adults watching me or my friends.” She crossed her arms indignantly.

Kelly leaned in, “Sweetie did you see something special when you touched that bicycle? Because something happened to me. You can tell me. I promise it won’t sound crazy. In fact, I hope it is.” Crazy is the only explanation she remarked to herself. I was just in 1944 and now she knows how to ride a bike! At that moment it occurred to her that the reason Lily had never learned to ride a bike was because she never let the girl out of her sight. She had reasoned it away by memorizing crime statistics and watching the news but the fact was she had sheltered the girl. How many times did she take your hand before you took hers she asked herself. She knew the answer, and she wasn’t pleased with herself. But, she rationalized, her father left us when she was 3 in a shithole neighborhood and I did the best that I could. She shook her head, refocusing herself. She needed to stay focused on her daughter.

“May I interject?” asked Mr. Steele. “Never underestimate the power of old things. I believe they have a memory of their own. It’s a powerful thing when you think about it. That objects may capture and retain moments. I find it fascinating! I like to think of my little store as a magical little museum of memories” he offered as he flamboyantly gestured around the room. “May I suggest, young lady, that you just experienced a bit of magic?” He leaned in to Kelly and whispered, “perhaps you did too, my dear?”

“See Mommy, it’s Magic. That’s why I can ride a bike. Well, I could. I mean I just did. Awwww you know what I mean”. She was clearly coming back to reality.

“Sweetie, I think we need to leave now. It is getting late and I don’t want to unpack too late tonight.”  She gently but persistently nudged Lily towards the door. “Say goodbye to Mr. Steele”.

“Goodbye, Mr. Steele” Lily said. And they headed for the door. As they stepped outside Lily said to her mother “Is it alright if I just walk beside you, you know without holding hands? I’ll be ok, I feel safe here.”

“I’m sorry I’m so protective honey, I just worry about you. I can’t help it.” She was still instinctively thinking about reaching out for her hand. She instead put her hands in her pockets, it was getting chilly anyway.

“I saw and felt something in there, Mommy. I felt warm. I felt safe. And I didn’t feel like you were worrying about me. I was just doing stuff and having fun without getting hurt or chased by bad guys.” She looked so grown up, so independent. Maybe I have to let her go if she wants to grow. She smiled and said “Something happened to me in there also. I’ll tell you all about it when we get home. Just hold one second.

She turned to the Antique store and opened the door. She looked to make sure Lily was still there (habit) and stepped inside. “Mr. Steele?” she called out.

Bernard Steele emerged from the back room. “Yes, Miss Swanson. I trust all is well with you and the young lass?”

“Of course, Mr. Steele. I just want to say that while I’m unsure what happened here today, you do indeed run a magical place. I may be back later in the week to talk about that desk. I believe my new cellar has a perfect corner for it.”

“Indeed, Miss Swanson. I look forward to your return. And again, welcome to our little town.”

“I want to buy that bike” Lily called from the doorway.

Bernard Steele laughed heartily. “Absolutely, my dear child. I look forward to it. But you must ask your mother, not me. Your mother may become angry with me”.

“Thank you, Mr. Steele. You’re my first new friend here.” Kelly said. She waved to him. As he waved back he winked at young Lily, who would later swear that she saw a twinkle of light, like a star streaking across the Autumn sky.

They stepped outside, the heavy door closing behind them with the ringing of a bell. Together, mother and daughter walked towards the edge of the square to Hemlock, their steps deliberate and with purpose.

 

the other shoe

If you have been following me recently you will know that I have been doing some part-time work for a friend. It has been an overall good experience for me. In addition to having a little bit of money to play with it has also given my ego, in particular, that section that controls not feeling like a useless piece of shit, a boost. I would like to say that it has been an awesome experience but there a few downsides. For starters, it is 2 1/2 to 3 hours away depending on traffic. It is not without expense, it is at least a tank of gas plus food for 2 days which cuts into the overall “worthwhile” of it. It also requires that I stay with my friend who works there also for up to 2 nights a week. He and his wife are the ones who offered it in the first place, making this even possible and claim they enjoy the company but I feel like a burden. That’s the way I’m wired. I’m not paranoid, but I know that when I watch football and the players are in a huddle…yeah they’re talking about me.
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I also haven’t gotten too excited because let’s face it, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I fully expected a wrinkle and it came the week before last.

As I was leaving on Thursday I checked in with my friend and boss to let him know that I was leaving for the week. He turned to me and asked me to close his office door. Here we go, I thought, the other shoe.

“You’re getting expensive,” he said. “I want to help you out but I really don’t have it in the budget right now”. He looked upset, I knew that he was genuinely conflicted. I never actually considered this to be any more than a “we’ll see how long it lasts” scenario I played it cool. But inside I was a little miffed. I wanted to explain what I’ve been working on, the contribution I’ve made and the slew of compliments his CFO has given me. But I stopped myself.  Instead, I told him that I would only be available on Monday the following (last) week. I politely told him that if he doesn’t need me, just tell me and I’ll be ok. We left it that we would talk about it Monday. I managed to successfully leave his office without reverting to the old me.

The old me would have been reactionary, upset, filled with a sense of dread and lament wrong decisions made…both real and imaginary. That was when I was a slave to a -paycheck, in fear of harming my family, forced to “suck-it-up” for the benefit of others. I’m not that guy anymore because I don’t have that situation anymore. The new me doesn’t need the job, I just like the job. By choice or otherwise, I am now in a position where I can choose what I do for money and if it doesn’t work out I will find something. The bar is set pretty low but I it is oddly liberating.

I am also blazing a new trail in that I am using my knowledge of reading people. I know that Ben is happy with what I’ve been doing and he likes having me around. I know him enough to know that he can get creative if he wants in how he compensates me.

It also occurred to me that my work has and will speak for itself. I know, not think, that I have found a niche and have worked on an area of his business, with some solid success, that he didn’t even know he needed. He knows it now. So last Monday morning, early, I called him and told him that I wouldn’t be in. 6 hours of driving for 1 day was just silly. He understood. I sat back this week to see what would develop.

As of Friday morning, I had received 3 emails from the CFO and 2 texts from Ben asking me when I was available to come in this coming week. I simply responded Why, do you need me?

It seems he does.

Job and pride both intact, I think I like how the new me handled this one.

 

 

“Dad, I’m good”

 

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Sometimes when I first wake I have a blank moment before I start planning my day. It is like a suspended reality where I contemplate the dreams of the night before and I just feel without thinking. I love the “morning fog” as I call it, it is the calm before the storm.

This morning I woke earlier than usual. My first (of three) alarms goes off at 6AM each morning. I rarely get up until about 7:30 but today I was awake at first bell. The Sun was streaming in my window, teasing me of approaching Spring and that soon I will be woken by the morning chatter of the birds. As I lay there on my back I felt oddly at peace with myself. As refreshing as natural light in my room was, that wasn’t it. As my morning fog wore off I realized that 2 of my awesome kids were not 100 miles away today, but instead were downstairs sleeping. As they have been each morning this week. That was the peace, at that particular moment, all was right with the world.

The past 5 days have been some of the best in recent memory. They have been like 5 Saturday’s in our former life. They both slept late, my youngest son later than my daughter. I made pancake batter first thing when I woke and I drank coffee until the daughter woke up. I gave her a “temporary” breakfast to hold her over until the boy got up. At around 11 I went downstairs and made noise until he woke. I would then fire up the griddle and the first batch of pancakes would be on his plate when he stumbled upstairs. After the breakfast carnage, they went to watch TV and I cleaned up. Every day started like that.

We kept busy in the afternoon doing everything and nothing. We spent hours shopping and they also spent many hours fiddling with their iPhones. I didn’t push them to be busy, they were on school vacation and they were with me. That was all I needed.

The nights proved to be the most fun, as they always were when we were together. I would make a dinner from scratch and as I puttered around the kitchen they sat on the island stools snacking on tidbits and we just talked about whatever came up. The aroma of the food, the sorely missed sound of laughter, the chattering of my daughter as she frenetically tried to update me on everything I’ve missed since I’ve last seen her. The boy messing with her at every opportunity and trying to squeeze in his own stories. Then we ate, and they swooned at the meal stopping only to tell me how much they missed my cooking. After dinner, I lit the wood stove and handed the remote over to them. Whatever they wanted to watch was fine with me. At one time this was my normal routine, having been away from it for so long it was now magical.

The highlight of the week occurred last night at dinner. We were talking in the kitchen, I was throwing together a stir fry and sipping a drink when the conversation turned to the living situations we are all in. They wanted to know if I was going to stay here and the answer of course was yes, I have nowhere else right now. We then talked about theirs. They are both living with my wife, who is desperately trying to find someplace else to live. The boy likes it there, my daughter is absolutely miserable. Visibly upset about the situation I remarked that I wish I could have done better by all of them. My son then spoke and nearly floored me:

“Dad, I’m good. You really need to stop acting like this is your fault. I can only speak for me but it’s not that bad. I’m doing fine”.

It was a very surprising and proud moment. What a fine young man he was. If I could wish one thing for my children besides good health it would be adaptability. He has it. He rolls with things and deals with whatever comes his way. My moment was dampened when I looked at my daughter, she was not so good. I felt awful again but somewhat relieved knowing that her moving was in the works. I feel hopeful for her.

We talked for hours last night. It was candid, it was relaxed, it was revealing and it was real. It was also cathartic. It may be the first time since I have moved away from them that I truly felt that everything was going to be ok. We may never be together again but if my persisting dream is that they find happiness and consistency in their life again then there is hope after all. It seems that what I was unable to provide in money, housing and sustenance they overcame by flexibility, strength, and character. I would like to think that this is my contribution to the gene pool.

The day may be approaching where I can make peace with the recent past and focus on my future recovery. In the process of blaming myself and feeling bad, I’m not sure that I considered the outside possibility that they don’t need me in their lives so much as they want me in their lives. I would take both, but one is way better than the other. After all, if I am questioning my body of work as a father, wouldn’t strong and resilient children count as a mark in the win column?

What a week, easily my best memories to date.

Want to read a great post about memories? Check out my buddy Tom being Tom

www.tombeingtom.com/happiest-memory/