I recently read a blog post that reminded me of Rain’s Respite. I wrote it about 3 years ago. It’s a favorite of mine, but it irked me a bit. It wasn’t quite right. So, I’ve taken a stab at a few revisions.
…you’re caught in a torrential downpour. You run into the first store you can find — it happens to be a dark, slightly shabby antique store, full of artifacts, books, and dust. The shop’s ancient proprietor walks out of the back room to greet you….
I stood just inside the doorway for a little while to get my bearings, glad to get out of the sudden downpour.
A large cowbell attached to the door on a protruding metal brace was still clanging. I didn’t remember it from before. I stared at it as it continued to wobble and clang while my eyes adjusted to the dark interior.
“I know. Makes me crazy, but there it is.” An old woman was standing at the end of the register counter, hand on a hip, eyes also fixed on the cowbell.
“ ‘s wet out there,” she continued as she lowered her gaze to me.
“You gonna just stand there looking out at the street or you gonna look around?”
I gave the old woman an apologetic smile and stepped farther into the place. “Of course. I’ll browse.”
With feigned interest, I made my way down the first aisle in front of me, absently taking in the flea-market selection of odds and ends. The time-worn junk store was well-known in my city, at least to those like me and my friends who liked to spend weekend afternoons crawling through antique malls, consignment stores and thrift shops. The place had its fair share of classic junk shop crap, and I bet a few items could be considered valuable antiques, but it was more like the old-time curiosity galleries that used to line beach front boardwalks.
Shrunken heads peered out from behind glass merchandise cases, or under bell jars on wooden pedestals. Who knew if they were actual shrunken heads or novelties made in Japan in the ’50s. They looked real enough. Large bins of polished rocks, sea shells, marbles, plastic doll parts, unmatched Tupperware containers, nails, nuts and bolts of all sizes, and unopened rolls of Christmas wrapping paper were tucked into corners and beside shelves. An assortment of ceramic figurines were just about anywhere you looked, along with various pottery pieces and tableware. Musky smelling used clothing from no particular era of fashion hung on various clothes racks, with very worn out shoes scattered on the bare cement floor below. The occasional large specimen jar with a deformed piglet floating in formaldehyde would pop out at you as you turned the corners of the narrow aisles, and taxidermies of just about every sort of creature were everywhere, from the ceiling rafters to niches under crates and between shelves and display cases. This included a large German Shepard at the entrance, facing out, which I assumed was once the owner’s dog, placed in the very spot it used to sit or lay, watching people walk in or walk by. Looking up, you saw a myriad of black velvet paintings, the centerpiece of which was a reclining female nude with a handwritten Post-it note stuck to the frame that read, “Gorgeous Glenda is anitomicaly (misspelled) incorrect. What’s missing? Guess right and get a penny for the gumball machine.” On a previous visit with friends someone finally figured out Gorgeous Glenda didn’t have a belly button.
“You looking for somethin’ in particular or you just wastin’ my time?” the old woman asked.
“No. Just browsing,” I lied. I was listening to the rain beating down on the roof, trying to gauge when would be a good time to head back out, rather than having my usual fun poking through the flotsam and jetsam.
“Cuz we don’t have no security cameras in here so I has to stands here while you shop. If you ain’t shoppin’ then I just assumes you go on ‘bout your business elsewheres.”
I couldn’t help letting out a laugh. “I’m not casing the joint, ma’am. I’m just browsing.”
“Well, I’ll just stands here while you just browse then.”
“OK,” I replied, pretending not to notice her snark.
I wondered if someone actually tried shoplifting something from the place. I mean, what is here that is so valuable to make someone want to shoplift? I studied the shelves closely. What would I want so badly that I’d shoplift something from here? I looked at a jar with one of the deformed piglets. Probably one of those. I’d never pay money for one, but it would make a great gag at work. I’d anonymously leave it in the lunchroom. I could just imagine the official memo the next morning about respecting common office areas and not to leave personal items in plain view.
As I continued my aimless wandering, still listening to the downpour outside, I spotted a set of glassware exactly like the kind my grandmother had: thick, gold/orange molded stemmed glasses with facets that replicated ornate leaded crystal. A sledge-hammer wouldn’t break the stuff and it was my grandmother’s pride and joy.
“Your grandma or old auntie have a set of those?” The old woman’s voice came from her place up front. I didn’t understand how she was able to see where I was from there.
“Thought you said you didn’t have security cameras in here.”
“That’s right we don’t. I can tell where you are just from the sound of you walkin’ around. Anyways, everyone’s grandma had a set of those glasses. Everyone always stops there and says, ‘Oh grandma had a set of these I remember these.’ ”
“They were my grandmother’s special occasion glasses. She loved them.”
“Yes, ma’am. That they were. They all did.”
“So, where do you keep the things everybody’s grandfather used to have?”
“Over yonder there, by that big clock.”
I looked around for a big clock. There were several. “Which one?”
“That big ol’ one goes almost all the ways to the ceiling.”
I spied it and instantly remembered seeing it before. I noticed its pendulum was still. “Didn’t that used to run?”
“MmmHmm. But it broke. Got over-wound or somethin.’ ”
“It had a very loud, deep chime, right?”
“Worse than that cowbell, I’ll tell ya.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I liked it.” I was now standing in front of the giant clock. I hadn’t really looked at it the times I’d been in the old store before. It was a massive thing, looking as if it was carved from the entire trunk of the oak used to make it. The pendulum alone was at least six feet in length and the clock face had to be just as wide in circumference.
“Where did you guys find it?” I asked the woman.
“It just showed up one day. Someone left it out front. Helluva time getting it in here.” She paused and continued, “Someones told me it looked a lot like the clock used to be in that old train station, downtown.”
“Well, it certainly would have had plenty of room in there. No wonder it was so loud,” I remarked mostly to myself. “Ever been?” I called out to the old woman. “The lobby is huge, with ceilings that go up four or five stories. And all that marble! Amazing place.”
“Nope. Never been on a train.”
I meandered back to the front to take a peek out the front door. The rain had let up a bit. The old woman was still standing at the end of the counter with her hand on her hip. I turned back and looked at the shelves full of books near the check-out counter.
“You have a lot of what looks like first editions,” I said. “Bet you could actually do better selling those online, you know, like through eBay or something.”
The old woman shrugged. “I’ve read every single one of them books,” she proudly stated.
“Yeah? Any of them any good?”
“Sure. I guess. People had a different way of seein’ things back then.”
“Recommend one for me? To buy?”
She looked at me with a faint look of surprise. “Nah, you don’t want them. You take a look at one of those over there,” and jutted her chin toward another bookcase of beat-up paperbacks. A copy of I’m OK, You’re OK was prominently displayed among them.
“I’ll think I’ll pass on those, but thanks.”
The old woman, the stuffed German Shepard and I were silent for a moment; the three of us staring out the glass front doors.
“So, you done browsin?” she asked, still staring out at the street.
“Uh, yeah, I guess.” I headed for the door. It was still raining pretty hard, but I knew the rule of the third time being the charm. The old woman wouldn’t ask again nicely, if you could classify her previous inquiries as nice, if I was there to shop or waste her time. I gave the stuffed dog a pat on the head and opened the door to leave. The cowbell started clanging.
“You come back and maybe next time that ol’ clock be workin’ again.”
“What, that monster and this cowbell? Are you kidding?” I smiled at her and she smiled back.
“Damn thing,” she muttered.