Friday, May 11, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Second Chance

The jingle of the visitor bell was as stereotypical as the musty smell of the little curiosity shop. The thought humored Doreen as she entered the dimly lit store. Despite its cramped quarters, the shop felt like a safe haven from the haggard and hurried streets of the city. Furthermore, it was the sort of place where no one came looking for anything or anyone in particular, and as she was busy hiding from her wreck of a life, “Second Chance Curiosities” seemed a perfect place to spend an afternoon…. Or at least the next 15 minutes.

As she was wont to do, she dragged her hand along the surfaces of items nearby, feeling the rough covers of old books or the crisp synthetic quality of baby doll hair past its prime. The shelves were uncharacteristically dust-free, and she appreciated the care the owner showed in displaying his wares, however dismal they appeared. Leather cracked around the spine of what looked to be a weather-beaten journal, and Doreen longed to read the pages. Picking up the book, she closed her eyes and held it to her chest, breathing in the stale warm smell of old pages and imagining what treasures it might hold

“Memoirs of a Civil War Soldier,” a voice whispered.

Doreen looked around startled to be caught in such reverie, but found no one. She caught movement in the corner of her eye, and did a double take, only to see a small grey spider scurry across the edge of a wooden shelf.

“Hello?” No response came

After a moment of silence, when it seemed that she really was quite alone, she brushed off the disturbance and tried to go about her browsing. She set the book on the table without much more thought and continued down the row.

At the back of the shop, past a splendid display of rusty shields and ancient masks, Doreen stopped in awe at the vast array of snow globes spread along 3 tall bookcases. Everything else in the store had been dust-free and tidy, but these shelves and their inhabitants glowed as if they were polished hourly. In each miniature glass planet, a blizzard whirled around tiny monuments and their petite patrons. Some were recognizable, like the Eiffel Tower, or St. Basil’s. Others seemed tribal or aboriginal in nature. A small handful seemed celestial or downright alien. Despite this assortment, Doreen found herself drawn to one that was terribly mundane. In the swirling snow sat a figure alone. The tiny woman was brightly dressed against her colorless backdrop, and her posture and facial expression embodied a passionless calm.

“That one is called ‘Blank Slate’.”

Doreen almost dropped the glass orb at the sound of the voice. However, this time when she looked up, she found she was not eerily alone anymore. A small bespectacled man with slate grey hair and mustache had appeared at her side. Doreen was frightened and embarrassed to have not heard him approach and tried to cover this with a note of irritation.

“You shouldn’t sneak up on people so,” she stated. “At least not when they are holding glass.” She added a small laugh to soften her words, as she realized that she was being unnecessarily rude to someone who was, no doubt, the owner of the establishment in which she was currently a guest. The gentleman simply smiled.

An awkward moment of silence passed between them, making Doreen suddenly uncomfortable in these dimly lit cramped quarters. Still, she wasn’t ready to let go of the globe in her hands, so she fumbled over words until she managed to ask, “Is this for sale? I mean, how much is this? I want to buy it. I mean, I … might be willing to buy it… if the price is not too high.”

Again the grey haired man smiled. “They are very special to me,” he said, nodding his head towards the globes. “I’m not one to easily part with something so….” His pause was longer than needed and his eyes met hers with a jolt that chilled her. His smile grew larger. “But for a young lady who needs a ‘Blank Slate’, I can make a deal.”

He turned and shuffled towards an antique cash register. His legs were rickety, and his skin seemed tissue thin. Aging had taken its toll, but Doreen guessed that he wasn’t a very handsome man in his youth either. He had a bit of a greasy peddler feel to him, like an old time salesman, or the carney barker who calls you to the view the Freak tent. He seemed as much an old oddity as the items he sold, only he was in much more disrepair. Still, he was going to make her a deal (or so he said), and so Doreen put her disrespectful thoughts aside and followed him to the counter.

A bit of haggling and $20 later, Doreen found herself carrying home her new treasure, wrapped in paper and plastic. The globe drew her in, and she wanted very much to see it up close again. She waited until she was safely seated on the subway train before she began to unwrap it. Holding it in two hands, she was mesmerized by the tiny woman and all her vast possibilities.

“A blank slate…. A clean slate… a second chance,” Doreen murmured to herself as if the words would conjure such a state for herself. She locked eyes with the petite figure and wished with all her might that it might be her. 7 years ago, she’d moved to this city, desperate to run from her mistakes and shame. 7 years she’d spent fighting demons and stuffing regrets. 7 years, and all she had to show for it was a dismal job that barely covered rent on the one room apartment she’d spent 7 years hiding in. Her list of failures in love and life was overwhelmingly long, and she’d found it easier to wallow in mediocrity than it was to just forgive and move on. 7 years that brought her face to face with the fact that the old adage was true, “Wherever you go, there you are.” And here she was- on a subway, bleary-eyed with tears, wishing she were that calm little woman in the white-out world of her blank slate.

The subway was oddly quiet, and so Doreen didn’t notice when she missed her stop. She didn’t notice the people who got on or off. She was nearly invisible, in her back corner of the train, focused on her little glass world. She felt herself slipping away, imagining endlessly what she might do were she that woman in the globe. She pulled her thin sweater tighter around her, and snuggled tighter into a ball as she felt the temperature drop, but her gaze never waivered from the face in the snow. Harder and harder she wished and wanted. More and more she dropped into that place of possibility. Real life seemed to fade from her thoughts as she dreamed and hoped and desired and irrationally craved the life of that calm figure in the whirling snow. The glass grew foggy with her warm moist breath as the truth of the subway drifted further and further away. Her fevered prayers for a blank slate erased the hard lines of reality until everything else vanished. And then Doreen simply disappeared as well.

No one remembered the small girl on the subway that night. At least, they wouldn’t have if any one had asked. But when the conductor did a walk through at the end of his shift, and found the lone snow globe in the corner seat of the last row of the last car, he didn’t question. He merely assumed that someone had carelessly forgotten; their lives too full of other matters of consequence. He tucked it under one uniformed arm, and walked off to clock out.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The jingle of the bell as she opened the door was just like a spooky scene from a movie, Annie thought as she dipped into the tiny curiosity shop, and Annie loved movies. She loved all things having to do with escape. Her job was dreary and monotonous, the heat outside unbearable, and her lunch time walk had found her wandering in search of a midday vacation. She felt like a soul possessed by the singular urge to ‘get away from it all’, and that craving for something new had led her feet to the tiny store she’d not noticed before. A twinkle caught her eye as light reflected on some glass at the back of the store, and intrigued, Annie walked towards what seemed to be a shelf full of glass orbs.


Crafty Green Poet said...

I like the sense of mystery in this.

Rob Kistner said...

How very evocative and intriguing! It drew me in.

Patois said...

Nicely done. I agree with Rob: it really drew me in.

sundaycynce said...

Fascinating. Very engrossing. It puts me in mind of "Of Missing Persons" by Jack Finney, which was one of my favorites when I read it in school as well as a favorite to teach. Your writing talents seem to be steadily & significantly increasing.