The man’s face is spidery-old, blue veins snake across his hands, tasting skin as dry as an old brown shoe. He opens seven days a week, one to three on Sundays. There is a sign on the window that screams “ABSOLUTELY NO WINDOW SHOPPERS” This is his wonderland and people clutter the spaces. People talking, laughing, bumping, kids with red noses and fingers sticky, sickly; sweet and sour. “Don’t haggle” he says without saying. He is fierce and frosty, a relic, a throw back. He is a second-hand man holding on in a world full of letting go
Most of his things come from estate sales, dead people’s things count for nothing in a world where new is better and bigger is best. Who now wants brown teapots and toast racks when you can buy espresso makers that squat squarely on granite bench tops and toasters with egg poachers that cook eggs as perfect as a peach? He holds the dead in this life, a life support machine for ‘things’ – white knuckled. A fingerprint on a party pink tea cup dotted with daisies, a silvery strand of hair in a beige knit beret, fought for and won in a war where fights were often fought but never won and where hats were the last of their worries.
I live in a little brick house. It is square and solid, a brick made out of bricks. I count the steps to the front door every afternoon; one, two, three, four, open the door, shrug off my coat and watch it drop to the floor. The boards are cool beneath my stockinged feet and a short, sharp breath licks at my toes. This home is a cardboard box, not like the houses drawn with child’s eyes. There is no curving path of cobbles wiggling their way in, no puff of smoke sending streaks through the sky, no yellow birds in the trees peeking into four cross-eyed windows.
I do have warmth though, love and tiny feet. I have sweetness and sorrow at the kitchen table over dinner every night. The fridge is papered in imagination; sheep and unicorns chase each other through playgrounds painted rainbow bright; where wild-eyed girls in dappled dresses and rose-red cheeks swing high and touch the sky with their bare skin.
I wonder often how a light that shines bright enough to blind can be born from a candle without a wick. She lights up the air like a fire cracker, a cricket with a song that breaks the night-calm over her knee. I am at once full of hope and regret. I see her in me and me in her. If she ends up like me that would be the end of me. She is the breath that I am holding in my lungs which will one day escape from my body.
There is a tattoo shop next door to the second-hand store. The men inside are solid and swear themselves black and blue. They look through cornered eyes, their art born of a beautiful mind needled on and on and over and over until the blood clots in hard little clusters. They are hard little clusters of men, dotted around the edges, drawing on skin to draw attention.
The old man nods “good morning” each day as he fiddles with his key. The sun rise swings high over hanging baskets and paintings of people who used to be as they stare sad and solemn until it is time to close down for the day.
His wife had been his only permanent mark, etched into his skin and deeper down. He let her inside, the only one, his one, just one. He held her hand on waking for forty years of mornings as she rose and fell in a soft flutter. She was softness and safety, a sleepless night. She was a portrait of herself, a folded photo creased in all the most beautiful places.
A restless wind was she, never still for long, never silent. Now her life is stilled, settled deeply within the warm heartbeat of the earth, petals floating over her like snowflakes on eyelashes. He wraps his heart wide around the cold stone bearing her name “DEEPLY LOVED”. She should lie under a star, a bunch of pink balloons, a child’s birthday party. She was the life and the soul and death hangs from her shoulders like an old grey cardigan.
I am buried under copies of classics. Shakespeare and Keats flick softly between the spaces, a heart–shaped scar burnt into the palm of my hand. “Now a soft kiss – Aye, by the kiss, I vow an endless bliss” Keats’s voice is my own and it shakes the words from an empty bottle.
The dust in the corner is speckled like a chicken’s egg laid flat upon a pile of hay, still warm. There is a stifling security about this store. It is a grandmother’s closet stuffed full of childhood, an aging chest in an auntie’s attic covered in a hand-knitted blanket made for a baby who never was.
I am reluctant as ever to leave and pass my purchases over to the old man who is as always, stoic. I hand him fistfuls of cash, crumpled into crow’s feet and steal away the storied pages.
My book falls from my hand as the doorbell rings; screeching angrily at my departure. A tiny note escapes like a secret held for just a second too long. Written in a rough hand it reads “one day this could all be yours”. I fold it into hope-sized pieces and hide it deep inside my pocket, a promise to keep close.
The day is sweet summer, slipping slowly into past tense. The street is as swollen as a storybook and we lose ourselves amongst the pages. The store is under lock and key, lights out. A sign stuck on the window simply states:
“ESTATE SALE. EVERYTHING MUST GO”