Sometimes, just sometimes, life makes an antique of us all.
“Oh, look at this!” she said—he carefully navigated a path around the oddities that crowded his every move but that brought her so much pleasure.
Bending over slightly, he pushed his hand through the dust. “Nice table, Cath” he nodded.
She leaned into him, gazing intently at the treasure. “It’s Federalist,” she explained, “and probably genuine. Doesn’t look like a reproduction. Not at all. It’s magnificent!”
He looked at its tag—$1,850.00—again, and thought of the Ethan Allen store near home. “Yes, it’s genuine, alright,” he agreed.
She sighed, looking up and down the length of the table.
“Hey,” he laughed, “you haven’t looked at me that way for some time.”
She smiled. “You’re not an antique.”
He put his hand on the back of her neck and gently rubbed, looking out the picture window at the front of the small shop. Coal-gray clouds scuttled over the tree line across the street as the shopkeeper sat disinterestedly by a Franklin stove, reading her paper.
He moved away down a narrow aisle, picking his way with difficulty through scarred furniture and broken curios. There was an oblong mirror, its beveled edges chipped, a stain washing through the glass like so many veins. ca. ‘1880/$45.00’ read the stick-on tag. Yeah, right, he thought. Well, it’s not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon. He moved on.
She walked reluctantly from the table, her eyes finding a graceful, somewhat faded china figurine. She lifted it carefully in her palm into the fading light through the window, slowly turning it with her other hand. He used to enjoy this, she remembered.
“Oh, look at how she seems to dance!”
She jumped and almost dropped it when a rotund woman rudely and impatiently pushed by.
“Can’t people show any consideration?” she shot as she carefully replaced the dancing figure—the Belle of the Ball—and looked for him.
He was gazing intently at the rusted tools in a chandler’s sea chest. She shook her head. If he knew I was watching, would he show so much interest, she wondered? The answer didn’t matter. He straightened up as she approached him.
“Did you check the price on this?” he demanded indignantly.
“No, I haven’t.”
“See, $600.00! Can you imagine that?”
She glanced at the $599.95 price tag.
“Well, hon,” she observed, “You’ll have plenty of use for these on our yacht.”
He snorted and turned away.
Well, Cathie, another successful attempt at humor, she thought.
His wife turned and spoke with another woman. He approached the shopkeeper, lost in her newspaper.
“Hi. Anything interesting?”
She raised her head from the pari-mutuels and looked at him. “Nope,” she replied.
“Where’d y’all get all this stuff?” he persisted.
“Well, let’s see. We go to West Virginia a lot and…”
“Really, where about?” he interrupted.
“Wheeling,” the matron continued, “Charles Town, Parkersburg. Places like that.”
“Pretty good hunting?”
“Yeah, lots of old farms closing out. You know how things are.”
He didn’t, really, but he agreed, anyway. The shopkeeper placed her thick plastic framed glasses atop her head and rubbed the bridge of her nose before talking about the trip she and her husband made each year to London.
“Must be doing pretty well, yes?,” he asked.
“Well, they have the best stuff.”
“How do you get it back to the States?”
She looked at him wearily. “Slow boat via China, or so it seems,” she answered.
“Okaay,” he thanked her needlessly and retreated to the safety of his wife.
He drank in his wife and all that was lovely and loveliness about her. She wasn’t one for makeup; her hair was thick and long and dark and luxurious. Smart, active, caring—she cared about everyone, everyone said. He watched as she shared her always-ready smile with someone she’d just met. Well, that was her, wasn’t it? Her’s was a nice smile, a great smile, accented by her small nose—when she was happy it pointed gently upward.
A coldness struck through him, leaving as quickly as it came. He thought—he hoped—she was happy. Sometimes, it was hard to tell. Maybe she wore that face in masquerade. Maybe not.
He walked away blindly, stumbling into a coffee table. His right knee throbbed as his brain recorded in slow-motion the sight of the marble–topped table tipping toward the floor. He moved reflexively to catch it, and won. He righted the table while trying to calm the bric-a-brac that tottered back and forth. The shopkeeper looked up crossly, shook her head, and went back to the editorial pages.
Cathie rushed over. “What happened!? Did you break anything?”
(No, I’m okay. Thanks for asking.)
“Are you alright?”
“Bumped knee; bruised ego.” (She’s gonna to say it. I know she’s gonna say it…)
“Sometimes, old man, you’re a bull in a china shop.”
(Then why bring the bull into the shop? And, who’s old?)
“I mean it,” she smiled: “Can’t I take you anywhere?”
(No, Mom, you cannot.)
“Going out for some air.”
He moved away stiffly.
She looked at his back as he passed the bored shopkeeper and went out the door.
Why does he have to act so, so…? she fumed.
Can’t I say anything right?
Why’s he such a spoiled ass sometimes?
It’s as if we don’t know each other.
She shrugged and looked down at the hapless, innocent table.
Cold air slapped him in his face. Over High Street, the sky was filling up with dark clouds cold as steel blowing down from, yes, from the northwest. Another Alberta Clipper. Fine. The wind chilled him to what was left of his soul. He looked up and down the quaint relic of a main street futilely trying to achieve a commodious antiquity, while waiting equally in vain for her before moving north past more shops.
Okay. You can pull these gambits off only so often before…
Before nothing happens.
What’s it all about, anyway? he wondered.
Don’t we have enough junk around the house?
Why did we have to come out here, today?
He pounded fist into palm, then swung his arms vigorously across the chest to ward off the cold as he walked down the sidewalk through fallen, decaying leaves.
She found him looking intently into a little Christmas shop, cradling his head in his right palm, his elbow braced in his left hand. Hadn’t he stood that way when she first noticed him? He still seemed tall, despite the girth—everyone seems to grow shorter with time, don’t they? What’s different about him? His hair’s shorter, yes, but there’s no gray. Probably never will be, damn it, she thought, unconsciously running her hand through her own hair, acutely aware of each newly fading strand. No, things were different. The eyes. Yes, his eyes once burned with passion, a fire kindled by mirth and insolence fed by confidence and arrogance. Now? His eyes were dull as burnt charcoal. The spark now lit infrequently, whether by anger or frustration.
His shoulders tensed, then relaxed. Now’s the time, she realized. She walked up and slipped her arm through his. He looked at her and patted the hand that nestled so easily into the crook of his arm.
“Sometimes these places bring back so much,” he sighed. She gently rubbed his arm and gazed with him at the little Santa hanging by the neck near a smaller snowed–in country house (complete with welcoming chimney), that dangled from a frosted aluminum Scotch Pine inside the window. They chuckled. She looked deeply into his brightening eyes. “Feed me,” she purred. They walked across the street to the Olde Inn.
Seated by the large roaring hearth in a comfortably darkened dining room of the town’s five-star venue, they each looked around at the other patrons. Chuck suddenly realized that his prim and proper wife had slipped off a shoe and was running her foot up and down the calf of his right leg. “Good timing, Cath,” he rumbled.
She answered him with exquisitely innocent, questioning eyes. “I know what I want,” he challenged. “Do you?”
She turned to the waitress. “Baked brie, thank you.” He groaned. She ran her two fingers lightly up and down a bread stick before picking it up and not-so-subtly bringing it to her lips. He swallowed most of his coffee. Her toes caressed his leg under the cuff of his pants. He picked up a grape between thumb and forefinger before placing onto his slightly extended tongue. She shivered slightly and gazed deeply into him.
“Wonder how the kids are making out?” he murmured. “Maybe I should call.”
“I’m sure Ellen has them well in hand,” she calmly replied. He broke open a biscuit and buttered it.
The waiter placed the “genuine Colonial” pot pie down in front of him.
“What’s on your mind?”
“Huh? Oh, nothing. Nothing.”
He brought the napkin up to his mouth.
“Ah, look, Cath, could you excuse me for a minute or so?”
“Sure, hon. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. Be right back.”
He pushed back from the table and stood. His hand went down over the top of her left shoulder, just far enough to reach and be reassured by the outward, topmost swell of her breast. “Be right back, kid.” He walked quickly toward the small lobby, looking like a middle-aged man in search of a bathroom.
He hurried outside, now knowing what he wanted and needed. The shopkeeper looked up, surprised.
“That table? Yes, we got it from the London show. Why?”
He looked over at it. “Listen, I didn’t bring a lot of cash.”
“We take plastic, of course.”
“Right, right. I’m sort of in a hurry.”
“Fine, mister. Just takes a minute.” She hesitated. “You sure this is—this one—is what you want?”
“Yes, yes. I’m certain. That’s it.” he replied.
She got up from her stool, took his proffered plastic and carefully punched numbers on the keypad before sliding the card through the scanner. Seconds passed before the little machine spit out the receipt. “Just sign and give me your phone number, please.” It was his turn to bend over the ticket, pen flying across the appropriately indicated lines. “Um, mister, you gonna get this thing back okay?” “Oh, it’ll be okay,” he replied.
Were things really okay? Had they miss-stepped sometime, somewhere? Had they taken different directions in their lives and expectations and hopes?
Hope? What was hope, anyway? Perhaps the best anyone could expect was that one would live out his life with someone who loved him, and whom he, in turn, loved. But, well, what was love?
No, no more questions, he thought. There’s been too many questions. Too many lost times. Too much poor timing. She’d like this—the un-debated, un-argued, act.
He reentered the inn, wearing the old smirk.
“I went ahead and ordered dessert while you were gone ‘for just a minute,’” she sulked.
“Fine. Was it good?”
“Yes. Oh, and a couple of fine-looking young men propositioned me. I should call them back, I suppose, to say tonight’s off.”
He refused the bait.
“Whatever you want, dear.”
“Look, Chuck, would you mind letting me know what’s going on?”
“Nothing’s going on. What’s on is on, or off, or whatever.”
His smirk broadened. She sat back.
I haven’t seen him like this for awhile. I wonder…
A certain sinking feeling slowly came over her. No, that’s not it, not it at all. He has too much sense. He finished his warmed-up coffee and asked for the check. “We’re paying cash this weekend,” she reminded him. “Uh-huh,” he grunted.
They walked out as the first flakes of winter fell, silently. She stopped abruptly, her hands making tight fists, at the sight of a genuine Queen Anne dinner table lashed upside down atop the car.
“Charles!” she cried, “You didn’t!”
“Yeah, hon, I liked it, too,” he nodded. “And, I said, Why not?”
She shook her head helplessly. “Can you tell me…what the hell…?”
Cheeks flushed and tears stinging her eyes, she stared at their car.
He opened her door, waiting.