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The Antique Man

Updated on January 13, 2016

After the storm of seventy six we opened shop. Our antique store.

Found stuff fallen from the flood. Trinkets, torn furniture, and all, around houses swept away by water.

Kept trash till it looked like treasure. Started sellin. Kept doin that for thirty some odd years, or somewhere thereabouts. Not everyone took kindly to us doin that. Not at first after the big flood, but they got accustomed eventually. Even though they lost a lot in seventy six, it seemed like a long-lasting calm after the storm for a goodwhile. What we sold Cooleyfolk was what they’d lost and wanted to need. And we gained by that for better or worse.

Just kids we were then. Maybelle must’ve been twenty two. Just kids. But most’ve the ones who lost their old lives were oldern us and had more to lose. Leastways that’s how we looked at it. We kinda fell into Cooley with the flood and planted our roots. We were pretty damned lucky I'd say.

The old odd things we sold back to em gave em a bit of the life they lost in the flood. A few of us made out bettern others. Not like bandits. But maybe that’s what they called us. Neva woulda heard anyhow. We weren't never much in for gossips.

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Guess it were about the time Maybelle died that I tried to close up shop. Was our place and didn’t seem right to keep it on without her. Wasn’t our place anymore really if you understand me. Couldn't quite stomach it. You might say it were like a last lifeline.

Folks’d come in for a time and ask about Maybelle and I’d say I’d rather not talk to tell.

What was there to tell really. Biggest part of my life turned to local smalltalk. I couldn't talk of true love over coffee. And Maybelle never took too kind to compassions maskin inquiry. Neither me.

Mayhap folk figurd me cold or standoffish round Cooley County. I can't talk to em anymore to tell. Talk changes things. So mosta the time I'd rather not. Specially not about my Maybelle.

May was in a bad way awhile. Bedridden. I won’t get into that though. Most chalked it up to an old age thing. Said it were natural. By that neutral way of talk it were. Doctors called it one thing. But I don’t believe that. My Maybelle got diagnosed with what I won’t tell ya at fifty. And fifty’s too young for anything to wither away. But it happens so. Guess you gotta accept it with whatever way fit.

Twenty years ago today she died. Weren’t celebrations by me or anybody. Whether we’d’ve wanted that I don’t know. How don’t I know now. Perhaps past is clearer than present. Sure seems like you can see all the ways through it. It's so thin.

Heard once out of all the stars in the sky we only see ours real presently. All over we see em in the past. Something like that. Sometimes I think maybe Maybelle is like that to me. A distant star.

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Still got a picture of May on the front desk. It’s not up but I like to keep it there. Keeps me coming in to work.

Suppose I should close with what way things’re goin. Been sayin that twenty years. Laugh about it. Laugh a lot in fact. Cuz half the time my eyes seemed closed. Like I been sleepin so long took me ten years to realize what change came so slow. Been here thirty three years. You know amigo. Maybe more. Feels like more. Cooley wasn’t what it is now. Then again, maybe that goes without sayin it so. Cuz talk can't change everything.

Somebody got what they still call a bright idea to burn or bulldoze these old buildins. Then they rebuilt downtown Cooley. Lotta money put innit. And leases goin up cuz of it. Can’t afford what they’re askin. Can’t afford much anymore. Can't I laugh about it though.

Figur I got five years left. Long life lived. Yah. Should be grateful at that. But I always said that lives’re lived for someone else. Who’s to know how well I held to that. Now whomelse I gotta live for. Everybody's suppose to got somebody to survive by. Wonder whether I do. Know I used to.

Lot’sa folks live for things. Guess I got that way. I don't know if that's bad or good but it is. Reckon men like me've done nothin but collect and recollect. But then when that collection adds up half the stuff you don’t even remember as a treasure. Just gets covered in dust. Recollection’s the rag.

May be men and women’re that way to one another too.

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They got me on these pills now. Say they’re vitamins. Doctors do. Big pills. As easy to swallow as cockroaches. Take two in the morning. One red one at night before bed.

Think someone stole one of em from me, or multiple, a time or thrice. It’s hard to keep accounts. Young kids come in creepin all over the store and I go to keep an eye on em so they don’t steal nothin then I come back and feel as if somebody’s been snoopin the desk. S'if somethins been stoled. Things look mostly normal but feel tampered with ya understand. Like a fingerline in the dust or sumpin left slightly askew.

Just th’other day come dark this pack a mangy kids came in chewing popcorn spillin crumbs all over. Said howdy and they didn’t say nothing but to emselves. Passed by my desk and went towards the back of the store and so I got my cane and followed em at a distance till they clumb the stairs I can’t take nomore to the second floor so I went to the center by the queen bed and sat to the corner watchin one come walkin round clompin the old wood boards creepin from recesses I no longer know anything of to the banister almost like a lookout.

He was lookin out all right.

I got too much stuff to know what’s been stole. But somethin’s been. Mosta the time I reckon they take small things of no account like little portraits or old toys or magazines. Stuff of little value. Save for my pills if there’s any proof. But I feel like time's been stole. Who by I wholly don't know.

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You know, or you ought, that when we’re gone nobody’s gonna carry on what we carried. Not entirely. Say, you got what? Some tens of thousands of old books. If'n you can even keep account of the number anymore. But Mr. Borrega, difference atween us is you got kids. Moren most men. Mexican or otherwise if you pardon. Them kids'll carry you on a time.

Me n Maybelle never had any kids you know, or you oughta. Lord knows we tried. Just never happened. Don't know whether I would'a been a good father. I like old things too much. Suppose the head honcho upstairs knew it. Still, I don't think it as a punishment.

But see, when you quit workin one a them seven kids’ll come along and sort it out. What we gotta worry about won’t be worth worryin over when we pass under. We’re meant to pass on. We know that. Born with what was passed on by our parents. We know that too. It's not the things we leave behind but the lives we leave that are dearest to part with.

Mosta the time I feel if I started flingin stuff free out the upper windows people’d just pass on by, leaving it all to rot outside by sunshine or rain.

My things'll be nothing to em. They won't know the worth. Nor will I.

Guess what I’m askin is what should be left. For free. These things, all these things you might get to callin knicknacks ain’t that to me. Each one’s got a memory attached. Some memories ain’t even mine to mind, but I receive their stories indirectly sometime. Suss out where they come from, where they’re meant to go. What sorta soul held itself to the thing and imparted part of its person. Every thing's got a story. And that story's gotta be worth somethin.

Suppose that’s why I sell the stuff. But you can’t sell memories. No, I don’t think so you can. Ain’t no pricetag on the past, nor people, to my way of thinkin. Though I've been proved wrong afore.

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People’ve gone to callin me a packrat. Probably I percieve myself that way too. If I was in their shoes. But even packrats feel each thing preciously. What I’m askin I guess is what will happen with everything I’ve ever acrued when I can’t take account of it nomore. Truly I feel that.

Every person has an accountant. A collector. Someone to sort all the leftover stuff, like me an Maybelle did. But at this late stage in life I don't know what of me they'd want to collect. To own. I don't feel the story of myself is for some tucked away file. May be lotsa folks feel that way.

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Yesterday a kid came in. Late twenties by his look. Wearin a tailored suit. Eyes the same color. Showed a checkbook before I could even open the door.

Asked whether I’d be interested in sellin my shop.

Asked him whether he were buyin the boards or buryin the birds.

Asked me what I meant.

So I told ‘im.

Told me he could compensate me for the things inside since they'd be sold at auction.

Said I didn’t dream of my stuff spoken of without me and told him to take somethin for ‘is time. Kid refused and left out.

Looked at him leave in a brand new car. Couldn’t tell ya what type. But it was a bad car. Wouldn't wager at what cost bought at. Black sportster type I spose. Left in one hell of a hurry. Reckless. It was the hurriedness of his life that aggravated me I guess. But I don't blame em. I was that way too. Movin on, carryin quick. Eyein everythin and everyone like they possessed some sorta price.

I was offered money. I don’t know what number I wanted. I don't know now I'd take it at any price.

And I offered him somethin real. Course he wouldn’t take. Nuthin I might offer him meant a thing.

There're times when time is all that can be exchanged. I've been tryin to figure out where it goes.

I knowed it weren't the kid's fault for what was happenin. It ain't all anybody's blame, I do believe.

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Guess as I come to the end of this life I’ve learned to look at things more intimately.

Maybe Maybelle meant somethin like that when she said It's the end of a thing that nails its name.

I'se searchin through these old pictures, some half-burnt, by the back of the store. Old faces. Beautiful families. Tintypes. Almost all dead now to recollection. No names scribbled on the back to tell of time and place. If I had to say I’d say turn of the twentieth century. Couldn't say now how they come into my possession.

Heard somewheres there're fifteen dead faces for every one livin. Means we got bones and pictures for only bout one percent of everyone ever lived. And that’s a thought. Hell of a thought. Men and women, most of em, ain’t even a thought nomore.

Anyway, lookin at these lost things I get to wonderin why when we buried Maybelle, twenty years backwhen, we didn’t leave a photograph on the tombstone. Somethin so others who never knew her might know Maybelle’s smile. Her beauty. Gone. But not to a total.

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So I went to the cemetary. Pecan Grove. You know it. We were all there when she passed below. And there she was six feet under the earth, unnerfoot an untrodden on.

Pulled a picture of her from my pocket, she was just twenty two innit, ripe pretty as a spring plum. I leaned the photo against the headstone and took my time to talk to her as if she were there. Elsewheres is where she was. Not graven nowhere save name and date. I knelt as I used to and kissed the stone. Cold. Cold mornin that mornin. Odd too.

Like the trees were talkin. Wind whistlin. Birds singin, only I couldn’t understand the song, so ancient and nameless. Long time ago I reckon folks never spoke of any thing. They only sang. Probably sang to birds too. Slowly. Each thing spoken was in song. Songs named creation. What a beautiful world that must’ve been to be in. Way back when. Men and women singin from forest floor to treetop. Callin, to create a home together. Maybe it ain't changed so much as that.

I don't know where that time of song went. It's still with us in a way. Moved. Carried on. May be.

Language lasts a while, songs the same yet. But I believe even when the sounds start to change they stay somewhere. You know. You can’t decipher em. But they’re there. People talk of ghosts. But I can’t even uncover her. Can’t hear her. Wouldn't want her to be a phantom anyway. Speakin. Sometimes the silence was good enough. Used to hear her when I laid awake latemorning from a dream. She was tryin to be quiet. I'd holler and ask what was the noise. She’d laugh an call me Silly askin if I wanted coffee to wake up, sayin If I weren't good I'd go hungry. I’d say okay. We would talk like that a lot. Funny. Love. Sometimes we could talk about it for hours over coffee.

Now the music of our voices is gone today. Dissipated. But not altogether dead, just different.

Maybelle's a memory to me now. As a dream. A collection of memories. Sometimes I can step into em. Recollect old times. But I can't stay to her yet. I can only put a part of myself into the memory. I can only speak of or see the things we once possessed.

Maybe it’s right yet, to rest the dead. I don’t doubt it. But the dead don't sing like the living. Might say it's sad. Don't know amigo. But the living sing the songs of the dead. And that'sa thought.

Lest we let birds fly free we mightn’t hold them dearly again. I don't know if youth'll attest to that. I know that kid didn't quite get it. Now I wonder whether I do at that. Guess I believe burial grounds are all around us, we just gotta look more intimately to see.

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May be you get that Mr. Borrega. Anyway, adios mi amigo. It's yours now. The store and my story.

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    • Eldon Arsenaux profile imageAUTHOR

      Eldon Arsenaux 

      2 years ago from Cooley, Texas

      Hey wingedcentaur, awesome extension. I'm glad it got you to a new story. I like the idea of a person being taxidermied, a wax-scultpure leftover, left to watch over the store in the antique man's stead. That is a gothic take on the tale, and, I think, a clearer ending than the one I wrote, because he does become an antique. When you mentioned the elves who collect 'junk' I was reminded of A Roog.

      When we throw out our trash, it is collected and reformed into something else, squares of assorted junk, seemingly greater than itself, at a Landfill.

      I will take, easily,

      -E.G.A.

    • wingedcentaur profile image

      William Thomas 

      2 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Very interesting story, Eldon Arsenaux!

      I like the technique you use here. "Antique Man." He both sells them and is, himself, an antique. He, the narrator/protagonist, acts like an antique.

      He has fused with his merchandise. He initially thought he couldn't do it anymore when his wife died. But then, he could not not do it when his wife died; because the shop was all he had left; and his wife had put her heart and soul into it, as much as the old man talking to us had.

      Here's a bizarre thought. When the old man dies, a death mask should be made of his face, to be included with the other antiques. Perhaps two death masks should be made: one for the wife and one for the old man.

      Perhaps a mold cast should be made of his entire body--a death full body cast mask, to be included with the other reclaimed items. Perhaps full body cast masks should be made of both the old man and his wife.

      I just had another bizarre thought of the old man and his wife, as king and queen of a certain kind of elves---elves who specialize in recycling old junk. Maybe it could be a special dimension in which this is done.

      Maybe old junk is sucked up into another dimension, fixed, polished up, to become new junk in that dimension. Maybe there could be separate dimensions for new, worn, and junk.

      Oh well, great story, at any rate. It really gets the imagination going.

      Take it easy!

    • Eldon Arsenaux profile imageAUTHOR

      Eldon Arsenaux 

      2 years ago from Cooley, Texas

      Glad to hear from you Jodah. I admit, stepping in the shoes of an elderly man was somewhat out of my comfort, since I like to think of myself as well under eighty.

      -E.G.A.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Loved this touching story Eldon, and your portrayal of the language was masterful. Well done.

    • Eldon Arsenaux profile imageAUTHOR

      Eldon Arsenaux 

      2 years ago from Cooley, Texas

      As have I. Thank you for taking the time to read it, really!

      -E.G.A.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I've known a few like him, back in the Midwest growing up....this story just oozed realism...thanks for the memories.

    • Eldon Arsenaux profile imageAUTHOR

      Eldon Arsenaux 

      2 years ago from Cooley, Texas

      Hey LongTimeMother, thank you for reading!

      -E.G.A.

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 

      2 years ago from Australia

      I enjoyed this story, Eldon. Sharing it. :)

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