Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Antique Dealer

(This is more of a character study).

She enters the room, holding a white cloth and a cup of black coffee. Her boots clip-clop on the wide pine floorboards as she scurries around, sipping her coffee, pushing the rag across a mahogany desk, over the top of Chippendale chairs, and up the side of a highboy chest. She takes another sip and dust off a bookshelf. Her movements are quick and vigorous for a woman in her seventies. She’s built short and square, like a diehard battery, but her face is heavily lined and surprisingly tired, despite her apparent energy. She puts her rag down and straightens a set of McGuffey readers, then drains her cup and clip-clops out of the room, leaving the soiled rag on the shelf.

It’s eleven o’clock, time to open the shop. She wonders if she should bother. It’s raining outside so things will be slow, especially since those blasted Baltimore Ravens are doing well. It annoys her that her antique business is at the mercy of Mother Nature and the NFL. She pours another cup of coffee and fingers the silver cylinder that hangs from a chain around her neck. It contains nitroglycerin. She’s worn it since her heart attack and surgery fifteen years ago. She’s rarely needed it—not even when she found the rat snake in the upstairs toilet. Of course, had anyone walked in and seen her screaming bloody murder with her pants down, her ticker would have stopped then and there.

Actually, it’s the heartburn that bothers her most, so she always keeps a package of Tums in her pocket. The ten cups of coffee each day doesn’t help. Her daughter, a nurse, is constantly carping on her to quit. But she needs the coffee to keep going—to fight off fatigue. She’s afraid of fatigue, of being too tired to care about her shop, about everything. She started the business ten years ago because she loved antiques and wanted to keep busy. When cancer took her husband and their savings, it was the shop that kept her independent and from becoming a burden. She would rather be dead than be a burden to her kids. Although lately, this labor of love seemed to be more labor than love.

She hears a car drive up. Customers. She brushes lint off her dark sweater, pats her stiff, grey hair and stands by the front door, hands jammed in her pants pockets, fiddling with the Tums. She hates her hands—years of refinishing furniture has left them spotty and cracked. She gets semi-regular manicures, but keeps breaking fingernails moving furniture. Her daughter doesn’t know she moves furniture.

A couple enters. Browsers, she thinks, disappointed. Get a wife or a husband alone and they’re more likely to buy. “Welcome to Ashley’s Antiques. Have you ever been here before? No? Well, I have four rooms of antiques on this floor and four more upstairs. Let me know if I can help you find anything.”

She retreats to her coffee cup. She doesn’t want to hang about like a vulture. If these people know antiques, they’ll know her prices are good. She doesn’t have astronomical mark-ups like some of the other snooty dealers. She wants her furniture to turnover quickly, make room for fresh merchandise; then people come back often. She hates sitting around so why should her furniture.

The customers need a key to inspect a satinwood armoire. She opens a desk drawer and sifts through the jumble of sales receipts, business cards, upholstery tacks and doll heads. She finds the key and takes it to them, but this time she stays and tells them about the piece, tells them to run their hand over the wood, to look inside the lower drawers, behind the armoire, underneath, to see and feel the quality of the piece. As she talks, her green eyes glitter behind the thick wide lens of her glasses. Her hands come out of her pocket, pointing, motioning, moving like a conductor’s. The couple buys the armoire.

She smiles to herself, savoring the sale, remembering how much she loves her work.

1 comment:

  1. This is a fine piece, as well! Such a fit and finish that the new writers don't have.

    A keen observer you must be, and I like it. I will visit often.