Dolores had long black hair and exotic features. She married Ted, my best friend, when they were both eighteen. I can still remember how their faces shone when they took their vows. I watched Dolores’s blinding smile as she clung to Ted’s arm, and my soul turned a deep shade of green.
After high school, I worked in construction. I saved some money and started my own business. It was tough landing jobs until I got close to a city building superintendent and paid kickbacks for work he sent my way. Within a few years, I was driving a GTO convertible and taking a series of girlfriends to fancy restaurants and trendy night clubs.
Ted became a real estate broker and suffered with the ups and downs of the housing market. Dolores enjoyed nice things, and Ted would often hit me up for money. I felt like I was buying something for her, so any cash I had, was his.
The tiny world of Edison is hanging by a thread. Actually, to be more accurate, a curlicue of Tungsten filament. Established for a mere 124 days and counting, Edison shines over the cluttered desk of an unsuspecting Alfred Pickett. With the succession of every day and night, the citizens of Edison can be observed breathing a collective sigh of relief. This is followed by the nervous apprehension for the next wave of brightness that might come at any moment. Consistently working late nights for weeks on end, Al flips the days on and off for Edison at will, much to the dismay of the citizens. Tonight, Al needs to turn day on again. The thread of which a world hangs is wearing too thin, and Edison is too tired to fight the night away. With the filament on the verge of breaking, the little bulb dwellers prepare their final goodbyes. They give a uniform and unseen salute to Mr. Pickett, just as their world sputters, flickers, and blinks out for the very last time. Al stares in surprise, then dismay, and then annoyance. “I should invest in a light bulb with a longer lifespan,” he sighs, untwisting the still-warm bulb, and tossing it into a corner of innocent—but dark—oblivion…
When Excalibur called at 3 a.m. during the lunar clock cycle I agreed to her demands ASAP. I selected the last local greasy spoon for us to meet. When Excalibur quickly said okay, I knew it was urgent. It’s not like Excalibur and I have been friends for many years. Let just say the download has yet to burn the hard drive in our relationship, but crypt messages and cloak and dagger meetings was too much drama for me. With my mind still brewing I slid into my side of the booth. Then I ordered a cup of real java and waited.
Excalibur marched in all metallic like a robot food inspector. She wore bronze and silver from head to toe. Silver feathers floated on her ears. Her skirt was micro mini great for August but not for New City of Chicago February below freezing weather. Her exposed limbs were frosted pink like swine skin and even though she wore a thermal belt around her waist, still she shivered. I knew Excalibur was on a mission to be heard. Excalibur sat down. Her all metallic getup squeaked against the Leatherette cushions. Her folded hands I caught in mine before they dropped onto the table. I was here to listen but Excalibur couldn’t find the words. I could almost see the long running script looping in her head.
The sun hung low in the New Mexico sky painting the desert in autumn colors, a fiery last breath of life before the fall of night. For two days Todd had chased the sun westward armed only with his truck and a memory; one he clung to tightly, the other clung to him. Stepping out of the truck Todd faced the sunset, lit a cigarette and wondered. He wondered why he left the security of his Atlantic coast roots, wondered if the Pacific would truly be better, wondered if maybe Oklahoma wouldn’t be the perfect compromise. “Oklahoma.” Todd shook his head in disbelief at that thought and then gazed up at the slowly darkening sky. He had once entertained the notion of moving there for Christine but like so many other defining moments Todd had chosen wrongly.
Mama never lets me wear my hair all out. She washes it section by section, each twist gently untangled, washed, soaked in conditioner and twisted again. She calls me the Thousand Names of Creation and Fertility and Love and Stars.
I sit between her knees, my ear pressed to her thigh while she braids my clean hair. Sometimes I doze off, the rhythm of her knuckles against my scalp and her soft low voice lulls me into half dreams.
Behind my closed eyes I see the most beautiful things. The slow birth of a universe., swirling hot gasses bringing some other new life. I skip along the rings of Saturn and smell the blue raspberry mystery of deep space.
The door opened and in we went. Into the train where together we would go to our final destination. We sat on the vinyl seats, denim clad legs touching, our hands meeting at our sides. I told her that it would be okay and that it would get easier, because even if it didn’t what else could I say. She nodded her head and let it lay in the crook of my shoulder, her shallow breaths fluttered along my nape. I stared at a tube map that was plastered on the grimy white walls of the train. A blue line of circles and stops, words and names, to here and then to now.
I looked down at her resting head and studied the delicate purple veins that birthed from her temple; a delta that spread along her ear and under her hairline. I thought of the blood flowing through them, that would push her on to the end of today, to tomorrow and to new hands. Across from us a solemn family sat perched over their luggage, their fingers iron bound around plastic suitcase handles. Of their lives I pictured and of their fate beyond the train doors. And of us in our bubble amidst the world, our lives tangled together. She squeezed my hand, a small pulse of affirmation, the final flutter. I didn’t return squeeze; just let her limp hand slip from mine and to the space between our hips. She whispered in my ear.
“Why didn’t you squeeze back?”
“I don’t know” I said.
The shop exists. I’ve never been there, but I’ve been assured that it exists by people whom I trust. They found the shop and perhaps someday you will too.
It’s not easy to find, the Shop of Lost Things. It has no fixed location, appearing one day between a bakery and a dry cleaner in a sleepy town by a river in upstate New York and the next it may be in Cairo, or Helsinki, or anywhere in between.
Type “Shop of Lost Things” into your computer’s search engine and you’ll get several results, but you won’t find the real Shop of Lost Things. It has no online presence and if, once having found it, you go back and look for it again, it will be gone. The building where it was will either be empty, its windows dusty, displaying a scattering of dead bugs and a yellowing poster from last summer’s firemen’s fair, or it will be transformed into a chic little boutique that sells Italian cashmere scarves and ridiculously expensive fountain pens.
He takes another drag on the cigarette, a long hard pull, remembering the first time. That oomph that rushed to his head, trickling down light and lovely through every nerve. It was a simple pleasure stolen in the fields, hidden by stalks of corn, high and dry. After a hard day’s work, that welcome oomph.
He plopped on the ground, put his hat over his eyes, pulled on the cigarette and basked in the lazy late afternoon sun. He listened for the rustle of the stalks that told him she was coming. A fast swish swish. She baked for the family and brought him three cookies every afternoon, still warm, wrapped in a napkin. She sat on the ground, the cookies on her lap while he kept his eyes closed. She took off his hat and put the cookie in front of his nose. He inhaled deeply, opening his mouth. She always gave him three guesses but he only ever needed one.
It was the fall of the water bottles, when everyone walked around with a huge bottle of Evian. I was working as an assistant to an upcoming movie star and was caged up in a hotel room in Beverly Hills with nothing much to do in the evenings. From my balcony I could see the Hollywood sign at an angle, and there were TVs everywhere—even in the bathroom. The whole setting was drizzled with luxuries, and there were celebrities everywhere. Kim Basinger in the elevator, Elton John out on the sun deck, and Johnny Depp in the lounge, yet, I was so sad and depressed that I couldn’t stand it. Everything was sealed off from me, as if nothing was real and I didn’t belong.
A few months earlier, I had met Sam. It was at some impromptu party in New York, to which someone I barely knew had invited me, and I suppose Sam also. He was my age and had black, curly hair and bluish-gray eyes and a big laugh. I liked that laugh. In fact, I liked most things about Sam. There was just something about him, he seemed like a really nice, good guy. We stood and sipped 7 Up from plastic cups near a folding table where there were paper plates with lousy hors d’oeuvres, and I said something that he thought was funny, which is when I heard his big laugh. Sam liked books and he liked movies. We liked the same stuff.
Jason learned how to be a man’s man from his father. Years later, through relationship after relationship, divorce, alimony, child support, and his own weekend father gig; Jason finally learned how to be a humane man.
“See ya next week Daddy. Love ya,” Jason’s six year old daughter said.
“Okay sweetie,” Jason said, “I love you too. Don’t forget to call me.”
“I’ll text ya Dad,” she said and climbed out of the backseat of his car into his ex wife’s nicer, newer car.
“Don’t forget,” he said and blew her a kiss. She was already absorbed with the antics of a pit bull puppy that bounded into her lap and licked her face with its slobbering tongue. Jason could hear her squeals over both car engines.
He smiled despite himself.
His kiss wasn’t caught and it wasn’t returned.
The transmission made a grinding noise as he shifted into reverse. It caught the gear with a resounding bang and the car lurched backwards.