The chandelier was the first thing he noticed. It was made of blown glass featuring various colours with tiny tie-dye shades stuck on each bulb. It was tacky as hell.
“I’ll buy something!”
The woman dressed all in black was amused, “a trick or a treasure?”
“I don’t care. Whatever you want!”
She surveyed the glorious young man before her, dissecting him with her eyes. She licked her lips and cocked her head. “In the back. Watch for Millie on your way.”
“Who’s that!?” Tony asked, dancing in place.
“My cat,” she said, adjusting one of the many ankle length skirts she wore. The layers covered wide hips. A black sweater over a black blouse did little to hide a huge bosom. A black mole was painted on her face with mascara. It was placed strategically next to her sharp nose. He turned from her, scanning the wares. Her treasures were more like trinkets from a dusty old antique shop; knickknacks from a different era were stacked haphazardly in the small space. It was useless junk, reminiscent of an old person’s garage sale. Clothing turned on their spiral rack, as he quickly made his way past. The sound of a cat screeching made the hairs on his arms stand on end.
He cursed quietly, found the bathroom, and locked himself inside. The bulb emitted a dark red hue. It was tiny; the size of a broom closet. An African mask was hung on the back of the door. It’s eyes were hollow. Black strings of scraggly hair covered the red and black markings on the face. He urinated quickly, flushed, and rinsed his hands beneath the faucet. Splashing hot water on his face, he dried his hands by rubbing them on his coat and swiped his sleeve across his forehead and cheeks, to dry his face. The handle wouldn’t turn. He pulled on it and twisted it, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Just great,” he mumbled.
“Hey! Are you out there? Door’s stuck!” He pounded on the door with his fist.
“Hey!” The mask stared at him; something forbidden in the void of its eyes.
“Hey!!” He kicked at the door three times, intent on breaking it down if she didn’t come soon. He tried the doorknob again and it turned seamlessly beneath his fingers. He opened it, expecting her to be standing in front of him, but the short hallway was empty. Celtic music replaced the silence. The smell of incense made him gag, just as it did when he was a kid and the priest walked by with his religious relic meant to cleanse or bless. His mother would pinch his hand in warning. She would whisper to him to behave and told him sternly, “you are making Jesus cry, Antonio.”
The store was empty. He walked along the length of the wall. A porcelain baby doll fell off the shelf; it’s dress, yellow with age, billowed like an open umbrella. He caught it, feeling a heartbeat in his palm, and it fell to the floor. The doll’s head split in two – between the eyes. Her tiny, heart-shaped mouth spoke from east to west. She sang a quiet narrative, seeking help. He ignored her like he did Becky Stevens in eleventh grade when she sheepishly asked him to dance with her. He kicked at the doll, silencing it. He walked slowly, and ran two fingers along the shelf, collecting years of grime and dust. A fly blocked his path, a survivor seeking refuge from the cold outside. He squished it between two fingers. Puss spewed from it. It jumped in a Wright Brothers fashion on to the shelf below, and licked its wounds. He looked up; frozen in place, reaching his fingers towards the impossible. The catcher’s mitt was pint-size. The brown leather was discoloured with age. The black threading was undone in some places. The script was unmistakable: Great Year, Tony. His hand trembled as if he were having a seizure. He reached for it like he did twenty-five years earlier, grinning with pride and trying not to wince from the pain in his knee that his mother would help soothe by stuffing him with chocolate pudding. He felt Coach Ainsley’s thick hand on his shoulder. His Scottish accent was as clear as day: “you’re my best catcher. Come back next year. Understand?” The memory was palpable, like a featurette.
“See something you like?”
He pulled his hand back and whipped his head towards the sound of her voice. She emerged from where she was crouched behind the front counter. She had shed her layers, one by one, and walked towards him wearing a black lace teddy and garters. Her folds of fat were undisguised. He lost his voice and stepped backwards causing the goods and wares and junk and child-hood mementos to crash to the floor. He ran past her, seeing her out of the corner of his eye as she pulled the strap of the teddy off her shoulder, exposing her breast; holding it towards him like a mother about to feed.
He sprinted past a diner, eyes focused on his truck, unaware that someone stood at the front window of the diner – fluttering her monstrous lashes at him. He struggled with his keys, forcing them, finally, into the lock. Inside the cab, he listened to his own breathing; dense and coded with questions. He rested his head on the steering wheel and locked his door by pounding at the mechanism with one fist. He looked up. It was a quarter to three in the morning.
He unlocked the door and jumped out of the cab. He walked swiftly to the booth, a smoke between his lips, puffing and puffing, finding solace in the action.
“Operator, how may I direct your call?”
“Collect. Ottawa, 756-9821.”
“Tony,” he said, clenching the receiver until his knuckles turned white.
“And what is the name of the person you are trying to reach?”
“Lisa, Cristo. Hurry, please.”
“No! Just Lisa!”
“One moment, sir.”
He waited, counting out the rings. Five, six, seven….
“I’m sorry, sir, but there is no answer. Please try again later.”
The dial tone pierced his eardrums. He felt a rush of heat flood his face. He turned his body, facing the outside world. He spoke into the handset; loudly, clearly, knowing that somehow, she would hear him.
“I love you.”