« What Are You Looking For? »
Trinkets and Tragedies
“...And so they ended up here, where the interested could buy them cheap, for whatever purpose.”
The old brass bell jingled as a customer entered the store.
The entering girl had not yet lost the round pink face of adolescence, but nor was she of young enough age for her presence alone in the city to be questioned, even by the most patronizing. She was small and mousy, features made more apparent by the oversized raincoat draped over her small shoulders and the mucky boots that came up to her knees. The proprietor of the shop glanced unsurprised up at her across the chipped counter for a moment, before continuing to clean an old pair of scuffed glasses with his shirt.
She had been in here, every Saturday morning, at exactly 10:15 am, across the span of several years. Like clockwork, she would come into the store and look around without saying much more than the obligatory muttered “Hello,” or “Thank you” or “It’s supposed to snow tomorrow,” before leaving and coming back the next Saturday.
She brushed her fingers across the delicately carved mane of the old rocking horse sitting in the corner, a stripe in the wood rubbed smooth by her fingers over the many months by the same gesture. She passed the bullet-ridden grandfather clock that still ticked quietly in greeting, the dented old trophy with its flecking plaque worn away by water damage, the photograph of a family with a stab-mark through each pale face. She came to a stop before the back wall of the store and surveyed the familiar shelves.
Her eyes flicked across the used wedding ring, the metal twisted and melted, across the pile of shredded birth certificates. She glanced at the dried bouquet of flowers, bound with an old fraying ribbon with the words “For Dad” scrawled across in a child’s messy scribble. She didn’t comment on the wallet, filled with the pictures of smiling children, with the last one ripped off, nor the cello, flowered with a brown stain that might have once been blood. None of it seemed to faze her, for you see, this was a shop of tragedies. Big things that happened to the lives of little people, people who couldn’t bear to keep the artifacts left behind, nor could they bear to throw them away, and so they ended up here, where the interested could buy them cheap, for whatever purpose, intended or otherwise.
She gently pushed aside a familiar crate and peered into the space it had just occupied. Something seemed to catch her eye, and so she rummaged around in the gap behind it. She came up with a small leather-bound book, splattered with scarlet ink. She sighed slightly.
She absentmindedly flipped through the pages, and when she found them of mild interest, she set it aside and returned to her task.
She dug through the piles of wares, looking behind boxes and on the towering shelves, in a growing frenzy. She seemed to almost grow smaller and smaller as she did, as if shrinking in on herself in an odd desperation, one familiar to a person who has seen many, many turns of this world.
She searched, more and more frantically, bumping into boxes and not noticing, like a parched dog in the desert, until she came to the very last box in the very last corner of the shop, the very last place to look, after all this time.
Kneeling, she reached out to touch it, and she stopped. Her face was turned away, but the shopkeeper could see her hand trembling slightly, and he was reminded that, despite everything, she was still a child. His respect for her was not diminished by this fact in the slightest, but it was there all the same.
She took a breath and steadied herself, and he could see the desperate hope cross her features as she turned and opened the box.
Another breath.
She fell back to sit on her legs.
A third breath.
She closed her eyes and the shop owner could see the contents of the box plainly over her shoulder, full of nothing but the unused clothes of a baby who would never have the chance to wear them.
She breathed in again, once more, and her shoulders seemed to sag in an unacknowledged sigh of defeat.
It was not what she was looking for.
She hoisted a smile up onto her face, and approached the counter, sweeping up the discarded book from the nearby shelf as she went. She placed it carefully on the counter and passed him unrequited money with grubby hands.
She smiled sadly and looked up at him.”I won’t be coming back next week.”
The shop owner stopped and stared. His unfazed countenance broke, like the sun breaking through rain-laden storm clouds. He could not believe it.
The shop owner had a long span of memory.
He remembered the small details about people, the little things that others overlooked, and this girl was no exception.
He had learned to expect her, over the years, learned to check his watch for her arrival. He had learned that she would be about four minutes late on rainy days, and on snowy days ten. He had learned to set aside some interesting new trinket to show to her, when he had the time.
And so when she told him that she would not be coming back, he did not believe it. She might as well have told him that the sun would not rise tomorrow, or to expect that the ocean would soon bleed itself dry.
He kept staring as she explained, she and her grandmother had been evicted from their apartment, and no, there wasn’t anything he could do to help, and yes, they were leaving in a few days, and no, they didn’t have any plans or anywhere to go, and no, again, there was nothing he could do. No, no, absolutely nothing he could do.
She turned away from the counter and made her way to the door. He remembered when she was too small to reach over that very same scuffed counter, and he had had to drag a stool out for her to stand on. He felt an irrational urge to laugh. She glanced back, one more time, and her eyes crinkled in a small smile.
She opened the door to leave and—
“What were you looking for?”
He had never really and properly asked her before. It had always just been
“Can I help you find anything?”
Or “Would you like to see some of the new shipments?”
Or some other such explanation of the shop, the shop, the shop.
It kept the formalities of profession between them, even as friends and equals.
But every time she left the shop with an antique record or an old book or some other item of interest, there was an odd air of dissatisfaction that hung over her, as if she had looked for a lion and instead found a mouse.
This had led him to believe that she was indeed looking for something specific, across all these years, which was what had led to her ultimately dependable arrival, her constant sense of distraction and slight desperation, the way she had searched through everything, looking for something that had perhaps long lied here, gathering dust and waiting for the right person to find it. But he had never been brave enough to ask, of course, for it seemed much too personal.
“What are you looking for?” He rephrased now in a whisper, for to him it seemed more appropriate.
She looked at him tiredly, and smiled, fully and for real this time.
“Answers,” she said simply, in her quiet voice, one that sounded much too real and cynical for her age, a voice that could have held the attention of kings, without being much more than a murmur, and with that, she turned away.
Motes of dust danced in the air as the old door swung shut with creaking finality. The rusting bell tinkled tiredly once more in farewell.
Create an account

Create an account to get started. It’s free!

Sign up

or sign in with email below