The young man wanted to get out in the country even if only for a short drive, sensing a little time away from the city with her would breathe some new life into the situation. He wondered at times if their marriage was failing so soon, and so visibly to both family and friends of their age. He knew he sowed some of the discontent on her part. It had been hard for him to no longer look at whatever came across his vision. He questioned himself at times as well, “Has she missed her old boyfriends, the parties she half-bragged, half-confessed to me?”
“Let’s stop for some food along the way, before we get too far out,” he said.
“If we see any interesting looking antique shops along the way let’s go in,’’ the young woman said. She seemed distracted as they moved through the newly greening countryside, toward the Piedmont and rising hills, with blooming daffodils, forsythia, and lilacs marking the sites of long-dead homes, some with highway markers with family names famous since Colonial times. She thought of the blessings of time erasing the pain and struggle of the simpler people of those times we never hear about; the unhappiness of their simply enduring what they knew they must. The childbearing of young women less than her age, the unfortunate deaths, the lack of medical care of any kind except neighbor women. She thought of her own life ahead.
He looked at her again as she seemed so intent on the passing landscape, turning her face away from him, and he wondered “Is she seeing someone else, and is she thinking I am also?” He hoped not.
“Let’s try this place,” he said pulling in to a roadside building with a simple sign “ANTIQUES.” Siding the locals would call weatherboarding, perhaps never painted since built, covered the building. A porch with four wooden columns, with buckled pine flooring showing weathered gray paint, faced the road.
An old woman sat inside near a window facing the road. She watched as they approached the door, and greeted them. She noticed the bright look of the young man and young woman’s clothing and figured it was all recently bought, in a style meant to look more inexpensive than it seemed to be. The formality of their conversation with each other in front of a stranger convinced her they had not been together long, possibly newly married. They circled the shop, asking some of the usual questions and showing some of the type of pretension the old woman saw often.
Without seeming to follow them or pay undue attention, the old woman noticed they seemed to be interested in quite different things in the shop, and they questioned each other why some item would appeal to the other. Some of these words were sharp and derisive, in a mild way but without the humor more common in these exchanges. The old woman felt her face fall, and eyes narrow in disapproval of what she was seeing. She remembered her only love, springing from her childhood, and was saddened. She remembered the disapproval from others, and the acceptance of the one she came to love.
……..you have got to be careful daddy said people will talk nobody your age should spend so much time together he is a mix you know you just don’t know what he is but he looks strange and people stare at him it upsets your mother when people in town see you together you have got to be careful……….
The young man grew restless, losing interest in the items in the shop. The young woman continued looking and no longer discussed with the young man the antiques which interested her. In the few minutes she observed the couple the old woman sensed they had already splintered whatever relationship they likely had. She raised her eyes to the window looking on the road, turning her face from the couple, and thought again of her own love.
……….we were running we were running by the creek the honeysuckle grew right beside the creek I have smelled it all my life we were running and slipped and fell in the red clay and crawled up on the bank in the shade the clay was like his skin color he reached over and pulled me close and was getting in my clothes I felt limp then a pain and my stomach jumped then a warmth came over me I didn’t know what to do maybe this is what I am supposed to do……….
As the young man and woman moved toward the rear of the shop several unique items appeared. An old hall clock which seemed not to have been refurbished in any way or even cleaned since standing in some forgotten foyer as an item of great pride. An early foot-pedal sewing machine with a shiny needle still ready to punch at some fabric long gone from the hands that fed it. High on the wall was a curious form of cigar store Indian, a small creature dressed in dated young man’s clothing, with the face and hands wrapped in gauze painted with yellowing shellac. The face seemed contorted and wizened in pain. Placed on the shelf beneath it was a sign “Not for Sale.” The young man pointed out the figure to the young woman. She looked at it quizzically, and furrowed her brow toward the young man, wondering how it could be used.
“What is the background on the cigar store Indian figure,” he asked the old woman. “Where is it from and how old is it?”
“Well you can see it is not for sale. That is strictly a private collection item,” she replied and turned away.
……….up the hill to the white church further up I looked at the sage brush field we always run in when we were small it was high as our head red clay gravel shaped like square diamonds crunched under my feet they carried the casket and said mean things didn’t think this little bastard was this heavy the preacher did not know what to say he did not know him it was like no one cared about him no one knew him except me I knew him……….
“It’s the only thing in the shop worth having, although I am not sure what we would do with it,” the young man said to the young woman. “I’ll ask her again.”
“Just forget it, I can’t imagine what we would do with it,” she said.
They continued circling the shop. The old woman noticed they seemed ready to leave, and had bought nothing. She was not surprised.
The young man approached the old woman again and asked, “I am still intrigued by the cigar store Indian, it looks like real folk art, maybe not used in a store like most of those. Are you sure you won’t take an offer on it?”
“No, I told you it is not for sale,” she said, almost snapping, and looked at him blankly.
The young woman motioned the young man aside, “I don’t like being talked to like that by that old crone, let’s get out of here.”
The old woman watched them leave. She smiled to herself, and raised her eyes toward the ceiling, looked into his eyes, and loved him.
Jerry Mullins grew up in central West Virginia, and has lived in the Washington, DC suburbs in recent years.
Featured Image photograph by E.B. Bartels, www.ebbartels.com.