by Adam Gaylord
The bell over the door jingled and Claire hastily tucked her book under the counter. It was one of her favorites and she’d just gotten to the best part. She didn’t want a customer to come in and claim it.
An older man, probably twice Claire’s age, entered the store. Actually, he really more danced his way in. The man turned this way and that, his eyes trained on the ground, all the while patting his pants, alternating front pockets and then back. Claire suppressed a giggle at the sight of his search dance—as it was fittingly known in the trade. The man gave up the floor and scanned the shelves by the door, muttering to himself while patting his breast pockets. “I swear I just had ’em. I was walking out the door …” He passed over boxes of buttons, jars full of jewelry, several large sacks stuffed with socks, and a pail packed with pocket watches before stopping in front of a particularly large crate nearly overflowing with keys. He gave a low whistle, eyeing the huge box with trepidation.
“Good morning Mr. Crowhurst,” Clair interrupted his search.
“Hm? Oh, yes. Hello.” Mr. Crowhurst wandered up to the counter, still patting. “I really hope you can help me. Do you happen to know where …” He trailed off, his eyes drifting to the shelves behind her. Claire felt the tingle of the there-it-is magic and the man’s patting finally stopped, his face lighting up. “There they are!”
She retrieved the keys to his steam car, third shelf on the right, just like last time, and he passed her a few coins with a “Thank you”. Claire eagerly reached for her story as the man made his way out of the shop, now muttering to himself about something else. But as his voice faded away it was the lack of another sound that made her stop. She cocked her head but still there was silence.
Peering around a wire rack stacked with wallets, she found a petite young woman in a ruffled dress frozen in the entryway, her small frame keeping the door from hitting the bell. The girl glanced back and forth, into and out of the shop, as if contemplating leaving a well-worn forest path to enter the foreboding undergrowth.
“Come on in. It’s ok,” Claire prompted.
She entered the store, her wide eyes taking in the rainbow of kites and kerchiefs draped from the ceiling. She ran a gentle hand over a glass case of spectacles and gloves and shied away from a cabinet of dentures, hair pieces, and false eyes.
She made it to the counter and waited, her face mostly hidden by long curly blonde locks.
“Can I help you?” Claire asked.
“I’m not sure.” She hesitated. “I-I think I’ve lost something.”
“What have you lost?”
“I’m not sure. But I know it’s gone. I can feel it. Something important.” She shuttered slightly, her hands pulling her ruffled skirt tight around her. “If, if something’s taken from you, it’s like you lost it, right?” She looked up with such pain in her eyes, yet such hope, that Claire’s voice caught in her throat. It was a mix of emotions that she recognized from her own troubled youth.
This was the hard part of the job. Adults mostly lost things: material possessions they misplaced or forgot. But children, and young women especially, has so much more to lose, parts of themselves that couldn’t be replaced at the corner store.
“Some things that are lost can be found again,” she chose her words carefully, “if you look in the right place. And for many things, this happens to be one of those places.”
The girl perked up a little.
“But some things, once lost, can never be found.”
Her eyes returned to the ground. “How do I know the difference?”
“When the time comes, you’ll know.”
“But what do I do until then?”
Claire looked around the store that had become her home, smelled the musk of old leather and dust, felt the touch of the there-it-is magic. She hadn’t been much older than this girl the first time she’d wandered through the front door, lost and scared. Her old master had shown her the ways of this place. Over the years she’d found many things here: confidence, direction, a sense of self. But lately, rather than wonder it was boredom and monotony that more often found their way into her day. Maybe it was time for her to find a different path, a different place.
“Tell you what,” she said, “I’ve been looking for some help around this place. Why don’t you come by a few hours every week? If you like it, then maybe there’s a place for you here.”
The girl hesitated, her eyes flitting back toward the door.
“Plus, it will let you keep an eye out for whatever it is you lost.”
The girl thought for a moment and then nodded, giving a pretty little smile. She promised to come back the next day, bright and early. Clair told her to wear pants and to be ready to get her hands dirty. And as Raleigh left, for that was the girl’s name, Claire found that it was she who had found something that day; something she didn’t even know she’d been missing.
And the there-it-is magic tingled.
Adam Gaylord lives with his wife and daughter in Loveland, CO where he’s rarely more than ten feet from either cake or craft beer. His gladiatorial fantasy novel “Sol of the Coliseum” comes out this fall. Check out all his stuff at http://adamsapple2day.blogspot.com/.