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   Chapter 8 Attention Span

Attention Span and Other Stories By PaulineWiles Characters: 8978

Updated: 2018-01-11 12:03

I can't believe it. Just days after Thanksgiving, mere weeks before Christmas, and I'm technically homeless. Sean wouldn't look me in the eye as he told me I had to go. Although I knew we had ended up together more by default than because he loved me, I didn't expect it to come to this.

So here I am, back on the shelf, and a dark, dusty one at that, with the other losers and society's cast-offs. We're all looking sorrowful, although some are more stoic than others. The fact is, each of us has been passed over, in favour of younger versions.

I should be able to hold my head high. I have good bones, great breeding. My face is attractive, classic, my full mouth curving just the right amount. And I've always loved the elegant slenderness of my waist. Below that, it's true, things aren't so sexy – I flare out from the hips down – but that's a simple necessity, for balance.

I've been stuck in this stale, hushed place for two days now and haven't said more than a quick hello to my neighbours. The guy on my right is gloomy, taciturn. He welcomed me with little more than a grunt. On my left, well, she might be pretty, if she'd only stop sobbing. I admit, I got a bit tearful myself in the chill of the first night, but that's no way to carry on. Reality has to be faced.

'I'm Gus. Sorry, didn't catch your name.' The right-hand guy speaks suddenly.

'Rose.' I glance at him. He's much older than me, heavily built, with strong features. Chiselled, you could say.

'Welcome to Dumpsville, Rose. Rejects and broken hearts unite.'

'I'm only here temporarily, ' I tell him.

'Sure you are.'

I mean it: of course I'll escape this cheap, musty thrift store. I started off so well in life, this must be a blip.

I was purchased as an expensive wedding gift from a high-end retail shop, in the days before it turned all industrial and started selling coffee tables made out of factory junk. True, I was probably made in China or Korea, but I was too young to remember that.

My first real home was with Diana and Ricky, a charming couple, buoyantly in love. But the marriage ended after just three years, when Ricky had a non-virtual affair with his virtual assistant. Diana gave me, along with her prettiest wedding china, to her sister, Corrine.

I was concerned, I won't pretend otherwise. Corrine was young, barely out of her teens, and my graceful looks border on traditional. But it turned out okay. She brought me out regularly to display sweetly scented flowers from her boyfriend, the good-looking but irresponsible Sean. I watched with interest from my sunny windowsill as their relationship matured: Sean settled down and got a steady job in a bookstore.

'I heard you crying last night, ' Gus says.

Nosy devil. It's bad enough we're all squashed up here on the top shelf together, no privacy, without him getting impertinent. 'Just a bit homesick, ' I tell him.

'Look, it's not so bad here. Keep your nose clean and stay out of trouble.'

'What kind of trouble?'

'Well, there's her, for a start. Marsha. Runs the place.' He indicates an overweight woman, spilling uncomfortably off a stool behind the cash register. She's flicking through a gossip magazine, but I've spotted her stealing outside for a cigarette, whenever the store is empty. Then she sprays a lily of the valley perfume on her cleavage to mask the smell.

'She's nasty, ' Gus continues. 'She'll drop you deliberately, just to get rid of you.'

'She would do that?' I look in horror at Gus. A square, chunky whisky decanter, he isn't my type, but I can see some women would find him attractive. He needs a good wash, though.

'Yes. Once you're damaged, she gives you two weeks on the bargain shelf, then, out you go.' He nods his glass stopper meaningfully.

'That's horrible.' I start to feel worried. 'How long have you been here?'

Gus shrugs. 'I dunno. Not that long. A few months, maybe?'

A few months? Surely it won't take more than a week or two for someone to purchase me?

'Then, of course, there's the danger of being bought, ' Gus says.

'What do you mean? That's wonderful! Isn't that what we all want, a home?' I look around the shop at the straggling inmates, picturing how much happier we'd all be with a real family to love us.

'Not as simple as that, these days. See him?' Gus points to a large, framed canvas, being carried to the front of the shop by a wiry, intense woman in white jeans. As they pass, I see a brown, heavy scen

e of dogs in a library.

'The painting?' I ask.

'Yes, him, the one showing off because he thinks he's got a first class ticket out of here. Poor sucker. He'll be painted over before Monday.'

'Painted over?'

'For sure. She doesn't want the picture, just the canvas. She might keep the frame, if he's lucky, but I doubt it.'

'Oh, my gosh. I had no idea.'

'You don't need to worry too much.' Gus looks me up and down. 'There's not much they can do to you. Spray paint, maybe. The mercury glass look is in, especially for the holidays.'

Spray me? Good Lord above. I don't know what to say and go pale. Did Sean suspect my fate when he dropped me off last weekend, squashed into a bag with a bunch of VHS tapes and a few old sweaters?

It hadn't lasted, him and Corinne. The more he grew up, the more she seemed to miss her wild, unreliable boyfriend. I was needed less and less for displaying flowers. Eventually, Corrine announced she was going to Australia and, with just two suitcases, took a taxi to the airport. Sean, tight-lipped and angry, existed on beers and microwave meals for a couple of months. Then he started clearing out her stuff, making more space for his books.

Gus rambles on tactlessly. 'You'll probably be okay. It's the wooden furniture you have to feel sorry for.'

'Why?' I follow his gaze to the assortment of tables and nightstands in the corner. They're gathered respectfully around a glass-doored china cabinet. Solidly constructed of teak and oak, they seem like a noble bunch.

'They're gonna get painted. Dead certainty. Take Nigel, last week. I didn't have the heart to tell him, he was so thrilled when he was picked.'

'What do you mean, painted?'

'You know, duck-egg blue, pale grey. Bright orange, in some cases. Nobody wants wood any more.'

'Really?' I'm shocked. 'How ugly.'

'But it's not just the painting.' Gus grimaces. 'They'll get sanded, too. At least once, maybe twice.' He lowers his voice. 'I saw it once. There was a special machine, whirring so loud it drowned out the screams. Poor chair was in agony.'

I feel sick. Sanding? With a machine? How can that be legal?

I open my mouth to say more, but Gus shushes me. I hadn't noticed the little boy and his father approaching our row.

The boy points to an ornate china urn. 'This is pretty.' He's wearing a red coat, mittens dangling from the sleeves by elastic. He can't be more than eight years old.

Gus sniggers.

'What?' I whisper.

'That's Fernando.' Gus talks in an undertone. 'He got donated by mistake. We're all taking bets on how long until they come back for him.'

The father lifts Fernando's lid, then sucks in a breath before dropping it with a clunk. 'No way, Charlie, ' he says.

'I don't understand, ' I hiss.

'Ashes, dummy, ' Gus whispers back. 'The family moved and someone donated Grandpa.'

I fight an inappropriate urge to giggle. They're coming nearer.

'But you said I could buy something for Mommy. For under the tree, ' Charlie protests. 'With my own money.' He's clutching a handful of crumpled dollar bills.

'Pick something else, buddy.' His father yawns.

Charlie stops dead in front of Gus and me, his brow furrowed. I freeze.

'I want this vase, ' the boy announces, looking up at our high shelf. 'She's shiny.'

The father appraises me doubtfully. 'Are you sure?'

Charlie nods. 'Mommy will like her.'

'It, not her.' His dad corrects him. 'It's a vase.'

At that moment, the father's cell phone rings, slicing the stale silence in the shop.

'Help me!' I cry to Gus, during the brief diversion. 'I'm scared.'

'I can't, Rose.' He shakes his stopper head. 'Anyway, this is good.'

'Is it?' I can't breathe, looking in terror at the man's broad back.

'Yes, ' Gus says. 'It's great. A Christmas gift for Mom from her little boy, that's as good as it gets.'

The phone call is over. Large hands grip me by the waist and pull me down. For a moment, I am giddy, airborne, then I'm tucked under the father's arm.

'Good luck, ' Gus calls from on high.

'Thanks. You too, ' I shoot back, as I'm marched towards Marsha and her cash till. Charlie trots alongside, beaming.

I cast a fearful look back at Gus. He tilts his head to me in farewell and then I fix my eyes resolutely ahead.

For better or worse, to be painted or not, I'm going home for the holidays.


>> Author's note: Originally published under the title Thrift Store in House of Fifty magazine.

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