Captain Soule

Prompt: Simplicity

HMS Winchester

The cruise ship was due in about an hour, so Simone had to work quickly to finish and set out the musket balls, cutlass, silver tray, gold coins, and the wooden, etched plank that always sold well.

Her son Simon was late, as usual, and she debated for the hundredth time whether or not he was suited for this work, to run Simple Simon’s Authentique Antiques in an efficient and profitable way— and to love it, the way she did. He said he loved it, and he had a talent for forging documents and paintings that was nothing short of genius, but his work ethic seemed to be lacking, replaced by a religious devotion to pot.

Simone had seven of the old planks in stock, all very weathered and worn— hand-weathered and worn, with the help of an iron chain, a dull knife, and the actual weather, and Simone had already used the wood burner kit she got at Walmart to carefully engrave in an authentic English script: “HMS Wincheste”, just like that, with the “r” missing, cut off. That’s how, she explained to customers, she could sell it for only $470; if the whole “Winchester” were there it would be worth thousands, maybe tens of thousands. Such a bargain, the way it was, and authentic and one-of-a-kind, with a Certificate of Authenticity which Simone had run off on her new laser printer.

The musket balls, battered and scratched, looked more like products of the 17th century than the 21st.

She etched the silver marks on the tarnished, silver-plated trays and rings, and stacked them under the cash register. She told buyers to display these purchases under glass, or at least out of reach. This was so the silver plating wouldn’t rub off, though, of course, she did not tell them that.

The boarding cutlasses were specially made for her in China. They were encrusted with a rock-hard polymer that resembled coral, and, with the certificate, had a sticker price of $1200, which Simone always negotiated down to $900, so everyone was happy. The custom glass display case was an additional $90. Custom plaque engraving was only $35.

She heard the blast of the ship’s horn, and put her tools away. She piled her greying hair atop her head and secured it loosely with a hair pin. She got the fringed shawl off the hook behind the door and put it around her shoulders.

The shop was suitably cluttered and dusty, with the small, pitted three-legged stools made by her discreet friend Arthur prominently on display, with the sign declaring “Sale: Limited Offer” as always. She put one of the planks, a silver tray, a bag of “gold” coins, and a map that Simon had brilliantly copied and aged in the microwave, into an actual antique display case opposite the cash register. She turned the key to lock it.

She heard the tinkling of the bells over the front entrance, signalling the arrival of the first wave of cruise patrons. They were lively, loud, chattering away in excitement, as the Excursions Director, Polly, had specifically mentioned Simple Simon in her Inside Shopper speech that afternoon.

“Bonjour! Hallo!” cried Simone as they entered. “Come in! Bienvenue!”

Dammit, where was Simon?

Simone regaled Mr and Mrs Kwznecki with the grim story of the HMS Winchester, and how her crew were dying of scurvy anyway when they crashed into the reef— almost 400 perished. Simone tsked in sadness and sympathy.

At that moment, Simon staggered into the shop.

“Why, it’s all a fraud!” Simon shouted, reeling a little, and all heads turned. “I should know, I am Simon Soule, direct heir of Captain John Soule!”

“Ladies, Mesdames and Monsieurs, please excuse this young man,” said Simone, taking his arm and trying to push him into the back room. Under loud protestation, Simon disappeared behind the curtain, and Simone returned to her customers, shaking her head.

“The young man is indeed the last remaining descendant of the Captain,” she said mournfully. “And alas.” She lowered her voice. “A little crazy, un peu fou, a little problem with the drink; in fact…” The Kwznecki’s and the others leaned in closer. “They say Captain Soule was drunk when he sailed into the reef!”

She sold the plank, and the tray and rings, and the bag of gold coins, and everything in the special display case, and since she was expecting a second wave of visitors, Simone went into the back to get replacement planks and trays.

Simon was stretched out on the couch, dozing. She smacked him on the side of the head. “You were late,” she said, and Simon sat up and stretched.

“Did the map sell?” he asked.

“Everything sold,” said Simone. She went to the cash register, took out some bills and sealed them into an envelope. “Make yourself useful. Deliver this to Polly. She’s waiting in the cafe.”

Simon set off, the envelope in his pocket. He wasn’t sure why he kept his mother guessing. It was heartless really.

But he loved everything about the antiques business. Everything. He loved creating the maps and forged autographs, weathering the ink pots and musket balls, the shop smells of dust and burnt wood, his role as the drunken descendant of a ship’s captain, making his mother happy, making the customers happy. He loved it all.