Artifacts

Prompt: Parlay

the-real-housewives-of-atlanta-cast


Simon was in a bad mood.

He was perched on an old leather stool beside the glass cabinet at the back of the shop, reading a week-old USA Today that a tourist had left on the counter that morning.

Why would a cruise ship tourist be carrying around such an outdated newspaper while on land, and why would they leave it in the shop as if the shop was a rubbish bin? Well, in some ways it was a rubbish bin, with the kind of products they brazenly had on display at Simple Simon’s Authentique Antiques. But that was by the by.

The world outside the island seemed to be going crazy. Simon avoided news because it was usually distressing and incomprehensible. He would rather light a twizzler and watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta than read about the American election and other catastrophes, like melting ice caps, wars, and droughts.

He couldn’t avoid all unpleasantness. His mother, for example, was currently in the hospital with some kind of ovarian cyst, which had to be removed. Simon knew very little about cysts, and even less about ovaries, but he was concerned. His mother hated the hospital and did nothing but complain. She desperately needed a twizzler, probably more so than Simon.

Simon could see the steam rising from the smokestack of the only remaining ship in the harbour. It was scheduled to depart again in about two hours. Once it did, he would take his mother a pineapple. She loved pineapples.

The bell on the top of the shop door jangled, and Simon could see, since there was a deliberately clear line of sight from the back counter to the front entrance, two people wander inside. She had a small guide book of some kind in her hands. He wore a bum pouch. The last trickle of the last Carnival ship, so Simon’s last chance to score big on this Thursday morning.

He took a wooden mask from the display case and started to slowly polish it with his handkerchief and a bit of spit.

“Hey,” said the woman, “Parlay voo san glaze?”

Inexplicably, the woman seemed to think French was spoken on the island. Inexplicably too, Simon responded with a broad Australian accent.

“Hello mate, I reckon I speak English as well as the next bloke!”

“Oooh, are you English?” she asked.

Simon’s mother had carefully instructed him, since as far back as he could remember, that the tourists and customers in the shop were to be treated with courtesy and respect. Well, she wasn’t around. She had faulty ovaries. Simon was in charge.

“No darlin, I’m an escapee from Oz,” said Simon. He carefully placed a soft felt cloth over the mask.

The woman and man exchanged glances. Truly this was a foreign English. People really were backward sometimes.

“Whad’ya have there?” asked the man, nodding at the mask under the felt cloth.

“Nothing, mate, nothing you would be interested in.” Simon got to his feet. “But let me show you these pretty ceramic tiles over here…” and he started to lead him towards the wall behind the postcard rack, where scenes from the island were colourfully painted on tile by craftspeople in China.

“I’m not interested in tile,” said the man.

“Gilbert collects artifacts,” said the woman.

“Artifacts, eh?” said Simon. “I dunno…” He returned to the counter, but didn’t lift the cloth. “Did Polly send you here?”

“Polly, yes! From the boat!” said the woman.

Simon carefully removed the cloth and stowed it under the counter. He opened a drawer and took out a tiny vial of linseed oil. He tipped the bottle onto his handkerchief and carefully polished small area near the white onyx eyes, where a sliver of stained teak had come away, revealing the new wood beneath. The oil would disguise this flaw, for awhile.

“This was just brought in, “ said Simon in a hushed tone.

“What is it?” the woman asked. “I mean, besides a mask.”

“This is the only actual Masque du Saint Chemise that I have ever laid eyes on,” said Simon. “It is a native piece, probably crafted circa 1642, when Christian missionaries first arrived to the island.”

The man reached his hand as if to touch it, and Simon gently pulled it away. “It was first a fertility symbol, but in time, because of some remarkable stories, it became famous for something else. Can you guess what it brings now?”

“Good luck?” asked the woman.

“Pre-SAUCE-ly!” said Simon. He reached into a drawer and pulled out a small typewritten sheet from a short stack of similar papers.

Masque du Sainte [sic] Chemise, the heading read, typed out on the authentically antique Remington typewriter in the back room. The letters were charmingly irregular in spacing and ink saturation.

Found Feb 15, 20—
Near arch. site Volcano rd
Ref Digest 14, 16, 22 Vols 3-6
Oral, picto. history
Fert., fortune
Auth. [illegible signature]

“That a price tag?” asked the man.

There was indeed a number scribbled with a blue ballpoint pen on a small adhesive label just below the chin of the mask: US1400.

Simon carefully peeled off the label and pitched it into the trash can. “Can’t rightly put a value on a piece like this,” he said.

“I’ll give you 200 for it,” said the man. “US dollars, cash.”

Simon sighed. He got the felt cloth from under the counter and delicately covered the face of the mask again. “I have other artifacts,” he said helpfully. Can you see the musket ball in the cabinet here? Also some maps reclaimed when the—“

“Let me see it again,” said the man.

Simon stared at the man for a moment, then peeled back the cloth. The oil had given the wood a rich, warm patina. The onyx eyes glimmered. He smiled a little, admiring his own workmanship.

The man and woman retreated to the ceramic tile corner for a private discussion. Simon again replaced the felt cloth, then returned to the week-old USA today, turning the page to look for the crossword.

Ten minutes later, Simon recounted the money, and put Polly’s cut into a white business envelope. After the ship sailed, he disappeared into the back room and brought out another teak and white onyx mask, carefully placing it behind glass in the display cabinet.

He felt a little better. He would use the newspaper for kindling in the coal stove. He would watch it burn, remembering the woman’s response about Simon’s comment on the USA Today headlines. “No,” she had said. “The world is not going crazy. It is finally turning around.” Simon covered the mask in bubble wrap and laid it in a cardboard box that was just a bit too small. He said nonthing.

Mama would be proud.

Advertisements

HMS Caribbean Discovery

Prompt: Discover

exploding-disco-ball

Deborah’s mother, Beth, was approached by a youngish man with a dark tan and a moustache. She wasn’t put off by his uniform, as she usually was, because Staff Captain Montgomery led a crew on a cruise ship, not in the military. He was not her husband or ex-husband, nor did he have any connection at all to Beth, except they were on the same ship in the middle of the Caribbean, where a live band was playing something danceable, and even though it was no doubt part of his job when not actively on duty to mingle with the guests, he had decided to seek out the woman in the black skirt and sleeveless, sequinned top, whose hair was just a little too long, and whose eyes sparkled and changed colour as the mirrored dance ball spun lazily overhead.

“May I?” he asked with slight flourish and a self-mocking smile.

They did a turn on the dance floor, a handsome couple in a candlelit room, enjoying a kind of hybrid waltz. Beth loved to dance and was good at it. Staff Captain Montgomery was less talented, but made up for his lack of rhythm with his enthusiasm and gusto for the role of handsome captain performing his gentlemanly duties to pretty women on a Thursday night, in the Tuscany Restaurant transformed for the evening into an informal ballroom.

“Are you enjoying the cruise, Ms Hernandez?”

“Very much so, my first time at sea,” said Beth.

“Oh, then you must allow me to give you a special tour,” he said.

“Special?” said Beth.

“Yes, for an especially beautiful woman who has never before been to sea,” said the Staff Captain. “Perhaps later this evening?”

“Perhaps,” said Beth, who had never had such a conversation where the word “perhaps” was so frequently on her lips and had such mysterious undertones. It was immensely enjoyable.

Which was how Beth Hernandez found herself in the small bed in the surprisingly small cabin of the Staff Captain of the Cruise Ship Caribbean Discovery. Earlier there had  been a look through a window to the engine room, and a glance at the main dining room kitchen, empty and sparkling clean, and a quick visit to the dimly lit bridge, where the Captain was pleasant and polite, and not at all surprised that his second-in-command would introduce him to a passenger so late in the evening. Perhaps it was common practice on the part of Staff Captain Montgomery. Beth didn’t care.

It was too much fun to feel again, after so long, her skin from neck to toe, pressed up against another warm skin, neck to toe. She’d forgotten the intimate smell of a man, the different textures and noises, and she revelled in them.

Until there was a sharp rap at the door, and Geoffrey rose from bed and she heard the even sharper sound of a woman’s angry voice. It sounded very much like the Excursions Director, Polly, whom Beth had heard speak in the theater that very afternoon, recommending sights and shops at their next port of call, St. Therese. Oh dear.

The shouting and murmuring ended, and Geoffrey returned and crawled back under the covers, meeting Beth skin to skin once again, and kissed her on the neck, whispering his apologies.

That night there was a storm and the ship tossed and people were lifted out of their beds. Beth didn’t notice at all, and crept back to her own cabin before dawn, and slept through breakfast.

A Pirate’s Hand

Prompt: Shiver

 

Harrison ford ark

Simone was telling the story of Captain Soule and the HMS Winchester to a frustratingly indifferent group of cruise ship customers, who were more interested in the cheap postcards, souvenir spoons, and tea towels that Simone placed near the back of Simple Simon’s Authentique Antiques so that customers would have to walk the length of the shop, past the dusty cases of musket balls, silver trays, rings, old maps, and weathered planks from the sunken ship.

And her son Simon was late yet again.

“History is being rewritten,” Simone said conspiratorially, “many say the weather caused the ship to crash into the reef, but I know for a fact that the Captain, weakened by scurvy and strong drink—“

“Blasphemy!” boomed a loud voice from the front of the shop, causing Simone to jump, and her customers to start paying attention.

“Blasphemy?” she said in a small voice.

“Captain Soule did not sail the Winchester into a reef!” the man cried as he approached— a stout, florid man in wrinkled khaki trousers, a white shirt, and grey fedora, waving a book he held in one hand and a small, stained leather portfolio in the other.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” Simone said, gathering up courage as she pulled her shawl more tightly around her. “How dare you barge into my shop and call me a liar! Who are you?”

The cruise ship passengers now huddled in a group to one side, their heads bobbing from Simone to the man as they each spoke, back and forth as if they were watching a tennis match.

“Terrence Wetherall! Director of the Global Council of Antiquities.” His face was becoming blotchy and flushed, as if his health might be in immediate peril. “These wares are not to be sold. We have evidence that the HMS Winchester went down not from the reef or the vagaries of a fine captain, but by a pirate’s hand!”

Simone gasped, and the customers gasped too, in spontaneous sympathy.

“You have no proof— there is no reason I may not sell property I have salvaged at great expense!”

“Until our research is complete I demand that you cease your commerce!”

At that moment her son Simon appeared from a doorway behind the cash register. He went to his mother’s side and put his arm around her. “Get out!” he said to the man. “You are frightening my mother, who has done you no harm!”

“I will not!” And the man took a step forward.

Simon was a tall young man, and the Antiquities Director, though unsteady on his feet, was stocky and strong, so when Simon left his mother to take his arm and direct him out of the shop, a brief scuffle ensued.

“Stand back, I urge you!” Simone said, standing in front of her customers as if to protect them, despite her small stature.

Simon eventually forced the man out the shop door, then closed it and drew the bolt. “Are you ok, mother?” he called from the front of the shop.

“Yes, I think so,” said Simone, in a voice suddenly weaker.

“My friends,” she said to the customers, who were gazing around the shop, at Simone, and at Simon, as if coming out of a dream. “My friends, I’m afraid I can’t go against the wishes of a Director of the Global Antiquities Council. The items salvaged from the ship: the musket balls, cannon balls, cutlasses, maps and ships’ parts must remain safe, their value immeasurable, until the Council establishes the means by which the Winchester crashed: reef, or a band of pirates?”

“But mother,” Simon said quietly. “These people have travelled a great distance…”

Simone gazed at the customers, who were scattering, murmuring among themselves. and peering into cases. She sighed, and made an announcement. “Simon is right. I cannot deny serious collectors the opportunity to add such invaluable artifacts to their collection. Until Mr Wetherall returns with the the proper paperwork—“

“Tomorrow, he told me,” said Simon.

Simone nodded. “After today, I can not sell to anyone, no matter what their credentials. But if any of you are serious and dedicated collectors of authentic antiquities, please speak to me privately and we will come to an arrangement.”

They sold everything. There was no haggling. Simon unbolted the doors. When customers left with one-of-a-kind items, Simone discreetly replaced them from inventory, to be sold again. No one was denied the opportunity to purchase rare pieces from a sunken ship, or left the shop unhappy, or without a tale to tell.

“You were almost too late— again,” said Simone, as she counted out bills into neat piles by denomination, placing some in a legal sized envelope. Simon shrugged.

“Deliver this to Arthur,” she said, handing over the envelope. “Perhaps suggest he not shout quite so loudly next time? This isn’t the stage. Also, ask him for another delivery of the limited availability wooden stools he makes. One of them broke during your little entanglement. Why are you smiling?”

“That was fun,” said Simon. “I’ve never seen Arthur enjoy himself so much.”

“He should come out of his shell more often,” said Simone.

What Would Marcus Do

Prompt: Luxury

tropical-cocktail-elena-elisseeva

Virginia had stopped mentioning it, but Cash knew she would respect him a lot more if he earned money, instead of spending it. Most of it was his own money, to be sure, but Virginia was old-fashioned that way. She believed in tired old male stereotypes, Cash thought, even though she declared herself a feminist.

So he decided to start a luxury private cruise business. He was good at boats, as long as they were crewed, good at luxury, and liked cruising. What could go wrong?

He wished with all his heart that his friend, Marcus, was not in prison for trying to murder his wife, Cash’s sister, because Marcus would be very good at organizing something like this, and would be a lot of fun to work with too. But no, Marcus was despicable, right? Almost killing Cash’s sister in a fire that he set. He claimed innocence, but no one believed him. Cash wanted to believe him, but then, he was Marcus. Marcus always had a thing about limits.

The very first cruise set sail on a brilliantly sunny, still morning, in Cash’s father’s 76 foot Alpha Express, with crew (cook and two boat hands) and eight guests. Cash knew most of the guests, and had given everyone a discount rate for this, the first official luxury charter cruise of the “Lily Pad”.

When the trouble started, Cash thought, “What would Marcus do?” and promptly fired a boat hand for stealing drinks, flirting with Mr Jessop’s girlfriend, and stealing tissue-wrapped luxury soaps from the women’s washroom. Firing someone at sea is rarely a good move. The other boat hand withdrew his services in protest, and since he had also been drinking heavily. Cash regretted not hiring his father’s usual crew. These guys were friends of friends, and agreed to a cut in pay for the maiden voyage. Would he still have to pay them? What would Marcus do?

Then Mr Jessop’s girlfriend went a shade of green and broke out in hives. The cook had forgotten she was allergic to shellfish. Cash fired the cook. They would need to return to port immediately.

Most of the guests, cocktails in hand, departed the “Lily Pad” without negative comments. Mr Jessop was livid, however, and demanded not only a comped cruise but a voucher for future cruises. Cash wondered: if the experience was so bad, why would he want another one? But he hand-wrote a voucher anyway, planning to never honour it as he couldn’t see himself continuing in this line of work without a partner.

Mr Jessop’s girlfriend was a woman named Diane Crosby. She was a college student, studying law, who lost her scholarship, and so was accompanying men like Mr Jessop on luxury cruises and what-not. She was used to people forgetting her name, or asking her to put her bikini on, or standing far too close, or ignoring her completely. She was almost relieved about the food poisoning, although it was the sickest she had ever been. She really, really did not like Mr Jessop, nor any of his friends, and certainly not that young asshole who was in everyone’s face, pushing drinks.

A hospital bed and an IV seemed preferable, to Diane Crosby.

Storm at Sea

Prompt: Fight

cute_rhino

Jerry and Cheryl-Ann generally got along like pigs and horses, but had their first fight in quite some time; well, since the time she discovered the still in the back of the barn, which was not really Jerry’s still, but belonged to Walter, who couldn’t put it in his barn because Emily would have hit the roof, even though it was just a scientific experiment, he said, and Jerry miscalculated– not since the still had they fought. But on this cruise, up the inside passage from Vancouver, BC to Alaska, they had a doozy.

Cheryl-Ann had a few too many gin fizzes and wanted to sing karaoke, you see. After dinner they had been to the Broadway review, which was a tribute to Gene Simmons, and then popped in at their favourite quiet ship’s bar, The Pink Rhino. Unfortunately it was Wednesday, Pink Rhino Karaoke Night. Jerry wanted nothing to do with karaoke, and certainly did not want Cheryl-Ann up there performing. That could be disastrous.

Cheryl-Ann was painfully shy, as a rule. And she didn’t drink much, as a rule. But she hated Gene Simmons, and loved Patsy Cline, and she was dizzy with gin, and wanting to sing to Jerry, because the glaciers made her feel romantic, and the microphone on the small improvised stage beckoned. It was a Cheryl-Ann/karaoke perfect storm.

So Cheryl-Ann kept standing up, a bit wobbly, with the intention of heading for the stage. Jerry kept taking her arm, gently, and sitting her back down again. “Let’s go back to the suite,” he whispered. “You can sing to me there.”

Cheryl-Ann flushed with anger. “Do you think I’m stupid?” she cried. “I’m not stupid.”

“No, no, I don’t think that.”

“You think I can’t sing, but I can!”

“I know you can, Cheryl-Ann.”

“You always tell me to shush.”

“Not at home, I don’t,” said Jerry.

“Because you are ashamed of me!”

“Hey, let’s go to Sweet Suzy’s Castle and grab a banana split before bed!” Jerry said.

“Do you think I’m stupid? I’m not stupid,” said Cheryl-Ann, and burst into tears.

This caused some folks at other tables to sit up and take notice. People didn’t cry in cruise ship bars, it was like a rule. Life was good on a cruise. Go to your cabin and cry, seemed to be the unsympathetic attitude in the Pink Rhino.

Cheryl-Ann was wearing her favourite cruise outfit, a red crepe suit with a peplum jacket, and a white silk frilled blouse. She wore gold high-heeled sandals, which made it even more difficult to get back to their cabin, as the ship was swaying as if they were in a storm.

They were in a storm. A storm outside the portholes and a storm inside the VIP suite where Cheryl-Ann and Jerry continued raising their voices.

“I’m tired of you thinking I’m stupid,” Cheryl-Ann said. She had a cotton handkerchief, and was wiping mascara streaks from her cheek.

Jerry started to reply, to make his usual placating remark– when in a moment of epiphany, he realized he did think she was stupid. Anyway, it was his habit to treat her as if she was, as if she was slightly dim-witted and needed his protection. She did the farm finances, cooked as well as a chef, was on the rural tourism board, and watched PBS almost every week. But he thought Cheryl-Ann liked it when he treated her as if she was a bit slow; didn’t women like that? It wasn’t an insult, it was loving care. Had it taken her unprecedented consumption of three gin fizzes on an Alaskan cruise for Jeremy to realize she was as at least as capable as he was?

“Honey, I honestly don’t think you are stupid,” Jerry said. “Let me make some coffee, there’s some stuff we need to talk about.”

“I’ll  make the coffee,” said Cheryl-Ann, dabbing at her nose, which was running. “Go get me a banana split. To have with the coffee. Oh and get a couple of ice cream sandwiches to have later.”

She was never bothered by a storm at sea. Never seasick. Never bothered by turbulence. Jerry left the cabin, holding onto the wall rails as he made his way to Sweet Suzy’s, and hoped she could ride out one more storm.