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Why would a cruise ship tourist be carrying around such an outdated newspaper while on land, and why would they leave it in the shop as if the shop was a rubbish bin?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

Foreign Beer

Prompt: Sidewalk

copper penny

Anthony saw the girl with the stroller approaching from the south, clattering along the uneven sidewalk. He sat on the stoop outside the liquor store, a favourite perch until the manager politely asked him to move, which she hadn’t done yet.

It was warm afternoon, overcast and humid. The skies wanted to rain, Tony could feel it, but the skies were holding back. They might throw down some rain at any moment, and Tony didn’t yet have enough for a mickey of Schnapps, which was the cheapest spirit he could tolerate.

He placed an old copper penny on the sidewalk in front of him, choosing a penny because it wouldn’t sparkle in the sun the way a silver coin would. He kept a close side eye of the stroller and as soon as it was almost in front of him he reached out to pick up the penny as the stroller wheel rolled over his hand.

“Ouch!” he cried. “Jesus!” He pulled his hand back. It actually did hurt. How big was that damn baby?

“Oh, sorry mister,” said the girl, and Anthony saw she was even younger than he thought. She had over-processed blondish hair, a stream of acne that crossed her plump face, and wore strangely high wedge shoes with a short denim skirt.

She didn’t offer him any money to compensate for the injury done to him, even though his cup was sitting there with a couple of dollars in it. “That your kid?” he asked, in about as nice a tone as he had ever mustered.

“NO!” the girl said, and her face turned scarlet in alarm, and the baby awoke and started to scream, and she looked like she might start to wail too, and she pushed the stroller so hard in take-off that the baby’s cry was interrupted.

On the other side of the sidewalk was a scrawny grass boulevard, and the sprinklers came on, which meant it was five o’clock, and probably was an omen of the rain to come. Anthony saw another figure approaching from the corner of his eye, and put the penny on the sidewalk again.

Just as the figure was about to cross in from of him, it turned up the ramp towards the liquor store.

“Hey Tony.”

Jesus, it was that Leep guy. Leep the creep. He walked by on his way to and from work, and had some weird idea that familiarity translated into some kind of friendship. Leep wore work clothes. Baggy jeans, a t-shirt, and a navy blue nylon jacket.

“Spare a few bucks?” Perhaps friendship had benefits.

“What’s new?”

“I’m saving up money for my ailing mother. Got any?”

“Your ailing mother?”

“Or a bottle of Schnapps or maybe Prokov. Or perhaps a smooth single malt, if the gods are generous, which they aren’t.”

“Maybe on your birthday,” said Leep.

“Today is my birthday,” said Anthony.

Leep smiled indulgently and put two dollars in coins in the coffee cup, saluted him, and continued on into the liquor store, where he bought a selection of foreign canned beer, telling Anthony on the way out that he was reading a book about beer.

Anthony wasn’t the least bit interested in what Leep was reading or drinking. He ignored him. He was thinking that damn it, today really was his birthday.

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.