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Short story-‘Thrift Shop’.

September 16, 2008

Short story- ‘Thrift Shop.’

You’re walking alongside me down the corridors of the hospital ward. We’re turning left here, we’ll be there in a few minutes. We’ll have coffee later, first we need to talk to this guy. The coffee in that place is lame anyway- we can go to Beaners, they have far better coffee and put real coffee in instead of that bracken they use in the canteen.

Do we have the files? I hope he takes it well, but how can you, really? It’s nto something you hear every day. Did you see his X-ray? The mass was one of the largest I’ve ever seen. It’s pressing on the bowel wall. We all agreed fairly quickly that it was inoperable. He’s old though and I think he knows it was coming. When I left him the last time to go up to the lab to get the test results, he just said ‘Thank you for all your help.’ I don’t know how I felt, or how I should have felt. Shouldn’t I have said something? Which ward is he in? Oh, St. Raphael’s. Come on. It’s a beautiful day today, isn’t it? Look at the golden light streaming in through that window, I love the way the wind blows the curtains back. You’d never know we were in a hospital, would you? The summer flowers certainly brighten the place up, bless the nuns at St. Joseph’s. They send them over every few weeks and that new young nurse- black hair, you know her- she uses her breaks to put the prettiest flowers nearest the patients with no visitors. The patients smile more on those days.

……………..
Here’s his bed now. Hello, Samuel. Is your wife here? Would you like us to wait for her? I could come back. No? OK. Well, we got our test results back and it looks…well, as I said before… I’m sorry. I..I.. There, there now…do you feel better now? No, of course not. Sorry about that. I don’t really know what to say. Most opinions say that you have another two months left. It shouldn’t be that painful most of the time. Remember how we had you on that diet? You can restrict yourself less now. We can give you painkillers if you need it. Counselling is available. We’ll give you a number. Are you sure you won’t come in for that radiotherapy? We highly suggest it, you know. Look after yourself, do you hear, Samuel? I’ll be back later. Come on.

Did you see the look in Samuel’s face? I know that man, I grew up near him. He owns a thrift store in town. I used to go in to look for cheap bait for flyfishing. There was a small bucket in the front of the store where they had hats and I was looking through them once when I came across a hat with some old flies in it. I was so excited, I was only eight, I ran up to him and asked him how much the hat was. He looked at me and said it was free for me. I said I wanted to pay for it and started pulling out change from my pocket. He stopped me and said if I really wanted to pay for it, I could come by and sweep the store every now and again and have a nice chat. He got lonely in that store sometimes, it wasn’t a very big store you know. About big enough for twenty or so patrons before people had to stand together, pressing into each other’s backs. So many faces- rough and hardy farmers looking for jerksacks and cattle feed fillers, birdlike noses on the women feeling their way through the stacks of sewing patterns in the back, rustling brown paper as the small boys stood beside their mothers chewing penny sweets. I made a lot of friends- and enemies- amongst these boys. I remember there was a low step in the back where a water heater used to stand, I used to sit on that step and do my homework after school. So I started going down. It was fun in there- I could eavesdrop people talking to each other amongst the coat racks and between the china aisles. That’s where I learned about sex for the first time, from a pair of teenage girls with long stripy socks, nose piercings and pink hair. One of them was telling the other about how she loved her best friend, but she had a boyfriend and she didn’t know what was going to happen. I heard all the details. I also heard a lot of stories between older women talking about their X-rays, painkillers, rheumatis, arthritis, osteoporosis and so on. I think that’s where I started thinking about going into health care. Always in the background Samuel would be winking at me if I looked back with astonishment at hearing something I’d never heard before.

See, now this is making me mist up. I have to clock out over here, put your scarf on, it’s cold outside. Maybe we should do some Christmas shopping now? I know, I’ll take you to his thrift store. It’s not far from here. Once samuel called me over and brought me into the back room. It was dark and dirty. There was paper everywhere, he was an artist, but never commercial- he just liked to paint in his spare time. It was his thing. Wait, I think we missed it. Let’s go back a bit. Yes, here it is. Oh good, it’s open. Hi, Maureen! …Yes, Samuel is, well, I’m not allowed to talk about him. Patient confidentiality and all that. Sorry. He’ll be back home before too long though. You know, I just had an idea. Mind if I check the back room?

No? That’s OK then? Come on, I’ll show you that room I was telling you about before. Mind the steps, the doorway’s quite low too, this is such an old house, people were so short back then. It’s quite dark, isn’t it and dirty? Let me open the window.Can you turn on the light behind you? Not there, on the other side- ah, yes. Now see here all these paintings? The drawings? So many. He would tell me that if anything was ever bothering him, all he had to do was pick up a 2B pencil or a paintbrush and he would feel at home. It was his safety blanket. MAUREEN! Could you come here for a moment? I have something to ask- well, see the thing is, how come he never went into art full time? Why does he run this thrift shop? That damned Andrew Loomis.

I can’t believe- well, he was on a par with him, I’d daresay. I mean, look at that one. That one too. See the way the figures glow out of the darkness, so it seems like a flickering image coming out of the night? That’s his talent- to make things alive and move in your imagination. Maureen, why a thrift shop though? Why not an art shop? I never would have thought he felt that way. He always did it back here, so I suppose it was his way of..I don’t know. There’s a customer-see you in a bit, Maureen. We’ll just stay back here for another minute if it’s ok with you. I want to bring this back to Samuel. I want to give him what he’s been wanting all this time- not fame, but the moment of recognition, of belonging with other artists.Come on, put them all up over there, on that side of the wall. Yes, that’s it. Come on. That was quite dissappointing, wasn’t it? I can’t believe it was rejected. This great art! Just a few decades ago it would have been the talk of the town. The gallery owner can’t be all that smart, he doesn’t know what’s good for him. Or maybe that’s the problem, that this stuff just isn’t current anymore? That no one cares for such things? That art nowadays must be fast, zippy, clean, colourful, mean everything, mean nothing, inhabit space and represent not an object but a whole way of life? Well, damn all that! Samuel’s worth that and a million times more. He gave me friendship when I had none- happiness when I had none, companionship when I had none, money when I had none and bait when I had none.

……………….
Now I want to give him everything. Get the phone book out. Come on. I can’t wait. Is my tie straight enough? My jacket white enough? No-not down there. He’s been moved into intensive care. Yes, I know- he doesn’t have enough time. This didn’t arrive a day later. Samuel, hello! How have you been? Your blood pressure looks rather elevated. I’ll call the nurse in a few minutes and have a chat with her. I hope they’re treating you well? The wife and kids are doing very well, thank you. John made this for you? See? It has a picture of you in the thrift store with Maureen and see, here he is buying a new book. He’s into the Goosebump series now. Yes, these are good too. I’ll ask him if he wants to read these. Well, I have something for you. I hope you like it. Here you go- you can open it later if you like, or now. The paper’s a bit fiddly, I know. Do you want me to open it for you? You’ve got it, ok. They’re all in there, Samuel, every one of them! All your paintings. That book is being published as well, it’s in all the bookshops. It’s on the shelves in Borders, Easons and Barnes and Nobles. It took a few months to get the publishers’ approval, then I went and talked to the estate of Andrew Loomis. They agreed to help us publish this book. I’m glad you like it, so glad- See, how could I ever repay you for all your- here, give me a hug. You deserve it, Samuel, you really do and everyone here will agree. This money could pay for your radiotherapy, Samuel! You don’t have to worry about Maureen losing the house or the store to pay for it anymore, Samuel! What a gift, Samuel and you deserve it! Maureen, here you are! Isn’t it wonderful! Yes, show Maureen, Samuel! Here’s another tissue. Are you OK? Why aren’t you talking? Let me give you- wait a second. Push that button behind you, Maureen! Help me push this- Nurse, come here!

………

Thanks for coming. I didn’t know if you would. It’s late now- I’m not sure if I want to go in. It’s quite crowded in there. I can’t believe it still, although in a way I can. But what a way to go. Look, the doors are opening now. Let’s go stand over here where we can see everything. Give me the book now. Be quiet, the Father is talking. Doesn’t Maureen look pale? Poor Maureen! She has no children either to distract her and give her comfort, I’ll go over and stand beside her. Will you come? Maureen, hello. I- I brought the book? Would it be OK if…? Do you want to put it in with him? His heart will go with him, Maureen and it’ll stay with you at the same time. Every time you go into the bookshop, you’ll see his heart on the bookshelves, on the train when you see students reading it, in the streets when you see people carrying them. His heart will multiply and reach people all over. I’d better go now- they’re patting down the earth. I’m sorry again, Maureen. I’ll talk to you around. You know where I am if you need to talk. Wasn’t that sad? I do know that he’s happier now- that’s a hell of a painful way to go, I’ll tell you. Yes, I know I told him it wasn’t, It’s a psychological thing I suppose…Let’s go down here and give one last visit to the old thrift store.

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