*070609 SHORT STORY – SMALL CHANGES

070609  SMALL CHANGES

The rough and broken sidewalk scratched across the smooth soles of her new shoes as she walked across town.  “I wish my nails looked better,” she worried to herself.  Her partially grown out French manicure almost looked as if she had light tips on both end of her fingernails.  “That looks so stupid!  I’ll have to do it better next time.  If there is a next time, and I sure hope there won’t be.”

She almost tripped and stumbled where a piece of crumbing cement had washed away from the edge of the sidewalk in last night’s hard steady rain.  “I better get busy and pay attention or I won’t even make it to Sampson’s Place after all.”

Ketchum never thought she was pretty, but that didn’t stop her from trying when she wanted to.  She was nervous.  Her given name was Kathleen but since she was a tiny pip-squeak, chasing after her three older siblings, around and around the outside of the house in never ending faster circles, everyone had called her Ketchum.

“What kind of a name is that for a girl?” Ketchum demanded to know of herself.  “How will that name fit in with who I have to be next?  How about Cathy,” she wondered.  “Is that what I should say?”

“Hello, Mr. Sampson.  I’m Cathy.”  She tried the name out in her mind and it didn’t seem to fit her.  “Thank you so much for letting me see you today, Mr. Sampson.”  Ketchum stopped walking with her left foot slightly behind her right one.  She practiced the little dip in her knees that felt like a professional curtsey as she pushed her right hand out in front and pretended to shake an invisible hand.

“Oh, fudge!  I can’t DO this.  I have no idea what I’m doing.”  She looked down at her strong tanned legs and moved both her shiny fake black patent leather shoes together.  “I don’t even think those could possibly be my own feet!  Oh, well,” she decided.  “Maybe it won’t even matter.”

Ketchum felt a new sense of relief, forgot what bothered her, and headed off down the street, turning left when she reached the corner.

++++

Spanky pushed open the heavy cherry wood door and listened for the chiming of the little brass bells that hung from twisted faded red satin ribbons. They hit the thick beveled glass window each time anyone entered.  The sound of their tapping woke him up every morning into the world of his day, and gave him release in the evening.

Spanky unlatched the folding black iron lattice window protectors and folded them back on their hinges against the edge of the store front’s window, knocking over a blue and gold heavy china tea pot that landed on top of all four of it’s matching teacups and saucers and smashed them.  ”Damn woman,” Spanky cursed quietly.  “Who would perch a tea pot on top of an open book?”  Jane would, Spanky knew, if for no other reason that to tempt him to madness.

Jane.  He’d never liked her but he hadn’t dared stand up to his wife who had insisted he hire Jane because she needed a job now that she’d lost her dear husband.  “Lost him?  I doubt it.  That scoundrel just figured out how to get away from her for good!”  Spanky knew it.

Jane had been too big for this store, filled with its delicate treasures.  She had barreled her way through the tight isles as if she was a barge on the Mississippi and owned the whole river.  Her frown lines grew between her eyebrows every time a customer bothered her with a question, which she answered as if she could throw out a scowl like spit.  If Spanky could have stuffed her, he would have gladly moved her to the basement corner so she could keep the rusting suit of armor in the other corner company, down there next to the moth eaten dresses nobody ever wanted to buy.

“Good riddance to you!” Spanky gloated as he remembered how the ladies at church had tossed her out for shoving a member down the stairs.  She bought a wide brimmed hat from him, embellished with ribbons and large flowers that Spanky guessed was her disguise. She flounced out of town in a huff and nobody cared when she disappeared, not even his wife.

Spanky pushed aside the folding iron lattice from the second front window filled with women’s hats propped up on elaborately painted stacked round hat boxes draped with fragile ivory colored veils.  “Nothing I can break in this one,” Spanky scoffed.  “I’d rather have this window filled with rifles and pistols but someone would figure sure as heck how to steal them.”

Spanky went back behind the counter and grabbed the wicker waste basket, the whisk broom and dust pan, and stuffed his ostrich feather duster into his belt where he kept it for the day.  He returned to the window, lifted the tea pot by its spout and dropped it into the basket.  Carefully he picked up all the broken pieces of china which followed their mother into the trash.  Spanky reached back for his duster and carefully flicked the tiny chips from under the petticoat of a china doll wearing a blue velvet dress so he could catch them with the broom.  Then he propped up a fallen parasol and reached for the leather bound book.

“Gulliver’s Travels.”  Spanky opened the cover.  “Not even a first edition,” he sighed as he heard a light cracking sound along the spine as he thumbed through its pages.  “I guess I can’t be too sorry.  At least it’s complete.”

Holding that book made Spanky remember being a young boy.  Back then he could think of a lot of big people he would have liked to stake down with strings.  The first one would have been Uncle Art, the man who had once owned this store.  Uncle Art was a self righteous man, quick to let everyone know he knew more about everything and knew it better than anyone else did.  Of course that meant he was vastly superior to children, especially small boys who refused to do their store chores properly.

Spanky hated to think about Uncle Art as he blew the dust from the top gilded page edges of the book.  “Not good enough.”  Spanky pressed the book together tightly with his hand and worked the edges with the feather duster until the gilding shone.  Only then did he carefully stand it up again as he returned it to its place in the center of the window’s display.

Intending to return the wicker basket behind the counter, Spanky was surprised to find himself carrying it toward the back of the store.  He passed a small short legged table, and paused, remembering how Uncle Art had dumped the contents of this exact same wicker basket in its center long ago.

“Sit right down here young man!” he had demanded sternly of six year old Spanky.  “This is your job for today.  Glue every piece of this vase back together, and you better do it right.  I don’t want to see a single crack showing when you are finished.  The price of this china covers the cost of your food tonight.  If it’s not perfect you’ll go to bed hungry.”

No matter how careful Spanky tried to be that day he could not return the gold edging to perfection on that dusty rose and deep green vase.  He had not been given all the pieces.  The task was hopeless, and he had gone to bed very hungry.

Spanky remembered the dim light of that day as it filtered through the thick lace curtains covering the tall window in the back of the store.  Spanky had taken those curtains down as soon as his uncle had died because they had fallen apart in the sunlight.  He never replaced them.  Continuing past the window Spanky went out the store’s back door.

“No china saving here today,” Spanky celebrated as he dumped the contents of the wicker basket into the graffiti covered dumpster at the curb.  “In fact, I don’t even want this.”  He released the wicker basket so it could follow the chinking china down.  “There.”  Spanky stood slapping both of his palms across his thighs as if to remove any trace of these unhappy memories when he noticed a thin dark haired girl in a simple peach colored dress turning the corner at the end of the block.

Ketchum didn’t see him.  She was lightly tracing the rising and falling patterns of the red brick building she was walking past on her left with her finger tips.  Up and down, up and down her arm moved smoothly as if she was following waves.  “I wonder who she is?”  Spanky didn’t recognize her as anybody’s daughter that he knew.  “No matter.  But I can see she has rather important things to do with her time!”

Spanky returned into the dimness of the store.  Compared to the brilliant sunshine outside, and the air washed clean by rain, the inside of the store appeared even darker and smaller than before.  “Oh, well.  What do I expect anymore?” Spanky asked himself.  He’d been mostly trapped within these same high solid walls nearly all of his life, even on Saturdays.  Yet even his accomplishment of discarding a perfectly good wicker basket filled with broken china seemed to be a new success.

On his way back to the front of the store Spanky stopped to find two cardboard boxes filled with packing material.  He dumped one into the other and then stomped the paper down.  He carried the empty box behind the counter, dropped it on the spot where the wicker basket had been for more years than Spanky could remember, and settled down on his familiar stool.

Taking the feather duster out of his belt he frisked it over the round white numbered buttons on the massive cash register on the counter.  “I bet that weighs twice as much as I do,” Sparky observed.  “Someone other than me will have to get rid of it after I’m gone.”

The faint clank of brass hitting brass from the front door handle let Spanky know someone was coming in even before the satin string of bells bumped against the window.  He inhaled gently when he looked up and saw a peach colored dress.  “Well, I’ll be.  It’s Miss Stillwell!”  The girl had called him earlier in the week.

Easy on his feet now, Spanky stood at the counter with his hand stretched over it.  Her green eyes shone in her tanned freckled face as she met him.  “Pleased to meet you, Miss Stillwell.” Spanky greeted her.  “My name is Spanky and I’ve owned this place for a very long time.  Come right this way.  Follow me, I’ll show you around.”

“Well, look at that!” Ketchum grinned to herself.  “I like this guy.  He didn’t even ask my first name!  His isn’t even ordinary!  I’m certain he won’t even care what mine is.”  At the same time Ketchum also knew she had to have THIS job.   She marveled at the old things all around her that she’d only read about in books.  “I like it here.  There will be lots of things for me to do.”

She paused behind her new boss and wiped the dust off the edge of a figurine covered shelf. She changed the position of a small red china bird, moving it closer to a white grand piano music box.  Spanky noticed and smiled as the wide blades of the ceiling fan moved in slow circles above them, stirring the stale air.  Both of them knew she would be here for as long as he would.  Spanky wasn’t sure if he’d ever felt such a comforting sense of freedom

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