The wheel of the cart caught on a root which Brock Hanson saw but assumed he was traveling fast enough to plow over. He let out a yelp of pain, more of embarrassment. Wooden boxes toppled into the dirt.
Brock got himself up. Although the town was in sight he was still too far away for anyone to hear his cries. He satisfied himself by rattling off every curse he knew and combining them in ways that even school children would find immature. After gathering up the fallen contents his stupid brain muttered to him ‘there, it’s like it didn’t even happen.’
Olivia’s shop smelled of smoke turned to powder. Most of her customers came in for their knick-knacks and left, not knowing the full potential of the existence of such a store in their community. They never noticed Olivia’s cape. That’s how one could tell whether the purchaser was serious or frivolous. Most customers saw a perfume store, or vintage clothing, or knock-off memorabilia, because Olivia traded in the underbelly of the psyche.
The employee parking lot behind her shop and the two adjacent lots had an elevated loading dock for small trucks which Brock never remembered as having a ramp, but he secretly hoped, hoped that he was remembering wrong. No such luck. Being far too nice a person to bother her for some help, he sat the cart by the side of the stairs, lifted its contents one by one to her door, then carried the cart up and reloaded it. ‘There,’ said his brain once more, ‘it’s like it didn’t even happen.’
James Kaur opened the door, young and bald. The two immediate impressions. He was the academically gifted son of her neighbors who helped Olivia mostly during the summer, but frequently during the busy school year too. Olivia’s voice rang through the back hall, “is that Brock?”
James yelled back that it was.
“Be right there, watch the counter!” she yelled, two conflicting directions at once.
Perfectly fine with James who guided the cart through the hall and to the doorway which led to Olivia’s tiny root-cellar-ish storage space downstairs.
A moment later, Olivia arrived, black cape trailing like the wings of a ray. Sometimes, her eyes were the only part of her that could be remembered. She was not someone whose eyes drifted along people’s foreheads or chins while they spoke. Only a moment needed to a cast a line through the pupils into the back of your brain, the rigid wire telling her everything she needed to know in a second, before she decided what to do with you.
That was the price of seeing her shop for what it was. Those who saw her as an ordinary employee would not remember her and probably thought that her shop had a huge turnover. The upside to her gaze was that you never had to guess where you stood in her schema. She had a lifetime relationship with you in an instant. This skill also had to do with Brock’s cargo.
Olivia brushed a clump of dirt off the side of one of the boxes, then seemed to decide that it didn’t matter. Brock breathed an inner sigh of relief. The last thing he wanted was to have broken her stuff.
“You came just in time,” she told him. “Valentine’s Day is coming up and people are already losing their minds. Men coming in here and staring between pink and purple things. Never looking at the green until I suggest it. Because I know what they’re going to say.” She gazed at Brock like she does.
“Being of the male persuasion myself,” he said, stroking his beard like a stereotypical psychiatrist, “and you being however they see you, I’d assume it’s some sort of humble brag about their sex life.”
“‘Experimental’ is the word that comes up a lot,” she said. “Although it’s always followed by a question mark, like they think I’ll find it alluring or something. Then I ask if she uses the word ‘gender’ often and in ways that he doesn’t understand. There’s a pause, followed by a longer ‘yes’ with a more audible question mark. Then I tell him to go for the green, because most people like nature. And nature doesn’t tend toward light reds. Except in rare cases of sunset when the cloud tapestry is just right. That’s what pink is for. The tender side of an explosive display that you depend on for life.”
As she spoke, she opened the door to the basement and propped it with the front of the cart. “Unfortunately we’re going to have to haul these down one by one, but that’s probably how you got them up the back stairs, right?”
Brock followed her down the stairs with a box. Her cellar seemed something from hundreds of years ago - as would her shop to a discerning eye. All the modern products she sold took on an air of antiquity on these uneven wooden shelves. A space was cleared on her work-table and they set the boxes there. “I got time to help you unpack if you need,” offered Brock.
“That would be wonderful. Others are coming as well, for a little experiment. Nothing gross and sticky, I assure you.”
Brock coughed laughter into the crock of his elbow while setting the box down. As a laborer, he himself was mostly gross and sticky. However, the crudeness of some of his co-workers sometimes embarrassed him. Particularly the made-up things they bragged about. Not all of it was made up, probably, but none of it was brag worthy. Infidelity, young girls taken advantage of at parties. Cruising schools and supplying drugs in their off-time. Who is proud of such activities?