Walked but forgot it was Sunday; the city was half asleep and the buildings were empty. Found only one open door. An old woman shuffled busily in and out of it, creating a display on the sidewalk that might entice weekend treasure hunters to stop by.
She lamented to me with her eye angled down the way toward a row of 'sorry, we're closed!' signs, "A bunch of the other owners told me they'd start opening up on Sundays, too, but nobody has."
Inside, I touched everything. I am now a part of the history of those items, another pair of hands that have held them over the years. Whoever goes home with a certain antique sideboard will be taking a piece of me along. When a young woman maneuvers carefully around in those 30-year-old silver slingbacks, I'll be a shadow in her step.
I don't know how else to leave myself behind, but I know that's what I'm always trying to do. I remember being 12, stuffing glass Coke bottles and my mother's empty wine containers with notes, letters, poetry and short stories. I would take them, one by one, to any body of water I happened to be near - Sloan Lake, the struggling puddle of ducks in Holliday Park, even the Florida shores during a visit I don't remember the circumstances of. I spent hours of my youth fantasizing about the lives of those who might find them - what they would think, and what they would go on to do once they'd dropped the bottle and returned to their lives.
Maybe that's where I began my love of characterization.
But I think that, more than anything, I wanted to get a response. I don't know how I imagined they would know who I was or how to get in touch with me, but what I wanted most was to be communicated with by the recipient. I was such a strange child. I reached out in a hundred different ways to a hundred different types of people; I was socially inelegant and unable to harness my emotions when they left me, it's no surprise I was so often spooked from.
It must have been the natural progression, necessary but subconscious, for me to eventually give up and find other methods of connecting. Leaving messages in bottles in the lake. Writing things in the bathroom stalls that were heartfelt and sincere, rather than aggressive or insulting. Sneaking behind a computer screen to create a world I could live in unseen, through characters more interesting, enjoyable and lovable than myself.
13 years later, thirteen, that little mass of years, and even with my advancements through awkward, lonesome, stifled and silly youth, I see I'm still the same girl - though settled and in love, surrounded by the brilliance of others and finally part of a family, a network of affectionate people, I'm still sending messages in subtlety out of habit; still stuffing my notes into bottles, so to speak. Still thinking that if only I put my hands on something old, then I, too, will be old, then I, too, will become part of the lives of whoever purchases that thing I've touched.
I took my chances on the pleasant feeling of nostalgia the whole scene gave me and asked the old woman, now bespectacled and sitting primly behind the counter, if they needed any part-time help. She took down my information to give to the same woman who sold me my polka-dotted dress from 1964. "You have perfect timing," she said, licking her finger to thumb through a notepad for something blank that I could write on. "She was just saying to me last night that she wanted to hire somebody to help out with new items and arranging, and the register when she's making a sale."
It will not swell my bank account, be sure, but how settling and satisfying it should be to spend a few weekdays there, surrounded by homemade or decades-old decorative clutter and helping cheerful old women rearrange furniture.
I want to be a part of what's around me.
On my way back I passed a funeral parlor, watched from across the street just long enough for an Autumn gust to ghost through and shake loose a hundred burnt golden leaves or more on the roof of a single white hearse.
I thought of how to work the scene into a story and walked home.