The Shop of Preserved Curiosities
by Rosaleen Lynch
I stood outside. I never went in. The window was enough for me, and the ringing bell, as the door opened and closed for the brave and wicked. A smell would escape of age and confinement and must and must not.
Few went inside. One man began nodding to me in recognition. I felt ashamed. Even when he gave me back the glove I’d dropped. He knew me, yet we’d never met. I was rude and after realised he could see it was my glove because I still wore the other. I had taken a picture. And taken the glove off. I felt like I’d been found out. All for a picture that had more of my reflection than the contents of the window.
I was looking for clues to the interior. A picture I could study at home instead of stopping on the street. I could have gone inside but while I didn’t know, it was perfect. The window to its soul promised only good.
“I could have gone inside but while I didn’t know, it was perfect.”
I would watch the man go in and slip behind a curtain. The darkness took him softly until he returned with a ringing of a doorbell announcing his return to me. I would look away but knew he would nod at my reflection in the window while I pretended not to notice. He walked away. My reflection watched his retreat and then returned to the curiosity shop window. The darkness of the display showing more in its reflection of the street outside than the mix of bowler hats and feathered fans, taxidermy and mechanical toys. But nothing of the shop itself, the hidden interior, in case all was revealed too soon. Like the punchline to a joke told out of order.
Instead there were tantalising tastes, like canapés. No commitment needed which could lead to over indulgence and bloating. My eyes instead feasted little but often on the window, each time I passed or the display changed, on my dreary route from home to work. The only interest in a street of shops and pubs and greasy spoons. A relic, waiting for the street to change back round it. Gentrified or regenerated or closed in another wave of recession, boarding up shops and papering their windows with newspapers of depressing times.
Tuesday was the last day I saw him there. He pushed the door open and looked to allow me in. I shook my head. He didn’t move. The door bell stopped ringing as he stood his ground. It was an impasse I could only survive by turning, walking away and changing forever my route from home to work, so that I would never see him again.
I kept the photo. Of the curiosity shop window and my reflection. And the man in the distance crossing the road towards me but not to be with me. And the camera flash going off, alerting him to my presence. One he would not have known otherwise. I didn’t keep the gloves.
Rosaleen Lynch is an Irish community worker and writer in the East End of London. She pursues stories whether conversational, literary or performed, keen to explore them as part of the learning cycle of everyday life.