An aged man with tufts of white hair, reminiscent of wispy cirrus clouds, sits behind the counter of the empty antique shop. You don’t recall what influenced your decision to step inside. You were walking down a gaslit, cobblestone alley and now here you are. You hear an ancient clock ticking somewhere in cobweb-laden depths of the vacant store. The noise of the assumed shopkeeper writing gently in a large leather bound ledger reaches across the silence to where you stand.
He breaks from jotting furiously with his quill, looks up at you, and tilts his head inquiringly in your direction.
Can I help you?
Can he? Traditionally, one visits an antique store to buy something, but you seem to have left your wallet at home. Or you are looking to sell something, and you are decidedly empty-handed. With unreasonable trepidation, you shuffle towards the glass counter, which houses innumerable old objects with assuredly intriguing backstories.
The shopkeeper looks down at his book, tracking the columns with a craggy finger. He speaks, his voice scratchy like ancient papyrus, and barely above a whisper.
You’re baffled, which leads you to stammer, “I don’t have anything.” You show your empty hands, as if the ancient owner is a police officer and you’re trying to prove you aren’t guilty of a theft for which he’s accused you.
“Oh yes, you have many things you have been holding onto and wish to dispose of. The book says so.” His voice gets stronger, and he is visibly excited about what wares you may have to offer. He punches his finger against the inked pages.
You feel compelled to give him something, his expectations so high, so you frantically pull out the pockets of your pants and coat. Nothing. You smirk nervously.
“Oh, do not you worry, my young friend. We don’t go kicking people out of our stores merely because they don’t have anything of value. They just need to THINK they COULD have something of value, and that’s enough.”
He prods a little further, with an intentionality to his words. “You know, those who find themselves in this dusty corner of the universe tend to unload things in large quantities they have managed to accumulate over the years without realizing they’ve been holding onto them all that time. And then here I am, willing to relieve them of such detritus.”
Silence follows. You hear a cuckoo clock start to sound in the depths of the cavernous antiquery.
“Well, stranger turned friend, what do you wish to unburden on me today?” The shopkeeper nods at the door. “Since you were not faced by a locked door in the alleyway, it would appear I am open for business.”
The vendor’s willingness to engage with causes you to respond with an uneasy joviality, dripping with sarcasm.
He places the quill down gently on the ledger and with the now free hand, lightly touches yours and whispers, “Sold.”
At this contact, it feels like small feathers are slowly being siphoned from your mind. As you struggle to comprehend this sensation, you slowly circle where you are standing. There is a mirror to your right, and when you gaze at the reflection, you accept the person staring back at you.
Even if your nose was off-center or the scar on your chin was hideous or your eyes were the wrong shade of blue, you can no longer grasp the idea of anything about you being imperfect.
The shopkeeper lifts his hand and a small grin tugs at the right corner of his ancient lips.
“Anything else, child?”
You are unsure, but intrigued, by what he just relieved you of.
“I have some exes I’d like to forget.”
“No, friend. Our return policy will not allow you to turn in the memories and experiences that have made you into the unique, complex and beautiful tapestry of a person standing in front of me at this very moment.”
You are taken aback by the poetry of his words but also by his declining of your request. You frown. Yes, you made this request in good humor, but there are memories you wish to rid yourself of. Perhaps there are memories that haven’t formed you that he can take away forever?
Although uncomfortable baring your soul to this strange little man, you attempt to see the extent of his ability. Maybe some memories (and trauma) can be returned.
“I have lost so much, sir. More than anyone my age should ever have to experience. My parents. Siblings. Relationships. Opportunities. I don’t want to remember the grief, the pain, any of it. Please take it away.”
You feel a tear roll down your cheek.
Kind, but persistent, the owner responds. “I have already told you our rule on those memories. I’m afraid management’s policy is immovable on this specific point.”
“If I steal those away from you, wouldn’t you be a mere portion of a person? Have those experiences not created you into the human who stands before me today? Do you know of anyone in this life who has not experienced immense pain? Loss? Grief? I take those away from you, you are missing a significant, even if unfortunate, portion of the beautiful human experience. I cannot help you.”
You turn around and gaze at your reflection in the mirror. Again, you see nothing wrong. You turn back.
“Wait. You took my insecurities, don’t you owe me something?”
The shopkeeper laughs and arches an eyebrow. “How clever you are! Well, what do you feel is fair payment? And before you try to find some loophole, in no uncertain terms will I relieve you of any of your memories. I rather enjoy my employment here and shan’t sacrifice it by making an exception for you, as
A look of enlightenment takes over the keeper’s face, and he swiftly bends over the massive, leather bound ledger and begins to rifle through the pages.
Moments pass. Sounds echo throughout the shop. You are surprised no one else has entered. Every few seconds, the man mumbles.
“What have we here?”
“Is this it?”
“Can it be?”
You jump as the elder slams the ledger shut.
He shuffles out from behind the counter and stands in front of you. His back is scoliosis-bent and he is only as tall as the collar of your shirt.
He gazes up at you, a toothy grin etched onto his face.
His eyes glitter. Perhaps a trick of the light refracting from the cobwebbed, crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
“My child. I am unable to pay you in resilience.”
You can’t hide your dejection.
“No, no, no. Do not fear. The book is a most accurate record. I am unable to give you resilience, for you already possess it.”