Frank noticed the couple when the Antique Collective shop doorbell clanged. Even to this day, he expected to see his wife June pass through that door as the bell reverberated. The couple came inside. She a bit mousy and dressed with some expense to look like she shopped at thrift stores; he was in expensive clothes meant to look expensive with a smartphone glued to his ear. They were the kind of patrons the collective needed to survive. They were the kind to admire his craftsmanship, while still needing furniture and having the revenue to purchase.
“Afternoon,” Frank said.
The woman nodded. The man kept talking.
“Well, I think that’s it,” the man said, his volume too loud. “We need—like I said: we need to cut the crap and get another vendor. No? Tell me? Really?! That’s bullshit. I’m not having this conversation with you. If you won’t listen. I said…I said–You know what?”
The man pushed his smart phone and walked up and down the short aisle texting while his wife looked at the Victorian tea chairs and miniature table. They’re expecting a child, thought Frank. When he looked at people like this, he found himself deeply grateful he and June had never had children of their own. What if they’d had this girl and she’d married that guy? Or even what if they’d had an asshole son like that guy on the phone? How would they have been able to forgive themselves? Mid-thought Frank caught the woman staring at him. He smiled at her and went back to oiling the rosewood door of the commissioned Edwardian dresser.
“Do you restore them all yourself?” she said.
Frank nodded and continued massaging the linseed-soaked rag into the wood. He had a space downstairs where he did most of the work, but during shop hours he needed to be upstairs where June used to welcome all the patrons. In truth, though, he found doing the woodwork in public was a tremendous hit with the millennials. They liked a bit of racket and seeing him do his craft.
“You’re left-handed,” said the woman.
“Me? No. My wife was.”
“Oh,” she said.
“Are you?” Frank asked.
The woman nodded her head. Her upper lip was fuller than the bottom and he noticed they were beautiful. Frank could see the woman’s warmth and sexuality. The span of her petite body felt ripe with womanhood. Behind her eyes existed a light. It surprised Frank to see it there. That particular light wasn’t something Frank’d seen since he was in his forties or perhaps even his thirties. He felt at a loss for his words.
“Yes…I like your music. Billie is my favorite,” she said.
“Really?” said Frank.
Frank liked to play jazz. It was his mother who introduced him to it. In her later years they used to go out together and listen to it. She’d preferred Nancy Wilson and Ella Fitzgerald. But he was a Lady Day man himself and never was able to see her perform. In the sway of Billie singing “Tell Me More and More” the husband had started up on the phone again. He must have been speaking to an investor or authority figure because his tone sounded utterly smarmy this time.
“I absolutely agree. You are though. You’re so: forward thinking. I try to tell people…” the man said lowering his voice.
The door chimed and he’d gone outside with his ass-kissing schtick. Frank turned back to the woman. Her eyes were still on him. He found himself in a bit of a blush. She walked toward him in a familiar way and his heart pounded like a fifteen-year-old boy standing at his locker when a senior girl comes over to flirt. She crossed behind the counter and it felt to Frank like she’d disrobed in the middle of the store.
This strange woman, beautiful without advertising it, stopped about six inches away from Frank. She found his hand with hers. She had a mole on her long neck. Her arms were thin, and her clavicle looked like it belonged to a ballerina with pale almost transparent skin. Her wavy, dark hair seemed in disarray, but as Frank’s eyes traced its chaos her hair became his favorite feature. With the warmth of her palm, she guided Frank toward the window.
Outside a storm must have been gathering all day and Frank hadn’t noticed. The sky had been smothered in gray and black swirls which emitted that quality of witch-crafty, mysterious electricity. He felt the pulse of her hand. She smelled of perfume and curry or some ethnic food that radiated from her skin. He wanted to speak to her: ask her why she was holding his hand or why she was with such a jerk. He wanted to ask her name. Frank wanted to kiss her, too. But in fear of the bubble bursting, he stood beside her watching the building storm savoring her until the door clanged and the man on his phone would return for his wife.
Claire had decided during lunch. It wasn’t that Kevin was a bad guy, or even that he’d changed that much. The Mamba Bites deal made him so stressed out, she knew it was unfair to allow the final verdict to arrive now while he was half out of his mind with profit/loss sheets and interior designer portfolios. However, she also knew there would always be a new restaurant investment or entertainment concept or some new endeavor which would call Kevin’s attentions.
Claire took a long drink from her ice water and watched Kevin while he texted multiple people jumping from one screen to the next. Mainly, she no longer found him interesting. Attractive was never a strong feeling she’d had about him. He was a good-looking man. She liked the way they looked together in photos. But, if she was honest (and she was being honest), she had never felt attracted to Kevin in that way.
“Can we go into that antique store before it starts raining?” said Claire.
Kevin nodded, but Claire was fairly certain he hadn’t really heard her request. His fingers had paused only briefly in mid-rant. After Kevin paid, they walked down the sidewalk towards the shop. Claire walked ahead slightly.
“I’ve gotta make a call,” said Kevin.
Claire had nodded her head. They both knew he didn’t need her permission. Even in college, Kevin had been driven and independent. In college, they had both been driven. They would walk campus with their backpacks heavy and double strapped to their backs and then spend their Friday nights in the study room, kissing between academic courses.
Claire enjoyed the cowbell on the front door. It was quaint and something to remind her they were in Saratoga Springs and not shopping at West Elm in the city. Not that she needed to be reminded. The items were mainly bric-a-brac. It was a large-ish antique collective, but only one proprietor was there: a man. He was oiling a piece, no less. His collection was almost all furniture and Claire found a miniature table to stand by in order to better inspect the man. Her father had been a woodworker, not professionally. Claire had liked to sit with her dad in the shed during the summer while he worked the lathe, a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
“Do you restore them all yourself?” she said.
The man was old, she could tell. Easily approaching seventy and perhaps older. But somehow, he was sexy. Some men have that about them. If they’ve been loved well and taken the time to love a woman in return. This man was comfortable in his skin, and his shirt and Levi’s fit his body with casual ease. He seemed to Claire the exact opposite of her manicured, boring husband. This stranger seemed able to nurture and appreciate Claire. Those things hadn’t seemed that important with Kevin at first: her priorities were different in her early twenties. Kevin would provide them a good life and she would work when and how she wanted until children arrived. That had been the plan. But now she understood it was a poor plan because all of the life she craved existed outside those margins. By God’s careful design the children hadn’t arrived. She was thirty–two and hungry for something different from her own life.
The energy of the storm was building outside. The rain fragrance crept over the musty perfume of the antiques and the pungent fumes of turpentine. And she noticed Billie Holiday singing and it made Claire feel capable of dangerous acts. The man looked up and caught her staring. His left hand caressing the line of the dresser drawer and she wanted to feel those fingers move over her own skin. She knew it was a foolish thing to do, but something in the clarity that she didn’t want to be married to Kevin any more made it clear what she did want. She wanted to be truly loved. And this man was kind and concerned and he would take the time to listen to her speak. She knew it with an almost disconcerting certitude.
“You’re left-handed,” said Claire.
“Me? No. My wife was.”
“Oh,” she said.
“Are you?” he asked.
She needed to feel him. She needed to touch the warmth of him. She needed to be close enough to smell the intimacy of his skin over the pungent linseed oil turpentine mixture on the rag he was using to clean the wood. No one would understand, but logic didn’t matter because she had come back alive. And she could see in this stranger the same awakening. She nodded her head.
“Yes,” she said.