Ani had already begun to pack up the odds and ends of the store when Margaret and Jerome arrived. She had taken brown paper and a stencil and made a sign that announced the closing date of the store and covered the entire front window with it. She now stood peering through a crack at the pedestrians who scurried past. Everyone was obviously caught up in their own world and unaware that hers was falling apart on the other side of the window. As she watched the strangers climbing the three steps up onto the bus, she listened to Margaret and Jerome arguing about the used goods that remained in the second room.
Without even looking, she knew that Jerome saw the used socks and sweaters, the raggedly three-wheel stroller and one-armed bald doll as articles in a treasure chest. She knew his eyes would be a bit unfocused and his heart rate would be slightly elevated, and he would be taking short breaths without realizing it. She could also tell by Margaret’s voice that Jerome wasn’t paying any attention to her and didn’t hear a word she was saying. Even though he had survived the dirty 30’s by his wits and his strength, when it came right down to it, he was a pack-rat. Other people’s junk was like a drug to him and he gave new meaning to the word ‘junkie’. Ani leaned her forehead against the cool glass and sighed.
“You are not taking this junk back home with us Jerome.”
“It’s good stuff Margaret. I need it.”
“What on earth do you need baby socks and a stroller for?”
“Just pack it up. I’ll find something to do with it. Maybe I’ll open my own consignment shop. Think of the money I could make and this stuff would all be free!”
In the back room Ani pressed her lips tightly together as she stacked the boxes by the back door so they could be loaded into the van later. The argument had been going on for over an hour and her mother’s voice had risen as she became more desperate to keep this junk out of her house and her life. She had put up with her husband bringing whatever garbage he found on the side of the road home, but this was too much.
“Jerome! I…” Margaret’s words were cut off by Jerome’s roar.
“Just do it!”
Ani threw the box she held onto the pile and headed through the back rooms to where her parents were arguing. Normally she appreciated the sound the dried-out wood floor made as it took her weight, but her mother’s crying distracted her.
She found Margaret sitting on the floor beside a half-filled box with her head in her hands and sobs rocking her body. Jerome stood over her, his huge hands balled at his sides as he glared at his wife. His fists opened and closed and opened and closed. When it became obvious that Margaret was not going to look at him he turned his attention to his daughter. Ani felt her knees and bladder weaken and she made a conscious effort not to pee herself.
No one spoke.
The sound of her mother’s crying echoed around the old building. It was eerie and ghostly and sounded helpless. It wormed into the brain and irritated like a thorn. It attracted Jerome’s attention once more and he raised one meaty fist.
“Don’t you dare touch her.” Ani’s words were a surprise to everyone in the room, even her. As Jerome’s head snapped up and swung in her direction, she took a gulp and steadied her legs.
“What did you say?” His voice was so full of anger that Ani’s resolve wavered briefly. His hands clenched and opened quickly and she thought he might be imagining them around her neck again.
“Don’t even think about hitting her,” she said with as much bravado as she could manage. Inside she fervently hoped that he couldn’t see that bravado was all it was. “And you are not taking this crap back to Sudbury with you. It’s going to the dump. All you’ve done is made Mom cry about this. It’s junk and you don’t need it. Mom would just have to turn around and throw it out in Sudbury. She works hard enough as it is.”
Jerome stood staring at her in total disbelief. Margaret’s crying developed a hitch as she took a deep breath before it eased off into sniffling. She dug around in the old red sweater she always wore when she was doing dirty work and pulled out a Kleenex that was tattered and thin. Folding it meticulously, she honked loud and hard. Ani almost laughed. She turned instead and walked back across the creaky floors and into the back room where she drew her foot back and kicked the first box she came to as hard as she could. Leaning against the back door she took a long shaky breath before putting her hand over her mouth and closing her eyes.
At the end of the month Ani met with Mr. Abson once more to hand over the keys. Together they walked through the empty building to double-check that no damage had been done. The old floors creaked as they rattled the lock on the back door and Ani noticed a sifting of dust was already beginning to cover everything.
Mr. Abson paused for a moment as he checked through his list before holding up a finger and closing his eyes. The sound of water trickling into the toilet bowl could be heard over the humming of the fluorescent lights and he hurried into the bathroom and twisted the shut-off valve.
At the front door, Ani noted once more the dead flies lying on the windowsills before she flicked the power switches one last time. With a final look at the empty rooms, she turned the key in the lock and placed it in the palm of the real estate agent’s hand. He looked at it briefly as it glinted dully and shrugged his shoulders before shaking her hand and striding away.
The unmistakable flavour of failure salted her evening meal and followed her into bed that night. Damn him she thought as she fought the feeling that surrounded her. I’ll show him.