Cobalt

“Can I help you with something?”

Lucas had been staring at a tin washboard for twelve minutes, internally arguing the merits and pitfalls of making something clean by rubbing it vigorously against cheap metal when the shop’s elderly owner had crept up on him, no doubt in an attempt to catch some nefarious act or another. She couldn’t have been more than five feet tall and her spider silk hair made the back of his hands itch. Briefly, he wondered if she was old enough to have ever used a washboard like the one he had been eyeing.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said, “I’m not looking to buy today.”

The woman wheezed something hateful and shuffled away. He understood her frustration; she probably hadn’t turned a profit since Coolidge was in office. He’d visited the shop every weekend that month and had not once come close to purchasing anything, nor had he ever intended to. Extensive experimentation had taught him that a strong morning session before hitting the shops left him completely void of the need to impulse buy. Each time Lucas found a piece he liked (the regulars call them “pieces”), he would stand in front of it, dry-mouthed and Zen, until the item lost any meaning to him. Once the details of the object fell away and the overall shape became ridiculous, the urge to pay for it dissolved entirely and he was free to move along to something else. This was, in fact, the chief advantage of getting viciously high before antiquing.

The store was divided into dozens of booths – each with its own distinct merchandise. On weekdays, the stalls were largely unattended, and faith was placed in the decency of the common antique enthusiast not to pocket items or switch tags. On weekends, however, some of the independent owners would perch themselves on stools next to their goods to field offers and answer questions. The washboard was in Booth #22, which was unsupervised. It consisted mainly of rural accoutrements including barn wood picture frames and a set of wine glasses made from Mason jars; Lucas had dubbed the collection “Hillbilly Nostalgic.” Eventually, the washboard dissolved. Seeing nothing else that caught his attention, he moved on.

Both #23 was filled with Betty Boop memorabilia. Booth #31 had every semi-valuable baseball card a guy could want. Booths #40-#45 were reserved for furniture which you weren’t allowed to sit on, lean against, or in any way try before purchasing, lest the combined weight of time and your considerable bulk turn the pieces into kindling. Lucas found no peace in the furniture section as the idea of buying a chair without first seeing if it could support a human being seemed unimaginable. He spent as little time in this section as possible.

Next, he thumbed through three bins of records – 33s and 45s mostly – for half an hour. Unlike the dedicated Vinyl Freaks who peeled through the records feverishly, in search of some rare gem or another, Lucas never rushed; he wouldn’t know a once-in-a-lifetime record from a worthless one. Instead he gave the same attention to each. He’d lift each one from their bin and careful read each track listed on the back – wondering what each would sound like if he had written it. The cardboard sleeves were mostly yellow with age and left his fingers smelling stale and dusty – a smell he savored for hours after he left. Occasionally, he would pull a vinyl from its sleeve and run his fingers over the ridges to see if he could feel the music. He never could.

His high fading, he made for the door. The old woman was nowhere to be seen, although he was sure she wouldn’t be sad to see him go. He was nearly to the door when a small shelf of blue bottles stopped him in his tracks.

There were twelve of them – nearly identical in color and clarity, but varying in shape. Some had the remnants of a label clinging to the sides, but most were polished bare. He stooped to one knee in front of the shelf and inched his face closer to the bottles. Some were thin and tall, and rounded in a way that made him think they once contained cough syrup. Others were wider at the mouth, and squat like aspirin containers. The set was medicinal and sterile, and refused to dematerialize like the washboard; the longer he stared, the more permanent they became. In the distance, he heard the owner chatting with a customer, her voice getting closer slowly but surely. Without thinking, he pocketed four of the most offensive bottles and hustled out the door.

Three blocks away – well out of sight of the store – Lucas smashed the bottles on the sidewalk, enjoying the weight of each in his hand and the starbursts of blue glass as they shattered one by one.

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