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Authors: Susan Gloss

Vintage (2 page)

April placed her teacup on the counter next to the register, knocking over a pile of papers. “I’m so sorry,” she said, bending down to pick them up.

“Don’t worry about it. It’s my fault for having my filing lying around. One of these days I should probably get all my records computerized, but I just don’t know where to start. Plus, pages full of numbers aren’t exactly my strong suit,” Violet said. “I’d rather spot-clean a silk blouse or iron vintage linens any day.”

“I love numbers,” April said. “I got a scholarship to study math at UW starting next fall.”

The bells over the door jingled, and a dark-haired woman in a pink sari walked into the store. The shiny folds of the fabric rustled as the woman approached the counter.

“Excuse me for a minute,” Violet said.

“I’ll get out of your way.” April zipped her jacket. “Thanks for the tea.”

“No, you don’t have to go. It’ll probably just be a couple of minutes.”

April took a few steps toward the door, then turned around. “Oh, I forgot the dress.” She gave Violet a pleading look. “Is it okay if I just leave it here? I don’t have any use for it, and I don’t want to have to look at it every time I open my closet.”

“Sure, that’s no problem,” Violet said, thinking perhaps she could make an exception to her return policy, just this once. She reached toward the cash register—a hulking metal thing with round buttons similar to a vintage typewriter. When she pulled the lever to open the cash drawer, it stuck. She jiggled it, but it wouldn’t budge.

“If you can just hang on a minute, I’ll get this thing open,” Violet said. But when she looked up from the register, April was gone. Instead, the woman in the sari stood in front of the counter, rummaging in her handbag. Violet noticed stripes of gray hair near her part.

“Hello,” Violet said, hiding her surprise with a smile. “What can I do for you?”

The woman’s hands emerged from her purse with a red fabric pouch. She turned it upside down and a rainbow of bangle bracelets clattered onto the counter. “I would like to sell these,” she said.

Violet picked up one of the bracelets—a thin gold band embedded with blue stones. “They’re lovely. Are they costume jewelry?”

“I don’t understand what you mean.” The woman wrinkled her forehead, creasing the red bindi in the middle of her brow.

“What I meant is, are they real gold?” Violet asked.

The woman shook her head. “I have some eighteen-karat gold bangles at home, but these are just inexpensive ones. The blue ones were a gift from my husband, back when we were young and didn’t have any money.”

Violet set the bracelet down. “Oh, perhaps you want to keep the blue ones, then? It sounds like they mean something to you.”

“No. Not anymore.” The edge in the woman’s voice signaled that she didn’t want to talk about her husband, and Violet respected that. She knew from personal experience that some stories were too painful to tell.

Violet picked up a bracelet with a pink and orange design etched into the metal.

“That one belonged to my daughter,” the woman said. “I have been cleaning out her room because she got married recently and bought a condo across town with her husband. That is why I am wearing a sari and bindi and all of this.” She touched her forehead. “I only wear them for special occasions. This morning we held a small prayer ceremony, a
puja,
for the newlyweds. My daughter refused an Indian wedding, so her father and I had to settle for a
puja
and brunch after they returned from their honeymoon.”

“Are you sure your daughter won’t want this?” Violet asked, placing the bangle on the counter.

The woman nodded. “She is the one who told me I should get rid of the things she left behind. I told her I did not mind keeping some of her belongings around, but she said it is time to—how did she put it?—‘move on.’ She says I hold on to too many old things.”

“You and me both.”

“Do you have children?” the woman asked.

Violet shook her head and said with forced brightness, “My dog is kind of like my baby, though.” She opened the leather-bound inventory journal where she kept records of everything that came into and went out of her store, from a Chanel suit to a crocheted halter top. After checking a couple of entries for similar pieces of jewelry, she said, “I can give you twenty dollars in cash for the lot, or thirty dollars in store credit. Which would you prefer?”

“Cash, if it is not too much trouble,” the woman said. “I have so many more things at home. Not just bracelets, but other items, too. I could bring them in sometime this week if you are interested.”

“Sure,” Violet replied. “We’re open every day from ten to seven.”

“And what is your name so that I may ask for you?”

“I’m Violet. But you don’t need to worry about finding me. I’m the only person who works here, and I’m
always
here. I live upstairs.”

“My name is Amithi.”

“Nice to meet you.” Violet smiled. “I’ll just need to see some ID. I have to check it for anyone who sells something to the store. It’s a state law, to prevent people from trying to sell stolen stuff, I think.”

Amithi produced her license, and Violet opened the register drawer and handed Amithi the money for the bracelets.

“Thank you.” Amithi tucked the bills into her purse and glanced toward the windows with a worried look. “And now, I hope you will not think I am being strange . . . it is probably nothing, but I wonder if you know that man who is parked outside your store. I did not think anything of it when I came in, but I noticed that he is still parked in the same place and that he keeps looking over here.”

“What? Which car?” Violet went over to the large display window and looked out at the street, where vehicles crammed the curbs, parked bumper to bumper as usual in this college town.

“The silver one there, see?” Amithi joined Violet near the window.

Violet pushed her blunt-cut bangs out of her eyes and saw a gray Nissan across the street, idling in front of the acupuncture clinic. A man sat in the driver’s seat, but she couldn’t make out his face. “Did you see what the guy looked like?” she asked. “I can’t tell from here.”

“I did not see him up close, but I think he has brown hair, balding a bit,” Amithi said. “He looked to be a large man. Bulky.”

Jed, her ex, might have been losing his hair by now. And at the rate he consumed cans of Busch, at least back in their married days, Violet wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d put on some bulk, too. In the early days after their divorce, Jed used to drive three hundred miles just to get drunk and show up at her doorstep with threats to drag her back to Bent Creek, but he did so less often now.

The man in the Nissan couldn’t be Jed, Violet thought. He wouldn’t have been caught dead in anything but an American-made pickup. She forced herself to take a calming breath, like she’d learned in the yoga classes she’d taken a few months before, in an unsuccessful effort to get more balance in her life.

Across the street, the door of the gray car opened, and out stepped a man with muscular arms bulging from his white T-shirt. He wore the tough, poker-faced look of a person who did someone else’s dirty work.

“Do you know him?” Amithi asked.

“Never seen him before.”

The man came in and pushed the door closed, clattering the bells. “Oops, sorry ’bout that.” He shrugged and looked down at a clipboard. “Violet Turner?”

“Yes?” Violet touched her hand to her chest.

Amithi stepped away and went to examine the racks of shoes in the back of the store.

The man handed Violet a thick stack of paper. “I’ve been asked to give you this.” He didn’t move from his place on the welcome mat—perhaps because he sensed he wasn’t welcome.

Violet pushed her horn-rimmed reading glasses up on the bridge of her nose and scanned the heading on the first page silently: “Notice to Vacate Premises.”

“Am I being evicted?” she asked.

Without making eye contact, the man thrust his clipboard at her. “I’ll just need you to sign on the line here to acknowledge that you’ve been served.”

“I think you have the wrong person,” Violet said. “I have a rent-to-own agreement with my landlord, and a right of first refusal on the building. So I don’t see why they’d be evicting me. A portion of my rent each month is credited toward a future down payment.”

“I’m just a process server, ma’am. I don’t know anything about what the papers are about. You’ll have to take that up with your lawyer.”

“I don’t have a lawyer,” she said in a low voice, glancing over her shoulder at Amithi. Violet scribbled her signature.

“Thank you, ma’am. Best of luck to you.” The process server bent his head in a slight bow. “Seems like a real nice store you’ve got here.” He tucked his clipboard under his arm and left.

Amithi came back toward Violet. “I am sorry I did not leave. Since you said you did not know the man, I was afraid for you and did not want you to be here alone.”

Violet’s hands shook as she clutched the documents. She appreciated Amithi’s concern, but the only thing worse than getting served with an eviction notice was having a customer there to witness it.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” Amithi asked. “I sensed that man did not have good news for you.”

“No,” Violet said. “Not good news at all.”

Chapter 2

INVENTORY ITEM
: plates, set of six

APPROXIMATE DATE
: 1988

CONDITION
: fair; small chip on the rim of one of the plates

ITEM DESCRIPTION
: Assortment of Fiesta ware dinner plates: two apricot, two rose, and two turquoise.

SOURCE
: estate sale

April

APRIL SAT AT THE
round kitchen table, eating buttered toast and two hard-boiled eggs. She didn’t want to eat them, didn’t want to eat anything, but the obstetrician told her she needed to add more protein to her diet, and eggs were cheap and easy to cook. She sliced one of them and examined the two halves split open on her plate. The oblong pieces rocked back and forth on the pink Fiesta ware she’d inherited from her mom—if you considered the mess she’d left behind, the half-baked business venture and the cluttered house, an inheritance.

April grabbed the plate and dumped its contents into the trash, but not before catching a whiff of something spoiled. She ran over to the sink, where she vomited up her breakfast. So much for trying to do something good for the baby.

The nausea subsided, but April didn’t feel better. It wasn’t fair, she thought, that Charlie would be graduating from college in just a few weeks and would go off to med school in Boston in the fall. He’d forge ahead as if nothing had changed, and meanwhile, she’d be stuck here in Madison in this sagging bungalow.

She’d grown up in this house, nestled on an isthmus between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, just blocks from the white-domed capitol building and the State Street pedestrian mall. The house was one of half a dozen bungalows on the block, mixed in with Victorians and American Foursquares shaded by wide front porches. One of the houses on the street, a Prairie-style beauty with clean lines and a low-pitched roof, had been designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Some of the homes, like this one, were still occupied by families, but many of them had been converted over the last several years from student rentals and single-family residences to yoga studios, art galleries, and swanky condo developments. As a kid, April would sit on the front steps on fall Saturdays and wave to college students walking to football games. She’d imagined that someday she’d be one of them, sporting a red sweatshirt and a carefree smile. Now she wasn’t so sure.

She was more than twenty weeks into the pregnancy and there was no turning back now. Even if she could find a clinic that would perform an abortion this late, she couldn’t go through with one. This baby was her only hope for having anything that resembled a family.

April paged through a pregnancy book she’d checked out from the library. She didn’t relate to any of the smiling, shiny-haired women in the pictures. She wished her mom were there so she could ask her about all the weird things happening to her body and emotions, and whether they’d go away. She thumbed through a chapter on prenatal complications, running her finger over all the strange-sounding words for things that could go wrong. “Ectopic pregnancy
.
” “Polyhydramnios.” “Preeclampsia.” The numbers, especially, stood out for her on the pages, and she fixated on probabilities and percentages.
After twelve weeks, the chance of miscarriage is three in one hundred.

April also wished her mother were around so that, for once, the focus could shift to something other than her mom’s problems. A baby, even an unplanned one, might have injected some normalcy into the frantic highs and bottomless lows that had characterized her mom’s last years. Medication kept her bipolar disorder at bay, but just barely, and only if she took it. On more than one occasion, April had found full prescription bottles in the bathroom wastebasket.

April swished some water in her mouth and spit it out in the sink, then sat back down at the table to sort through the mail. Most of the envelopes were addressed to Clutter Consulting LLC, the business her mother had thought up in the middle of a manic streak. Her mom had quit her longtime secretarial job to start the business but never got it off the ground. When April questioned her mom about the feasibility of helping other people organize their lives when she could scarcely manage her own, Kat Morgan had said, “Oh, honey. Not everything comes down to mathematical certainty. Sometimes you’ve gotta take a chance.”

Saliva pooled in the back of April’s mouth and she got up and ran back to the sink, thinking she was going to be sick again. Despite what her mom had said, April knew quite a bit about taking chances. She’d taken a big one five months earlier, on the December morning after her eighteenth birthday.

She should have known better than to have sex for the first time just a few days before she had to retake the SAT, but she and Charlie had already waited for what felt like forever. When the condom broke, he’d held her and told her not to panic. They’d gone together to Walgreens to get the morning-after pill, where the pimply young pharmacist told them about the likelihood of side effects like nausea, vomiting, and severe cramping.
About one in four women experiences unpleasant side effects.

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