Read an Excerpt
Sara Kendell once read somewhere that the tale of the world is like a tree. The tale, she understood, did not so much mean the niggling occurrences of daily life. Rather it encompassed the grand stories that caused some change in the world and were remembered in ensuing years as, if not histories, at least folktales and myths. By such reasoning, Winston Churchill could take his place in British folklore alongside the legendary Robin Hood; Merlin Ambrosius had as much validity as Martin Luther. The scope of their influence might differ, but they were all a part of the same tale.
Though in later years she never could remember who had written that analogy of tale to tree, the image stayed with her. It was so easy to envision:
Sturdily rooted in the past, the tale's branches spread out through the days to come. The many stories that make up its substance unfold from bud to leaf to dry memory and back again, event connecting event like the threadwork of a spider's web, so that each creature of the world plays its part, understanding only aspects of the overall narrative, and perceiving, each with its particular talents, only glimpses of the Great Mystery that underlies it all.
The stories on their own are many, too myriad to count, and their origins are often too obscure or inconsequential on their own to be recognized for what they are. The Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero said it best: "The beginnings of all things are small."
Though he lived and died some two thousand years before Sara was born, and though the tale was so entangled by the time she came into it that it would have been an exercise in futility to attempt to unravel its many threads, Sara herself came to agree with Cicero. Years later she could pinpoint the exact moment that brought her into the tale. It was when she found the leather pouch with its curious contents in one of the back storerooms of her uncle's secondhand shop.
• • •
The Merry Dancers Old Book and Antique Emporium was situated on Bank Street, between Third Avenue and Fourth in the area of Ottawa called the Glebe. It was owned by Jamie Tams who took his inspiration for the name from the aurora borealis, the northern lights that the French call les chèvres dansantes. The dancing goats.
"It's quite appropriate," he told Sara one day. He was leaning on the long display case that supported the relic of a cash register which worked by turning a crank on its side. "Think about it. The Arctic's what? Ice and snow. Tundra and miles of nothing at best. Who'd expect a treasure like the Dancers in a place like that?"
Sara smiled. "Are you implying that somewhere in all this junk there're similar treasures to be found?"
"Implying? Nope. It's a straight fact. When was the last time you went through the jumble of boxes in the back rooms? There could be anything in themnot valuable, mind, but treasures all the same."
He stared pointedly at Sara's typewriter, an IBM self-correcting Selectric, and the pile of paper that was stacked beside it.
"If you weren't so busy writing the Great Canadian Novel…"
"What sorts of things?" Sara wanted to know. "Like Aladdin's lamp?"
"You never can tell."
"I suppose not."
"And," Jamie finished triumphantly, "if you never look, you'll never know either!"
Sara tried, but she couldn't keep a straight face any longer. They both broke into laughter.
Neither of them needed to workat least not for financial considerations. Jamie in his time, and now Sara in hers, ran The Merry Dancers as a hobby. That it showed any sort of a profit at all at the end of each fiscal year was as much due to luck as through any particular effort on their part, though Sara was more conscientious in her management than Jamie'd ever been. ("Comes with being young," Jamie warned her darkly. "Wait'll you get older. The whole place'll fall to pieces around you as you go doddering about. You'll see.")
It was a standing joke between them that whenever Jamie visited the store, at one point or another, he'd play the concerned proprietor. But for all the teasing, they both knew that if they ever made the shop as tidy as some of the newer ones on the street, it would lose half of its charm.
The Merry Dancers was cluttered, certainly somewhat dusty, but not dirty. Leaning bookshelves stuffed with fat, leather-bound volumes took up two walls, while the bay windows in front held a curious sampling of items the store offered, set out in a confusing array that put off as many people as it attracted. There were treasures to be found, indeed, but not for the fastidious. Clutter swirled like autumn leaves around old chairs, dressers, sideboards, desks, rockers, wicker tables and an umbrella stand overflowing with rolled-up maps, knobby-ended walking sticks and an African shaman's staff.
Behind the cash area it was no tidier. A walnut-paneled door led to the storerooms, a washroom, and a tiny kitchen meant only for someone without a trace of claustrophobia in their mental make-up. There were more shelves on the walls, laden with everything from books and calendars stacked a foot high to more curious wonders. To one side, set up so that she could look out the front windows when she was thinking, was Sara's desk holding her typewriter, paper, ashtray, coffee mug, tottering piles of reference books, a stuffed brown bear called Mr. Tistle with a plaid patched stomach, a stack of National Geographics and a copper-and-brass pencil holderall in a four-by-three-foot surface area.
That didn't include the pigeonholes at the back of the desk, stuffed with letters (answered and unanswered), envelopes, more paper, her driver's license (that she never remembered to take with her when she used the car), a small Aiwa cassette player, that was connected to a pair of Monitor Audio speakers balanced precariously on wrought iron brackets above the bay windows, and the filing system for her fledgling writing career that included notes (hundreds of them on anything from matchbook covers to the small sheets torn out of her spiralbound notebook), information on who had what story and how often it'd been rejected, a list of her accepted stories (eleven of them!), and the addresses for all her correspondents that had started out being in alphabetical order but somehow degenerated into catch-as-catch-can.
On the day that Sara found the pouch she'd been thinking of the storeroom and all those unopened boxes gathering dust. It was easier to think of them than to decide if she was writing a thriller, a Gothic, a fantasy, or some bizarre permutation of the three. The boxes came from rummage sales, estates, country auctions and Lord knew where. Her writing hadn't been going well that day so she decided to make a start on them.
Perched on a stool behind the counter, her typewriter covered with a piece of velvet with frayed edges and moth-holes to keep the dust from it, she was working on her third box. Like the first two it had decidedly more junk and dust in it than any sort of treasure. Sighing, she ignored the grime that coated her hands and entrenched itself under her fingernails and tried to make the best of it. She tapped her foot along with Silly Wizard, a Scots folk group that were playing on the cassette machine, her thoughts lost in daydreams.
While Sara was one of that exiguous segment of the world's population that views the commonplace through a screen of whimsy, she was not flighty. She could dream about the history of a particular knick-knack, creating in her mind all sorts of implausible origins for it at the same time as she decided on a price, neatly printed the amount on a small sticker, and attached it to the bottom of the item in question.
Rummaging through the box that day, she was, if not a candidate for the next cover of Chatelaine, at least a study of enterprise. Her thick brown curls fell past her shoulders with all the unruly orderliness of a hawthorn thicket. She was small and thin, with delicate bones and intensely green eyes, her features not so much classically beautiful as quirky. She was, as usual, dressed in a pair of faded jeans and a shapeless old sweater and a pair of practical brown leather shoes in desperate need of a polish.
"I've got to feel real," she would respond wearily to whichever well-intentioned friend was the latest to ask why she couldn't be a little more fashionable. "It's hard enough the way things are, without walking around like a mannequin."
"But…" the intrepid soul might start to argue.
"What I'd really like to be," Sara'd say then, "is a genuine tatterdemalion. You knowall patches and loose bits?"
Blowing the dust off the newest layer that the box had to offer, she certainly felt real, if not a complete ragamuffin. She'd just managed to put three finger-wide streaks of dirt on her cheek and breathed in a cloud of dust at the same time. Coughing, she dug out the latest treasurea wind-up plastic bear that would have beaten its tiny drum if its drumsticks weren't broken off, its key lost, andshe rattled it speculativelyits innards not a jumble of loose bits. She considered throwing it out, glanced at Mr. Tistle, then found she didn't have the heart. She wrote 10$$$ on a sticker, stuck it on the bottom of its foot, and tried again. A brass ashtray joined the bear (75$$$), then a saucerless teacup (50$$$), a tin whisk (15$$$), and a postcard of the Chateau Laurier in a wooden frame ($2.50because of the frame).
It must be time for lunch, she thought as she reached in again.
This time she came up with a parcel wrapped in brown paper. The Scotch tape that held the end flaps down were yellow and brittle with age. Pretending it was Christmas, or her birthday, she squeezed and shook it about a bit. Then, when she couldn't guess, she opened it.
Inside was a framed picture and a small leather bag that looked like it was made of tanned moosehide. Its drawstrings were tied in a knot. Well, this was nice, she thought, looking the bag over. She could use it as a changepurse, seeing how she'd lost her old one last night somewhere between leaving the store and reaching home.
She set the bag aside to look at the picture. It was a pen-and-ink line drawing that had been painted with watercolors. The frame was a white wood that she couldn't placea hardwood, at any rate, with a very fine grain. The picture was of two men sitting across from each other in a woodland glade. Though the painting was small, there was a lot of detail packed into it. The forest reminded Sara of Robert Bateman's workthe tree trunks were gnarled and had a barky texture; the leaves seemed separate and exact. The grass blades, the rough surface of the big stone at the edge of the clearing were all intricately rendered.
She turned her attention to the men. One was an Indian. He sat cross-legged, with a small ceremonial drum on his knee, his thick black hair hanging down either side of a square-featured face in two beaded braids. His leggings and shirt were of a plain doeskin; an ornamental band of colored beads and dentalium shells formed the shirt's collar. His eyes, against the coppery tan of his skin, were a startling blue.
Sara sat back and held the painting farther away for a moment. The detail was incredible. Each bead in the Indian's braids was a different color. She was amazed at the artist's skill, for she'd tried painting once and had given it up as a hopeless cause. But the experience left her with a sense of awe whenever she came across something this good. Bending closer again, she studied the Indian's companion.
He was obviously Caucasian, for all that the artist had given him a dark tan, and didn't look anything like the first explorers or coureurs de bois that Sara remembered from her history books (though why she thought to date the scene didn't occur to her at that moment). He looked older than the Indian, with grey streaks in his red hair. His clothing was leather as wellas primitive as his companion's but obviously of a different culture. Around his neck was a leather thong holding a curious Y-shaped object. By his knee was what looked for all the world like a small Celtic harp. His eyes, Sara noted with a sense of satisfaction, were as green as her own, though why that should please her, she couldn't say.
The two men were sharing a pipethe Indian held it, smoke streaming upward in a long spiral, and was passing it to the red-haired man. It was probably a peacepipe, Sara decided. She searched for a signature, but could find nothing to identify the artist. Sighing, she laid it aside and had a look at the pouch that had shared the painting's package. Maybe something in it would give her a clue.
Untying the knot, she shook the pouch's contents onto the counter-top. Curious, she thought, examining the objects that came to light. There was a curved claw, its pointed end too dull to be a cat's. More like a dog's…or a wolf's. She turned it over in her fingers and decided from its size that it had belonged to something smaller. Like a fox.
Next was a bundle of tiny brown feathers, tied together with leather. Then kernels of dried corn, ranging in color from a very dark brown through rust to yellow, that were threaded on another bit of leather. A rounded pebble, with thin layers of what looked like quartz running through it, followed. The last two objects were the strangest yet.
One was a flat disc made of bone. Holding it up to her eyes, she could make out a faint trace of design on either side. On one was a pair of stag's horns, each point carefully delineated, on the other a quarter moon. Around the edge of each side ran a design that was worn so much it was almost impossible to make out. She held it under the lamp that served to light her desk and squinted, then finally dug a magnifying glass out of a drawer and studied the disc properly. The designs jumped out under magnification. They were intertwining bands of Celtic ribbonwork.
She sat back and thought about that, laying both magnifying glass and disc on the counter in front of her. Now here was something to dream about if ever there was. The disc was about the size of a checker and well worn, rounded like a fat button. What had it been used for?
The last object was a small ball of hardened clay, about the size of the large marbles she used to play with in grade school. Poking experimentally at the clay, a piece flaked off to reveal a dull gleam like brassy metal. A little pinprick of excitement ran up Sara's spine as she carefully broke away the clay. When she was done, she held in her hand a tiny ring, about a quarter-inch wide, with, she discovered when she investigated it under the magnifying glass, the same spiraling ribbonwork that she'd found on the bone disc. Weird. She hefted the ring in her hand, decided it was made of gold and tried it on. It was a perfect fit for the ring finger of her left hand.
She admired it for a moment or two, then had a sudden vision of cursed rings that couldn't be removed and tugged it off. When it lay in her hand again, she laughed at her overactive imagination and set the ring down with the rest of the pouch's contents. What a strange find, she thought, smiling at her luck.
Sara was the sort of person who thought a lot about luck. "Find a penny, pick it up; all the day you'll have good luck." She always did, no matter how tarnished or grungy the coin was. She never walked under ladders, nor let a black cat cross her path, sometimes circling a whole block just to avoid that invisible trail of ill chance. She always sent all twenty copies of a chain letter on, for all that she was sure it was a con job. Walking along a streambed, she'd pick one smoothed pebble out of hundreds and keep it in her pocket for months. For luck.
And now there was this.
What it looked like was someone's collection of luck. The claw, the pebble, the feathers, corn and bone discthey were the sorts of things you might expect to find in an Indian's medicine bag. Except Indians didn't use Celtic ribbonwork, nor did they have gold rings. At least not in those days.
This time she stopped and wondered why she assumed it was so old. There was really no way that she could put a date to either the painting or the pouch…but she knew they were old. She just did. The intensity of that knowing gave her a queer feeling. She glanced at the painting again. A shaman and a Celtic bard, she thought.
Looking away, she blinked rapidly a few times and took a deep breath. Okay, it was old. Time to move on to more practical things. Whatever else the pouch had offered, there hadn't been a clue to the identity of the artist. She looked at the side of the box to see if Jamie had bothered to note where they'd gotten the box. Printed in his neat handwriting, with a magic marker, was:
FROM THE ESTATE OF
DR. ALED EVANS
Aled Evans. A Welshman, if the name was anything to go by. Sara tried to picture what he'd looked like. Sort of Albert Schweitzerish? She shrugged and studied the painting again, bending so close that her nose was just a few inches away from it.
For a moment everything wavered around her. She had the decidedly weird sensation that the store had vanished, to be replaced by the forest in the painting. The feeling came over her with a razor-sharp acutenessso suddenly that it took her breath away. She could sense the gnarled cedar thickets and the thick grass of the glade, the tall pines sweeping skyward on every side of her, their dark green points stabbing the clouds. The rich pungent odor of dark loam filled her nostrils.
Startled, she looked up, half expecting the image to remain and the store to be gone. But the shop was still there, as cluttered as ever. Outside, the afternoon drizzle continued to mist down, slicking the streets and spraying the windows with a million tiny droplets. Silly Wizard were just finishing off a selection of jaunty reels. Nothing had changed. Except maybe in her, for to her eyes the store seemed vague, lacking the clear definition of the forest she'd just seen, felt, smelled.…
Her pulse beat a quick tattoo. She glanced at the painting again, expecting the sensation to return, but the painting remained what it wasan image of ink lines and watercolor in a wooden frame. Strange. She pushed the pouch's contents around with a finger and shook her head. Just for a moment there, it'd seemed that she'd really been someplace else. Maybe she was coming down with the flu.
At that moment the tiny bell above the front door jingled and the real world intruded on her speculations in the unmistakable shape of Geraldine Hathaway. She stood in the doorway with her back to Sara, shaking out her umbrella, then closing it up with a snap. Sara stifled a groan.
"Well, Ms. Kendell," Miss Hathaway said. Her glasses clouded up with condensation and she took them off, rummaged in her purse for a handkerchief, and wiped them before continuing. "How is business today?"
"Quiet," Sara said. Or at least it had been.
"Ah, well. The weather, you know." The glasses returned to her nose and the handkerchief to its purse. "I see," she added, studying the litter on the countertop, "that you have some new stock. Anything that might be of interest to me?"
"Hard to say," Sara replied. "It's mostly junk."
"Well, you know what they say. What's junk to some…" Her voice trailed off as she neared the counter.
Sara stifled another groan. She'd yet to figure out what made Geraldine Hathaway tick. The only time she ever seemed to want to purchase something was when it was being held for someone else. Then she'd wave her checkbook about and argue until Sara felt like wringing her neck.
"Oh, I say. What's this?" Miss Hathaway picked up the gold ring that had come from the medicine bag. "How much is this?"
"Its not for sale," Sara said and braced herself for the worst.
"Nonsense. Everything is for sale in an establishment such as this. There's no need to play coy with me. I'll give you a good price for it. Say fifteen dollars?"
I'm not angry, Sara told herself, and I won't get angry. The customer's always' right. It pays to be polite. God, what rubbish! If she never saw Miss Hathaway again it'd be too soon.
"Well?" Miss Hathaway demanded. "Don't grit your teeth, girl. It's an irritating habit. Have you got a box for it?"
"I'm afraid it's not for sale," Sara replied evenly. "First off, it's solid gold"
"Why so it is! Twenty dollars then, and not a penny more."
"And secondly, it's mine, and I don't want to sell it."
"That's hardly a very businesslike attitude."
One, two, three. Deep breath. "Look," Sara tried. "I don't want to sell it."
"Well then, you shouldn't have it on display in your store."
"It wasn't on display. I was sitting at the counter here while I was" She shook her head. "It doesn't matter what I was doing with it. I'm not selling it and that's final."
Miss Hathaway glared at her. "Well, that's a fine way to talk. I've got a good mind to report you to the Better Business Bureau. First you have merchandise offered for sale and you refuse to sell it. Then"
"That's my right!" Sara cried, her voice rising with her temper. "If I don't want to sell something, I don't have to. I don't care if you go to Parliament Hill and get a bill passed saying I've got to sell it. You still won't get it."
"And then," Miss Hathaway continued, "you're extremely rude in the bargain."
Sara put a sudden clamp on her temper. She breathed slowly to steady herself and began again.
"Miss Hathaway," she said as politely as she could, "I'm not going to sell this ring and there's no point in arguing about it." She pried the ring from the woman's hands. "Thank you. And now in future, perhaps you'd care to do your shopping someplace else? I really don't need this sort of aggravation."
"Aggravation? Why!" For one blessed second Miss Hathaway was speechless. Then: "I demand to see the manager."
"I am the manager."
"The owner then."
"I'm the owner as well," Sara lied.
She could just imagine Jamie being confronted with an enraged Geraldine Hathaway. He wouldn't speak to her for a week.
Sara came around from behind the counter and, taking the woman by the arm, steered her towards the door.
"We're just closing," she said.
"It's only two o'clock!"
"For lunch. Goodbye, Miss Hathaway."
They got as far as the door before the woman made her final stand.
"I demand to be treated with some respect!" she cried.
Sara couldn't hold back any longer. "Out, out, out!" she shouted, opening the door and almost bodily shoving Miss Hathaway through it.
On the sidewalk, Miss Hathaway opened her umbrella with an angry snap and glared at Sara. "You won't see me in here again," she said loudly, hoping to attract the attention of a passerby. Unfortunately, the drizzle was keeping most people off the streets and the sidewalk was empty.
"Well, thank God for that," Sara replied and slammed the door shut.
She locked it, turned the "Open" sign around so that it read "Closed" from outside and stomped back to her stool. She sat there fuming for long moments until the whole scene had repeated itself in her mind. Then she began to giggle. Well! She never thought she'd have the nerve to do that. Wait'll she told Jamie.
She opened her hand and looked down at the ring that had caused the whole fuss. It was hers, she decided. That was one of the nice things about operating The Merry Dancers. Her rooms at home were as cluttered as the store, filled with odd things that'd caught her fancy. The painting and the pouch's contents would be right at home there. She ran a finger along the frame of the painting. Who had the artist been? She looked at the side of the box once more.
"Dr. Aled Evans," she murmured, and decided to give Jamie a call to see if he remembered where he'd gotten the box or if he knew who Dr. Evans had been.
She remembered Jamie saying something this morning about having to get that damned article for International Wildlife finished, so he'd probably be at his desk in the Postman's Room. She dug the phone out from the shelf it shared with her coffee thermos and a stack of old historicals that she'd meant to give away ages ago, but never quite got around to. Setting the phone down on the countertop, she dialed the number and started to put the pouch's contents back as she waited for Jamie to answer.
"Mmm?" he said, seven rings later.
"Hi, Jamie. Finished that article yet?"
"Oh, hello, Sairey. Almost. I'm having trouble summing up. How the hell do you sum up mushrooms?"
"You have them for dinner."
"Guess who I threw out of the store today."
Jamie laughed. "David Lindsay, the well-known Australian explorer?"
"Nope. Geraldine Hathaway."
"Good for you!" he said."
"And I've been working hard all afternooncleaning out the storerooms."
"For this you interrupt a genius at his labor?"
"A genius would know how to sum up an article on mushrooms."
"Keep it up and we'll have you for dinner, you little wretch."
Sara laughed. She rolled the ring back and forth in the palm of her hand and, checking the side of the box to make sure she had the name right, asked:
"Jamie, do you know a Dr. Aled Evans? That's A-L-E-D."
"I knew a Dr. Evans. He was a history professor at Carleton who died a few years ago. In '76. Why do you ask?"
"Well, one of the boxes that I'm going through has 'From the Estate of Dr. Aled Evans' written on its side. Was he Welsh?"
"Born in Wales, but he grew up in Toronto. He moved up here when the university offered him a position in '63."
"How come we've got a box of his effects in the back of the store?"
"Ah, well. I got to know Aled quite well, as it happens. When he died he left me everything he had. He didn't have any close family, except for some distant cousins in Wales, and he didn't want to leave a lifetime's treasures with total strangers. Most of itthe furniture and books and the likeare scattered through the House, but there were a few boxes of junk that I just stored in the back of the shop.
"I'd planned to sell them, but I didn't have the heart to go through them. I'd forgotten they were even there. I haven't thought of Aled in a long time. Funny you should mention him. He used to love mushrooms."
"Would you rather I just left all this stuff in the back, then?"
"No. There's no real point in keeping it around. I'm sure Aled wouldn't have wanted me to hang onto that stuff. It was the books and artifacts that he was most concerned about. There can't be much of interest in those boxes anyway."
"Even in the desolate Arctic tundra, there are treasures to be found.…" Sara said with a smile.
"I said, you'd be surprised. I've found the most beautiful paintingpen and ink with a watercolor wash. Was he an artist?"
"Not that I knew."
"And there was something elsethe neatest thing. It looks like an Indian medicine bag. You know. A little leather pouch with all sorts of odd things in it. A fox's claw, some feathers and corn kernels. But the most interesting things are a bone disc with some designs carved on it and a little gold ring."
"A gold ring?"
"Umhmm. It was inside a ball of clay. When I picked away at it, the ball fell apart and there it was."
"Strange. Though Aled always did have a bent for curiositiesespecially anything with an anthropological slant to it. He loved old thingsreally old thingslike Aztec pottery and arrowheads and the like. That weird clay demon-gourd you've got in your sitting room came from his collection."
Something clicked in Sara's mind.
"I remember," she said. "I just didn't connect it till now. I think I met himjust before I went to Europe. Was he the tall, reedy sort of fellow with a big bushy moustache like Yosemite Sam's?"
"Yosemite Sam? Such a lyrical description. For this I put you through college?"
"I never went to college, ninnyhammer."
"Well, you can't blame me for that."
There was a pause in the conversation that lasted for the space of a few heartbeats.
"Well?" Sara asked. "Was it him?"
"Indeed it was," Jamie replied. "I was just thinking about him. He used to come around the House quite a lot in the old daysto use the Library and play chess. He won fifty-three consecutive games from me."
Sara gazed idly at the knick-knacks spread across the countertop. "Did you know that he had a plastic wind-up bear?" she asked.
"Did you know," Jamie replied, "that I've still got to get this bloody article done? At the risk of seeming rude.…"
"Very rude. But that's okay. Just don't come down to the shop or I'll toss you out on your ear like I did Miss Hathaway. I'm feeling very fierce today."
Jamie laughed. "Will you be home for dinner? Blue's been in the kitchen all day concocting some wild Mexican dish."
"I don't want to look at another mushroom for at least a year."
"Then I'll be home. I think I might close up early again. It's shitty outside and the only customer I've had all afternoon's been dear Miss Hathaway."
"Okay. Bring the painting with you, if you would. I'd like to have a look at it. And bring that 'medicine bag' or whatever it is."
"Will do. See ya."
Sara cradled the phone and regarded her find once more. She finished returning everything to the pouch except for the ring. As she went to put it away as well, she shrugged, then slipped it on her finger. For luck.
Going to the front door, she unlocked it and, after looking up and down the street to make sure Geraldine Hathaway wasn't lurking somewhere, turned the sign around so that it read "Open." She might as well finish the box she was working on before she went home. She put a new tape in the cassette machine and the soft tones of Pachelbel's Canon drifted through the store. Humming along, she went back to her chore. The box, which grew progressively dustier with each subsequent layer, had no more wonders like the medicine bag in it. At one point she paused long enough to roll a cigarette, light it, take a couple of puffs, then set it aside as she plunged back into her work. Unlike a ready-made cigarette, it promptly went out.
As she was nearing the second-to-last layer, the bell above the door jingled. Sara started, then smiled when she saw that it wasn't Geraldine Hathaway come back for round two, but Julie Simms, a waitress who worked at Kamals, a restaurant at the corner of Third and Bank.
"Are you on your break?" Sara asked, taking the opportunity to relight her cigarette.
"Mmhmm. A big fifteen minutes. God, but it's dull today."
Sara laughed. Julie was her best friend. When Sara'd first met her, she'd thought Julie a little cynicalmostly because she had a look in her eyes that lent a certain sardonic quality to everything she saidbut Sara soon discovered that this was far from the case.
Juile worked hard, dividing her time between Kamals, two morning courses at Carleton, and supporting an eight-year-old son. She had a madcap sense of humor and a willingness to give just about anything at least one try. They'd taken all sorts of artsy crafts courses together and took a perverse delight in giving each other their latest creations for Christmas and birthdays. This peaked last year when Julie gave Sara a four-by-two-foot macrame wall hanging of an owl with big polished wooden beads for eyes. Sara had yet to forgive her and was still planning her revenge.
"You look busy for a change," Julie said, shrugging off her raincoat. "Jamie been cracking down on you?" She looked around for a place to hang it and settled on the knob of the door that led to the storerooms.
Sara shook her head. "I'm just sorting through junk." She pushed aside her work and set two coffee mugs down on the counter. "Want some?"
"Anything. So long as I can get off my feet for a few minutes. God, I hate the day shifts. You stand around just as much, only you don't get nearly the same tips."
"I haven't any cream. Forgot to pick some up on my way in this morning."
"That's okay." Julie settled down in the visitor's chair behind the counter and stretched out her legs. "Ah! I think I'll just vegetate here for the rest of the afternoon. Mind?"
"Be my guest." Sara poured coffee from her thermos, handed Julie a cup, and relit her cigarette for the third time. "The tips are even shittier here, though."
"Talking about dungI saw old Miss Hathaway stomping by the restaurant earlier. Was she in to visit you?"
"I threw her out."
"You…?" Julie broke into laughter and spilled her coffee before she could set it down on the counter. "I don't believe it."
"It's true. She drives me crazy."
"She drives everybody crazy."
"This time I had to do it. It was either that or wring her neck."
"I think I'd settle on wringing her neck. It's so much more permanent." She waited expectantly for a moment, then added: "Well? Aren't you going to give me the scoop?"
Sara moved her chair conspiratorially closer and did just that.
"Serves her right!" Julie said when Sara was done. "And what a find! Can I have a look?"
Sara tugged the ring off and passed it over.
"It's definitely gold," Julie said, turning it around in her palm. "It looks old."
"The box came from the estate of a history professor that Jamie knew."
"But this looks really old. And look at the color. It must be eighteen karat at least."
She held it up beside the wedding band she wore to forestall being asked out for dates while she was on the job. It had a fifty percent success rate. Beside the wedding band, Sara's ring had a positive glow of richness to it.
"It looks kind of brassy," Sara said.
"That's because the gold content's so high. Mine's only ten karat." Julie hefted the ring before passing it back. "It's heavy, too. I wonder how old it is?"
"A hundred years?"
Julie shrugged. "You should get it dated. I wonder where you can get that done. At a jeweler's, I suppose. Or the museum."
"I'll ask Jamie," Sara said. "He'd know."
Julie nodded. She picked up her coffee, then glanced at her watch. "Oh, no! Look at the time!"
She took a gulp and bustled to her feet, pulling a face as she dragged her raincoat from the doorknob.
"I don't know if I'll last the day," she moaned, then brightened. "What're you doing on Saturday?"
"I don't know. Why?"
"I've got the night off. I thought I'd spring for a sitter for Robbie and take in a couple of sets at Faces."
"Who cares? I just want to go out and have somebody get me a beer for a change. I can't stay late though. I'm taking Robbie to my mum's on Sunday."
"I'll let you know before the end of the week. Okay?"
"Sure. See ya."
The doorbell jingled again and she was gone.
Sara stared at the clutter that was taking over the countertop and wished she'd asked Julie what the time was. She went on a quest for her clock and found it behind her typewriter. Three-thirty. She'd give it another half-hour and then go home. Flipping over the cassette to the side with Delius on it, she got back to work.
When she'd reached the bottom of the box and put everything away on its appropriate table, it was four-thirty. She stuffed the painting and medicine bag into her knapsack, buttoned up her coat and left the store.
Halfway down the block she paused, trying to remember if she'd tested the front door after she'd locked it. Whenever she left the store she invariably stopped somewhere in the first few blocks to think about it. Convincing herself that she had, indeed, tested the door, she went on. By the time she reached home, the momentary sensation of dislocation she'd experienced with the painting had been relegated to a cobwebby corner of her mind. But the painting itself and the medicine bag were still fascinating curiosities and she was looking forward to showing them to Jamie.
Copyright © 1984 by Charles de Lint