The sound of the bell on the door startled the man poring over a book at the counter. He wore a set of old bifocals, half-moons of glass that perched on his nose, forcing him to tilt his chin down to peer at her. An imposing figure, she thought, and on purpose it seemed. He was dressed impeccably in a gray suit, the sleeves of his custom-tailored shirt glinting with a tiny shimmer of gold cuff links.
Taking a breath, she moved across the carpeted entryway into the store and approached his countertop. She watched as his eyes flicked up and down her long frame a couple of times, taking in her overalls, her tie dye, her hand-knit gloves and then settled on her face. Her smile was tentative. At least he’s not sitting up high on bench with a gavel, she thought.
The old walnut cabinets were lit from the inside where green and purple satin-covered displays held velvet covered boxes. Stands shaped like fingers and necks glistened with gold, ruby and emerald gems — their careworn and marred settings holding secrets about their owners’ long forgotten lives.
He smiled in return and asked how he could help. Removing the velvet pouch from her purse, she carefully placed it on the countertop. “I’m wondering if you might have a look at this and tell me what it’s worth,” she said. “It’s a family piece.”
“Of course, of course,” he said and placed a magnifier on the countertop. “Is this item for sale today?” He handled the pouch carefully to remove the stone which he placed on a velvet-lined tray. She nodded and smiled again.
“You say this is a family piece? From a relative?” and he flicked her with his speculative gaze once again.
“My mother’s,” she said, and met his gaze firmly. “She left it to me last year. I’m just wondering what it’s worth. As you can see, it’s come out of its setting.”
Carefully, he placed the gem onto the viewing pad of his magnifier and bent to examine it, saying nothing. She examined his head, the meticulously trimmed hairline. There was a slight scrape on his neck where the barber might have come too close to the skin, which sagged slightly around his collar. She shifted slightly from one foot to the other and swiveled her gaze between the floor, the window — what was customary? Should she keep standing here or move to another part of the store? Watching him, she noticed now that his necktie was slightly askew. She smiled. She liked him better for having spotted these flaws. The shop was still, except for the dust motes spiraling in the morning sunlight, accompanied by the muffled tock of the wall clock.
“Times are tough?” he said, suddenly, without looking up from his examination.
“Sure are,” she said, relaxing slightly with the casual familiarity. “I have my own flower shop but things have, um, been really tough lately with all these big stores opening up left and right.” She thought of her tiny green house, her children and dog playing quietly within the sanctuary of its humid dome — the afternoon quiet was seldom broken by the voices of customers who used to graciously select from among the beautiful stems of flowers.
“It’s a different world, these days,” and he tsk, tsk’d with his tongue. He looked up at her from behind his lens, his eyes a bit watery and, it seemed, now friendly. “Very few people value things from the past. New, cheaper, smaller, faster — is it all better? I don’t know, I don’t know.” He turned away from her and, pulling out a chamois cloth, he picked up the setting and used a pair of tweezers to clean the black debris from is ornate crevices.
“Yes, things are certainly changing. Walmart sells roses now for $15.00 a dozen — but they’re so cheap, they won’t last but a day.” She sighed, shook her head.
He gazed around his shop and then looked at her. “What do you think about this shop? It’s looking a bit drab to me lately,” he said.
“It’s a beautiful store,” she sighed. “Very well-regarded, lots of those families from over in Westwood shop here, don’t they?”
“Indeed,” he said, “they do.” And he paused to rub the piece a bit more.
“I’m sure one of them will be interested in my mother’s ring. It belonged to her favorite aunt. So, that probably dates it at late 1800s, early 20th century.” She was surprised at her boldness, but she hadn’t expected to have to do any selling.
“I believe I could use a bit of color instead,” he said.
“What?” she said.
“For my lady customers — I believe they’d like to see some color in this old shop. Don’t you think? Here’s what I think: you take this beautiful piece,” and he held up the repaired garnet and placed it back into the bag, “and keep it for your daughter. I believe I’d rather have some of those non-Walmart flowers here on my counter once or twice a week. I do so appreciate getting a chance to see it, though.” He busied himself with wiping his lenses.
She smiled slightly and he returned the gaze. “Of course,” she said. “I’d enjoy putting together some arrangements for you and your clientele.”
“Now, see here. Nothing but the best,” he said. “My customers know the difference,” and he chuckled. She nodded in agreement and they shook hands.
She paused as she turned to go. “But, is it worth anything?” she said. “I’d really like to know.”
“What is it worth?” he said. “Bah, you’ve answered your own question! Now, go along. I’ll be looking for those flowers tomorrow.”
With that, he returned to his book. She turned to go, smiling slightly, imagining those fine stems catching the sunlight on the counter.
Stacey P. Flynn spins tales in Maryland where she is a member of the library tribe at the UMD. A lifelong reader and writer, she often marvels at how well she functions in the real world.