She had on a backpack. She couldn't remember what happened, how she ended up there. The want-ad in the window read:
& Found seeks secret-keeper with
extraordinary organizational skills. Includes room & board.
Must be willing to work late nights and off hours. Great benefits.
She was hungry and she went in.
Do I know you, she asked the manager. His eyes were ringed with eyeliner.
No, he said. You don't. First rule of the job: Never say that, to anyone, ever. Second rule: No questions.
That first day they set her up in the cosmetic aisle sorting tubes of worn-down lipstick, bobby pins and hair elastics, stumpy eye pencils, half-full bottles of nail polish.
All day and all night she worked. When a box of baby blankets came in, the manager let her keep them. She built a little nest for herself in the backroom and slept for hours. She woke after midnight—the manager shaking her—A huge shipment just in, he said. Time to get up.
She worked alongside the manager and the other associate, a young boy with a bowl haircut, piling and folding a rainbow variety of socks, sweatshirts with holes in them, jackets, mittens, silk scarves that flowed through her fingers like water. There was a blue one with water lilies, like the painting, like the one her mother had.
There were two doors in the back of & Found. One was the break-room, where they slept, with a motley assortment of appliances. She liked the fire-engine-red toaster. The second door bore a sticker: Do Not Enter . That was the third and final rule. Only the manager had a key.
She knocked on that door one day.
A voice called, Who's there?
She said, Banana.
The voice giggled, Banana who?
She walked away, worried about what she'd done. Mentioning bananas in a place that only stocked linty lozenges and broken pretzels and mixed nuts of varying roasts seemed a cruel thing to do.
They promoted her to paper: Unread books. Scribbled in spiral-bounds. Grocery lists. To-do lists. Undelivered mail: love letters, birthday cards with cash tucked inside, utility bills. That was her least favorite, imagining all the recipients waiting for what would never arrive.
What's behind the other door, the girl asked the manager.
If you ask again I'll write you up, he replied.
They put her on register duty. She was good with numbers, always counted back the right change. A lot of pennies. Her hands reeked metallic.
In the glass cases next to the register were wallets, their contents untouched; bowls of semi-precious stones she plunged her fingers into; mismatched earrings and tarnished charms and broken necklace chains. Customers lingered wistfully over these baubles. She saw an old woman cry after spotting a set of teardrop ruby earrings. The woman counted out quarters and nickels. I was heartbroken, she said. I thought they were gone forever.
She knocked again.
Who's there? A different voice this time.
Orange, she said.
She heard whispers. She'd really get it now.
The manager brought her behind the black curtain that hung in one corner. The sign taped to it forbade those under the age of eighteen from entering.
It's okay because you're an employee, the manager said.
Inside was Love. Tempers. Minds.
We're having a two-for-one sale, the manager said. Stock's getting too high.
The manager never took the ring of keys off his belt. But even if he had, how would she know which one fit the second door? There were so many keys. Hundreds and hundreds.
Maybe it was better not to know.
The boy was blonde, with one green eye and one blue. The blue eye was lazy. She asked him for ID. He flashed it quick, too quick for her to really see.
Sure, she said. Okay.
He said, Who are you?
I work here, she said, pulling aside the curtain.
No, he said. I mean, what's your name?
She looked around; the store was empty. She told him.
It suits you, the boy said.
He picked up a bright yellow silk pouch and a purple velvet. He balanced one on each palm.
They contrast well, she said.
Love is expansion, he said, holding out the purple pouch. Then the yellow: Sanity is contraction.
Her heart went pip-pip-pip.
What's your name, she asked.
Knock-knock, he said.
Who's there, she said.
Aldo, he said.
Aldo who, she said.
Aldo anywhere with you by my side, he said.
I've been looking all over for you, he said.
She said, I'll carry the purple, for now.
They went out the door holding hands. She didn't bother to leave a note.
Sara Rauch’s writing has appeared in Crossed Out , Inkwell , upstreet , Glitterwolf , Hoot , and a few other places. Her poetry chapbook, Soft Shell , is forthcoming from Chantepleure Press. She lives in western Massachusetts with her partner and their five felines. When she's not herding cats, she's editing Cactus Heart and writing short stories.