Inside the antique mall, Nora snatches up a hand-sewn quilt in a pattern of ruby hourglass blocks and breathes in its dust. She wipes her damp eyes with its hem, then pauses to test the air for the smells of lemon oil and paper mold, the musty corners of ancient sideboards and roll-top desks, a hint of the petroleum distillates that used to permeate her mother's own little shop.
Nora turns away from the collection of quilts and trudges up the stairs to the second floor where afternoon light angles in to warm the golden tone of polished wood. She threads her way through makeshift bookcases, past a table of Native American rugs, stops at a jewelry case when she spies a marcasite ring similar to the one her mother used to have, but she doesn't try it on. She's killing time, a little too early for lunch with her friends. She catches the wink of something familiar on a shelf. It appears to be a ruby-red depression-glass vase with a clump of dusty roses jammed into it, but the flowers don't belong. This container is supposed to hold spoons.
She remembers peeling away the yellowed newsprint from spoon-holders just like this one and lining them up on a workbench in her mother's backroom where the sun streamed through their soft pinks, ambers, reds, greens, golds, creating a shimmering watercolor painting across the concrete floor. Her aunt shipped them from Minnesota, some fluted, some with straight sides, rippled, beaded, etched, each unique. Her mother loved pressed glass and when her father and the boys came in from the fields, there would always be a hot pot of coffee on the stove, a pie in the oven, and on the table, a matching sugar bowl, cream pitcher, and a holder filled with spoons.
Nora sees her teen-age self in the workroom behind her mother's shop, country rock twanging softly from the portable radio, the smell of solvent sharp in her nose. She's sitting on a tarp scrubbing the claw-footed base of an oak dining table with a toothbrush, black layers of varnish melting away. It's a quiet moment, everything easy.
She doesn't hear the voices at first, but as they grow louder, she drops the toothbrush and slips down a passage narrowed by chests of drawers, glass-fronted secretaries, a walnut end table into the shop.
She slows at the old icebox her aunt sent out from Iowa the year before and sees her father towering over her pallid mother, yammering on and on about money, how she needed to get a real job, how he was going to sell the shop. She was an accountant, for god's sake.
"Sell the shop?" is Nora's first thought, but then her father moves around the glass counter, his arms flailing, his left hand sweeping down a shelf filled with beakers, tumblers, vases, and her mother's prized spoon-holder collection. Objects fly, crash down, heavy pieces landing on the glass counter, cracking it. Her mother whirls from the shards, a bloom of crimson appearing along the back of her arm. Her father's eyes flare, realizing what he's done, and he crunches through splintered fragments to take his wife's arm, remove the glass, set her gently down in a rocker.
Nora shakes herself, and glancing around the antique mall, uproots the artificial roses, claims the spoon-holder. She slowly, reverently turns it over, and the sun's rays from a high window render double each diagonal ribbon crisscrossing the transparent glass. The patterns gleaming along the floor are hourglass-shaped, ruby-colored, like the quilt.
Something ripples through her, something melts away, something leaves her raw and expectant.
BIO: by Gay Degani is the author of a full-length collection of short stories, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She's had four flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11thGlass Woman Prize. She blogs at Words in Place.