The Collector's Wife

by Beth Fiset

"What's that in your backyard?" the UPS man asked Alison as she signed for the package.

"Something else my husband brought home," she answered.

"Kind of big, isn't it?"

"It is. Thank you for noticing. Here, I've signed." He took the pin pad she was holding, but stood there staring. He could only see part of whatever was back there from the front door through the kitchen windows. "The package?"

"Oh, yes, here you go." He handed her a rectangular package with her husband's name on it, Paul Greenwood. She thanked him and closed the door with him still eyeing the backyard. She looked at the return address and even though she had no idea what was in the box, she considered sending it back.

Paul's collections were becoming overwhelming. They had bought a bigger house with children in mind, and instead he filled the extra bedrooms wall to wall with things. And not just any things, he would tell you, really prized possessions. Things every collector wished they had. Alison was never one of those collectors of whom he spoke.

It started with a collection of Cracker Jack toys, you know, the ones that came in boxes with the Cracker Jacks—tiny trinkets and pendants, a complete vintage collection. She didn't mind this so much. He kept them in half a drawer in their bedroom, the other half the Bible and cigarettes. He would pull the drawer open every night for a look before setting the alarm and shutting off the light. It was like taking care of a pet.

It went from trinkets to Kewpie dolls. He bought his first three all at once at the same antique store. They were placed together on the shelf looking up with their round eyes and giant heads. He put them in a spare bedroom, built shelves for display, left room for a crib. He said this would be the baby's room—it would be perfect—full of dolls. The Kewpie dolls gave Alison the creeps and she wouldn't allow any child of hers to sleep in there. At that same antique store, he met another collector who invited him to a convention. Thousands of hoarders gathered in one place.

The house became full of collections begun and ceased. It was crowded with bottle caps, toy cars, sheriff badges, novelty pens, Coca-Cola bottles, black Santas, white Jesuses, Diego Rivera reprints, rocks (gems, according to Paul), and more things than Alison knew what to do with. Paul walked slowly, carefully, as if he were determined to meet the eyes of every Kewpie doll and black Santa and 1970s cuckoo clock. It was exhausting for Alison, constantly trying to talk her husband out of another piece, negotiating which ones they could sell, averting her eyes from the stares of the Kewpies, the judgment of the white Jesuses. Every time Paul walked through the door with something new, Alison wondered when he would be carrying something she actually wanted. She wondered when she would be able to fill the space in the nursery with a crib and a mobile and have an excuse to get rid of the breakable things.

It had only been a month since Paul admitted he didn't want to have kids. It was a shock. They had talked about having children the entire time they had been together, even going as far as naming their first born. "We can call him Paul," he said. Alison had laughed. He said he thought he could do it. He said he wanted to make her happy. He also said it wasn't worth it.

"One?" she asked, "just one child?" He said he couldn't stand the thought. Alison wondered if this marriage was a mistake, wondered if they had moved in together too soon, wondered if she even knew her husband at all. What else had he lied about while they were dating? She thought at first it was a phase, a blip in his thinking. He had, after all, left space for a crib, but every time she mentioned it, he left the house and came home with one more beautiful thing.

It was late in the evening when Paul came home from a weekend at the auctions with one of the other collectors. He was carrying a giant free-standing globe with a cast iron base and not a dent or scratch in any of the oceans.

"Watch this!" he said to Alison who was sitting quietly on the couch, reading from Better Homes and Gardens. "I only need to find a cord!"

"What does it do?" Alison asked without looking up from the picture of a wrap-around front porch on someone's Mississippi home.

"It lights up! And Spins! Just you wait," he said as he dove into one of the bedrooms. He came out with the excitement of a small birthday boy, a thin brown electrical cord raised into the air. "Sold it to me for a good price, too, since it was missing the cord, but I was promised it would work!"

He plugged the cord into the base of the globe and trailed it to an outlet. Alison stood up, eyes glued to the North Pole as Paul flipped the switch. They watched as the globe lit dimly, a faint glow on the Northern Hemisphere, before flickering out. They stared as the globe tried to spin, but was caught in a ticking motion, like a clock low on batteries.

"That's odd," said Paul. "It was supposed to spin on its axis and be bright enough to light up a room." He pulled out his phone, Alison assumed to rant to whoever it was who sold him the globe.

Alison unplugged the thing and lugged it into the bedroom that was supposed to be a nursery and put it in the space that was meant to be left for a crib, knocking over a Kewpie doll in her efforts, not caring to pick it up.

BIO: Beth Fiset is a graduate student at Missouri State University where she teaches composition and creative writing. She serves as an assistant editor for Moon City Review and a reader for Boulevard, and is happy to have her first fiction publication on the webpages of Bartleby Snopes.