She wasn't positive, but she thought she might be dreaming, or dead, meaning she'd crossed an exit point for her old life. The world was a softer place than it had been the day before. The weather warmer, the traffic noises sounded further away, and the creek she took her morning walk alongside of was uncharacteristically trash free. She noticed she was was more relaxed than she had been in a long time. So she figured she must be dreaming, or in that place people go when they’re between one life and another.
Her ‘old life’ had been difficult, full of unrelenting mental work. While she had been given a top of the line brain, she liked to mix it up a bit. Splitting her time between solving problems, reading, writing, time spent with family, friends and patients, and getting out into the wide world breathing in and breathing out - just being without doing. The unrelenting nature of her studies had gotten old. Grateful that she was able to get the education at all due to her advancing age, Katie none-the-less was noticing signs of inner rebellion growing at the irrelevance of much of it. Sighing, she knew that the minutia came with the territory. But that didn’t mean she had to like every facet of it. Though she grudgingly admitted perhaps the very contrast made her appreciate the good stuff even more.
Taking a break from her studies, she made her way into the Antique Mall, feeling as though she had stepped into a different reality. She wondered if somehow the upscale flea market was a way station of sorts. Where people chose their next life by the things they wanted around them. Katie believed that things are an outward expression of the inner beliefs and rules that one lived by. It wasn't always true to form, but she had found that those who chose their surroundings deliberately tended to reflect their inner landscape surprisingly well.
She had always loved wandering around looking at ‘shiny things’ that one found in the nicer shops, having grown tired of garage sales early in life. She enjoyed mentally trying on a potential new possession (or way of life) the way some women try on shoes. Mostly she enjoyed the exercise in imagination. But it had taken on a different quality this time. It was at once more vivid, and more detached.
Most of the things surrounding her were well worn, and would make for an authentic setting if she were a ‘staging expert’ like her friend who set up empty houses for resale. She looked with curiosity at a booth crammed with the detritus from estate and garage sales. The vendor had gathered items that had a high resale value, but had haphazardly mixed decorating styles. Katie would have grouped the things differently. Placing the stainless steel toaster, plug in percolator, the kitchen utensils with the black bake-o-lite handles, and a white plastic canister set on the chrome and vinyl table. The tea kettle, fine tea cups, and lace tablecloth would be arranged elegantly on the butler’s side table, and the Shaker chairs would be hung on the wall above the plain wooden bench. But she liked to have things grouped by era. Not mixing Danish Modern with 1950's Chrome and Formica.
Some of these styles her mother had had at one point or another in her life. All of them were attractive in some way, but she didn’t want to duplicate her mother’s home. She wanted her own style, wanted to reflect a softer, kinder life.
Moving on, she found a booth where the vendor had chosen the items to blend together, reflecting a style that Katie could only describe as pink, frilly, frivolous. She hadn't known that lace came in so many shades of white, cream, and pink, much of it attempting to hide what was underneath. Dripping with ribbon, flounces and ruffles, crystal chandeliers, the booth was 4000 cubic feet of total fluff. Lampshades covered with what looked like bits of lace tablecloth and tulle. Ornate lamps, silk ivy garland wrapped in order to hide the ugliness beneath, shades heavy with crystal beads, mountains of pillows, buckles, buttons and bows. It was rather overwhelming, all that fluttery stuff. For a tidy sum Katie could have the kind of room she might have liked for about fifteen minutes when she was thirteen. There were a few things in the booth she liked: a quilt here, an old powder box that would hold jewelry, little things that would remind her of her femininity without requiring the extraordinary steps to keep the dust at bay.
Right next to this wash of pink was an art-deco booth lined with movie posters, flapper dresses, retro faux mink stoles, spike high heels, and a number of little retro women's hats. She slipped one of the hats on, and stopped to admire herself. A single glance in the mirror had her snatching it off, for she looked like her grandmother. When had she grown that old? The beret was definitely not her style, never had been, never would be, no matter how cute they looked on the model.
Ah but then she saw a soft wool fedora, in black, she could not resist trying it on. Over the shoulder of the elegant woman in the mirror she spied a patch of black, hiding behind a hideous red, vinyl raincoat. Pushing aside the offending bit of plastic she found a well, tailored, cashmere coat. Slipping it on, she admired the way it hugged her curves. Paired with the fedora she would not be out of place stepping out of a taxi at the Met. All it needed was the right scarf. Silk or soft knit, in red, dove grey, or cream depending on her mood. After a last look at herself, she reluctantly placed the hat back on the wall hook, and the coat on its padded hanger.
She knew that she would find these things again someday, probably in better shape. But now was the time to dream, not buy.
She fell in love with a vase, clean elegant lines, rainbows showing through the cut crystal edges. It was beautiful even without flowers. A red and white quilt there, some blue and white china, and a cut crystal sugar bowl. There were baskets and boxes. Dressers and damask drapes. Brass fireplace tools, a fender, and antique brass andirons for a larger-than-life fireplace. There original oil paintings, and candlestick lamps. Crystals and occasional chairs. An old hutch made of mismatched wood caught her eye, reminding her of one her grandfather had lovingly made from an abandoned wardrobe.
She spent the next several hours wandering about finding things she would enjoy if she were to completely refurnish her home.
Stacks of soap made in Scotland that smelling like ‘home’ spilled lazily down a display of charming wooden boxes. English lavender dresser paper, and handmade cotton quilts thrown over the foot of a bed caught her eye. Natural fibers, old time fragrances, and well-crafted wooden furniture out shown the garish synthetic fabrics that so many merchants were pawning off on the ignorant public. An overstuffed wing back chair and ottoman were crammed into a corner next to a fake fireplace, begging to be set free. A small wooden dresser buried under a mountain of linens whispered of the lingerie that it had once held. A bent teakettle hung from a hook above the coffee grinder that was missing the bowl. And she smiled to herself for the one she owned looked better and still worked. Katie had made coffee the old fashioned way when the power went out – in the old metal pot hanging in the fireplace while beef stew simmered in the Dutch oven and snow storms raged outside.
The rows of old glass medicine bottles in the next booth reminded her of her grandmother’s vinegar cold remedy. Tasting of garlic and something that kicked like a mule, she smiled as she remembered that it had broken up every cough she had ever had. She moved on, nudging a square bottle back into line.
And then she saw the wooden humidor. Sanded till it felt like satin, someone had lovingly crafted the maple piece, fitting it perfectly with an airtight insert lined with a cork sheet. When she lifted the lid the aroma of cigar tickled her nose, and she was washed with a wave of homesickness. And she knew that this was why she had come. None of the other ‘stuff’ mattered.
She knew He had smoked the cigars that the humidor had held. Wherever he had journeyed to make his fortune – this time it was up to him to find her. She didn’t know what his name was. Or the details of his life… but she had a sense that he was looking for her… and that he had left the humidor for her to find, which meant he had been there. As she thought about it, she wondered if he had been leaving little things that would remind her of home for years. That would wake her up enough to recognize him when she saw him.
And then she realized that perhaps it had not been him that had gone away, but her, because she had needed to find out who she was independent of him, and whether she still wanted to mingle her life with his. And over time, she had forgotten much of their life together. And yet she had been driven by a yearning to get back home.
Was she dreaming? Or finally awake? Ready to enter her new life?