When he’d agreed to look after the shop for Rose he hadn’t quite known what to expect. Okay, so he knew from the times he’d popped in to browse and/or have a mid-morning cuppa, that she had specific things arranged in different areas for ease of perusal. For instance, there was an old tea chest storing larger framed pictures and mirrors behind the entrance door, glass and china ornaments on shelves high enough away that younger hands couldn’t quite reach, books and DVDs opposite the entrance to draw visitors’ eyes in, and about five or six different clothes rails containing men’s, women and children’s assorted items of clothing – all colour-coded. The place was a veritable Aladdin’s cave, or junk shop, depending which way you wanted to view it. Rose, of course, would insist on the former.
And he was always pleasantly surprised at the aroma on entering ‘Second Avenue’. A lot of these charity places had an overtone of un-washed armpits and other dried-in fluids which had accumulated over the years on the things that were forced into bin-bags and dumped outside the doors; mildew being a constant concern, especially if the bags had been left over the weekend. But Rose was scrupulous about the hygiene of her stock. She had a state-of-the-art washer/drier out the back and she’d dotted lily-of-the-valley scented reed diffusers around the shelves which gave off a delicate scent every time somebody moved near them.
Rose had said she’d got a check-up which he hadn’t felt able to question, and so he’d assured her that holding the fort for an hour or so was not a problem and she’d left a sound of tinkling bells in her wake. Once she’d gone, though, he hadn’t known quite what to do, so he’d busied himself with making a mental note of where everything was. He paced slowly around the floor; pulling small pieces forward on the ornament shelves and organising the taller bits at the back, relaxing into this temporary role, and finding he quite enjoyed feeling master of all he surveyed, however briefly. He kept his eye on the large panes of glass by the entrance to check if anyone was looking in at the window display and contemplating entry, but at not yet 9am on a Monday, there was very little life out on the pavements. He also noticed it was drizzling so decided he’d have time to make a quick cuppa; if anyone came in he’d know because the bell would ring above the door. And he knew that Rose kept jammy dodgers out the back.
It was whilst he was standing beside the kettle, the third jammy dodger in his hand, that he noticed a small clothes rail covered by a pale blue sheet. Nothing else in the storage area was covered; boxes of books and LPs lay open, soft toys and board games sat on trestles waiting to be moved into the main arena, ornaments and plates, mirrors, small items of furniture – everything a home could possibly need and yet clearly did not want – lay before him like an opened, out-of-date box of chocolates. There were also two other clothes rails which weren’t covered up and remained un-colour-sorted, lending the rail covered in blue fabric even more mystery.
Abandoning his biscuit, he went to the rail and lifted the edge of the sheet up with a tentative finger and thumb; carefully, slowly, checking the door to the main shop for signs of activity. Once half of the sheet had been removed, his pulse rate quickened as he witnessed the surprising, glorious sight of nine white-to-ivory-to-vanilla wedding dresses smelling of either magnolia blossom or heaven – he couldn’t quite distinguish. His hands shook as he let them skim the waists of each dress in turn; sequins that glinted in the glare of the overhead light and differing shapes and weights of lacy trims sending shocks of delights from his fingertips to his soul. Reverentially, he parted the first two dresses so that he could take a closer look at the bodices and watch the way the folds dropped like satin waterfalls from their waists to the floor. His breathing had all but stopped. Rows of pearls and diamante studs around some of the necklines had actually made him gasp and at one stage he’d had to drag over a small stool to sit on and rest his shaky legs.
He didn’t hear the tinkling of the door when Rose reappeared; hadn’t realised how long he’d been in the back worshipping these things of beauty, and so when she gave a small cough he’d simply raised his eyes and continued to beam delightedly over at her as she’d leant against the doorframe watching him.
‘There’s a private changing room back here I use myself,’ she smiled. ‘Happy to return a favour any time.’
Written for the Creative Writing Ink Prompt 16/02/2017