The trash and the treasure

This one was tougher. Challenge 2 for NYC Midnight Flash fiction challenge

Genre: Drama

Location: Thrift Shop

Object: Stamp


Title: The trash and the treasure

Synopsis: A young man is reunited with an elderly woman from his past in a thrift shop. He is carrying a gun.

Sonny and Derek are gone. The bastards have left me behind. Christ, I can’t trust anyone these days.

I barge through the nearest door, into a thrift shop. The little bell above the door protests as I slam it shut. A moment later, two cops hurtle past the shop barking into their walkie talkies. I haven’t been seen.


“Can I help you?” a voice behind me asks, and then a moment later, “Why, hello Malcolm.”

Mrs Witherton had lived across the road from my parents when I was a kid. She used to babysit my sister and me whenever our parents abandoned us so they could go drinking.

Her house always smelled of baked bread and she’d had an enormous, one eyed, black cat that would perch itself on your lap, whenever you sat down. Stacey, my sister, would always laugh and protest because he was so ugly and heavy. I never really minded.

Each week, Mrs W encouraged us to write letters to our grandparents, our parents, or our friends at school. It was hard work and usually ended in over a dozen crumbled pieces of paper with spelling errors discarded on the floor. But the final product had always been satisfying.

The thrift shop reminds me of her house, but instead of baked bread, it smells of stale books. The stock is mostly junk – lamps, books, coats and dresses, pictures of old race horses. Catalogued and organised in neat piles or on shelves, advertised at $1 for this, $10 for that or $2 for something else. Stuff nobody wants, being flogged to old people who can’t afford the real deal.

“Mrs W.” I say, forcing a smile.

“Malcolm,” she purses her lips and looks down to my right hand “please tell me that isn’t loaded.”

Shit. I’ve forgotten to put the gun away. Not good.

“Yeah,” I grimace, “sorry about this.”

Her wrinkled hand moves to the cross around her neck “Are you robbing me?”

“Nah, I’m hiding. This was for a different job. I’ll be leaving as soon as I can” I say, but already I wonder how. Why does she have to know me? Why does it have to be her?

Maybe she believes me, maybe she doesn’t, but she keeps fingering that cross of hers. I can feel the betrayal and disappointment in her eyes. “I thought you would grow up better” they reproach.

Neither of us says anything for a while. I can feel those disapproving eyes on me as I move about the shop, the barrel of my gun, tap, tap, tapping against my leg. How do I get out of here? How? How? How? Tap, tap, tap.

She breaks the silence. “How are your parents?”

“Dunno. They don’t want much to do with me these days.”

“Sounds like my Roger” she snorts.

“You and Mr W split? Really?”

“He left me, for someone who could give him children. Honestly, what was he thinking, having children? A man his age!” I’m surprised by the edge of bitterness in her voice.

“So you work here now.” She nods. “You keep a lot of shit here, don’t you” I say, laughing.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

“Tell that to my parents. But, seriously who is going to buy,” I pick up a book at random, “a book of stamps?”

“There are a lot of valuable stamps in the world; but more valuable I think, were the letters those stamps helped find their way home. Valuable at least, to the people who used to receive them.” She turns, looking out of the window.

“No one writes letters anymore. People stopped when computers introduced email. Then people stopped emailing when Facebook arrived. People used to invest each word with intimacy and thought. I try to keep up. But, now it all seems quite indolent.” She turns back to me.

“People don’t take the time to think things through. They make mistakes, and because they don’t have to throw the paper away, they become careless.”

“So what are you saying, I’m careless? That I need to think things through and start over? The second I am out of here how do I know you ain’t going to be on the phone, calling those cops? I got a situation here, Mrs W. I want to walk away from this, but I don’t know how. I don’t want to hurt you, but I really don’t want to go to jail. So you tell me what I should be thinking?”

“That you can trust me.”

“I want to” I say, pacing around the shop. I need to go. The cops are long gone, but I can’t afford to leave. I really don’t want to hurt her. But, she knows me; she knows who I am, and where I live.

I pace faster and faster, hitting the gun barrel against my leg until it hurts.

“I know you are scared” she says.

“I ain’t scared of nothing,” I shout, pointing the gun at her. “Don’t say I’m scared, ’cause I ain’t!”

“Malcolm, do you know why I work in this shop? Because it is full of secrets; treasures hidden, discarded and forgotten on shelves, waiting to be found. Supermarkets tell you where everything is stored. Thrift shops are full of secrets. Thrift shops can keep secrets hidden amongst the treasure and the trash.” She is crying now and so am I. “You don’t have to do this.”

I want to believe her. But I think back to all the people that have let me down. Am I capable of trust? The gun feels so heavy in my hand; my finger’s itching against the trigger. I make my choice and I’m outside, running; putting my faith in people again.


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