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The Gift That Keeps On Giving

by Elle Kim about a year ago in humanity
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What will you choose?

Today is the last day I’ll be here. Frankly, I have no idea what to do after all this. The door is wide open now... wasn’t that what I was asking for? No, not like this. Not this way. Where do I go from here? This is a very small town.

“Your favorite—lavender latte with oat milk. Two and a half pumps. On the house today,” said Mr. Amore, owner of Bluebonnet Café. His and Pete’s presence in my afternoons will be missed and forever treasured; one doesn’t just forget the first cat they fell in love with—the coolest at that.

I’ll admit, a huge part of the reason why I came here for lunch break so often was that I enjoyed Pete casually laying on my lap as I read. I'll cherish Mr. Amore’s stories of his youth forever, but Pete taking a liking to me right away felt… validating. Mr. Amore mentioned that Pete was very picky with the people he befriends. It felt nice to know he liked me—as if this fascinating, and perceptive creature saw something in me.

“Thanks, Mr. Amore,” I put a five-dollar bill in the tip jar and bent over to pet Pete, as he nuzzled my leg.

“No no, my treat. Come on,” he says, handing it back to me. Fighting back tears, I smiled, and dropped the bill in my coat’s inner left breast pocket.

Faint sounds of hurried footsteps and puttering came from the back. “I heard what happened sweetheart, I’m so sorry,” said Mr. Amore’s eldest daughter, emerging from the kitchen. “And what a lovely coat! Looks like it’s from the 20s. From your shop?”

“Yeah... You know your eras,” I say, showing her the kitschy spring flowers embroidered on the sleeves—my favorite part. “It’s a 1920’s Art Deco flappers coat. Mrs. Miyuki gave it to me as a gift.”

“The taupe looks great with your skin tone. Gives nice shape too,” she said, tracing the floral embroidery with her finger in admiration. We hugged and she wished me well. I waved goodbye knowing I probably wouldn’t see them again. I wonder if Pete will remember me.

Mrs. Miyuki was real particular with everything, especially with the shop’s vintage clothing collection. She wasn't supposed to be coming in that day; I was trying the coat on when she walked in on me. Listed at $400, it had been at the shop since I started almost two years ago because she wouldn’t sell it to anyone. She had gotten short with me when I made “stupid” mistakes in the beginning so I truly thought she would be livid. Instead, I was shocked to see something completely different in her face that day when she caught me: surprise and surrender, instead of the tight-jawed undeviating demeanor I grew accustomed to.

It was softness. Her tough exterior and walls of ice, at that moment, melted. A little ironic, being her name translates to “snow." I was stunned to say the least.

Without saying a word, she strode to her office and then some thirty minutes later called me in. Assuming I was getting canned, she sat me down instead and expressed she had been giving my suggestion of starting a social media page and online inventory for the shop some thought and that she’d like me to lead it (we had been using old school paper order forms.)

She praised me for pushing her to progress the declining business and then said the coat looked marvelous on me and that I should have it. Is she being sarcastic? I remember thinking. I was so used to her strict, frugal, and curt way of doing things that her graciousness caught me by surprise, although she was plenty generous. She said it looked perfect on me—that it “chose” me.

Her mother-in-law from a previous marriage gifted it to her. As its wearer, I am humbled by all it witnessed and was a part of, way before I was even born. Its creator, the women it adorned and protected, the women who loved it or wanted it for themselves… their unique stories… their deepest desires, greatest pleasures and greatest pains, I wonder all about in utter enchantment. All of our lives have intersected at this moment in time and I find it very hard to believe it's just a coincidence.

In truth, their world seems so different from mine; far off and dissociated somehow—from another planet or dimension. In a way, the coat was a bridge between my modern, fast-changing, new world of today and their archaic mostly forgotten world of yesterday.

Walking to the antique shop for the last time, it’s as if the coat is guiding me and assuring me that I too will make it through as it has and like those who wore it before me. I feel cloaked in the love of the most ancient sisterhood; I feel safe and accepted just as I am. Somehow I know that one day, I will have to pass it down to the next woman it chooses.

The streets are soundless as if everyone knows, even the birds. I toss my empty lipstick-stained paper cup into the proper bin and wait for the light to go green. Why does it feel like there are people I can't see looking out of their windows and pitying me—the adrift young woman with nothing to lose?

Mrs. Miyuki and I went to the local nursery to pick out plants for the shop's check-out counter once. We were on a mission to make whatever positive changes we could. I was looking at the packets of seeds while I waited for her when she came up behind me, asking if I gardened.

“I’ve never tried to grow anything before,” I said, embarrassed that at twenty-two I still had no clue about planting. No one had taught me and I didn’t take the initiative to learn, until her.

On that lovely, sunny and quiet afternoon, she did something for me that no one had ever done before. Without a word, Mrs. Miyuki grabbed a packet of organic green onion seeds, sunflower seeds, a small bag of dirt, starter pots, and tossed them into the cart. I didn’t question why; I assumed it was for her.

Back at the shop as I unloaded everything from her van's trunk, Mrs. Miyuki said candidly, “Sunflower and Negi are the easiest to grow in our area this time of year. Put some soil in the pots, bury some seeds in the middle, water them and watch them grow. I have a lovely garden at home. Maybe you can come see it someday. My daughters never cared much about that garden, but you’re a writer and writers tend to enjoy gardens.”

I stayed up all night that night ordering a bunch of stuff online and somehow ending up in the internet corners of gardening philosophy. My favorite part about growing a plant from seed is waking up one random morning and finding the seedlings peeking through the soil. I realized then that there are profound lessons to be learned by observing nature.

What you water grows.

Mrs. Miyuki said once, “When a flower dies, it goes back into the soil to nourish the new things that will grow from it. So, it lives forever. It just takes on a new form. That is its mark." I've been thinking about what she said ever since she passed; she has certainly left her mark on me.

The shop looks the same as I last left it almost two weeks ago. I haven’t returned since her death and I doubt anyone expected me to. Her out-of-state daughters won’t be taking over the shop but they are making arrangements to sell the most valued items as quickly as possible. Nothing seems to be missing, except her.

All of the gold-framed antique paintings of merchant ships sailing over the horizon—two of which are displayed at the window—remain where I last placed them. The white, orange, and blue 1950s porcelain Imari planters… her China collection—all of which are highly valued—haven’t moved an inch either.

Remembering the two keys and letter her attorney sent me, detailing where my last paycheck and severance package would be—somewhere in a locked desk drawer in her office—I fish for her keys in my purse. Still worried about the future and how I’m going to pay for my living expenses now that I lost my job under the worst circumstances, I quietly grieve the loss of a friend and mentor. Full of anxiety, I sigh deeply and unlock her office door.

Her scent lingers inside. On her desk stands a baby pink orchid that hadn’t been watered in over two weeks. It was alive but needed light and water. The key worked but the drawer was stuck. After succeeding in wrestling it open, inside, I found my check and a letter written in elegant cursive that read:

Lily, thank you for being someone I could rely on. It was a pleasure working with you. If you are reading this, I have passed. Forgive a grumpy old lady like me, won't you?

For your severance, I would like you to have whatever you want of the shop or of the storage. I trust you will choose wisely. May you bloom and blossom, like the many more things you will grow.

Amelia Miyuki Lockhart, Lockhart Antiques.

Teary, I couldn’t think of what to take other than the orchid. I could sell some things, I thought. I tuck my check and the letter in my purse and begin the process of closing up shop for the last time, looking around for what I may keep. I may have to return in a car.

As I fumble with locking the shop's front door, a woman approaches me; her hand is raised in a polite hello. Likely homeless and in her mid-30s, I notice she has dirt under her fingernails and an acorn tattoo on her wrist.

“Scuse’me miss,” she called. “Could ya please help me out? I’m short on luck and bus fare.”

Remembering the five from Bluebonnet, I reached into the suede inner pocket of my coat and was surprised to find what felt like a hardcover leather notebook inside. Startled, I found the bill and handed it to her, wishing her luck. She called me an angel, God blessed me, and then sauntered away.

It's a little blue notebook. It appears to have been used to jot down short notes and reminders for the most part, although there are some longer entries scattered through out its pages. Its last parts remain unwritten on, except for the very last page. In the middle, in small feminine scribble, it said:

Jack’s key ->

An arrow pointed to the built-in paper pocket in the back; I stuck my finger inside and pulled out a small brass key engraved with the words “SentrySafe.” Could this be the key to the metal case under the 1970s oak lounge chair upstairs?

I quickly set the orchid down and bolt to unlock the storage room. Everything was in place; the case was tucked underneath the dusty chair where it had always been. Filled with excitement and intrigue at what I might find, I reach to insert the key. It fits. I turn it slowly and… click! It popped open, briefly revealing a centimeter of the unknown. Unable to bear the suspense for much longer, I lift the lid open.

The first thing I notice is the shiny silver revolver with a wooden handle and a box of 45 Colt ammunition short of three bullets, which I assume is for the gun. In one of the two unmarked white letter envelopes is an antiquated brass skeleton key, about three inches long. Inside the other, wrapped in a blue rubber band, is what appears to be about ten thousand dollars in 1940s C-notes.

humanity

About the author

Elle Kim

Writing and books are my safe places. The adventure books I’ve read as a young girl are still my favorite!

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