A Collector’s Item

Her shop was overflowing with trinkets of ordinary appearance. She was an artist and as an artist she saw the beauty and magic of mundane objects in ways that many could not comprehend. For this reason rocks became living documentaries, succulents became isolated universes, and chips of wood became modes of communication.

At first glance, her shop was the embodiment of disarray, but upon closer inspection, it was evident that she had created sections with distinct functions. The northern-most corner – where the books were stacked by height and the walls were covered in an assortment of ever changing colors and lines – was used primarily for the indoctrination of unsuspecting victims. This corner represented her alter-ego: the educated woman who was tearing away at the established ivory tower not so that others could gain access, but rather so that she could demonstrate that chaos was beautiful. The southern-most corner was her least favorite because it represented work and structure. Although she fought this structure by tossing at it every conceivable art form, the glaring light of her monitor and crisp monthly calendar were fierce opponents that could not be vanquished. The east-facing corner was the most guarded section of her shop for it contained the one treasure that she valued above all else: her collection of people.

In this corner she displayed rocks, paper scraps, and an ordinary green leather book. The rocks, she claimed, were given to her by people whom she met down the street, on the bus, in the washroom, at the ice cream shop, and even at the loading dock. She never explained why these people had rocks on them, or even why they gave her rocks at the end of their conversations. All she ever explained was that the rocks represented those individuals and that if she placed these individuals next to each other, they would one day cross paths in their human form later in life. Thus, in an effort to help Fate, she spent her days trotting from office to office leaving behind rocks with a glee that belied the simplicity of the gift.

The scraps of paper represented her misplaced thoughts. She had a habit of entertaining asides and jotting down ideas that were sparked by “Hellos” and “Goodbyes.” She never followed through with these thoughts even though she had an excellent memory for remembering them all. Fortunately, no one took offense by the lack of attention that the thoughts they helped invoke received as soon as they were jotted on these scraps of colorful paper.

The leather book was the most intriguing item in her shop. In it she trapped people and later used them as trophy displays during her encounters with future disciples. The book was covered in writing and sketches that were purported to belong to the likes of presidential cabinet members, Hollywood personalities, and leading scholars of modern academia. Every now and then the pages were peppered with morsels of wisdom from manicurists, custodians, vagrants, and even a five year old child – they’re proof that I am not a schmuck, she announced proudly.

Why she collected people was a mystery to all but her. For those who did not know her the answer was quite simple: she collected people for the same reason that others collect rare artifacts…greed and covetousness. For those who pretended to know her, the answer was more nuanced: she collected people not for their rarity but rather for the value of their thoughts. But those who knew her well understood that her reasons were more selfish than she let on. They knew that in her effort to create chaos with every step she took, she also exercised a sense of power over the divinity of creation. With her book she could create and destroy simply by giving or withholding the honor of writing in her book. Her book made you succumb to the debilitating fear of reflecting on the worth of your own life and the daunting responsibility of immortalizing a single phrase of your own creation.

I spent many a day wandering in the infinite boundaries of her shop, wondering how many one-sided conversations – with her as the speaker, of course – I had to endure before my worth was determined. And then it happened. The charm of her shop ended one unsuspecting summer evening when she showed me the inside of the book. “I have a habit of collecting certain individuals wherever I go,” she chuckled, “and I’d like you to write in my book one day.” It was then that I understood what I had failed to understand before: Whether I liked it or not I had turned into a collector’s item. I, with my short stance and riotous curls, was not polished enough to deserve a page of her book; but one day, with her approval, I would acquire enough wisdom and sophistication to deserve immortality. With this newly acquired realization I smiled politely and closed the door behind me but not before she pressed one last rock into the palm of my hand.

The rock is there now, on my desk, immobile and yet full of life. There isn’t a day that goes by that the rock doesn’t beckon me to return to her shop.

———
“A Collector’s Item” by Azul Serena

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