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The day spread out with more hours, like a road I know has curves, but this time it keeps rolling in front of the hood, straight, no distinction, change of pace, moment of necessity. I loathe the idea of monotony, selfless mindless repetition, days fitting neatly atop a stack of identical days, smooth edges on all sides of a pile of moonsets and sunrises, no variation detectable. Three hundred sixty five pieces of paper marked with witty quotes, jokes and comics glued together at the top one thick strip of rubber holding together paper squares letting you know today didn’t just happen again it came after yesterday, see, a totally different number right here above another cartoon. My day off looked back as if annoyed at my hurried pace, “look, just because you’re off, doesn’t mean you can boss me around, I do this every Monday while you’re busy working. Just take it easy and let me drive.”



I don’t always argue with Mondays, I feel especially rude bothering him just because my schedule changed. But what am I supposed to do, I haven’t seen a Monday evening in months, I’m rusty.



Tuesday, you’re here. Me too. I’m going to work. Coffee. Coffee first, then work.



Ahhhh. I love coffee, nice, Peter’s working this should be interesting.



“Which is worse,” eyes steady locking on me to the point of making me pretend to brush imaginary dust bunnies from the pristine countertop.



“A passionate misinformed fool peddling untruths, or a skilled knowing liar doing the same? “

My mouth half opened, dry heaved words, but nothing came up and out, my hesitation exhausted my turn. “Or,” Peter paused for dramatic emphasis, he often does, “Or, is there any difference?”



The bell above the door jingled as it swung open, two ladies meandered in slowly, gaping at tiny shot glasses with plastic confederate flags glued to the outsides. Their socks bound tight with Velcro sandal straps irritated me, no it was the heat seeping into our tiny air conditioned box as the two wheezing ladies stood in the doorway, cigarette smoke dancing fluidly contrasting these two ambassadors of asymmetry.



“Watch,” he said under his breath to me as he squared his shoulders in their direction. “Ladies, welcome to our fair city, I trust the heat isn’t too much for you?” As he looked away from the two apathetic masses of sweat and submission, he pulled open the door of the beverage refrigerator. His fists darted in and out of the rows, turning the drink labels to face outward, grinning at the two, taunting them.



I watched as he closed the door, in mock absentmindedness, “Oh, excuse me ladies, just restocking, hate to run out like those fellas at the other shop.” His words hummed in their direction but grimaced as they hurtled over their heads, protected by oversized canvas ball caps, each with large capital letters italicized, FLORIDA, in pink and green. Apparently the two had been on vacation, an east coast pilgrimage to Miami and back, three weeks, August. Now they were homeward bound, to Connecticut, seasoned by miles of highway, dozens of shops like ours, souvenirs, postcards, cumbersome bathroom keys attached to blocks of wood or hubcaps to prevent theft or loss. These women were immune to his salesmanship, his rhetoric of shortages elsewhere, his peddling of rare goods of antique value.

“Real ante bellum pottery? Jane, Jane?”



Maybe not.



“Ladies please be careful, that pottery is in fact authentic.”

“Yes ladies, these pottery fragments are authentic, quite a collection. Each piece sold at a rate of ten dollars or the entire collection for just two hundred dollars.”



Their eyes poured over the pieces, astonished at the find, the opportunity to justify the pilgrimage, a rare find like this to make up for t-shirts, plastic shells and key chains. This was real a collection to be proud of.



“There is time to think about it ladies, how long are you in town?” Knowing the effect of his words, a devilish grin crawled across his face. They’d have to decide now and drive away, empty handed to think about their brief encounter with precious antiquities, or splurge. High risk investing like this seemed foolish, but rare finds like this shouldn’t be subject to standard consumer scrutiny.



“We’ll take it,” with unexpected confidence, the woman’s words stunned Peter.

“Ugh, ladies, ugh. Right. All of it?”



Beverage cans and bottles beaded in condensation, pastel orange filled necks next to bright pink rows stood and stared at him, waiting like dutiful soldiers. I too felt like a knight in training, indoctrinated with hypothetic agility, theoretical spontaneous cunning. Now the sun rose, reached its umpire position at high noon and beat down on the black tar outside and the in the creaky door of our shop, showdown, Peter versus possible pottery patron. Authenticity would be questioned, prices negotiated, sale settled or abandoned, scheme vindicated or revealed. A look of chalk mouthed fear flushed over Peter’s cheeks.



“We’ll give you two hundred dollars for all of it.”

“Ugh, o.k. ladies are you sure you, I mean. . .”

“It’s not real.” The words ejected from my mouth before my mind registered and repressed my hunger for truth. No not truth, just prevention. The spectacle could only produce one of two outcomes, as I understood it just before my interjection. Peter would be emboldened and relentlessly entrap me in his monstrously futile attempts at crime, or the guilt of the fraudulent sale would corrupt his ability to entertain me with his delinquency.



“Listen boys, I don’t know what you’re up to, but you said two hundred, and we’re taking the collection whether you like it or not, you agreed on that price, no scam is going to confuse us about this find, right Jane?”



“Right, two hundred fellas, not one dollar more.”



“But, no ladies, he’s serious, it was a hoax, I found this pottery at a thrift store. I broke it and buried it in my back yard, only for a few months. Its not even as old as me, honest, lady its just a scam, really!”



“I’m warning you kid, if you don’t give us the pottery, you’ll be introduced to some members of the family less receptive to Southern hospitality, right Jane?”

“Right, take the money and forget you ever met us boys.”



As the door shut, Peter’s face glared, mouth half opened, eyes on the two as they pranced to either side of the trunk with the cardboard box of mud stained broken ceramic. The crisp bills fresh from ATM stuck together, pinched in thumb and fore finger. He didn’t count it, just dropped it on the counter.



As I reached over, and picked up the cash I moved slowly, unsure of his reaction. Two hundred dollars, “hey Peter, its all here.”



I’m not sure which is worse, I guess it depends whose asking.


------
Joey Ryan


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