Ms. Mary Anne Masters thought she had seen everything come through her Magic Shop of Antiques and Curios.
Though her shop was called “Magic” it was not because it had “magic-magic,” mind you, but because it had the ordinary kind of magic. The sort of magic that gives you a warm fuzzy when you find the perfect gift for someone you otherwise wouldn’t have found elsewhere. The sort of magic that tugs at your heart strings when you come across that object that fills you full of nostalgic memories of bye-gone days. The magic that relieves burdens from your shoulders, because at Mary Anne’s Shop, you had found a home for your recently deceased parents’ collectibles that you did not want, but would have felt guilty throwing out. That kind of magic. Everyday magic.
Ms. Mary Anne, as everyone called her (and not Ms. Masters, as only strangers called her, or “Miss Havisham” as some rude people in the neighborhood would call her), thought she had already seen the most potent magic her shop had to offer.
What else could best the time when an out of town tourist lady stopped in her shop, browsed the rows upon rows of junk antique jewelry and suddenly broke down and cried? As it turned out, the elderly woman clutched a cheesy metal ring with a glass “diamond” glued to it. Ms. Mary Anne had almost thrown it out years before when taking inventory, not even certain how she’d come by it. She had decided to keep it, holding out hope that some collector might recognize it as a vintage, and valuable, item from when Cracker Jack first added surprise gifts to their boxes of candy. She was right, it did come from a Cracker Jack box (sort of), the weeping elderly woman had told Ms. Mary Anne.
“My husband and I were much too poor during the Depression to afford a proper engagement ring,” she had told the story to the shop owner, “but that didn’t stop my creative Harry, oh no it didn’t. He proposed to me on the shore of Coney Island one fine summer day. Getting on one knee he stuck the paper cone of his cotton candy into the sand, whipped out the box of Cracker Jacks he had just bought from the cotton candy vendor and declared that if the prize at the bottom was a ring, then surely it was a sign we should be married.”
The elderly woman had looked at the ring with bitter sweetness.
“There’s just no way Harry would have left such a thing to chance,” the elderly woman had continued. “He was a crafty one that Harry. I could completely see him carefully peeling back the cardboard on a Cracker Jack box, insert the ring, glue it shut, give it a good shake, and hand it off to a complicit Coney Island vendor the day before. You see, this way a little piece of junk takes on the aura of something special, and allows a noble excuse for a poor but kind man to not buy his sweetheart an expensive engagement ring.”
The woman had then slipped on the ring to admire it.
“I never asked Harry the truth of the matter. And you know, even after we could afford one, I insisted that we don’t get one. This made for a better story…that is until a Brooklyn mugger made off with it decades ago, mistaking it for the real thing.”
The woman’s gaze had drifted aimlessly as she reminisced, her thoughts wandering the corridors of time.
“The only thing I ever wanted more than having this ring back was to have Harry himself back. Not long after he gave me a ‘proper’ ring he passed away, and that’s all that fancy new ring reminded me of…Harry’s passing. I can’t have him back, but now I have the next best thing.”
She had looked at Ms. Mary Anne with tearful thanks, who had only up to then been smiling and gasping at all the polite moments in the story.
“Oh, you poor dear,” the woman had said, “you must think me a mad woman, going on and on about a piece of fake jewelry that could have come from anywhere.”
She had then slipped the ring off and held it up, imploring Ms. Mary Anne to read an inscription inside the band whose existence had completely escaped the shop owner.
It read: “To my dearest Stella, I love you, Harry 1936.”
Ms. Mary Anne had gasped in earnest and felt the warm fuzzy variety of magic course through her.
Of course she had let the woman part with the ring at no charge.
Though that story was the most extraordinary, other magic and miracles had transpired at Ms. Mary Anne’s Magic Shop of Antiques and Curios over the years. So much so that it no longer surprised her.
Such was the case today, so she thought, while helping a customer when she heard the little brass bell above the door tinkle, announcing a new potential customer.
“I can’t thank you enough Ms. Mary Anne,” said Bobby Jones from down the street, who was currently receiving the fresh twenty dollar bills she was counting out. Though he didn’t go by “Bobby” anymore. He was all grown up now and preferred “Robert,” but he would always be “Bobby” to her.
“When my mom suggested I sell my old GI Joe doll to you I thought she was nuts.”
Ms. Mary Anne smiled. “Because you didn’t want to part with it?”
“Nah, not that,” Bobby replied. “I didn’t think it was worth anything. I mean, it’s a doll, and a doll for dudes. It’s not even the little plastic action figure kids like so much these days.”
Ms. Mary Anne scoffed in her kindly way. “Your right, kids probably wouldn’t by these, but men of a certain age will pay good money to have one of these fellas, especially with the Kung Fu grip intact. It reminds them of their childhood, of simpler times.”
Bobby looked between the bearded twelve inch doll on the counter dressed in combat fatigues and the money he held in his fist.
“I guess I understand that,” he said with a tinge of sadness. “I had a lot of good times with this guy growing up. But today he can help pay the rent for one more month while I look for a new job.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what, I’ll put him up on the shelf next to Marilyn and if he’s still here when times are better for you, I’ll give you a good deal.”
Bobby Jones smiled as she placed the little icon of boyish adventures next to a similar sized doll of Marilyn Monroe in full pink “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” dress.
“You got a deal,” he said, and turned to leave, counting his money.
“Good bye Bobby Jones, say hello to your mother for me.”
“Sure will, and thanks again Ms. Mary Anne.”
Shortly after that the door bell tinkled again, announcing his departure.
She shut the drawer on the classic brass cash register and made notes in her ledger of the transaction. She hummed merrily, feeling the magic that came from Bobby Jones’ happiness and hope.
It was about then she remembered that another customer should be in the store. She recalled the door bell tinkle while she was talking to Bobby Jones, but never heard a corresponding exit tinkle. Unless the customer slipped out the same time as Bobby.
“Hello? Is someone there?” She called out.
She craned her neck, trying to see around the shelves that partitioned the large single roomed store. From the register she could only see the corner of the door, this side of the store, and not much else.
She picked up the skirt to her vintage dress, one of the garments she liked to wear to add ambiance to the store (but also earned her the nickname “Miss Havisham”), and stepped down from the sales counter area.
She meandered her way through wicker baby carriages, Singer sewing stands, piles of scruffy Teddy Bears, and shelves full of hardback books with titles like For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Tale of Two Cities, and Of Mice and Men.
As she rounded the corner of the largest shelf, she passed into the front area of the store whose lighting benefited from the large display window. Though it was a gloomy day outside, the gray light that diffused into the store painted the room with a pastel glow.
There in front of the window stood a man with his back to her, staring down at the wares in the window.
It must still have been raining outside because his rumpled khaki trench coat was soaked at the shoulders, his thick dark hair was shiny with wetness, and tiny drops peppered the wood floor around where he obviously had been standing for some time.
His slumped shoulders, his unmoving quietness, and the angle at which his head hung told her that she should approach with prudence.
“Can I help you?” she said gently, coming near.
He did not respond right away.
Now that she stood at his side, though at a respectful distance, she got a good look at him.
He was in his late thirties, early forties…though it was hard to tell exactly because whatever sadness that wore his shoulders down also hung heavy in his face, adding some years to his countenance. Likewise, he was perhaps a handsome man in happier times, but today his dark good looks were merely dark. His skin was a sickly palor. Black rings circled his pale blue eyes. A day’s worth of stubble clouded his jaw, but was lightly filmed by premature graying.
Underneath the rumpled raincoat was an equally rumpled business suit. A plain dark jacket and slacks. A simple white dress shirt with a sensible, but forgettable striped tie that was askew and loosely done at the collar, and comfortable dress shoes that were at least a week overdue for a good polishing.
He looked like a man who slept in his clothes, when he slept at all. His empty eyes spoke of a man who struggled to make it through the simple daily ritual we call life. In short, he looked like man upon whom tragedy had fallen.
The last time Ms. Mary Anne saw such an individual was when she volunteered at the homeless shelter and saw up close how life could break a human. Judging by this gentleman’s clothing, however, he was not homeless. Indeed, he appeared to be maintaining a semblance of normal life somewhere and still going through the motions of employment in some office, his coworkers probably very concerned for him.
One might also consider that perhaps he was a drinker or abuser of some substance. But she could not smell any alcohol on him or note any other tell-tell sign of substance abuse she had learned from years of service at the shelter.
He was not drunk on alcohol. He was drunk on sorrow.
At last, the man slowly raised a hand and pointed into the window display.
“May I see that?” he said, pointing to one of many dolls on display.
“Certainly,” Ms. Mary Anne said after a moment’s hesitation.
She bent down and retrieved the item.
“A lovely choice,” she said, delicately handing it to the man. “It’s one of my new arrivals.”
The man gently took the doll and held it out for examination. It was perhaps eighteen inches tall, standing on its own base that appeared to be a permanent fixture. The image was of a woman in traditional Spanish dress, one hand held high above her head holding a fan, one leg slightly bent in a dancer’s pose. The dress was red silk, white cotton and incredibly detailed down to the black lace. The hair was a fine material that added realism to a porcelain face that was already eerily real with ruby lips and brown eyes.
The doll suddenly came alive with music, shattering the quietness of the shop.
Ms. Mary Anne nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound. She clutched her heart and took a deep breath.
The man didn’t budge.
“My goodness,” Ms. Mary Anne said, smiling despite being a little embarrassed at her reaction. “I had no idea it did that. I guess I should have checked it closer for batteries or a music box when I first got it.”
The music continued. It was a slow, hauntingly bittersweet tune. A waltz perhaps? The theme of the doll implied that the character was meant to dance to this piece. Ms. Mary Anne envisioned slow, sweeping ballet movements, not so much a traditional Spanish dance. The music did, however, fit the angelic face.
The music slowed down as if an internal gear lost momentum, drawing out the final mournful notes. At last it stopped altogether.
Rain drops gently pattered against the window and slowly trailed down the glass like tears.
The man vacantly looked out onto the street, still holding the doll before him.
“My daughter loved that song,” he said, then was quiet for a long time while he returned his gaze to the Spanish lady.
Ms. Mary Anne didn’t wish to disturb his reverie, so kept quiet and made no sales pitch, no small talk. The shop worked its magic differently on different people. She wasn’t about to rush it.
The man turned his sad, watery eyes towards her and said, “They say God forgives anything.”
Ms. Mary Anne swallowed hard, not sure if she liked where this was going. She felt the man’s pain, and though she did not sense danger from him, she was concerned what his next actions might be. Nevertheless, she felt obligated to fill the awkward silence.
“Yes, I’m certain He does.”
The man looked out the window again. “I wonder, do little girls in heaven? Do they forgive daddies who work way too late and miss birthdays?”
Again, she chose her words carefully. “If they are in heaven, they see more clearly than we and are in a better position to understand…and forgive.”
This seemed to please the man, he grunted a positive acknowledgement to her assessment.
“If you pray hard enough, God will answer your deepest desires, right?” the man asked, but not necessarily to her. His eyes searched the street, as if desperately seeking the answer out there.
Again, Ms. Mary Anne felt the need to fill the silence, and said kindly, “It’s been my experience that He does, but in ways that really surprise us.”
This too seemed to please the man. For the first time he gave a barely perceptible smile.
He gestured to the doll. “How much?”
Ms. Mary Anne shifted nervously. If she wasn’t certain of his mental state, she certainly wasn’t certain of his financial state. It was an expensive item, especially now that she knew that it played music. If she asked too much, who knew what his reaction might be. If she asked too little, it would be a financial hit…
She mentally shook herself. What was she thinking? She had always been about helping her customers. Making them happy. She had always found that things worked out. Why change now?
“What do you think its worth?” she asked.
The man assessed the doll. “Two hundred dollars? Cash okay?”
Ms. Mary Anne blinked and answered after the briefest of pauses, “That sounds perfectly fine to me.”
She led the man back to the register and watched him take out the agreed amount from a wallet that obviously held much more.
She turned to write him a receipt and decided now was an acceptable time to make small talk.
“How would you like that wrapped? I see that it is still raining outside, whichever wrapping you choose—gift wrapping, or just a bag—you should take into consideration how far you have to walk…”
She turned with the finished receipt and saw that he was gone. A moment after that, the door bell tinkled.
“Well, I’ll be,” she mused out loud.
She took a deep breath, not sure what to think of the encounter and filed the receipt. You never know, she thought, he may come back for it.
It was while she was writing the transaction down in her ledger when she heard the shriek of car tires sliding to a halt on the street subsequently followed by the sounds of a loud thump, then crushed glass.
A ruckus among pedestrians erupted outside her shop and she rushed out to see what had happened.
When she arrived on the scene, she was horrified to see the man lying prone on the street, the Spanish doll nearby. A sedan with a dented hood and a cobwebbed windshield was stopped not far away. The driver was outside the vehicle holding a bloodied nose in one hand and shaking off a deflating airbag with the other.
“I swear I didn’t see him!” the driver shouted to no one in particular. “He just walked out in front of me!”
The police were there in a heartbeat, quickly followed by emergency vehicles.
It didn’t take long to sort things out, but the police were very thorough just the same. They even interviewed Ms. Mary Anne, as she was the last to talk to the man.
“Yes, he was very distracted,” she said over and over to the attending officer.
“The driver said the victim was very focused on this as he crossed the road,” the officer held up the doll, “do you know why?”
“I believe he was probably listening to the music.”
“Yes, it plays music.”
The officer looked the doll over curiously.
“This doesn’t play music,” he said, frowning.
Ms. Mary Anne frowned. “Well, of course it does. It did just before he left with it.”
The officer handed her the doll, showing her the hollow base in the process.
“It has no electronics or anything, it’s hollow.”
She shook it. No sound came.
The officer moved on, called away by one of the other many uniformed personnel on the scene.
Ms. Mary Anne clutched the doll to herself as they placed the poor man on a stretcher to take him away.
There was a smile on his face, and for once he looked very much at peace.
She smiled herself, certain that little girls in heaven were just as happy to see their daddies come home as they were on earth.