The New Guest and Closed Indefinitely
The New Guest
My mail-order android arrived this afternoon. I bought one of the new energy-efficient models to replace my old legacy golem. I like its clean Scandinavian lines, so I decided to call it Lars. I plugged Lars in to charge, and within an hour its pupils had changed from red to green. I've sat Lars down in the guest chair, formerly inhabited by the golem, Zalman. I left Zalman in front of my building and taped a sign to its chest that reads: Works. Please take.
So, after three transfers, one more than expected, due to a rerouting caused by some kind of incident, no further details forthcoming, on one of the main thoroughfares, necessitating I walk three blocks out of my way to catch the alternate bus that would get me to my destination in the shortest amount of time, what do I discover but that the place is no longer there. I don't mean closed, shut down, out of business, I mean literally no longer there, gone, kaput. The street address was number 55, but now numbers 53 and 57 sat side by side, Lee's Dry Cleaning and Shmulewitz Hardware, the numbers clearly visible on the shops' respective transoms. What happened to number 55? I had to pick up something of great importance at number 55. How could a whole shop just disappear, without even a placeholder in its stead? Should I ask at one of the other shops? I tried Lee's. After an exchange of hellos, I said to the woman, "What happened to the store next door?"
"You mean hardware store?" she asked.
"No, I mean the store that used to be there."
"Oh," she said, "I don't know. We only here one year, maybe few months more. Always hardware store next door. Mr. Shmulewitz. Very nice man."
"No," I said, "I mean the store that was between your store and Shmulewitz."
She started laughing. "Store between? No store between!"
How could that be, I wondered. I was there only last week, not over a year ago, and I had come back to pick up what I had dropped off.
"Are you sure?"
She looked at me like I was crazy. "Sorry," she said. "Have a nice day."
So I went to Shumlewitz. There was a young guy behind the counter, maybe 19 or 20 years old, a clerk, I figured. "Is Mr. Shmulewitz here?" I asked.
"I'm Shmulewitz," he said.
"Oh," I said, surprised. "Are you the son of the owner?"
"No, I'm the owner."
"Oh?" I said. "How long have you been here?"
"Let me see," he said, and I could see he was calculating. "Must be about 34 years. Yeah, we opened in 1986. I remember because that's the year bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease, broke out in the UK."
"1986? You don't even look like you could have been born that long ago."
"I know, right? Great genes!"
"Anyway," I said, "I'm really confused. Last week I dropped something off next door, and now it's gone."
"Sorry to hear that," he said, "but why are you telling me? Shouldn't you take that up with Mrs. Lee?"
"No," I said, "I don't mean I left it at the dry cleaners, I mean the store that used to be next door."
"Peggy's Notions? They closed about two years ago. Lee's moved in shortly thereafter."
"No," I said, "not Peggy's Notions, and not at number 53, it was at number 55, which was between Lee's and your shop when I dropped the thing off."
"Between Lee and me? Another store? You must be thinking of someplace else."
"But then where's number 55?"
"That's the funny thing. There never was a number 55, it always skipped a number, 53 to 57. It seemed odd, but same thing across the street. There's no number 56. It goes straight from 54 to 58."
I had a thought, and decided to double check. "This is 47th Road, right?"
He smiled. "No. A lot of people make that mistake. This is 47th Avenue. 47th Road is the next block over."
Damn, that's what I hate about this part of town, I thought, and walked over to 47th Road. I found number 55. It was closed, the gate was down, and there was a sign taped to it, "Closed indefinitely due to death in the family."
To the left, at number 53, was Lee's Dry Cleaning, and to the right, at number 57, was Shmulewitz Hardware.
Peter Cherches' short prose collection, Whistler's Mother's Son, is available now. His "Excerpts from Mr. Deadman" appeared in Issue 28 of The Cafe Irreal and in The Irreal Reader: Fiction & Essays from The Cafe Irreal; "The Return of Amelia Earheart" appeared in Issue 48; and Three Stories appeared in Issue 70.