The Little Dollhouse Company and Gitane
The Little Dollhouse Company
The sign in the window said Help Wanted. I'd always been fascinated with miniatures. That's what I told Mr. Pound, the bifocaled proprietor.
"I collected them as a kid. Had over twenty Dinky Cars, remember those? Even had a little ambulance with a red cross on it."
Mr. Pound smiled. "What makes you think you'd be a good fit? Middle-aged men don't normally come here looking for employment."
I wasn't going to tell him that I'd been out of work since my divorce five years ago, that I'd fallen into a deep depression and had all but lost my will to live, hence the lacuna in my resume, that if he didn't give me this job I might just walk out into the traffic and let the chips fall where they may—I told him none of this.
"Look," I said. "I'm mature, reliable, live nearby, and need a job. I have only distant retail experience—but I love miniatures."
Mr. Pound, wearing a soiled cable-knit cardigan, studied me.
"It's just part time," he said. "Can't offer more than twenty hours a week. And it's minimum wage. But I was thinking of a student, you know."
"I don't want to beg, sir."
Mr. Pound mulled it over, tweaking his lower lip with thumb and finger. He really could have used a fresher cardigan. One had to wonder how he came to own a place called the Little Dollhouse Company. Did he have a thing for dolls?
"I'm going to be straight with you," he said. "Business is bad. Miniatures aren't as sought out as they used to be. Blame the damn Internet and Pokemon and all sorts of nonsense out there. That said, I'm committed to keeping this place open as long as I'm breathing. Some things have to be maintained at any cost."
"I hear you," I said, though I shared no such conviction. Most things, I had come to believe, were beyond intervention. That is to say, shit happened.
Right at that moment an axe-faced customer entered, bells jingling behind him. He was wearing a beige trench coat despite the balmy weather, hands in his pockets. He approached Mr. Pound with a superabundance of manic energy, and slapped a miniature red velvet fainting sofa on the counter, an immaculate, ornately upholstered little object that made me desire it.
"She didn't like it, Pound," the man said.
"What do you mean, she didn't like it?"
"She's allergic to velvet, and she hates the colour. Red clashes with her complexion."
"I see," said Mr. Pound picking up the tiny piece of furniture and examining it through the lower part of his bifocals.
"What's the problem?" the man asked.
"It has a stain."
Mr. Pound pinched the little couch with his fingers and held it up.
The man shook his head. "That's embarrassing," he said. He took it from Mr. Pound's hands and with a violent jingle of bells exited.
I looked at Mr. Pound.
"When can you start?" he asked.
We thought of dropping anchor, but for the red sphere below us, glowing with weird menace. We knew not what it presaged. The Catalan asked for a cigarette. I had none. The Frenchman, from Lyon, offered him Gitanes, to which he scoffed.
"What do you think it is?
"Sous-marin nucléaire. Putain."
I rubbed my coral kombolói between my fingers. Aristotle Onassis came to mind. What would he have done in this cluster fuck?
We were all sailors, then, making the best of a bleak situation. The engines took water. We listed. This isn't how I imagined it, rescuing the refuse of a dream as a foundation for a larger narrative. Sometimes the dream is a wonky vehicle. But the truth is, about this rocking boat, I have nothing really to say about my reasons for being here. Rubbing my kombolói soothed me.
As for my mates, Adolfo and Pierre—my Spanish is poor, my French only passable in Canada where I can fake it to the Anglophones—they had worn stripes and berets.
Instead of reaching our destination, still classified after all these years, we anchored near the Peninsula. We were destined for mediocrity, we knew that. Pierre offered me a cigarette. I took it and lit it with Adolfo's, still smouldering between his dark fingers.