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A second excerpt from the short story, "Museum Worthy"

Wednesday 9/14/22

This time she had blood coming from her left eye.

“Look at that,” Hovan whispered to Jenkins, as they both stood at the counter, inspecting one of the new Navajo blankets that had arrived late that afternoon in the final delivery of the day from the Native American master. They preferred to open the packages he sent last. It was kind of like a reward for having got through another day.

“Yes,” was all Jenkins said.

They could see what appeared to be a ruptured blood vessel in the woman’s right eye. The burst vessel looked like red lightning, or a river drawn by a child with an unsteady hand in the wrong crayon color or who had lost all her blues and greens. Hovan remembered how he’d vomit so hard after he lost his girl—vomited for months, and was certain he no longer had a stomach, or not his original stomach anyway, which had passed over his tongue and between his teeth. He counted it as a miracle that one had grown back, and he could eat at all. The vomiting had made the vessels in both his eyes burst. They could stay burst for a week, the lightning that looked like rivers, and the rivers like lightning. No one said anything to him, or at least they weren’t critical. No jokes gone sideways about another night of drinking or ponderous talks about bucking up. Jenkins asked him if he was okay, and Hovan knew Jenkins well enough to know that he wasn’t really asking if he was okay. He was asking if he could do anything, while understanding there was nothing anyone could do.

“I was up late,” Hovan answered. “I’m having a hard time sleeping. I bothered Marie, so she had me sleep in the spare bedroom again. No sense both of us tossing and turning all night.”

Hovan understood that Jenkins understood that the spare room remained what Hovan thought of as the girl’s bedroom. That it looked the same and that it was untouched, save when it was slept in, but not by the girl, and instead by Hovan.

“You should try some Melatonin,” Jenkins suggested. “Get the 3mg dose. Take three of them. Won’t make you drowsy in the morning.

“Yes, you’re probably right,” Hovan agreed.

During another visit, the woman’s shirt sleeve was covered in blood. She only came into the store during slack periods, when no one else was there but Hovan and Jenkins, though they’d notice that she’d sometimes pass the only customer who had been shopping as that customer left, a form of passing for which she had a knack.

They couldn’t see what produced the blood from the woman’s arm. It was as if she’d been shot or cut with a knife. The sleeve was soaked. It wouldn’t have been wetter if she’d been thrown into a pool. The blood dripped on the floor of the emporium and into the fibers of the same planks of wood that went back to the store’s earliest days. The kind of wood that is made to absorb anything that life has produced and caused to fall, and which looks better because of it. Tawny and seasoned, with a hint of cherry pits, shoe leather, and burnt almond butter.

Still, the woman browsed as she bled, admiring what she saw, her favorite items, and especially the Navajo rugs that hung on the wall in a prodigious display, but Hovan and Jenkins knew she wasn’t going to buy anything. They didn’t want to make a sale off her. They each preferred to give her something, and then they’d realize that they hadn’t asked her about the blood, if she needed help. They had never asked her. Maybe it was the steady way she walked? She didn’t betray signs of dizziness and they hadn’t thought she was on the verge of passing out, so she couldn’t have been physically hurt—not that much. Not too much. Not so much that she couldn’t go on. There was a big difference between all three, Hovan and Jenkins realized. They just accepted that bleeding was what she did. She must have had a condition. That could be it.

Jenkins had a son whose face was crooked and he could pass for a monster that the horror industry had yet to think of. People who weren’t bad people would look at him without looking away to show that they could look at him, that they weren’t casting judgment, so they stared. His jaw didn’t align with the rest of his head and hung sideways because his skull had been made that way, as if the mouth was trying to get around to the back and bite his neck. The boy didn’t have any friends at school. He was worse than hated. He was avoided. The occasional child who also didn’t have a friend and who might have been willing to be one would weigh the benefits and risks, just as Jenkins realized that he would have, if he’d known someone like his son when he himself was a boy. A child without friends nurses a dream that their situation may change, and so long as the dream exists, they will do whatever they feel is required to assure its continued existence, even if that means not having a friend who deters possible future friends. No one wants just the one.

Jenkins thought about how in time the boy would inherit the shop. He’d be the one opening a package from the Navajo master or the Navajo master’s son, who was said to be learning the loom, on a November evening right before closing for the night in this space that was mostly empty for its last half hour but had done a brisk trade during the day. There’d be the sounds of the train outside, same as there were now, in addition to an implicit understanding—even indoors—that the external air smelled of smoke and would be cold but purifying, life-affirming. Cold wasn’t a factor when you had a redoubtable coat—and the shop sold jackets that could be worn on prairie nights with nothing to stop the wind save a man—but that affirming force in the air had to factor for something, if only that one would experience it again tomorrow.

Jenkins didn’t talk to the boy about his face. He had learned to live with that face, and conditioned himself to conditions, even if he still had moments—he’d always have them, he figured—when he wanted to try—just in case—and hit his son as hard as he could from the side, to see if it might snap his face into a regular position. Wouldn’t know it was coming. Or kick him after tightly lacing on a boot. They’d never tried that, and a part of Jenkins believed it would work. He didn’t tell anyone. He just thought about it. Hovan neither stared at Jenkins’ boy nor didn’t stare. He looked at him like he looked at Jenkins.

The woman didn’t seem to be in any pain, or she hid it well, or maybe she was poor at showing the pain that she wanted others to see. Both Jenkins and Hovan were flattered that she came every day, sans fail. No one else did, not even the big spenders, the people that they needed to keep the shop going. Empty nest housewives who paraded through stores and committees all day long and spent twelve daily dollars on lattes of which they drank about ¼ of the contents and tossed the rest. They didn’t even make it in every day, not one of them.

The bleeding woman was their best customer, and she didn’t even buy anything. Maybe one day she’d surprise them and make the largest order of all time, which would require Hovan and Jenkins to rent a truck—as they’d done on a few select, memorable occasions—to get it all to the woman’s purchases home, and her house would be like the museum version of their emporium. They wanted to make her happy, which is what seeing her each day did for them. Or it did something for them. They wouldn’t have wished to miss it.


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