What She Doesn't Know (And Never Will)

Submitted into Contest #25 in response to: Write a short story about someone reflecting on their previous year's resolutions.... view prompt

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Holiday

Slowly stirring her coffee, Celine looked over her friend's shoulder and through the window. Across the street was the unimaginatively named “Celine's Antiques.” A small door set in a honey-colored stone wall next to a bow-window disguised the store's true size. While only 12 feet wide the uneven oak floors went back a long way, back to the massive black desk where Celine spent much of her time.

“So, resolutions this year?”

Celine turned her attention back to Lorna. “Mmm, I don't know. I should think about it shouldn't I?”

“Did you make any last year? I don't remember.”

Lifting the white coffee cup from its white saucer, Celine leaned back in her chair. “Well yes, I did.”

Lorna gazed directly at her old college roommate. “Well? How did they turn out?”

Celine took a sip, looking back at Lorna across the froth. “Pretty well actually.”

At that Lorna leaned forward, tucking a length of glossy chocolate-brown hair behind one ear. Dark chocolate that is, not the pale milk kind.

Celine looked around the coffee shop. Other than two teenage wannabe baristas behind the counter they had the place to themselves. A small town in the English Cotswolds, Tetbury was usually quiet on Tuesday afternoons, and especially so in January.

Celine leaned in towards Lorna. “Well I made three.”

Lorna's thin eyebrows climbed a little higher up her forehead as she waited.

“I told you about “After All That,” Celine continued. “Well that was the first. I said I'd write a novel and there it is, done. Coming out in April.”

Now it was Lorna's turn to sit back in her chair and sip some coffee. “I think that's just amazing. I can’t wait to read it. But how did you find the time when you had the shop to run and you were dating Elliot?”

Celine put her cup back on its saucer. “Well I had...” She hesitated before continuing, “No, it wasn't easy, but I was very determined.”

“That's true. Well you always have been of course. You wouldn't have got the job with O'Connor otherwise.”

“You know, I loved working there but I don't miss it at all.”

This was true. Long hours in airports and hotels, the phone buzzing almost constantly, a laptop her only companion. Consulting paid well but demanded total commitment. Lots of income but little time in which to spend it, as Celine would tell her mother. There had been times when she’d quite envied Lorna with her dependable husband and two annoyingly cute kids.

Lorna wondered if Celine was steering the conversation in a different direction. You can't share a room with someone for three years without becoming attuned to every nuance and emotion, no matter how well hidden.

“So, your first resolution was to write a novel and you did it. But what about the other two?”

Celine flashed her big toothy smile. “You met one of them last night, Elliot.”

“Elliott was your New Year resolution?”

“Well not him exactly, but I resolved to meet someone I really want to be with, and so I did.”

Lorna laughed a little. “Your Mum's nagging finally paid off eh?'

Celine grimaced a little. There was an element of truth in this. More than once Mum had suggested she should find herself a nice man. Celine would explain that her schedule left no time for dating, which inevitably prompted a minor burst of hurrumphing. Then, when her mother lay in the hospital, her urging became more serious.

“Find a nice man Celine,” she'd say, “Life's so much better when you share it with someone else.”

Sensing that maybe she'd stepped into a sensitive area, Lorna began to backpedal. “He seems lovely, kind and respectful and smart, but not too smart.”

Celine nodded at this, “I got lucky when he came into the shop. I wasn't expecting it but one day there he was, looking for a desk and, well you know the rest.”

“That shop's been good for you in so many ways. You're so much more relaxed now, you look happier, healthier. I'm really glad it's working out for you.”

“Thank you. Well it was tough at first, you know that. Mom's money let me buy the place but it wasn't going to last long. I’ll be honest, I was struggling, and then, well I guess I just had a little luck.”

“Luck?”

“Uh huh.”

Celine wasn't about to go into detail. She would never relate the story of how she summoned up the courage to go down into the dark, damp cellar and poke around hoping to find something she could sell. No, that story would never be shared.

“So? What about the third resolution?”

“Mm well, I resolved to make a success of the shop, and I did.”

While Lorna stared at her old friend, trying to make sense of this Celine looked out through the window again. Her eyes were fixed on her little shop, unobtrusive in a line of bigger stores with fancier doors and more elaborate window displays.

It was all very well saying, “Buy low, sell high,” or “Maximize revenue generation,” as she'd typed into so many PowerPoint presentations during her consulting career, but antique selling was a competitive business. You needed a constant stream of desirable objects to sell, and that didn't happen by accident. Without contacts and sources, it was impossible to stock the shop with things people wanted to buy, especially at prices that would yield a profit.

Lorna broke the silence, “But how? I mean I know you understand business, but you must have changed something. I mean when we met up last January you said it was struggling.”

Celine nodded. It was true, the last twelve months had seen dramatic changes. She'd gone from owner of a struggling antiques store destined for a life of spinsterhood to successful author and businesswoman with an attractive, supportive partner. It was as if ... well Lorna was never going to understand, so best to say nothing.

Lorna spoke again, “I mean, we all make resolutions, but they don't really achieve anything. I can never keep mine more than a few weeks. What's your secret? What did you do differently?”

Celine stared out across the street for a long time before replying. “Well, I guess it was more three wishes than three resolutions. I wished for three things, and I got them.”

Lorna frowned now. “What aren't you telling me?”

Celine closed her eyes for a moment, long enough to remember how she'd rummaged through the big wooden chest she'd found in the cellar. There'd been some old lace tablecloths in it, interesting for some people yet of no real value. Then, as she straightened up and looked at the chest again, she'd noticed how the base of the inside seemed much closer than the stone floor outside. The only light came from a dim bulb at the top of the stairs so it was hard to make out details.

Leaning down again, Celine rapped her knuckles on the bottom.

It rang hollow.

She tried again in a different place, and a third time. Each time she knocked against the bottom of the chest the same result, as if there was a compartment concealed below the wooden panel.

In the gloom it was difficult to see how the bottom of the chest was configured, so she moved across from left to right, tapping and pushing. And then a panel moved, sliding forward underneath its neighbor. As it moved an object was revealed, brass-colored but it took Celine a few moments to put a name to its form.

A lamp, she realized, it was an old oil lamp. Lifting it out, her first thought was that it must be a theatrical prop, but that didn't make much sense. It was heavy, much heavier than she expected. If it was just a prop, why go to the trouble of hiding it away?

Turning towards the light for a better view, Celine saw what looked like a line of characters running circumferentially around the lamp just above its base. The metal was tarnished so she rubbed her fingers over the letters.

A blinding flash filled the dark cellar. Celine's first thought was that the electrical box had exploded. Then as a sulphurous odor reached her nostrils she became more certain there had been an electrical fault.

Her eyes were still recovering from the flash; there were blue spots in her direct line of sight so she tried looking obliquely towards the light, or where the light was. She couldn't see it now, there was something between her and the base of the cellar steps.

Not something, someone.

Celine shrieked and stepped back, grabbing the lamp by the spout, ready to swing it like a club or cudgel. Then the figure spoke.

“Be not afraid.” His voice was a deep baritone and he spoke slowly.

“Get out of my shop.” Celine tried to make her voice strong and confident. “I've got a weapon.”

Her eyes were recovering now and she could make out the silhouette of a large man, wide, muscular shoulders and something on his head.

“I will not harm you. I am here to serve you.”

“GET … OUT … OF … MY … SHOP! NOW!”

“You have released me. For that I must grant you three wishes.”

She could see better now, and in the gloom she realized the man was shirtless. The thing on his head was a turban, from his waist down he wore some kind of elaborately patterned harem pants.



Celine opened her eyes and saw Lorna staring directly at her.

“Well?” said Lorna.

It was ridiculous. Celine knew she could never explain. Heck, she wasn't even sure she understood it herself. Had she started describing how a Genii had appeared in the cellar of her store Lorna would be calling for medical assistance in minutes. No, best to keep it simple.

“I guess sometimes,” she paused before continuing, “When we're in a really low place, well maybe that can spark something, you know. And I was in a bad place the last time you saw me, but I resolved to change things, and I did.”

Lorna shock her head quietly. “Well the change in you is just amazing. If that's what resolutions can do, I'm making some tonight.”

Celine nodded in agreement. What else could she say?

January 23, 2020 01:44

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