Submitted into Contest #185 in response to: Set all or part of your story in a jam-packed storage unit.... view prompt


Fiction Romance Drama

“Darling, would you like more wine? Just a touch? We can always open another. It’s not every evening we get to enjoy one of your succulent roasts, is it? And with potatoes gratin, no less. You know they’re my favorite. 

You spoil me, you always have. I honestly don’t know what I ever did to deserve you.  I’m just so glad I did whatever it was, and just know I would do it again if it meant another lifetime to spend with you.”

Maurice Chanel poured what was left into his glass, one of a set of Riedel hand-blown crystal they’d treated each other on their 45th wedding anniversary. He swirled the leggy rich red between his fingertips to release its essence and dipped his nose to enjoy the transcendent waft of another time. 

He closed his eyes to drift for just a moment, for when he opened them, he was precisely where he wanted to be, with his darling Jacqueline, the love of his life and, gods be good, his wife. She was his, and he was hers. He was blessed, and knew it.

Maurice was feeling playful. He pointed across the room.

“See your vase in the corner there? Remember that day? I do, just as if it were yesterday. If I hadn’t accidentally stumbled upon it, I may have never known it existed. Serendipity, sweet one. To this day, it is one of my most prized possessions, made with your own two hands. Nothing compared to you, of course. Nothing could be. Ah, why are you blushing? It’s not the first time I’ve said it.

“Here, I'll clean up. You relax, leave it all to me.” 

* * *

A large crowd had gathered at the Auction House of Half Moon Bay. The advertisements had run for months that abandoned storage units were ripe for auction and plentiful due to rising costs. This was Auction Day.  

There was a growing community of professionals in the area who made their living picking at the abandoned leftovers of others' lives.  They prided themselves on being practiced in the art of reading people, their surroundings and, most important, the bidding process.  They all shared one thing; a desire, quest really, to discover the mother lode of treasures just waiting behind one of those steel roll-ups.

“All right, citizens, gather around. We’re about to get started. Get your cash out and your biddin’ hand, or whatever you got, a’limber. 

First, I’d like to introduce Frank Cullen. You all know him as the owner of Cullen Storage Depot and he’s gone a long way to make this auction possible. Let’s give him a hand.”

Frank Cullen, a modest-looking man in thick glasses, a tie and vest, raised his hand in welcome to a spattering of claps and whistles.

The serious bidders, as usual, hung back and at the fringes of the crowd, while the amateurs flocked in the middle ground, full of nerves, giggles and beer. 

“So, assuming you’ve all had a tour of the facilities, are we ready to start the bidding?  Well then, let’s not dally any longer. We’re going to start with Locker Number 129. Locker 129.  Let’s start the bidding at 10. Can I get . . .”

When the professional auctioneer begins his chant, it is impossible for the human ear to keep up. Individual words are lost within the frightening speed of a melodic tidal wave, though you may discern an occasional “I have” or a “Can I get.” 

The auctioneer must also possess a well-honed clairvoyant eye that enables instant recognition and acknowledgement of the most subtle signals – a wink, a wave, the wiggle of a finger, a one syllable “hey,” any twitch that could constitute the exchange of months of a man’s wages for a hope and a dream, all at lightning speed.

Dale Loweman was among the group of amateurs. Dale did not possess either a hope or a dream so much as a divorce settlement that had left him in dire financial straits. His ex-wife had their three kids and, as his friend, Jack, had so artfully pointed out recently, his “balls in a handbag.”

He was there to observe. He’d told himself that several times on the drive over. He’d never been to a live auction before but had watched one on television. He thought that equipped him with enough of a foundation to at least dip a toe in and see what the experience was like.

The first locker was bid so quickly, Dale had missed the entire thing until he recognized one word, “Sold,” and then realized it was over. He saw a couple exchange smiles and a fist-bump, so assumed they were the victors. He focused his mind on the next one and, this time, didn’t take his eyes off the auctioneer.

“And now we come to Locker 235. Let’s begin the bidding at 10 again. Do I hear . . .”

* * *

Dale stared at the ticket in his hand. It had 235 printed on it, the number of the locker he had, apparently, bid on and won, though he had no idea how. What he was aware of, though, was the realization he was on the hook for who-knew-what. When a young lady handed him the ticket and told him where he could go to pay for what was now his property in Locker 235, he’d been too embarrassed to make a scene. He could kick himself.

Deciding he’d over-spent his time at the auction, Dale slipped away from the crowd. 

When he got to the cashier’s window, he passed his ticket to the man behind the glass.

“That’ll be 850.”

“Dollars?” Dale prayed he’d misheard.

“No, Skippy, seashells. Yes, dollars.”

“Oh, well . . .”

He began to sweat and consider his options. He wanted to run but, instead, slid the man his credit card with a hand that noticeably shook. He was going to hear it from both his ex-wife and his lawyer.

Locker 235 was his. Please, let there be gold in there. 

* * *

“Jacqueline, sweetheart, are you comfortable? Is there anything I can get for you? Why don’t you get some rest and I’ll be back shortly. No, no, I won’t be long. I’ll pick up some of those cherries at the market you like so much.”

Maurice made his way to the front and, just as he was about to reach for the handle, it sprang open before his eyes.  He squinted as the light hit him and he stepped back.

“Who the hell are you?” Dale also took a step back.   

“I might ask you the same question.”

“I asked you first.” Dale held up his key. “I own this locker.”

“Well, you can’t,” Maurice countered. “This locker’s mine. I live here.”

Dale stared at the old man. “What do you mean, you live here?”

“Do you have trouble with the word ‘live’ or ‘here’?”

“No, I . . .”

“All right, then. May I have my key?”

“Your key? I just paid $850 for this.”

“And just why would you do a stupid thing like that?”

“This locker was just sold. I bought it.  Were you renting it?”

“I’m the owner, I told you.”

“And did you fall behind on the payments?”

Maurice hesitated. “I don’t know.”

“Why . . . how . . . well, okay.  Well, what’s your name?”

“Maurice Chanel. And you are?”

“Dale, Dale Loweman. Looks like we got us a situation -- can I call you Mr. C.?”

“Be my guest. And indeed we do, Mr. Loweman. Before we go further, though, I’d like to check on my wife. I’m sure she’s heard our entire exchange and I don’t want her upset. I’ll be right back.”

At that, the old man disappeared behind a wall of boxes stacked almost to the ceiling. Dale snuck a look and watched the man maneuver his way around more stuff than Dale imagined could fit in such limited space.

Dale saw the man duck behind a partition draped with a musty old tablecloth. He could hear him speaking to someone.  Dale took a step inside the unit and looked around. 

There were more boxes, but there was also a kitchen table set with magazines for place mats, plastic cups and utensils for two. Most surfaces were covered with dust and Dale saw cobwebs overhead leading from a bare lightbulb that hung from the ceiling.

“Dale, my wife would like to meet you.”

The young man startled, but then carefully made his way to where Maurice stood.

“Jacqueline, this is the young man I was telling you about. This is Dale . . . what was it again?”

Dale looked into a narrow space lined with stacks of books, piles of clothing and a single lawn chair in the center. On the chair laid a mannequin dressed in blue satin pajamas. It wore a turban adorned with a butterfly pin, staring straight ahead with its painted face.

“Forgive me, Dale. My memory . . .”


“Darling, this is Mr. Loweman. This is Jacqueline, my wife of 48 years. No, don’t get up, my dear. Just a quick introduction. We’ll be discussing some business matters, but I’ll be back in time for dinner. No, I promise.  Cherries, of course.”

Maurice delicately lifted and then kissed a resin hand.

“Mr. C., I’ll meet you outside.” Dale then hesitated, and nodded toward the chair. “Ma’am.”

* * *

“What have I gotten myself into?”

Dale paced and wondered to himself how anyone so obviously delusional could behave so, well, charming and lucid.  He was still pacing when Maurice rejoined him.

“Where should we conduct our business, then?”

Dale shook his head. “Not sure. Let’s lock up and walk over to my truck. It’s that one over there.”

As Dale rolled the accordion door to the ground, he asked, “How did you manage to get in and out of here?  They change the locks, don’t they?”

Maurice, with a sly grin, replied, “I’m a locksmith by trade.”

“Uh huh.” Dale stared at Maurice, then knelt to secure the lock. 

“I know a diner near here. I could use a cup of coffee. You?”

“Delighted. But then I must shop for dinner and get back to my wife.”

* * *

The waitress brought coffee for Dale, tea for Maurice. After she left them with the tab and a smile, Dale spoke.

“We have ourselves a situation here, Mr. C.”

“Indeed. It’s quite a pickle, I’d say.”

They were silent as they stirred and sipped their drinks.

“Mr. C., by legal rights, your stuff is my stuff. I don’t want your stuff.”

“Why, that’s very decent of you, Dale. Very noble.”

“Except I am out $850. I’d be willing to walk away if I could get the equivalent of $850 worth of something you might have in there and then we could shake hands and say adios.”

Of course, Dale also knew he’d turn in his key after 72 hours to ostensibly take what he wanted from the unit. Then it’d be up to management to deal with the old man.

Maurice thought about Dale’s proposition.  The unit was full of valuable items, a veritable trove of treasures, to Maurice’s mind.

“I believe, yes, that can be arranged. Of course, we must have Jacqueline’s agreement. She has final word, always has.”

“Of course.”

“Well, I can go shopping afterwards if you’d care to get on with it now. We’ve taken up enough of your time, I think.”

“You know, Mr. C., you’re a nice man.” 

“I’m a blessed man, Dale, and I know it.”

* * *

The two men stared into the reopened unit. Where to begin. Dale had removed some of the boxes and placed them outside the locker to have better access to its contents.

“I’d feel more comfortable, Mr. C., asking you what you think you could part with.”

“Hmm, it might be easier if I point out the things most dear to my wife and me.”

“All right, then.”

“Here, Jacqueline made this in a pottery class. She always tried hiding it, but I wouldn’t part with it for the world.”

Dale watched Maurice pluck a filthy, cracked lamp base from the corner of the unit.

Oh boy, thought Dale, this isn’t going to be easy.

“Sure, Mr. C. That’s fine.”

“Well, now, let’s see . . .”

“Hello?”  The two men turned to see who’d addressed them.

“Hey there. Name’s Frank Cullen. I own this facility. Just checking to see how things are going . . . wait, Mr. Chanel, is that you? My Lord, we’ve been trying to find you for months.”

“I’m afraid I can’t place you, sir. And just how is it you think you know me?”

“Maurice, this . . . was your unit. You rented it to store some things . . . your wife had just passed and you needed to downsize your living quarters.”

Dale jerked his head to look at Maurice. Maurice looked stunned, as though he’d been slapped.

“No, no, you must be mistaken. My wife is alive. She’s . . .”

Maurice started to buckle. Dale grabbed his arms and helped guide him out of the unit and into fresh air.

“You all right, Mr. C.?”

“I should sit down, I think.”

“Should I call for an ambulance?” Mr. Cullen placed a hand on Maurice’s shoulder.

“Yes,” Dale said.

“No, no,” Maurice shook his head. “That won’t be necessary.”

Dale turned to Mr. Cullen, “Do you have some water?”

“Sure, I’ll be right back.”

“A sherry would be better,” Maurice called after him.

“Mr. C., we have us a situation here.” Dale said, after Frank had left.

“No. I do, I’m afraid. I’d forgotten . . .”

Maurice’s voice trailed off. Dale sat quietly and let the man think.

Frank arrived with two cups, one with water, the other with whiskey. He offered both. Maurice gratefully drank both.

“Thank you, Frank.”

“You remember me now.”

“I do, yes.”

“I’m so sorry . . .”

“Don’t be. I’m just a foolish old man who let a memory get the better of him.” A tear escaped from Maurice’s eye and trailed down his face.

Dale stood and said to Frank, “A word?”

The two men walked a short distance away.

“I’m going to refund you your money.”

“That’s not what I . . . well, yes, thank you, I appreciate it. What to do with Mr. Chanel.”

“All I can think is social services. I believe his wife was his only family. I’ll check again. I’d like to be wrong.”

Dale took a deep breath.

* * *

“It’s not much, Mr. C., but you should be comfortable. There’s a towel I left for you near the sink. If there’s anything else you need, let it wait until morning.”

Dale grinned at the old man. It had taken some arm-twisting to get him to wear some of Dale’s clothes. All Maurice’s clothing in the locker had seen better days and, at a minimum, needed laundering. 

“There is one thing, if I might trouble you.”

“Sure, what is it?”

“I’m grateful to you, Dale, for taking me in. I’ve been a bother, I know. Now that my Jacqueline . . .”

Maurice’s lip began quivering.

“Want me to sit with you a while?”

“If you would.”

Maurice settled himself into the couch, and covered himself with the extra comforter Dale had found in the closet, the one his daughter had outgrown. It was covered with pink and purple ponies.

“Tomorrow we’ll sort out your locker. You can keep whatever’s important to you here while we get you settled . . . wherever.”

“Without Jacqueline, none of it has any importance. Much like me.”

“Now, look, I don’t want you talking that way or thinking like that. It’s been a long day and you’ve had a shock. I want you to look me in the eye and promise me you won’t do anything foolish. You don’t want to bite the hand that fed you spaghetti, now, do you?”

“You’ve been very kind, Dale. No, I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“Tomorrow’s a new day, Mr. C. Think you can close your eyes now?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Let’s get some sleep then.”

* * *

When Dale awoke the next morning, he’d slept so heavily, it took time for the prior day’s events to catch up with him. He yawned, grateful it was Sunday and he didn’t have to rush to work. Coffee.

He checked to see if Maurice was still asleep, and groaned. The couch was empty and looked barely slept in.

“Damn it, Maurice.”

* * *

Dale arrived at the locker and saw the door was up. He wasn’t surprised. 

“Hey, Mr. C.?”

He took the same path he had before to find the back of the unit. There sat Maurice on the lawn chair, though there was no sign of . . .

“Where’s . . .” Dale gestured to the chair. He was at a loss for what to call the Jacqueline mannequin.

“Good morning, Dale. We held a cremation last night.”

“What? Where? How did you manage that?”

“It was the only way I could really say goodbye.  Dale, I let her go."

Dale shook his head.

“I’ll be. Well, I guess we can talk about it later. You tired? Want to go back to my place . . .”

“No, I’m fine. Better.”

“Want to get some coffee, talk about the day? Make us a plan?”


The two of them left the unit, then lingered at the door. Dale took a visual inventory.

“There sure is a lot here, Mr. C. I’ll bet you’ll find things you forgot you even had.”

“Frankly, Dale, I don’t really care. The time with my wife is what mattered. All the rest is just stuff. It always was.”


February 15, 2023 18:55

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Delbert Griffith
13:02 Feb 23, 2023

I love this tale - and the main characters. This beautifully-written piece had everything in it: heartbreak, death, life, hope. The redemption theme hit hard, my friend. Your masterful handling of the words that made up this tale is superb. I think you have some sort of magical ability to get the most out of any situation you care to write about, Susan. Nicely done, my friend. Nicely done.


Susan Catucci
13:51 Feb 23, 2023

Thanks don't begin to cover how grateful I am, Del, for the encouraging words. I doubt you'd be capable of being anything but genuine and sincere. As Dale would say, you know, you're a nice man. It's all about impact. You can't minimize the effect that words and actions have on another life and their importance. The world may be spin out of control now and then but I just love knowing one person can make life better. :)


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Aeris Walker
18:55 Feb 22, 2023

What a fantastic twist. I never saw that coming, and I just loved the visual of this poor old man and his mannequin wife hiding away in a storage unit. Equally entertaining and heartbreaking. I think you did a great job with this section here: "When the professional auctioneer begins his chant, it is impossible for the human ear to keep up. Individual words are lost within the frightening speed of a melodic tidal wave, though you may discern an occasional “I have” or a “Can I get.” "The auctioneer must also possess a well-honed clairvoyan...


Susan Catucci
14:02 Feb 23, 2023

Ah, thanks so, so much, Aeris! When I had a rough outline of what I wanted to write flitting around in my brain, I found a terrific documentary about auctioneers by Werner Herzog entitled How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck from 1976. Fascinating, amazing - you can hardly believe you're hearing from you're hearing. There's an education for you. I appreciate the specificity with what stood out for you; especially when they parallel what I hoped would do just that. I love hearing from you. :)


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V. S. Rose
19:15 Feb 18, 2023

This was beautifully crafted Susan. Initially, I had thought the first scene change to the auction house was a flashback, but it was a welcome surprise to see it link up with the beginning of the story and realize that the two storylines were happening simultaneously. As the reader, you feel empathy for both Maurice and Dale. Maurice with the loss of his wife, and Dale with his family as well as being in a precarious financial situation. You get to see them form an unlikely bond, a friendship, and eventually, help each other overcome the di...


Susan Catucci
21:40 Feb 18, 2023

Yikes, V.S., that's wonderful to hear. Thank you so much for your observations and praise. I enjoyed getting to know these characters myself - that's how it felt. It's a joy when a couple of hapless but good souls collide and make their own magic. I thought Frank was a righteous dude, too. Meaningful and fun, my favorites. Very pleased a talent like yours enjoyed it. :)


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Rebecca Miles
17:26 Feb 18, 2023

I knew I was in for a treat when you had those two seemingly polar opposite sections. I just had thta hunch that in your expert hands you were going to weave those two seemingly completely disparate narratives together. And you did! And on the way it was funny and weird and always wonderful. I thought at first it was a backstory but it got even better when I realised that actually they were concurrent: very clever twist! I love poignant stories and this was just that: all the relationships, romantic and unlikely locker owner and tenant turne...


Susan Catucci
18:04 Feb 18, 2023

Super, Rebecca. Everything you've said means the world to me. I mention down below at one point that I genuinely cared about these characters, and I still do. I even get emotional rereading it. If it touches another person, that's everything. Thank you, friend, so much!


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Jack Kimball
16:50 Feb 18, 2023

Hi Susan. Echos of Flannery O Connor and A Rose For Emily. I think Maurice should have kept the actual body but I'm a little twisted. Seriously. Great job of course. A winner. Jack


Susan Catucci
18:06 Feb 18, 2023

Hahahaha - don't imagine I didn't consider it, Jack. I'm a fan of the twisted also. Maybe next time. :) Thank you for the feedback and the read - means much!


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Viga Boland
23:00 Feb 17, 2023

This is magnificent Susan. I’m speechless. If this isn’t a winning piece, I don’t know what is. Bravo!


Susan Catucci
14:11 Feb 18, 2023

That's a lovely thing to say, Viga. With comments like that, I've already won. Thanks so much for saying. :)


Viga Boland
18:56 Feb 18, 2023

And I meant it 👏👏


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Michał Przywara
21:52 Feb 16, 2023

When we had that first scene change, from a nice dinner to an auction, I had no idea how you'd tie it together. I thought maybe Dale would buy a locker, and slowly learn the story of the couple in the opening, who are both now deceased with all their junk in the locker. Never did I suspect both stories were happening at the same time - what a twist! You buy a locker with a tenant in it! I was actually stunned :) This story flirts with disaster - Dale's hurting for money and he just blew $850; Maurice lives in a locker and is unwell; the ...


Susan Catucci
23:31 Feb 16, 2023

Ah, I really, honestly, truly enjoy your take on the things you read, Michal. You have one of the finest filters I think I've ever had the pleasure of seeing in action. And, once again, spot on and as poignant as the story itself. You should compile your feedbacks on this site and you'd have a best seller on your hands. Now, back to me, thank you a million times for your read and feedback. I felt good about this one and you made me feel even better about it. When I feel deeply about the characters, I know I've got something. :)


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Wendy Kaminski
01:31 Feb 16, 2023

That was so poignant, Susan. My heart really goes out to Mr. C - he seems so adrift, and there's no solution for that. Masterfully-crafted story, though! I really enjoyed it very much, and the auction and surprise resident were such a lovely way to wend around to the heart of the story. :)


Susan Catucci
02:21 Feb 16, 2023

A thousand thanks, my friend/sista - you really can't know what a prompt will bring out of you. What fun and, if you're lucky, so much more. Happy to share the experience with all the talent here. (Yeah, you.)


Wendy Kaminski
02:26 Feb 16, 2023



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Lily Finch
21:01 Feb 15, 2023

Susan, This story is a cute one. Until you realize Mr. C. opens the story by having a false conversation with his deceased wife. Then it becomes sad rather quickly bordering on pathetic as we learn he has replaced his wife with a mannequin he still speaks to as if it was his wife. You capture all of the ingredients for a great short story. Very well done. Thanks for the good read. LF6.


Susan Catucci
21:30 Feb 15, 2023

Beautiful praise, Lily, especially from someone as gifted as you - I'm grateful. :)


Lily Finch
21:48 Feb 15, 2023

:D LF6.


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