Years ago, I befriended an antique dealer by the name of Kerri. My then-lover, Shane, and I first met her at a rummage sale she was hosting, and bought from her a very-nice, old sofa which we took home and painted green. At first, Kerri seemed just as well-structured. In a conversation or two over the phone, she and I discovered that we had a mutual fondness for collecting vintage fabrics (among other things), and, one day, she invited me to the back of her shop to pick through a pile of her textile-outcasts- and to keep whatever I liked.
That sounded good, didn’t it?
But, unfortunately, I didn’t really care for any of them; I took one piece out of politeness. And then she insisted upon piling a few more pieces in my hand, saying, “But look at these! I’d hate to just donate them. Don’t you like these!?”
A bit pushy, but I was used to that.
When these were bagged and securely-dangling off my arm, she led me to a shelf close at the rear of her shop and flung back a sheet that screened a shelf laden with fabrics priced for sale- each marked beyond their value- but jewels of their woven years with potential to tempt! Though I may have drooled, I declined, and kept fast to my thrifty, thrill-seeking method of hunting for happenstance deals for myself from the major charity-shops and tag-sales of the area. She seemed a bit dismayed for my prudence- just for a second. It was then that I should have known.
But I didn’t.
She would call once in awhile, and I started stopping at her shop more-often- more to talk than anything else. As we stood amongst her latest finds, she kept referring to me as one of her best friends, and I was starting to believe it. On one of these occasions, near the noon-hour, her husband (whom I had, by this time, met on several occasions) arrived to ask his wife for lunch. Kerri pleaded with me to watch her shop while they were gone, and sweetened the deal by offering me access to their computer- promptly opening up an internet-browser window for me as she cajoled. Since I didn’t own a computer, I decided that, yes, OK, I had the time. While they were away, only a handful of customers came into the store: they looked around, they picked up objects now and then to set back down; they left. I had no sales to worry about, and no-one needed my help when I offered.
Two long hours later, the couple returned. In the back of my head, I suppose I kept a bit of hope that they would be bringing me a little something- a sandwich perhaps- for my trouble, but nothing was in tow. For in that while, my own hunger had begun to gnaw, you see. I had even found a fascinating web-page with a written introduction to Maharashtrian cuisine. I asked if she would mind printing it for me. She did. I accepted this as reasonable token for her intrusion of my time, sighed perhaps, said my pleasantries and left to find my own lunch.
It might seem obvious to you by now- her nature, and mine, but I was still fool-hardy, and in need of further abuse, it seems. The building I was renting an apartment in was getting a new roof. The landlord decided he couldn’t afford to spend the 60 thou to replace sections of ceramic tile- damaged by the years and seasons, so he had the lot tossed off of the top of that three-story manse to shatter into a dumpster below.
I had long been intrigued by the convolutions and patina of these tiles. I had often found myself gazing at rivulets of water trickling down their crackled glaze as I stood upon my balcony under a steady drizzle. So I asked the workmen if they would mind setting a dozen or so aside for me. Just for keeps. I brought one of these to Kerri, as a gift of interest.
The next day, I noticed a neatly-stacked pile of tiles taking shape next a tree at the side of the parking-lot. “Are you saving these for someone?” From the workman’s description in reply, I discovered new-found admiration for Kerri’s opportunistic savvy! I asked him if he would mind setting 20 more aside for me as well, and then found myself digging into my wallet when he also informed me that Kerri had added honey to her bowl.
And that was fine.
And I wanted no more of them than these, as they do tend to take up space!
I had found an interesting article in an issue of Vogue- the January ‘93 issue, to be exact- in which the eccentric home of two artists in London was examined in exquisite photographs and poetic prose. They lived in what was termed shabby chic– an aesthetic achieved by the use of distressed finds and a permissive attitude toward the decay of objects and their surrounding, aging architecture.
I was fascinated.
I wished I owned the building that I lived in.
Knowing that these pages would surely interest Kerri, I carefully severed them from the magazine, enclosed them in a folder, and brought the folder to her shop.
She promised to handle it with care.
And then I mentioned the state of affairs with the tiles.
She was furious!
She was so absolutely enraged that I had diminished her haul by making a second request to the workmen for more that I had to back myself shock-faced out the door!
I didn’t understand: I lived under those tiles, and she would likely have gotten none of them if I hadn’t called her attention to their looming demise. As it was, she had now to her name many times more than what I had procured…
Obviously, enough wasn’t enough.
It was at this moment that I began to see why Shane disliked Kerri so much. The green sofa was the beginning and end of his dealings with her. Sometimes, he was spot on like that!
A week or so later, she called. She didn’t mention the tiles, and I didn’t ask. Her temperament had returned to her usual, sugary pleasantness. She needed her best-friend-ever to help move some heavy things out of her shop.
Since I already had plans for that night, I politely declined. And I was still shaken from that last onslaught directed at me- can you blame me? I stayed calm, and I also asked if she was done with the article. Apparently, that was not the right thing to say.
“What kind of friend are you?!” was the last I heard as she hung up the phone.
A month later, after I thought things might have quieted, I called to ask again if she would mind returning the folder with the article I had loaned her. No-one answered (which was odd in the evening on a school-night for her children), so I left a brief message at the tone.
Her shop closed, and I moved away from the shelter of that once-tiled-but-now-shingled roof.
She never did return that call.
Fourteen years later, I sometimes cringe a bit and seeth as I think of her. Maybe I keep too many things.
I still have the tiles, of course.
About two years ago, I formulated a search on Ebay to replace that missing article.
Last week, I finally got lucky, and today it came in the mail.
I’m out 10 bucks with shipping.
Pennies to heal an old wound.
Afterward: Today, in celebration of sorts, I also did a search of the public court-records for her criminal citations. In the years since that final conversation, her husband filed a restraining order against her for domestic violence, and they no-longer live together; she’s also been sued several times for unpaid debts.
Be wary, dear readers, of people who have uses for you, and nothing else.