The Timeless Curio Shop

By Andrew Looney

One afternoon, Bob was walking around downtown. He noticed a tiny little shop, nestled in between a bookstore and a 7-11, with a sign over the door reading "The Timeless Curio Shop". He went in.

The shop was cramped, musty, and dimly lit. Bob was overwhelmed by the amount of stuff jammed into such a small place. He saw shelves reaching up to the ceiling, shelves piled high with books, boxes, and strange objects, shelves and shelves and shelves.

The only other person in the shop was an old man, who seemed to be the proprietor. He was sitting on a tall stool in the corner, eating a slice of chocolate angel food cake. He ate with great concentration, and did not seem to be aware of Bob's presence.

So Bob browsed around the store. At the front of the room was a glass case on top of which was a cash register. Behind this was a shelf stocked with a wide variety of glass bottles, in different sizes, containing colored powders and murky liquids. Swords and weapons of antiquity hung on the walls, where space was available. The shop was lit only with candles, and the scent of strawberries was in the air.

The proprietor had still not finished his cake, so Bob wandered off to the back of the shop, where he noticed two doors. The first, which was slightly ajar, led into a sort of kitchen/bedroom combination. The second, which was wide open, led into a long, very narrow closet, brimming with historical-type costumes and props.

Bob began studying the contents of the shelves. Many of them held only books, but on most were boxes overflowing with things. Bob noticed several boxes full of old military medals, ribbons, pins and patches. On one shelf was a wooden chest filled with papers - old passports, birth certificates, identification cards, wartime ration books, military travel papers, and so forth. There was a large crate of stamps, and a big urn filled to the top with coins. One shelf displayed old comic books, including stacks of EC "Weird Science" and "Weird Fantasy" books. Against the back wall was a shelf devoted to Civil Defense supplies, for storage in bomb shelters, including a twelve pound can of All-Purpose Survival Biscuits, and a box labeled "Emergency Medical Supplies". And so much more - shelves full of glassware, souvenirs, toys, odd little statues, and unusual objects which Bob could not identify.

Suddenly the proprietor spoke. "May I help you?"

"No thanks", said Bob, noticing that the old man had finally finished his cake. "I'm just browsing."

"Well, perhaps I can suggest something." The proprietor went back behind the counter and dug up a cigar box. Rummaging through it, he at last found a lottery ticket, and handed it to Bob. The ticket was rumpled, and looked very old, but printed on it was the current date.

"How much", asked Bob, more out of reflex than interest.

"Oh, uh, no charge."

"Well", thought Bob, "if it's free", but he thanked the old man and left the shop. The sunlight outside was blinding.

* * *

That lottery ticket won Bob ten million dollars. He went running back to the Timeless Curio Shop, to thank the proprietor and share the fortune with him, if that seemed like the correct thing to do. But he couldn't find it. At the place he remembered it being, he found only a brick wall. The shop wasn't listed in the phone book, either.

* * *

Bob hired a financial advisor, to help keep him from losing his fortune in taxes, and to invest some of the money. After that he bought a movie theater. It was one of those cavernous old movie houses, an Art Deco palace of the late 1920's. It was pretty run down; the carpet was worn almost away in spots, the seats were torn and broken, and the accoutrements either damaged or missing completely.

The shabby condition of the theater did not bother Bob; he thought of it as being "worn in" rather than "worn out". For a long time, the theater had shown classic movies at bargain prices to very small audiences. Bob had gone regularly, for he loved the old theater, and being there was fun even if the film itself was lousy.

When the theater shut down, it was to be leveled and made into a parking lot. By winning the lottery, Bob barely succeeded in averting this catastrophe.

Bob converted the movie theater into his home. He cleaned up the projection booth, and installed a mattress. This became his bedroom. He placed a refrigerator, toaster and microwave oven behind the refreshments counter, and made this his kitchen. He hired plumbers, and had them remove several of the toilets in the men's room and install a bathtub in their place. He also had them install a sink in his new kitchen. Up on the wide, expansive balcony, Bob removed a block of chairs, and replaced them with two sofas, a coffee table, an easy chair, a lamp, and a TV. This was Bob's new living room. He had the most badly worn sections of carpet replaced, and hired electricians to repair the lights. And out on the Marquee he arranged those black letters so that they read "Bob's House".

Thus, his mansion was complete. His friends were very impressed, and considered his house a great place to hang out.

* * *

Bob lived in a movie theater. His girlfriend did not approve.

Her name was Joann, and she felt that Bob had wasted a major portion of his lottery winnings on something stupid.

Bob suggested that Joann move in with him, something he had never done before becoming a millionaire, when he lived in that roach infested flat on the east side of town. But Joann, who had always wanted to move in with Bob, refused.

"I will not live in that crumbling ruin you wasted your money on! Why couldn't you have bought a nice new house? Why must you live in that dusty old relic? Why?"

"Because I like it," said Bob, looking away.

* * *

Bob bought several prints of old Marx Brothers movies, and would often show them in his house. Sometimes he'd invite friends in, and sometimes he'd watch these movies alone. His favorite was "Duck Soup". He would sit in the middle of the theater, with the sound filling up the empty space, and imagine that the theater was new again, jammed with crowds of happy movie-goers, enjoying the Marx Brothers' latest zany film.

Once, he had tried to explain to Joann the joy he felt at such times. "When will you stop living in the past?" she had shouted.

* * *

Bob purchased several full-size reproductions of Edward Hopper paintings, namely "Nighthawks", "Automat", and "New York Movie". He had them framed, and hung them in his lobby, along with a large painting of the Graf Zeppelin.

And he began to frequent antique shops. Initially, he went to ask about The Timeless Curio Shop, hoping that other antique dealers could give him directions to it. Soon, however, he became interested in buying antiques, and he obtained a number of Art Deco furnishings that really brightened up his home.

He became particularly interested in the New York World's Fair of 1939-1940. There were many souvenirs and bits of memorabilia that had survived from the fair, and he was often able to find such things for sale in the shops he went to. He soon had quite a collection. Ashtrays, tie clips, pins and small models of the Trylon and Perisphere were fairly easy to find. Postcards, maps and booklets, being made of paper, were somewhat less abundant and more expensive. Bob bought everything he saw. He put his collection on display in the glass case at the refreshments counter that had originally housed sweets and chocolates.

* * *

Bob began to dress like a mobster, not because he wished to be a mobster, but because he liked the way mobsters dressed. He had several pin-striped suits made, and wore a wide variety of fedoras, with nice, wide brims. He would walk down to the corner flower shop each morning to buy a new carnation for his lapel.

Joann hit the proverbial ceiling when she saw his new style of dress. She was a woman greatly concerned with being in fashion, and wearing the very latest styles, and she did not want to be seen with a man dressed fifty years out of date.

"But these clothes look great!" said Bob, who very much disliked the recent trend in fashion that had given women huge, padded shoulders.

* * *

Joann suggested that Bob write his will. "You've been very lucky," she reasoned, "winning that lottery. If your luck runs out, it would be best for all concerned if you had a will."

"But I'm so young," Bob protested, "what could happen?"

His financial advisor agreed that a will was a good idea. So Bob wrote one up, leaving everything to Joann. He had no one else, his parents being several years dead.

* * *

At last Bob found The Timeless Curio Shop again. It was hidden between a supermarket and a barbershop.

"I thought this place was a few blocks over," he said to the proprietor as he entered, "by the bookstore."

"No, you must have been mistaken," said the proprietor.

Bob's eyes immediately took in the glass case underneath the cash register. It was full of World's Fair souvenirs! Of particular interest to Bob was a ticket to the Fair, dated July 17, 1939. It was in perfect condition - no creases, no folds, and completely intact. It appeared brand new.

"How much for the-"

"Oh, I'm afraid none of those items are for sale," said the proprietor.

Bob's heart fell out of his chest and smashed into bits on the floor.

"But if I may recommend something," said the old man, "How about this?" He selected a small glass bottle, apparently at random, and handed it to Bob. It contained a thick blue substance.

"What is it?"

"An ointment. You may find it useful someday."

"What's it for?"

"Let's just say it heals wounds."

"How much?"

"No charge."

"Well, thanks," said Bob. He started to go, but noticed a pile of business cards on the counter, and took one, remembering his earlier difficulty in locating the shop.

* * *

The next day, Bob examined the business card. It said "The Timeless Curio Shop", and below that, "We specialize in the unusual". In the lower left hand corner were the words "Antiques * Unique Gifts * Trinkets * Memorabilia * Rare Books * Potions". In the lower right hand corner it said only "Conveniently Located".

Bob ran back to the place he had been the night before and found only a brick wall where the door had been.

* * *

Bob bought a fully restored 1937 Duesenberg roadster. He thought it was the ultimate vehicle. For several days his sole activity was driving it around, washing it, and polishing the chrome.

Joann was appalled at the cost of the car, and considered it ugly besides. "You know I wanted you to buy a Fiero," she said. "Why must you buy all this old-fashioned junk?"

* * *

One night Bob was watching "Horsefeathers" when someone pounded on his front door. Opening it, he encountered Joann. It was pouring down rain.

"Come in," Bob said, pleased that she'd dropped by, hoping that she was learning to accept his home at last.

"I had to see you," she said, as they walked back into the lobby, "so that I could kill you." She produced a .38 snub nosed revolver and shot Bob in the shoulder. He crumpled to the floor, and blood stained his 1930's carpet.

"I've had enough of this nonsense. After I ransack this place a little, the authorities will think some cheap hood broke in and shot you. Everyone knows about your money, and I have a perfect alibi already established."

Bob groaned as Joann ransacked his theater.

When she finished, she left, figuring that Bob was dead, or would be soon.

* * *

Actually, Bob wasn't quite dead. Fading in and out of consciousness, he crawled up to the balcony and located the bottle of blue ointment. He opened it, and smeared it on his wound. After just a few minutes, the wound was completely healed.

He ran outside, into the pouring rain, into the street, into the night. He didn't know what to do. He ran and ran and ran, stumbling in the darkness, slipping on the wet pavement. And suddenly he saw a red neon sign, shining brightly through the rain soaked night: "The Timeless Curio Shop." In the window below it was a hand lettered sign that read "Help Wanted".

Bob staggered inside, soggy and forlorn. "I want the job," he announced.

"You got it," said the proprietor.

* * *

That was the last anyone ever saw of Bob. After a year, he was declared dead, and his estate was handed over to Joann. She sold his car, his belongings, and his movie theater, and moved to Hawaii with the money.

The theater was demolished and made into a parking lot.

This story appears in My Secret World. Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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