Sharing a story of a young lady we met in the shop.......
Under Tiffany Lights.....
Eventually, we pulled into the parking lot of a quirky consignment shop just around the corner. The storefront was adorned in garden gnomes, porcelain mushrooms and Alice-in-Wonderland-like décor.
For us, these were good omens; we were already far down the rabbit hole, mad and irrational for answers. The inside was similar: suncatchers splashed light across the walls, and on the walls were shelves of tiny vintage soup tins. Designer scarves were stuffed in cookie jars - former wedding rings glistened under Tiffany lamps. In the corner slept an old German Shepherd. A woman sat in the middle of the store, surrounded by tables of cake trays and mini pastries. She wore a shawl, or maybe she didn’t - but the suncatchers glimmered around her giant desk, which was adorned with crystals, purses, brass rings, orchids, and pink papers.
“Welcome” the woman said. She shimmied her eyeglasses off and studied us. “Are you two sisters?” It was the age old question for Del and I. We duped our fifth grade teacher into thinking we were siblings for almost half the school year.
“No,” I answered. “But we get that a lot.”
“So pretty, the both of you.” She adjusted her glasses. “Anything you are looking for?”
I almost laughed. I was looking for the Universe to explain itself. How long had he unloved me? How did I leave it all behind me? Delphine’s eyes moved like the slots on casino machines. She, too, didn’t know why had we come to the consignment shop. Surely it was not for vintage suitcases or Italian pastry. We were looking for something else.
The woman must have read our pallid, concerned faces; she asked us to sit at her desk of shiny treasures. She introduced herself as Rhonda. Her husband, who emerged from the backroom holding a wrench, as Toni. I don’t remember how the crying started - whether she asked us our troubles or we just began blubbering our sadness to her and Toni.
What I do remember is Rhonda’s arms swallowing us whole and telling us not to worry.. I remember the sugary cannolo she placed in my palm and the chocolate cake she sliced for Delphine. The shop had closed, but they didn’t kick us out. Instead, our love lives hijacked the peaceful evening of two strangers. As we shared our woes, I thought to myself: she’s like a real life Strega Nona. In the children’s tale, the Italian witch averts disaster by blowing three kisses. With her little pastries and warm hands, Rhonda was no different. She lectured us on the pain of breakup: how, eventually, the wound would become tolerable and one day, completely vanish. She told us a long and winding story about an ex of hers who she believes was in the mafia. Then another one about a divorced couple and a Chanel bag. Then Toni chimed in about how Rhonda broke a lot of hearts, rolling his eyes as he said it. Rhonda cheekly swatted him with a magazine.
“There’s a young man who is always coming in here. Very handsome,” Rhonda said. She searched frantically for a pen. “Toni - Toni! What was his name? Let’s set her up with him. Here’s his number.” She pushed a notepad into Delphine’s hands.
“And you,” she said to me, but with her hands. “You need to get in touch with your roots. Steer clear of the boys right now. Wait for a man.” She motioned to a prism hanging from her window; the glass casted thousands of beautiful, tiny rainbows across the floor. “When the right one comes along, it should be like that. Radiant all around.
” For a while, we moved onto subjects that had nothing to do with romance. Rhonda and I talked about the mopine - the family dishrag Italians share at the dinner table - and how I lived in Manhattan. She told me that from then on, she would remember me as the New York writer, and that I had to visit. Delphine, my almost-sister, shared her strange obsession with whales and predictable love affair with the ocean. This lead to a discussion of porches by the ocean, and then, porch furniture: wooden flower beds, antique metal buckets, white wicker tables, and striped umbrellas. Suddenly, Del was up and out of her seat. She was helping Rhonda with the guess the price labels on some shabby chic dressers.
An old German Shepherd sat on the floor below me and the display case of antique jewelry. Meanwhile, Toni stood against the wall, gazing out the window. He had a different aura than his wife; he had a single wrinkle in his forehead and he was as tall as the doorframe. He sported a black tee, black pants, and black sneakers in the middle of August. He seemed like he was the “tough” kind of Italian man - the kind that would sit with my uncles at the big table on Christmas Eve. I stared at his long nose. He was probably, somehow, related to me. All of the Connecticut Italians were.
“So, what happened?” he suddenly asked. He kept his focus on the window before turning to me.
“What do you mean?” I replied, stroking the dog’s ears.
“With the guy,” Toni said. “You didn’t think I wasn’t listening, did ya?”
That’s exactly what I thought. Why would an old, muscly man want to hear me tell my teenage-going-on-twenty woes? Surely, Toni must have suffered more than me in his lifetime: the passing of parents, financial struggles, disease and illness. What pain could I possibly know at nineteen years old, anyway? I suddenly felt very small and silly.
But he waited for a story, so I told him a paraphrased recount of my relationship: my ex had bipolar disorder, refused to take his medication or go to therapy, and often took his emotions out on me. And yet I was in love with him; and yet I wanted to be the reason he felt stable and happy. But instead, he was battling his demons at bars in Philadelphia, where he met girls that he wanted to sleep with more than me.
“Sounds like a schmuck.” Toni said casually. “Where’s a pic of him?”
I pulled out the few photos I hadn’t managed to erase from my phone, yet. One of us at the prom, one of us in his pool. And one of him in an art museum.
Toni let out a gasp. “That boy’s eyes are dead. Dead. You don’t want that. Good thing it ended.” He moved away from my phone like it was a cursed artifact. I was baffled. How could he tell? I looked back at the pictures, hoping to see some glazed-over, empty look in Nick’s eyes. I couldn’t; I saw the same gorgeous blue eyes as I always had. But perhaps dead was right. Maybe I had been pretending they looked more lively for a while.
“You want a guy who’ll wake up and just love you. A nice guy that’ll buy you dinner. Nice. No nonsense, doesn’t play all of these crap games.” He took a pause to pet the German Shepherd. “I knew a boy just like that. Was it Maria’s boy? Hold on, let me ask. Don’t mind me shouting, we do this all of the time.” He stepped toward the door. “Rhonda - RHONDA? What was that thing Maria’s boy had? Bipolar? Yes, I thought it was bipolar. Thank you.”
He turned to me. “So yes, we know a boy with bipolar, too, and he won’t take his damn pills either. And his eyes, they’re dead. Just like yours. You don’t need that, a sweet girl like you. You need a man who’ll treat you like a woman.”
Like a woman. I didn’t know exactly what it meant, especially in my last teenage year. I was too old and neurotic to be a girl, but “woman” implied a responsibility that I was unsure of. What is my job as a woman? According to Toni, it was not to save young men from their traumas or guess what mood they were in that day.
As he said this, Delphine appeared in the doorframe holding a lime green espresso cup. It was chipped on the top lip, but the plate was sparkling and new.
“She found a treasure,” Rhonda said. “A 1940s china set.”
Delphine placed the cup on the desk and turned to me. “It’s funny. I’ve always hated coffee.”
“So who is the cup for?” I asked.
“It’s for me. I didn’t mind the taste of it as much today. I guess it just grew on me.”
She fished a five dollar bill out of her purse. “Time for new beginnings, right? Or maybe there’s just magic here.”
I’d like to think she was right. On the way home from the consignment store, I plucked the prism suncatcher I had purchased from Rhonda out of it’s cellophane bag. Del and I drove toward our town’s beach, no longer interested in hopping on a plane to Ireland or worried we’d poison our hometown with our broken hearts.. We were more interested in the prism that hung on the rearview mirror: the way it spilled rainbows across the dashboard like a deck of tarot cards, the colors containing future realities that only the sun could know.
Written by Kasey Dugan