by Irving Kenneth Zola


It had been nearly three hours since my last stop, so my eyes cast about for an excuse to stretch my legs. The sign said "Antiques," the display said 'junk', and my mind said 'cheap'. So, whipping around in what I'm told is a standard Massachusetts U-turn, I backed into the 'handicapped' parking space.

"I thought I heard someone" said a voice I couldn't see.

"Only a friendly traveller," I quipped.

"It's OK, come in and look around." By the time I locked my car, the disembodied voice was gone.

The building was long and narrow. Entering through the door I could see three rows of items stretched from one end of the room to the other. The center table was piled high with porcelain. I picked up a piece - "Made in Japan." There was no arrangement I could understand. A fur wrap next to a toy car, next to a pile of '78 records, next to some paperbacks, next to three ashtrays and a glass lemon squeezer. So in and out I weaved slowly making my way through the narrow aisle. Occasionally I worried that my lurching gait might disturb the precarious piling, so I was especially careful as I placed one cane in front of the other.

Again I heard voices but this time it was more like a conversation. Its loudness was intrusive, so I looked up from my browsings. There at the end of the room, mounted on the wall, was a large television set turned up to full volume. Tears were streaming down the face of a handsome fortyish man. "I tried....I tried....I tried to understand....I tried to be fair....All I wanted was a meaningful relationship." The scene shifted to a distraught woman. "A meaningful relationship!" she exclaimed, "Is that what you call this.... What we have?...."

From somewhere behind me came an unexpected response, "Ech! I can't stand it. Do you believe that?" With her hands on her hips, shaking her head, the voice this time had a body. She was fiftyish, stocky, but it was her face, locked in a grimace, that held me. "Do you know of any?" she challenged.

"What?" I asked.

"Meaningful relationships?"

"Not many," I stammered, hiding my discomfort by fingering an old fire engine.

"Me neither. All my life I get the other kind. I'm always with men who drink." Her hands took over the conversation as she raised them from her hips in a lifting gesture. "I've spent my life holding them up. I'm tired. I want someone to support me for a change."

"Seems fair," I said, trying to sound sincere.

"Who said life was fair?" she snapped.

I gasped at her attack and she, catching herself, softened, "Is there something special you want?"

"Yeah, old medical bottles or equipment."

"Well, let's see what I've got. Don't think I've got much."

She didn't, and we soon found ourselves near the exit.

"Thanks for letting me browse," I said.

"That's O.K. You might want to try the Old Windmill. . . . 'bout a mile up the road."

"Thanks I will," and glad for the opportunity to escape, I turned to leave.

The voice, disembodied once more called after me, "Let me know if you find any?"

"Medical bottles?" I answered half-heartedly.

"Nope..." she said slowly drawing out her words, "meaningful relationships."

copyright Irving Kenneth Zola