In the junk shop, the plate glass opens a flood of golden afternoon light onto a bin of old photos. Each snapshot is a quarter. Some of the pictures are faded, others spotted with dried food. Once upon a time, people passed these around the dinner table, saying things like, “Doesn’t she look like her daddy there?”
The women pick through them side by side, purse straps pulling unnoticed, the weight a part of them at least as long as motherhood. Today they are just each other again, the best friends of lost years, the keepers of secrets, the ones to laugh at jokes no one else ever knows. The kids are with their fathers, one set in Idaho, the other in Maryland. Sticky kitchen floors and unfolded laundry seem impossible facts on the streets of New York, easily and deliberately forgotten for three days of escape. In this musty junk shop, the only things that are real are dirty baby dolls and battered night stands, the feel of being together again yet again.
One could take all the paint-by-numbers on the floor and hang them together on a wall. About halfway to the back, under a stack of record players, there’s a flowered sofa that would look okay with a pair of green chairs up front. The coffee table with the finish bubbling off at the corners could work at the center of the grouping, an assortment of candlesticks brothered up on the glass. The pair of plaster lamps on the counter might slide in with shades taken from other lamps. And if someone ran down to the corner store for bulbs, there would even be light. In the end, scrambling through the dusty and the dismissed relics of all these other lives, a strong back and a quick mind could make up a room, comfortable and maybe too familiar – kitsch and even a little witty. Yet there is a joy in letting the puzzle remain just the pieces.
Outside the shop, on the street above, the two women are perfectly framed in the window over the photo bin. Wrapping the bottom of the window are stickers for bands, posts for concerts that already happened. The colors are faded and the paper is curled. Holding up photos for each other now and again, they laugh quickly, their fingers seeking out the next. They could never explain exactly the photos that will come home with them, the sets of four worth their dollar. Maybe none will come home, but that isn’t really the point of the moment, whether they know it or not. Above their heads, reflected in the glass, the brick of buildings and the blue of the sky are impenetrable unless you stare through them a long time.