It was the frame that first drew her attention. It glinted at her from across the room. She glanced around to see if anyone else had noticed. They hadn’t seemed to.
She was in a little antique shop that she had almost missed amongst all the other stores on the square. She was traveling, just passing through but had stopped in a town in the middle of nowhere USA for lunch.
Pulling off the highway she was going to stop at Mcdonalds or Burger King, but she could see the town square from the gas station she fueled up at and decided to take a break, explore a little, hopefully find a mom and pop lunch counter or diner, which she did.
“Down Home” was the name of the café, she was thrilled with menu options that included real vegetables and home cooked foods like meatloaf and pot roast. She had the pot roast with a salad and homemade rolls.
Once her stomach was full, Irene turned her attention to the rest of the square. She loved finding unique shops filled with interesting things that you couldn’t buy in bulk or find at Wal-Mart. It made her a popular gift giver. “Oh I’ve never seen anything like this before!” was an oft-used phrase amongst her friends and family. She prided herself on it.
Antique stores were particular favorites of hers. Old furniture just had a certain feel about it, like it was bursting with memories she couldn’t read. It was also built better in her opinion. Solid, sturdy. Not particle wood crap like they sold so much of today. Built to last.
It was a small shop, but it was jam packed full of merchandise, from giant armoires to ancient handbags, there was even a collection of old pipes. She was admiring the pipes when the picture caught her eye. Pipes reminded her of her grandfather, sitting in his rocking chair, encircled in smoke, the smell of pipe tobacco surprisingly pleasant considering she could not stand cigarette smoke.
From the corner of her eye she saw something glimmer. She looked up and craned her head around trying to determine what it was. She wandered to the back corner of the store. She had to weave in and out of dressers, curio cabinets, a canopy bed and plenty of old chairs.
Hanging on the wall was a watercolor in pastels of ladies laughing and sipping tea in a gazebo surrounded by a field of flowers. The golden frame around it had caught her eye from across the room, but up close the patterns in the painting itself were mesmerizing. If she stood very close, the flowers ceased to be flowers and just became dots of color, a dizzying number of them!
She wasn’t sure what was so fascinated about the dots, but she couldn’t stop staring at them. As she leaned in closer to the painting, she could swear she could hear the soft murmur of women’s voices, the tinkling of their laughter. She could smell the wild flowers; feel a gentle breeze caress her face.
She moved closer and reached her hand out; convinced it would go right into the canvass. She felt sure that if she just took a step forward, she would be there, sitting in the gazebo, sipping tea, forever in the wild flowers. The field of flowers began to move, as though waving in the wind, the entire painting seemed to shimmer, then……
“I said excuse me ma’am, may I help you?”
The voice startled her. More than startled, her heart nearly beat right out of her chest! What on earth? She shook her head, trying to clear the fog that had settled in it. It was like trying to claw away cobwebs from her mind. Irene was getting older, but she wasn’t so old that her mind was gone. She had not yet succumbed to the trials and tribulations she had watched her grandparents go through, confusing one child for another, not knowing what year it was, not knowing where she was at.
Yet at that moment, she struggled mightily to remember who and where she was and what she had just been doing.
“Ma’am, are you ok?” The voice came again.
“Uh….y…yes, sorry.” She looked at the sales clerk who was watching her warily at this point. She was a young woman with auburn hair piled on top of her head in a knot and a long, flowing skirt with matching sweater. Her name tag said her name was Karen.
“I was just, just………” Irene trailed off, again, not quite sure what she had just been doing.
The painting! She had been admiring the painting!
“I was just looking at this painting……..” she trailed off as she turned back toward the blank wall, blinked a few times then turned to face Karen again.
The young clerk looked even more concerned now, “Would you like to sit down? I can get you some water. Is there anyone I can call for you?”
It was the pity in the younger woman’s eyes that finally snapped her back to herself. Call someone for her? She wasn’t old and decrepit yet, she still had many good years, hell, decades, in her!
“I’m fine!” She snapped, drawing herself up to her full height, “just got lost in thought for a moment!” She lied, “Thanks for your concern, really, but I’m ok. I really should be going now.”
She was momentarily confused as she headed for the exit; it was full dark outside though she had just entered the shop a few minutes ago, in broad daylight. She paused and asked the clerk what time it was.
“Almost nine o’clock ma’am, closing time.” Karen replied chirpily.
Irene knew she had entered the shop just before two in the afternoon. She swallowed, mumbled thanks and headed for the door.
“Irene” she heard, but it wasn’t Karen’s voice. No, it was the soft murmur she had heard from the painting, complete with the tinkling of laughter in the background. She fought the urge to turn and find the voice, to stare back into those dots, to stay forever in that field of wild flowers. Shaking, she forced herself to push her way out the door and hurried back down the road to her car without ever looking back.