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Saturday, 24 January 2015

Short Story - Week 3: The Furniture Matchmaker

Ray Bradbury wrote that ‘it’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.’ This is my challenge – write 52 short stories over the course of a year, and quite possibly, prove Mr. Bradbury wrong!

This week’s story came from a prompt at Creative Writing Prompts (#115 to be exact!). The task was to list, in ninety seconds, as many things as I could think of that you would find in a hospital. Then, write a story that includes all the words in the list without setting it in, or near a hospital. Here are my words:

                Beds
                Curtain
                Waiting room
                Nurse
                Charts
                Ward
                X-ray
                Bandage
                Blood
                Desk
                Thermometer
                Chair
                Magazines

This is what I came up with from that list.

I should mention that two days ago, I hated this story (part of the reason why it’s a couple of days late)! Then suddenly, with the magic of editing and serendipity, it transformed. That is why I love to write! However, it is not finished yet, in my mind. I wanted to write so much more, but ran out of time. All I can say is that there is a distinct possibility that I will come back to this one at some point!

The Furniture Matchmaker
© Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.arCC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


The Furniture Matchmaker

A small bell jingled as Laura opened the door. She noticed the smell immediately. It was that old furniture store smell, of dust and must decades in the making. Not an offensive smell for Laura, rather it conjured up comfort and stability. She had loved these stores as a child and they rarely existed anymore. That was one of the reasons why she had come here to look for her sofa. That and the fact that she was unable to afford a new one.


The inside was gloomy, though a weak sunbeam shone through a small side window, highlighting the dust motes that drifted on the air. Laura stood for a moment, letting her eyes adjust. As her surroundings came into focus, she realized that the store was crammed to overflowing. She saw beds, a couple of dining tables and a wing chair with lovely bones although in dire need of re-upholstering. There was an array of bookcases, coffee tables and cabinets, piled high in places. Not a sofa in sight however, nor anyone to ask about one.

Laura called out.
“Hello?  Is anybody there?”
There was no reply, although she heard muffled noises coming from somewhere in the back. She waited a moment, but no-one came.

She was about to call out again when an aged head appeared around the edge of a faded chintz curtain which seemed to be serving as some sort of divider. The old man pushed his spectacles up his nose.

“Good morning!” he said with a toothless smile. “Can I help you?”

“I hope so.” Laura replied. “I’m looking for a sofa.”

“A sofa, eh?” 

The rest of the man appeared as he shuffled in the direction of a large pile of bric-a-brac that looked to Laura to be composed mainly of picture frames, shelves and an old wicker basket.

“Let’s see what we’ve got then.”

He peered around as he went, checking all the spots that might, but obviously didn’t, harbour a sofa.

“I think sometimes I need X-ray specs to keep track of everything in here!” He chuckled at his little joke, but it quickly turned into a cough, so he stopped and wheezed himself quiet. 

Once he caught his breath, he resumed his trundling, up and down the aisles while Laura waited politely for him to either find something or come to the same conclusion as her, that there were no sofas.

Finally he reached the front of the store, winded and steadying himself on an old iron bedframe.
“My dear, I can’t seem to find a sofa for you in my store today.  I’m sorry about that.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it.”  Laura was quick to reassure him after all the effort he had put in.  “Maybe I’ll come back another time and check again. Which day is best for that? After a new shipment has come in perhaps?”

“Yes, yes, Thursday is the day they drop the new stock off.” He had launched himself in Laura’s direction but now paused and motioned for her to follow him. “Come through with me, into the back. They send me all manner of lists and charts nowadays, letting me know what’s coming. We can check to see if there are any sofas on their way.”

Laura stepped in behind him, but the going was slow.  She wondered exactly how old he was and would not have been surprised to discover that he was in his nineties.

“I love your store,” she said, to fill the time. “I’ve always loved these places. They have so much more character than new stores. Plus old furniture fascinates me. I always wonder what the story is. Who were the people who owned that piece? How did they come by it and why did they ultimately get rid of it?” She stopped, embarrassed.

 However the old man did not seem to notice.
 “Back in the day,” he said, “I knew the stories, but not so much anymore. I’ve often wondered what the furniture would say if it told its own tales.”

“How long have you been doing this?”  Laura asked.

“I’ve had this store for over sixty years.”

“Wow, that’s a long time.”

“Well, I enjoyed what I did. When I started out, most of the things that came to me had been well-made and well-loved. I was then able to pass them on to someone else who would also love and appreciate them. It’s been a very rewarding career.”

Laura smiled at the old man’s enthusiasm. It was not something she heard often in today’s cynical world. “So you were like a furniture matchmaker then!”

He chuckled, coughed and wheezed again. “Yes, yes, you could say that. It’s exactly what I was.”

They had finally reached the curtain divider and the old man pulled it back.
“Step into my waiting room.” He gestured grandly for Laura to enter.

Despite his age, he had a twinkle in his eye that Laura decided she liked.

It was even darker back here than it had been in the store, so Laura stood to one side for a moment, while the old man shuffled to the desk.

“Have a seat.”  He gestured again, but Laura saw only a pile of old magazines. She perched herself on the edge while the old man rummaged through piles of paperwork. She examined the rest of the office. It was also crammed to the rafters and completely disorganized. Almost everything had the yellow patina of age, adding to the gloom.

One of the two notable exceptions was a modern first aid kit. Laura smiled. This store might look like a throw-back, but Occupational Health and Safety made sure it was up to code. She smiled too because checking out first aid cabinets was now an occupational hazard. From where she sat she saw bandages, antiseptic cream and a thermometer – a passing grade at least.

The other exception to the chaos was a beautiful silver dagger. It seemed to be special – highly polished and mounted in pride of place on the wall. The handle was set with red gem-stones and had been forged into a design that she did not recognize.

“That dagger is gorgeous, very unusual,” she commented. 

The old man looked up at it. “Oh that, yes it struck my fancy when it came in. Had it for years. Thought I would keep it, you know… ward off the blood suckers.” Chuckle, cough, wheeze. He turned back to face her.
“So my dear, what do you do for a living?  Are you a nurse by chance?”

Laura was surprised.
“Close, I’m a paramedic. Why would you ask that?”

“I noticed you checking out my first aid kit. It seemed like a good guess.”

Laura didn’t think her mouth dropped open, but it might as well have. She had not seen him turn his head or look up. How did he know what she had been looking at?

He smiled his gummy smile again, then returned to the task at hand.

Laura was freaked out, but also amazed by how astute he was. He was an intriguing old codger that was for sure.

“Ah, here we are,” the old man tapped at a clipboard he had unearthed, “two sofas coming in on Thursday morning. Can’t tell you anything about them I’m afraid. They must have given me the details when we bought them, but my memory isn’t what it used to be. Why don’t you pop back in for a visit then? I’ll hold them so that you can have first pick, how about that?”

“Thank you, I’d appreciate that.” Laura stood to leave, extending her hand. He took it, his grip cool and surprisingly firm. Yes, he was a study in contradictions, and she wondered at the stories he might tell.


“I’ll see you Thursday then.” She already looked forward to it.


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