Brian Baillie was born on a small island in Washington state. He is pursuing a BA in fiction, with a poetry minor, at Columbia College Chicago, where he works as a writing tutor. He lives in the Uptown neighborhood with is wife, Laura, and son, Oliver, whose love and support are invaluable. His poems can be found in issues of The Sixteenth and Mission Review from Seven7h Tangent Publishing and The Dubois Review. Goreyesque is Brian's first prose publication.
The Antique Man
Jordan and Kate were driving from Milwaukee to Door County to shop for antiques. They had recently bought their first home, a condominium downtown, and it was all but completely decorated. They just couldn't decide what to do with the alcove in the hall. They came to an adorable bed and breakfast, where the proprietor told them of a town, not far away, home to Door County's most secret, unfrequented antique shop. They found it the next morning, tucked away from Main Street, an old bungalow set back from the sidewalk with an ivy-swathed oak sign reading: Hattie's Antiques.
The front door made tight popping noises as Jordan pushed it open. A musty column of air drifted from the lamp-lit room. Objects were packed tightly on shelves and stacked high on the floorboards, blocking the windows, making the room dim and close. They were greeted by a bent woman in a cable-knit sweater with brass buttons.
“I'm Hattie,” she said warmly. “Have a good look around, this place has been in my family six generations. There are things in here even I don't know about.”
Jordan and Kate walked through the narrow aisles laden with rusted and dusty artifacts: a wooden box coffee grinder with a rotating metal handle, a plate-steel gas station sign with two digits for pricing, and a rustic lamp with stained-glass shaded bright orange, red and forest green featuring a top of ornately carved bronze.
“This stuff is amazing,” Kate said.
“Why are there no price tags?” Jordan asked.
Jordan paused to look through a wood crate filled with vinyl records as Kate pushed further into the store, where the aisles grew narrow. The further she went, the older the items were. She traced the wood floors with the toes of her shoes before letting her heels fall, her feet leading the slow shuffle and her body trailing behind. She passed etched leather saddles and civil war bayonets while standing straight as a flagpole, and just as still, until she came to a low archway under a leaning coatrack holding two British army red coats. She heard a faint skitter from behind the fabric. Following her arms, she pushed through the folds of the jackets and entered a cramped room where an elderly man was working at a typewriter. She heard the loud clacks of the keys, the bell when he reached the end of a line and the insistent whoosh-shawk of the paten as he slapped it from left to right. Towers of paper were haphazardly piled around the room, looking like they could fall at any movement and leave the tiny space thigh-high in white-paper snow.
“Jordan,” Kate called back. After a moment, he appeared through the coats. “What do you think about him?” she asked.
“Seems kind of run down,” Jordan said. “What about the typewriter? That looks nice.”
After haggling with Hattie, they agreed to buy the typewriter, under the condition the old man went with it as a package deal.
“I have so much stuff in this old place,” Hattie said. “He's just been lying around gathering dust, better to see an antique like that in a nice home.”
With the old man in the trunk, they could hear the click-tick-tick even over the radio as they drove home. They arranged a small, wooden desk with a single drawer in the alcove and placed the typewriter atop it. They then put the old man on a wooden armchair with black leather tacked to the back and seat by polished, dimpled buttons. He immediately set to typing.
“Looks nice,” Kate said. “Homey.”
“I need more paper,” the old man said in breathy grumble. Kate and Jordan were stunned quiet. A moment passed before Jordan spoke.
“I'll go out and get you some,” he said.
Jordan returned shortly with a ream of paper and set it on the desk. The old man opened it hurriedly and fed a crisp, pale sheet into the paten with his left hand, cranking with his right.
Jordan and Kate watched the old man, his bony fingers angled sharply downward and straightening as they jabbed at the worn keys. Kate moved behind and peered over his shoulder, leaning closely to glance at the letters. The old man let out a brusk “hah-hem,” and she retracted.
Jordan and Kate had dinner in their dining room with the snaps of metal on paper bending through the hall. They brushed their teeth, made love and fell to sleep.
Jordan woke to the shuffle of slippers coming into his bedroom. He sat, not sure what was happening until he saw the white, overgrown eyebrows perched above the old man's thin spectacles grow large in his sight.
"I need more paper," the old man said and leaned back to his regular haunch, resting his knuckles on the roosts of his hips.
Jordan looked at the clock. “It's three-thirty,” he said. “Can't it wait until morning?”
“I need more paper,” the old man said haughtily.
“Alright, alright,” Jordan said. “I'll get some more paper.”
The old man shuffled out of the room as Jordan swirled from the bed and pulled on his pants. He grabbed his car keys, stuffing them into his pocket, and shoved his feet into his shoes without untying the laces. The fabric around his heel doubled over, and he forced his index finger into the tight, slender gap to straighten it. Walking under the dim sheen of the alcove's overhead light, he saw the old man, draped in a pale glow, continuously tapping the space bar in a slow, methodical cadence.
When Jordan returned from the store, the old man wasn't at the desk. The typewriter was gone as well. Jordan furrowed the ridge of his brow, forming three dark V’s in the low-center of his forehead as he placed the paper on the desk. Then, from the living room, Jordan heard the familiar clickety-click. He walked through the hall, finding his way through darkness to the switch by the couch.
When he flicked on the lights, he saw the old man standing tiptoe reaching for the keys of the typewriter, which was threaded high in the curtains. There were dark blotches from the floor to where it was wedged in the cloth.
“What in the world are you doing?” Jordan asked.
“I need more paper,” the old man said, shrugging his curved shoulders and trying again to reach the keys.
“I got some paper,” Jordan said. “Please, stop. We just got these, now they're ruined. Look at all this ink.”
The soft pops of the paten wheel raced as Jordan pulled the typewriter from the curtain, smudging the blots into dark rows on the white, sheer fabric. When he put it back on the desk, the old man was waiting with a sheet of paper in his hand, and was typing away when Jordan lay in bed to sleep.
The next morning, Kate received a phone call from Minnesota – her sister was in labor.
“I have to go see her,” she said. “She will want me there in the delivery room.”
“Go,” Jordan said. “Take the car. I'll be fine. I'll take the train after work.”
Jordan saw Kate off, then went to the store for a few more reams of paper. He dropped them on the floor by the desk and left, figuring that would keep the old man busy while he was out for the day.
But when he returned to pack, the walls were finger painted in a coal black, smudged from the floor to as high as the old man could reach in wild, sweeping strokes. The shower curtains were cut into long, paper-wide strips and typewritten on both sides. Jordan picked one up, trying to decipher the writing, but the letters were stacked on top of one another and inverted, making it look like an encoded cuneiform. The bed sheets were folded narrowly lengthwise and had been fed through the typewriter. Jordan observed them as well, but the ink was so blotted into the cloth each letter looked like an oblong blob with tiny veins spurting from all sides.
Jordan stormed through the house trying to unearth the old man. Anything that could be folded or cut into eight and a half inch ribbons had been funneled through the typewriter and was spotted with black. Other objects were shoved in whole, forced through the circuitry of grinding wheels and pounding keys. He had just begun to think the old man was gone when he heard the click-clack-click.
Jordan froze, ears pricked intently, and listened for the source. Closing his eyes, he let the sound guide him. It led to a closet door. Jordan could hear the clack of the keys, ting of the bell and whoosh-shawk of the paten. His teeth grit firmly and the ridges popped over one another in muffled snaps. He pulled the door open and saw the old man sitting in the closet with the typewriter propped on his frail, skeletal knees. A long strip of wallpaper was fed into the paten, one end still attached to the wall. The old man looked up at Jordan with a glare.
“I need more paper,” the old man said.
Jordan grabbed his toolbox from the closet and slammed the door. He seized a dining room chair and wedged it under the knob, shoving it taut with the crux of his foot. The toolbox was open in a twitch and he produced a jar of nails. Dumping them onto the hardwood floor, there was a scattered sound like a bottle rattling down a sidewalk. He grabbed the hammer and stomped into the bedroom, kneeling beside the dresser to pry the fronts from each drawer. Clutching the wood between his bicep and ribcage, he returned to the closet and scrambled for the nails on the floor. They skittered about before he clinched one and tacked it into the doorframe. He didn't stop until every board was cinched with three nails on either side.
When he finished, his hair was pasted to his forehead and his lungs ached with sharp pricks. Slouching against the wall, he dropped the hammer. It clonked on the floor among the nails while Jordan tried to slow the racing tempo in his chest. As he took deep breaths through his nose and out his mouth, again he heard the click-clack-clickety of the old man's spindly fingers working the keys of the typewriter.
Jordan rushed into his room and grabbed his duffle. He quickly stuffed it with shirts and pants, underwear and socks. He then went to the bathroom, gathered his toiletries and shoved them in as well. After zipping it closed, he hoisted the bag to the front door and left, walking briskly down the stairs and toward the train station.
After a few blocks he caught his breath and the pace of his heart slowed to a gallop. He thought about what he would tell his wife when he got there. How could he explain the state of their new home to her? He decided to go back and take care of it.
When he was back inside, he set the suitcase by the door and went to the kitchen. He took the broom and dustpan from the cabinet and swept the nails from the hallway. He gathered the sheets, curtains and other linens and put them in a bag to take to the cleaners. He began to scrub the ink from the walls with a sponge and spray bottle, but found the job impossible. The white paint and black ink melded together in a grey paste.
I'll have to repaint, he thought. When all was clean as could be reasonably done, he went to the phonebook and looked up the closest antique store. He called the number and a man with a nasally voice answered.
“Buried Treasures,” the man said.
“Hello,” Jordan said. “I have a… I was wondering if you were in the business of buying antiques.”
“Depends on what's for sale.”
“Well,” Jordan said. “It’s a typewriter. Typist, too. It is very old. I am not sure how old, but I can assure you it is an authentic antique.”
“Typewriter and typist, eh?” the man said. “I suppose I could come by and take a look.”
“Come by? Oh, no. No. I'll come to you. No need to trouble yourself.”
“Alright then,” the man said. “Can't argue with that. Motivated seller, eh? Do you know where the shop is?”
“Yes,” Jordan said. “If I come by now, will you be there?”
“I’ve been here for thirty-five years. I suppose I’ll be here then.”
After he hung up the phone, Jordan returned to the closet. The sound of the typewriter snuck below the crack of the door and he shivered. He picked up the hammer and pried the boards off one at a time, stacking them on the floor. When he was finished, he opened the door. The old man had his arm fed into the typewriter and was clacking at the keys. Each new letter made him wince, but he didn't stop typing. He simply looked up at Jordan blankly and said, “I need more paper.”
“Paper, huh?” Jordan asked. “Tell you what, let's go out and get some. You and me. Whaddya say we take a walk together? We'll go get some paper.”
The old man didn’t reply, but seemed to agree. Jordan reached down and took him by the arm. He felt frail and light, just loose skin over thin bone. He righted the old man and helped him pull his arm free.
With the typewriter under one arm and the old man holding his other he walked into the antique shop. It was a brightly lit showroom with space around every piece of furniture or fixture and several wide aisles in the back. In the center was a circular counter with glass cases housing shiny gold watches, ivory broaches and tie clips. A bald man sat at a stool in front of a lamp where he was inspecting something with a magnifying glass. He turned and looked at Jordan as he approached.
‘You must be the one I spoke to on the phone,” the man said. “Sure did make it here quick.”
“Yes,” Jordan said. “My wife is in Minnesota with her sister. She’s in labor and I have to be going right away. I promised her I would take care of this before I left.”
“I’d better have a look, then.”
The man walked through a latched doorway in the counter and came around to Jordan and the old man. He first inspected the typewriter, fixing his glasses on his nose and rubbing the mechanism with his thumb, even clicking a key here and there.
“Seems to be alright,” he said. “I wouldn't call it ‘lightly used,’ but salable.”
He then came to the old man and began looking him over. He started in the front, pushing the old man's bushy eyebrows up with his knuckles and turning his head from side to side. He then moved to the side where he tried in vain to straighten the old man's haunch.
“Boy,” the man said. “This is a real old pair. Where did you come about them?”
“Door County,” Jordan said. “Real old place, way up north.”
“You sure don’t see these much in the city. I’ll take them off your hands, but I won't be able to offer you top dollar, on account of how worn out they are. Somebody must have been using these things up ‘til the bitter end.”
“Whatever you think fair is fine with me,” Jordan said.
After they had settled their business, Jordan left the old man and the typewriter with the antiques dealer and went outside. The fresh air filled his chest and he felt a lightness in his step as he walked home. He grabbed his bag and headed toward the train station. As he passed Buried Treasures, the antiques dealer was setting the old man in front of the typewriter as a window display. The old man turned and spoke to the dealer, who disappeared for a moment and returned with a sheet of paper.
Jordan rounded a corner and could no longer see the antiques shop, but he was almost certain he could hear the sounds of the old man’s fingers on the keys bending through the streets while he walked away.