Saturday, December 6, 2014
Ed Calkins saved the pawn shop’s bundle for last, after first pulling off the road to adjust John-Peter’s leprechaun, a pocket-sized creature with a leering face, tiny black eyes glinting below a pair of bushy red eyebrows, and a thatch of wild red hair sliding out from under its tall green hat. In the center of its belly, a series of numbers in the billions spiraled downward. The lull in the action always caused John-Peter to nod off, but he always reawakened feeling as refreshed as if he’d slept the night. By waiting until daybreak to deliver the Eircheard’s Emporium, Ed could be certain that Eircheard himself would have unlocked the front door, prepared the tea, and, if the wizened shopkeeper was feeling particularly ambitious that day, prepared a loaf of warm, Irish soda bread--using vinegar instead of buttermilk and a vegan spread from Brummings in Shelby to top it--out of respect for John-Peter.
But no whiff of freshly baked bread greeted John-Peter’s nose that morning, only the pungent scent of the tobacco that emitted from Eircheard’s clay pipe. When John-Peter was a small boy, the sight of this leprechaun-like old man intimidated him and became the source of a recurring nightmare. Since early childhood, John-Peter had often dreamed of the shop keeper, sitting on a tree trunk and carving a misshapen piece of wood with a long-handled knife. A series of incantations followed the store owner’s act of jamming the wood into the ground. While Eircheard chuckled in glee, John-Peter’s leering face emerged from the top of the wooden post.
But the Eircheard’s fearsomeness now only existed in John-Peter’s dreams. Inside the pawn shop, he was simply an old man making a dime from those wanting a quick buck and parting with their possessions to obtain it. The one-room, wood shop was not large, but Eircheard had filled it to bursting with all manner of furniture, knickknacks, clocks, lamps, signs, clothing, wall hangings, books, record albums, toys, dishes, household furnishings, and so forth, all stacked haphazardly and without category consideration.
“No tin whistles today,” Eircheard said, leaning back in his desk chair, puffing on his pipe, and gesturing to a side table. “But some fellow brought in a whole stack of records. All bagpipe music.”
Uncle Ed made a dour face and recited:
A pygmy did sit in his chair
Luring the innocent into his lair
He said, “Why not you stay
And buy something today?
If it’s garbage I really don’t care.”
Eircheard grinned around his pipe and watched Ed weave through the card tables, laden with assorted figurines, plaques, and jewelry, to flip through the albums.
John-Peter poured a cup of tea, popped his vitamin, and polished off the remnants of yesterday’s bread while Eircheard puffed and watched some more. The boy wished he had topped off his jug before leaving the distribution center. His parched throat screamed for water.
“Saved the last from yesterday. Had a feeling you gents would stop this morning.”
“Thankee, Mr. E.”
Eircheard smiled through the black gaps between his broken teeth. “Anytime.”
Ed looked up from the stack of records.
“Want to drive Kellen nuts?”
“I’ll pass, Uncle Ed.”
Kellen’s disparaging remarks about classical piano music were the bane of John-Peter’s life. No need to blare bagpipes, too.
Ed selected three albums and brought them to the counter. Eircheard rose painfully to his feet to ring up Ed’s purchases.
“That will be five dollars even.”
“You drive a hard bargain.”
“Got to keep a roof over my head, same as you.”
Ed picked up the records and turned to John-Peter, who spread margarine on this third chunk of bread. Three-fourths of the loaf had disappeared into the boy’s growling stomach. “Let’s drop Munsonville, and get you home.”
“Think Reece will be mad the country route is late?”
“Not mad enough to find someone else to take it out.”