“Second Act” by Janet Yung

Because they’d been together long enough to communicate without saying a word, Violet sensed the unspoken question forming in his mind as he hid behind the rustling of the front page of the morning paper.

“When will your enterprise begin to show a profit?”

Wracked with guilt about the financial quagmire her venture was fast becoming, the knot of anxiety taking up permanent residence in her digestive tract stirred.

“I feel like I’m getting an ulcer.”

“What?” Paul’s remark made her realize she’d voiced her own suspicions about the downward spiral her life was taking.

“Huh?” Sometimes, in difficult situations, it was best to feign ignorance. Violet didn’t like to think she’d ever been the sort of person to bury her head in the sand, but lately, that seemed to be the most comfortable place to be. The sand. On a beach, far away from everything that wasn’t going according to plan.

“You said something about an ulcer.” Now Paul’s face could be seen over the top of the paper.

“Oh,” she swiped the counter with the damp dishcloth. “I’m exaggerating.”

“Oh,” he said, returning to whatever riveting bit of information he’d managed to uncover in the paper.

Honestly, she found most of the news depressing. And what wasn’t depressing was boring. Gloom and doom were everywhere. There was no escaping it even on daytime television. She knew Paul wouldn’t be very understanding about that.

“What are you doing watching t.v. during the day?” would be his question.

“Well, there weren’t many customers in the shop today, so I sat behind the counter on that old stool we found in the alley a couple years ago and decided to see if there was anything to watch.” Even in her mind, the explanation was weak.

A few toast crumbs flew onto the floor. She debated the wisdom of wiping them up with the dish cloth or grabbing a paper towel to do so. Or, she told herself, you could use the broom. The broom won out and Violet reached for the one she kept stashed along the side of the refrigerator.

“What’s on your agenda today?” Paul asked, neatly folding the paper and draining the contents of his coffee cup.

“Oh, you know, the usual,” Violet replied, absently sweeping up crumbs, both real and imaginary.

“That’s nice,” he said and gave her a peck on the cheek promising to see her tonight and wishing her a good day.

Violet watched his retreating back and sighed. He wasn’t aware what her usual day consisted of.

An hour later, at the shop, Violet turned the old fashioned cardboard sign hanging by a string from “Closed” to “Open.” Switching on lights and straightening tops of display cases as she made her way through the shop, she thought about how eagerly she’d initially approached the enterprise. “It’s something I’ve always dreamt of doing,” she told Paul as she pitched the idea.

He had to admit she didn’t seem cut out for her most recent position at the bank. With her job eliminated and, a tidy severance package, it seemed like fate offering her the second act she’d desperately longed for while she toiled away in her office cubicle.

“I’m sick of worrying about other people’s money,” was the way she phrased it.

“What are you passionate about?” he’d asked, supposing she’d come up with something more traditional like teaching school or training to be a nurse.

The one thing she was passionate about was collecting junk. It was impossible to refrain from darting down the alley on bulk pick-up weeks to retrieve a gem tossed to the curb by “someone who doesn’t know any better”; the way Violet described the salvaged items.

“I couldn’t bear the thought of it winding up in a land fill.” Paul caved in with the caveat she needed to either find a use for it, or store it out of his line of vision. The basement had begun to overflow with treasures Violet rescued from the trash, or found at sales and charity shops. A shop of her own seemed a logical progression of that past time.

Sighing as she straightened up some papers, she couldn’t believe things were so slow. “It must be the times,” she mused, reluctant to study the spread sheets for the fast approaching quarter end.

It wasn’t as if she weren’t familiar with the ups and downs of running a shop. She settled on her favorite perch, clicking on the small television behind the counter. A distraction till she could work up the motivation to paint a table she’d dragged home two nights ago.

“I hope the neighbors don’t see you,” was all Paul had to say, watching her hobble towards the backyard with her latest prize.

Her mother used to play solitaire minding the small corner grocery store she owned and operated with Violet‘s father.

“Why do you do that?” Violet asked each afternoon as she arrived home from school, her mother seated comfortably behind the counter, dealing cards.

“It passes the time,” her invariable reply and Violet could only think running a shop was one thing she’d never want to do.

But, as time went by, Violet yearned to be her own boss. She knew, of course, her parents would tell her you were never really your own boss. “You have customers to please,” they’d remind her. And Violet agreed, in theory, as she imagined her days filled by the pursuit of inventory and restocking a store where items were in demand and flying off the shelves and out of the store.

“If only,” Violet said, trying to get comfortable on her stool as the first bit of bad news flitted across the screen.

Violet understood her stock consisted more of collectibles than antiques, but when something wore its age well, it deserved to be treasured. At times, the buyers of the pieces Violet sold worried her. “What if they don’t take care of it,” she often asked Paul after parting with a favorite lamp or dish.

“Well, that’s not your concern now is it?” his pragmatic reply.

Weekends, business was okay. Sometimes even brisk. Those were the days Paul tagged along to help out. Chatting with customers who came in to browse with the occasional sale and parting words of, “I know you‘ll really enjoy that piece“. Some of the bigger items sold the first few weeks, and he’d been encouraged by the progress of her endeavor. Even encouraging with “I think things are looking pretty good.”

The weekdays were more telling. “If he only knew,” she sighed, as she clicked off the t.v. and prepared to work on the table. Keeping busy was the best way to lift her spirits.

She spread out a canvas tarp in the area near the back she’d designated as work space and scrounged up a piece of sand paper. Her mood lifted a bit as she began her task “Things will pick up around the holidays.” The bell over the door tinkled and sand paper in hand, she peered through the open curtains that served as a divider between the two spaces.

“Good morning,” she smiled. An older woman stood in the middle of the shop, poised as if she knew what she was looking for. So many people didn’t. The upside to the casual shopper was they could often be relied upon to pick up a small item and buy it, not wanting to waste Violet’s time. Seasoned shoppers were more discriminating.

“Hello.” She barely glanced in Violet‘s direction.

“Is there something in particular you’re looking for?”

“No, just browsing.” The woman stopped in front of the hutch displaying some of Violet’s favorite pieces of iron stone.

“Let me know if I can help you with anything.” Violet knew it was important to cultivate a clientele. Best to maintain her position behind the counter, so she began to rearrange the knick-knacks in what had been a candy case in its previous life.

As the woman made the rounds of the shop, she examined a vase and then a pair of silver candlesticks. Violet calculated how much she could come down on the price should the woman want to dicker.

Then the woman was headed out the door with a “Thank you,” abruptly interrupting Violet’s musings. She’d been there less than ten minutes.

“You’re welcome. Please come back,” Violet told the closing door. It might be hours before another potential customer surfaced. She stood there for a couple minutes before returning to her project.

Sanding the scarred surface, Violet weighed her prospects. Good probably until the new year when she’d need to do some serious soul searching. As she pressed a little harder on the sandpaper she decided, on the outside chance Paul could really read her mind, it might be best to keep negative thoughts to a minimum.

Violet’s only salvation was Paul’s assumption she knew what she was doing and hadn’t demanded to see the books. Not yet, anyway. And that belief would have to carry her through until then.


Profile: Janet Yung

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