Jim and Cheryl are not in agreement about the arms. Cheryl spotted them right away: two shiny plastic hands reaching up from the pile of junk on the flea market table, tagged $5 for the mismatched pair. She wants them for the shop displays, but Jim has his eye on a grab-bag of retro pinback buttons instead. That’s inventory he can move, a shoebox-full in one Saturday, if the right group of teens wanders into the shop. But Harmony Street Vintage is nothing without Cheryl’s eye for design, so he relents. She smiles and kisses his cheek, but something about the way she carries the arms, how the fingers tangle in her hair, makes Jim doubt himself.
He has underestimated the hands, it turns out. Cheryl creates little vignettes around the store, rotating stock every time they go out picking or come across something special at an estate liquidation or tag sale. The hands hold silk scarves in polka dots and paisleys, women’s watches with delicate bands and locked-up gear trains, the occasional small kiss-lock wallet; they peek up through stacks of orange and yellow Bakelite bangles. Cheryl whistles Celine Dion while she works. It is quite a thing to see.
When Cheryl quits, she tells Jim she’s taken a job as Manager at the big antique store up in Arcadia, effective immediately. That is half the truth. She’s also taken a position as the owner’s new girlfriend. She leaves the hands.
Jim keeps up the front of the shop, makes sure the stoop is swept and the windows are clean. Two years after Cheryl moves, he uses his pocketknife to peel off the vinyl list of store hours and tapes up a sign that says By Appointment Only in boxy uppercase. The sun quickly fades the black marker, but the sign stays.
There is one window in the back of the shop, next to the employee entry. The wood trim outside is rotted and when it rains, the paint sloughs off in thick flakes. The glass looks in on the small storage room, the shelves of untagged finds and unsold pieces of one man’s trash. Jim’s desk sits just under the window. The hands sit in the sill and in mid-afternoon, he can feel their shadows cast across his shoulders and face. He knows it’s unlikely that Cheryl will ever come back, but he leaves them there, reaching, waiting, just in case.
Brandy Wilkinson lives in Indiana. Her flash fiction has appeared in Ellipsis Zine, The Nottingham Review, and Halo Lit Mag. She reads and writes at brandywilkinson.com and tweets @brandy_wilk.