It’s October, can’t remember the date, probably the 14th or 15th. I’ve remembered to press record this time, unlike the last time when I was just talking to myself for half an hour. It’s not like that with a normal diary, is it? You just pick up a pen, or since it’s 2020 open a Word document, and type or write without much thought. But to me, that’s hard. Thoughts and feelings aren’t easily translated to articulate sentences with the proper grammar and all that shite. You don’t have to worry about that when you’re speaking. So here I am, again.
As I mentioned in my last successfully recorded entry, the semester started a few weeks ago and as expected I’ve just pissed away the majority of ma bank account. Then I had the thought that every student dreads.
Part time job.
My loan isn’t enough to cover food, entertainment, and the…occasional night out. So, it’s time I got a job. I visited the career’s service at the uni, and only received one reply from the 6 or 10 or 200 applications I sent out, and then they rejected me anyway because I didn’t pass their tests. As if I don’t have enough tests.
In a desperate attempt to get someone to employ me I started walking around the high street handing in my CV to people who were less than pleased to take it from me. I was walking in a quieter part of town, the place where there’s nothing but cafes and restaurants and independent shops, when one ae them caught ma eye. It was like I’d never seen it before, which is impossible because I only walked up there last week after a night out.
It looked old, the sign above almost falling down, and the paint was begging for a few fresh coats. The rusty and simplistic sign read “Madam’s Antique Shop”. I know, why the hell would you call a shop that? I pictured all kinds of nonsense, from a rich trophy wife to a performing medium who reads tarot cards. I was ready to walk straight by, scoffing under my breath, when I saw an advert in the window for a part-time worker. I practically tripped over my own feet getting through the door, ironing a crumpled CV between my hands.
There was a bell above the door that sent a gentle chime through the shop, but that was the only quaint thing about it. I’m not kidding, you should’ve seen the state of this shop, it was like something you’d see on Britain’s biggest hoarders. I’ve never seen so much stuff crammed into such a wee space.
I stared in disbelief at the everything that lay everywhere, on tables, hanging from the ceiling, on precarious piles on the floor. There was everything from vintage magazines and records to battered guitars, faded typewriters and a few boxes filled with tarnished and dull coins from times gone by. There were only small paths winding amongst the antiques, room for only one person at a time, and even that was a stretch. These wee passages were lined with China dolls and ornate cabinets, small Victorian bairn’s toys and long forgotten photo albums. It was like the shop was filled with every gift, trinket, and ornament ever given to many people over many lifetimes, and it all lay gathering dust. There was a glass counter further in the cave of antiques, hugging one of the walls. I slowly and precariously made my way over to it using the laid-out track, being careful not to touch, kick or brush against anything. I managed to get across the floor without any major breakages or incidents, thank God, because despite their jumbled appearance I had a feeling that most of the items were so old that they must be expensive; definitely no objects I could afford to break.
When I reached the counter, I noticed there was one of those old-fashioned bells on the surface, the ones people in old films use to get the shopkeeper’s attention. It was made of brass, dull and faded, but worked well enough when I drove the palm of my hand onto it. The sound was swallowed by the sheer quantity of items crammed into every nook and cranny. I doubted the owner could even hear it. As I was waiting my eyes were captured by the sparkling gems and jewels beneath the glass.
Some were huge and garish, like they whoever bought it was trying to prove something, whilst others were simple and unassuming. Like a magpie, I was so mesmerised with the shiny things that I nearly had kittens when I felt something furry brush against my leg. I glanced down, hoping it wasn’t a mouse, to find a black cat staring up at me, and if I didn’t know any better I swear to you it was smirking. It’s glistening emerald eyes contrasted strongly with its coal black fur that shimmered as it moved. We continued our staring match, entering into a silent battle of wills that for some reason I was determined to win.
Suddenly, I heard a voice from the other side of the glass counter. It was smooth, gentle, not unlike wind chimes on a spring day, and it said:
“I see you’ve met Chronos.”
Reluctantly, I gave up on my competition with the feline and trained my eyes on the woman behind the counter. I’ve never seen anyone quite like her before. Her hair was the colour of smoked paprika, and her eyes were of such a light blue I thought they were contacts at first. Her skin was enviably perfect with not a blemish or acne scar in sight. I was jealous, how did she manage to get out of puberty unscathed? Perhaps it was her stare, perhaps it was the perfume that reminded me of a warm apple pie at my Grans, but there was something different about her. I was so astounded all I could think to say was:
“Is this your cat?”
She answered that he was her companion, and then asked what I was in the shop for, as though it was strange to have anyone besides herself in there. It took me more than a few seconds to gather my wits enough to uselessly iron my CV once more before handing it over. She took it lethargically, as if doing so was an effort. It didn’t fill me with hope. The cat began to rub its face on the crumpled corners of the paper, maintaining an inappropriate amount of eye contact with me. It felt like hours she stared at it, perfectly painted crimson nails reflecting the lights illuminating the jewels beneath the counter.
In reality it could only have been a few seconds, not long enough to read the entire 2 pages. She placed it precisely on the counter, as if afraid it’d disappear if it wasn’t placed there, and then told me I was hired. I hope my mouth didn’t drop open, but I can’t be sure. Stupidly, I pointed out she hadn’t interviewed me or even knew my name. After a few moments of contemplative silence, her reason was that she needed a worker to start right away, and I was the first to apply. Filling me with yet more confidence this was going to be a decent job.
After telling her my name she welcomed me and told me that I was starting that day. Good thing I didn’t have anything better to do. I nodded like I was in a trance, so taken aback at the informality of the situation. I managed to ask what her name was. Ye can probably guess. It was Madam Norna. Not Norna, not Madam, but both together. Was Norna her surname or first name? Who knows, and I didn’t feel like falling down that rabbit hole so I didn’t pry.
Trying to make small talk in the wake of awkward silence I glanced around the cavernous shop, suspiciously devoid of customers, and queried if it was usually this quiet. She answered:
“Sometimes. People only come in when they need something.”
*Scoffs* What would someone need in an antique shop? A coin that’s been out of circulation for a millennia? An ornate cabinet for their grand house in the 20s?
Before I could receive any further enigmatic answers, she announced if anyone came in to see her she’d be upstairs, and that I was to play nicely with Chronos, the cat. She disappeared through a dark door near the back of the shop, marked private. I didn’t bother to stifle my groan. What was I supposed to do? More importantly what was I getting paid to stand around doing nothing, and when could I leave?
I’m not a complete ijit, it’s not like I could ask on ma first day, oh when can I go home? So, I resigned myself to a few hours of boredom and had a right good nosy at as much of the shop as I could.
It was easy to get lost. Ye know that feeling when you’re doing a clear out, trying to get rid of things that are taking up room that you don’t have. Something catches your attention, a photo of you and your pal when you’re 8 at a birthday party, a necklace your parents bought you when you turned 18, a keyring with a stuffed toy that your Dad spent hours trying to win at the local faire. It was like that in the shop, except I didn’t have the background to all these items, and that made them more mysterious, more interesting. Why was that shoe horn an antique? Who’d used it before? Where had all these pieces of lace come fae? Why was there a burn mark on that vanity?
A few days might have passed and I’d be none the wiser, until the bell above the door gave a curt chime. It cut through the silence like a knife through butter. I jumped so high I hit my head on the table I was crawling under. After reversing with a shocking amount of skill, I noticed a scrawny wee man had come in and was glancing around him nervously, as if he were expecting some bad news. I approached him slowly, afraid he’d bolt like a wild rabbit, and asked if I could help.
The closer I got the worse his appearance became. His eyes were bloodshot, there wasn’t a patch of white in them, and the bags underneath were so dark I thought he’d been a bit heavy handed with the contouring. Scrawny was a compliment, he was practically emaciated, like he’d not eaten in days.
He told me he was there to see Madam Norna thinking she could help him. He then handed me a wee business card with the shop’s name on it, nothing else, no contact details, no address, no social media handles, just Madam’s Antique Shop. I wasn’t sure if it was genius or just plain stupid.
He was as curious about the things in the shop as I was, but since he was here to see the boss I told him to follow me to the private door, just as she’d told me. When I opened the door there were stairs immediately behind it, and gingerly we both ascended. At the top, Madam Norna was already waiting’ for us. I think she can probably hear everything that goes on in the shop so I’ll have to be careful of what I say in the future.
She invited the man into the parlour, aye she called it parlour, and then asked me to make some tea. I couldn’t well tell her where to go, so I retreated into the kitchen to do as I was bid. I found myself hurrying, for some strange reason, like I desperately wanted to know why that man was there, and why he wanted to see her.
After a while, I took the tea in on a tray. The parlour, or as normal people call it the living room, had the same essence as the shop, but a bit more organised. Two green velvet sofas were placed in the middle of the room, facing each other over a dark wooden coffee table with glass top. The fireplace looked real, there was even a basket of wood at the side of it. In each corner there was a set of drawers, or a cabinet that I wouldn’t like to be near if it ever fell over. It was the smell that caught me; of incense, and musk, and memories, all stagnant in the air, but no in an overpowering way. It was quite dark inside, even though the few hours of daylight we get at this time of year hadn’t been chased away just yet. The furniture seemed to swallow it, but rather than make the room feel small, it made it more comfortable, cosier. I had no idea what was in those drawers and cabinets, and after that day I’m not sure I want to.
I set the tray down on the coffee table between the two, and took up residence there, crossed-legged on the floor like a barin waiting for a story. Madam Norna asked the man, a Mr Sutherland, what he wanted her help for. After a sip of the tea I’d handed him, he informed us, in all seriousness, that his missus had been keeping him up at night. He hadn’t slept in nearly a week and she wouldn’t leave him alone no matter how many times he asked her to. He thought he was going to go mad if she didn’t stop.
I didn’t think I was capable of that level of self-control. I’ve never wanted to laugh so badly in my life.
But at the same time there was something…sinister about the way he spoke, and the manic look in his eyes was enough to frighten away my amusement.
Madam Norna asked how long his missus had been dead. I felt my body tighten as I sat still on the floor, the faint tingling in my numbing feet frightened away as a fragile atmosphere descended around me.
Mr Sutherland answered it’d been a year, but in the last fortnight whenever he did get to sleep she was in his dreams, and when he woke up she was there as well, moving things, hiding things, being a general pain in the arse, although he didn’t use those words.
I tried no to stare, I really did, but what the fuck was he on? Why go to an antique shop about these things, and not a doctor? I briefly thought he meant he was being haunted, you know, by a ghost, but surely this was just some kind of severe grief? An undiagnosed mental condition?
Madam Norna, throughout this strange tale had been a statue of calm, completely unphased, as if she didn’t have a potential nutter in her living room. She then told him she had the perfect remedy. When she instructed me to go into the massive cabinet in the corner and get out a brown cylinder with an R on the side, it took me a minute to unclench.
Things didn’t get better when I opened the doors to that cabinet. There were all kinds of strange and weird things hidden away in the dark corners, crammed together on the shelves. There were many different colours of cylinders, red, yellow, purple, and all wi’ different letters on them, some not even in English. Small colourful glass vials that were dangerously lacking labels or any kind of identifying sign were lined up neatly, like bottles on a shelf at a supermarket. Clear plastic bags with dried leaves and herbs in them, and about a dozen measuring jugs and bowls and spoons. Eventually I found what she’d tasked me with. It looked a bit like a fancy smelly candle you get at Christmas, but it’s been handmade and suspiciously void of any other information. It had a lid, so was actually a tin, and was quite heavy, about the same weight as a candle.
I walked back and handed it to her, but the curiosity was killing me. What kind of cure for crazy was in that tin? She informed her customer that it was a candle, and that if burned through the night, when he’d gone to sleep, his missus should disappear. If it didn’t work then he should get rid of his wife’s belongings. Mr Sutherland lunged from his chair and snatched the candle right out of her hand, inspecting it, like I had, for any words or instructions that would tell him what it was. He answered that he didn’t have any of his missus’s belongings, her family had taken it all after she’d died.
Am I the only one who thinks that’s weird? Not the weirdest thing I heard that day, no by a long shot. Why wouldn’t he keep at least something of hers? Why let her family take all of it? I just had the feeling that there was something missing in his tale, some important detail that would fill in all the blanks. I was disappointed that day because he left without another word, not even a thank you for the tea.
I must’ve had one of my confused looks on my face as Madam Norna encouraged me to ask a question. Deciding it was a bit early to show ya true colours, I theorised that the shop didn’t just sell antiques. She repeated what she’d said to me earlier, about people only coming into the shop when they need something, and that her services were by referral only. I presume she meant that empty looking business card Mr Sutherland had shown me.
I asked why she hadn’t referred him to a doctor since he was obviously missing a few screws. There was another moment of silence, and I could see her forumalting answer, but she kept it to herself. Instead, she made the prediction that Mr Sutherland would return the next day, which was yesterday.
I arrived at work in the morning to find Mr Sutherland waiting inside by himself, sneaking glances at Chronos who sat on the glass cabinet, staring back with those eerie eyes of his. Madam Norna emerged from the private door almost as soon as I’d arrived. Before she could say anything he launched into his tirade, claiming the candle hadn’t worked and had only made things worse. He was very worked up, and I didn’t like the tone he was using either, so I slipped my phone from my pocket ready to call the police.
The Madam calmly asked him if he felt guilty. Waspishly, he denied he did, asking why he should feel like that when it was his missus that was haunting him. My boss narrowed her eyes at him, not in a glower, but in a knowing way, as if she could read the subtext of the conversation. I certainly couldn’t.
“Perhaps you feel guilt over your wife’s death? You did commit murder, after all,” she accused.
I took a few steps towards the door after that, but Mr Sutherland was astounded and staggered back, clipping a pile of vintage magazines that went sprawling to the ground with a low slap. It was the only sound for a few seconds, and unlike anything else seemed to echo around the shop. He stuttered and stumbled over his words, nonsensical syllables tumbling from his mouth. The Madam asserted, in no uncertain terms, that he’d killed his missus and was now paying the price. If he wanted to be free of her then he’d have to rid his house of her body.
A charged silence settled over the shop, creeping up my spine until I didn’t think if this went went to shite I’d be able to get to the door in time. Without another word Mr Sutherland turned sharply on his heel and ran from the shop, practically bowling me out the way as he went. Shakily I turned to the Madam and asked her if she wwasn’t going to call the police? She claimed it had nothing to do with her. And that was the end of conversation.
The reason I’m telling all this is because I watched the news this morning. His face is plastered over every channel in Scotland. The man who murdered his missus and concealed her body in their house, getting away with murder for years. Now I don’t know what to do. How did Madam Norna know all these things? Was he actually being haunted by his missus, or just his guilt? There’s something weird about that shop, but I’m definitely going back.