The bell above the shop door is a regular feature of my days there. It’s as much a part of the package as Chronos or the Madam. It’s like a signal, a delicate flare to indicate that I’ve crossed the threshold into weird. The shop’s a quiet place, and often it’s the only noise I’ll hear for hours. Every time it jingles there’s always something interesting coming after. I thought the lack of noise would eventually send me to a loony bin, but I’ve become used to it. It’s tranquil, a respite from the busy, selfish world outside.
But not today. Today it was disturbed by two roasters, and they weren’t even customers. Fionn and Reid had beaten me to the shop and were bickering with such animation I was sure something would be knocked off the counter or one of the shelves. Voices were raised, arms and fingers were animated. So heated was their *witty-wattying they didn’t even hear the bell or notice I’d come in.
The only thing that had was Chronos, who was uncharacteristically glad to see me. No wonder with those *bawbags bickering like a pair of fish wives. We both stood near the door, listening to their fighting, wondering when they were going to realise they had an audience. From what I could glean, amidst the barbs and insults, they were arguing over where to put something, I couldn’t tell what this something was.
I became impatient and decided to interrupt, inadvertently joining Fionn’s side of the argument when I took my own wee pop at Reid for lolling about the shop all day every day like a *ned outside of *Greggs. Ever since he became my familiar he’s always there, in the shop, when I get in, when I leave. I’m sure he lives there now, or maybe he’s too afraid to leave seeing as people are meant to be after him. But we’ll get onto that later.
Fionn showed me what they were fighting over. It was a vase, ae all things. The way they were going on you’d have thought it was the *footie, or the bloody holy grail. It was a pretty vase though, reminded me a wee bit of a stained-glass window you yet in *kirks and cathedrals. No two pieces were the same size, or even the same colour, but its beauty didn’t keep my mind from wondering what sort of horror it had in store for the poor sod who bought it. There always seems to be an edge to the things in the shop, and it’s impossible to know just by looking at them. There was also the bad feeling I had in my gut whenever I looked at it, and I know by now that can’t be good.
The two lads had been having a disagreement on where to put it, the window display or in the shop. I settled it by saying that whoever it was meant for would find it anywhere. I know, how good am I? I’m beginning to sound like the Madam. Reid wasn’t happy I’d disagreed with him, but just because he’s my familiar doesn’t mean we have to agree with each other all the time, does it?
I’m beginning to get the impression that Fionn and Reid don’t get along, which is great for me being stick in the middle like a *numpty. To be quite honest I’m not quite sure why Fionn’s hanging around a lot more recently, and I don’t want to ask. I like Fionn, he’s nice, and I like having him around or it’d just be me and the grumpy shite. Reid’s always asking me why I haven’t cleaned the shop up, as if I haven’t bloody spent the entire time trying to do just that. Fucking prick. He and Fionn fight, him and I fight, I don’t think he realises he’s the common denominator here.
It’s been at least a week since the ring, and Reid, have been in my life, and none of these gangster pals of his have shown up. I asked Reid the same thing, and when they were expected so I could doll myself up. All he could retaliate with was that they were not his pals. He’s not the sharpest tool. Fionn latched onto this conversation like a pig in shite, and began to tease Reid at being unable to protect himself.
Then something weird happened. Reid said something back, I can’t remember what it was, but it wasn’t rude, he didn’t even swear, it was a pretty tame retort, yet Fionn went from amused to anger like that *snap fingers*. His reply was even stranger. He told Reid to watch who he was talking to and that he was a bit too far down the food chain to be talking like that. I know, I feel like as soon as I get answers more questions appear. It’s like that dragon in Greek mythology if ye cut off one head two more’d appear. It’s exhausting.
Thankfully the bell saved us, and it heralded the arrival of a customer. It wasn’t the only thing. Almost as soon as the last echo of the bell had faded away I began to smell perfume. I say smell bit it was more like assaulted by it. Up my nostrils, down my throat, I can still smell it as I speak. You know when you were in school, at a dance or an *empty, the lads would smell so strong you’d think they bathed in aftershave. It was like this lassie who’d come in had done the same thing, as if no one told her perfume should be applied sparingly. It was a heavy scent, hung in the air, musky and overpowering. I could even bloody taste it.
That wasn’t the only thing. The lassie, when I tried to look at her, was blurry around the edges, the granny glasses effect that the roaster at the club had. What I could see clearly was that she was pretty, and I mean artists’ muse level of beauty. You know, the Helen of Troy type, a face that launches a thousand ships, or starts a thousand fights down the pub. Before I could even open my mouth to welcome her, or to say hi, Reid and Fionn had gravitated their way over to this lassie, like positive magnets after a negative one, stumbling over their feet to speak to her first. The paths are barely wide enough for one person, and both were blocking the poor lassie’s way to the counter, where she wanted to be.
She told them, in the meekest voice I’ve ever heard, to leave her alone, but she never made eye contact with any of us. The two lads are obviously strangers to consent and paid her no mind, which pissed me off. I scolded them to leave her alone, and as soon as I’d said it Reid’s whole body went rigid, straightening, as if someone had given him an electric shock. It was hilarious, and it made him leave the customer alone. My words didn’t have the same effect on Fionn, who continued to practically hover on her shoulder.
I wasn’t having this, so I took a few paces towards him and grabbed his wrist tightly, managing’ to hold back the “what the fuck is wrong with you?” that threatened to fall out my mouth. He eventually looked at me, this strange dazed look in his face. Honestly, if I didn’t know any better I’d have said he’d been smoking *wacky baccy. It kind of reminded me of Chelle in the club with that weirdo. As soon as I’d touched her, she’d gone like that as well, dazed and confused.
I shoved Fionn out the lassie’s way, which was surprisingly easy to do he was that out of it. I apologised to her, not even going near an explanation of why those two *bawbags had acted that way.
She began to shake her head, and explained that it wasn’t just them, and that all men, and even some women, were all over her wherever she went. Someone had given her the Madam’s card, which she procured and handed to me. There was a story here, and I couldn’t have been happier.
I invited her to follow me to the door upstairs, and before I closed it behind us I ordered the two roasters to stay in the shop. You’ve probably guessed by now who was waiting at the top of the stairs for us. After making the tea it was time to sit on the floor and listen to story time.
The lassie repeated what she’d said to me in the shop, about men not leaving her alone. Turns out it’s been so bad in some cases she’s had to phone the police. I know I sound amused but there was nothing funny in her expression or tone. She looked genuinely afraid, as if leaving her house was a struggle.
I turned to the Madam with bated breath. I’ve never met someone so unpredictable. I know it’s not been long since I started working in the shop and sitting in on these meetings, but I honestly can never tell what’s going to come out her mouth. What was she hearing that I couldn’t? What was this lassie thinking? Was her story even the truth?
Eventually, in her soothing tone, she asked if the lassie had a boyfriend. The lassie answered that she had, but it had ended a few months ago. I glanced back to the Madam, as if looking at her would make me able to see inside her head. She checked if the lassie’s problems had started after she stopped seeing the boyfriend. The lassie, understandably, didn’t know how to answer this question, but I’m getting to know the signs by now. And sure enough, in the wake of the lassie’s hesitation, Madam Norna asked who’d ended the relationship, the lad, or his *missus?
I’m not a beginner at this, I’ve sat it on many meetings when revelations like this come out, but even I was impressed with this one. The lassie was taken aback, body going rigid. I don’t think I’ve ever realised how it must feel to have your secrets just exposed like that, without you having to say a word. I certainly wouldn’t like to be on the receiving end of it.
After the lassie gathered herself, she immediately stated she hadn’t known about her boyfriend’s missus. I’m not sure what to believe, and the Madam never told me afterwards. So, the truth of that matter is lost to me, and I couldn’t tell just by looking. Relationships, love, marriage, it’s all so complicated, and something I don’t understand. Are some people great at lying? Definitely. So good they’d be able to have a *missus and a girlfriend? I don’t doubt it. But I didn’t know this lassie, she was a stranger to me, and to be honest I’m not the morality police, if she knowingly wanted to have a relationship with a married man then that was her choice. I just hope she liked being called a homewrecker.
Regardless of the truth, the Madam told the lassie that there was a price for her help. Now that was a new one. In the months I’ve been there I don’t think the Madam’s ever charged these special customers for her services. They come in, spill their guts, and leave with some kind of candle, and never have to open their purses or wallets. Why the exception for this lassie?
She was a bit too eager with her answer, and made the mistake of saying she’d pay anything. Without hesitation Madam Norna told her that no one would ever fall in love with her again. The words sent out a finality that made the air in the room heavy and lethargic. I joined in the lassie as we both gaped at the Madam.
She took the words right out of my mouth when she queried how that was even possible. Typically, there was no further explanation. My boss told her that was the price, and asked if she wanted some time to think about it.
Silence fell. The lassie wasn’t the only one who needed time to think. How was this even possible? What sort of candle could stop people from falling in love with you? I began to realise even after all I’ve seen I’m still narrow-minded. This is the antique shop, where a ring can sort your life out, a scarecrow can curse your family, and people who need jobs see signs that aren’t there. There’s no such thing as impossible here.
The lassie answered quicker than I was comfortable with. She agreed. I don’t think she really knew what she was agreeing to, and to be fair to her neither did I. The only difference was I believed it was possible, and by her calm demeanour she obviously thought it wasn’t. I inspected her, hoping to hear even a snippet of her thoughts. What was going through her mind?
It was the Madam’s voice that snapped me out of it as she told me to go and fetch a small wooden box from the cabinet, on the lid would be a single onyx stone. It’s not a long walk, but one of my feet had gone numb and so I nearly fell face first after a few steps. It didn’t take me long to find this box, amongst the glass vials of strange liquid and the loose papers with barely legible writing.
I handed it to the Madam, who procured a silver necklace from inside, a weird swirly pattern engraved on the teardrop charm that hung from it. It looked expensive and old but well-cared for. There wasn’t a mark on the silver chain, no discolouration. It was very fine and delicate, as if holding it too tightly would make it disintegrate. The Madam placed it lightly on the table.
The lassie was told to wear the necklace for seven days. She wasn’t allowed to take it off because if she did it wouldn’t work. After the seven days had ended no man, or woman, would ever bother her that way again. I’ve never seen anyone move as fast as that lassie did for the pendant. With happy tone she thanked the Madam, but I began to feel that unease again, like that lassie had signed away her soul.
She left the shop, but I stayed with the Madam, disliking the bitter aftertaste in my mouth. I asked my boss what had been wrong with the lassie, and if that was the reason Fionn and Reid had acted so strangely around her? The Madam’s smile had a sinister edge as she explained the boyfriend’s missus was the jealous type.
“You think the missus did something to her, to make people instantly attracted to her?” I questioned, before admitting I still didn’t understand.
Because the lassie had stolen her husband, the missus had made it so that every man she met wouldn’t be able to leave her alone. She’d be harassed wherever she went, tormented. The missus had cursed her husband’s mistress, and curses filled with bitterness and hurt were strong, and usually lasted a lifetime. The necklace was a charm that would protect her for the rest of her life. This answer took the air out of the room, plunging it into this horrible silence. There was something a bit too permanent about this payment, and what was even more tragic was that I don’t think the lassie believed it. I mean, who would?
I eventually asked my boss if the lassie had known her boyfriend was married. She gave me this look, like she couldn’t tell what I was thinking for the first time since we’d met.
“Would it matter? His wife seems to think she did,” was the answer.
I know people joke about the missus never being wrong, but it’s just a joke. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. But I kind of understood. If she hadn’t known, like she claimed, then what happened to her was tragic. On the other hand, if she had known and did it anyway, was this karma, or poetic justice? I think what annoyed me more was the fact that it takes two people to cheat. Where was the husband in all of this? Then again, if she had the power to curse her husband’s mistress, what else could she do? And if she’d gone after the lassie, I could only imagine what she would’ve done to her husband.
There was something bitter about it all. I wasn’t satisfied like I usually am with these cases. It felt like nobody won. It also raised the sticky question of what kind of person can physically curse someone? I’d seen it in the shop, the behaviour of Fionn and Reid around the lassie, as if someone had cast a spell on them. There’s so much I don’t know, and this is the first time I’ve felt uneasy in ignorance.
*witty-wattying – Scottish slang for chatting, gossiping, etc. No official spelling.
*bawbag – Scottish slang for idiot (yes, another one).
*ned – Scottish slang, usually means non-educated delinquent. Similar to the English word Chav. Someone who’s possibly unemployed, collecting benefit, and generally just causing trouble. Can always be spotted wearing a tracksuit.
*Greggs – UK baked goods chain.
*footie – British slang, short for football (real football, not the American kind).
*Kirk – mostly Scottish word for a church, predominately Church of Scotland (yes, we have our own branch of Christianity).
*numpty – yes, you guessed it, another word for idiot.
*empty – (possibly old) Scottish slang for a house party. Called an empty because parents were usually not at home.
*wacky baccy – Cannabis.
*missus – British slang term usually for wife/female partner.