Gabriel dashed out of school, his book strap slung over his shoulder, and sprinted down the sidewalks. He dodged a delivery man, wove in and around a few pedestrians, and just missed bumping into a mailman as he rounded a corner in his excitement to get to The Red String Curio Store.
When he pushed open the door, the little silver bell above it rang. He cast his eyes up at it and gave a short nod, as if the bell had personally greeted him. Then he smiled and took in the sounds and smells and liveliness of the shop. Christmas music played from the radio behind the counter, and the old grandfather clock in the back chimed. Several people browsed the aisles, searching for the rare and unusual. The proprietor, Mr. G, waved to him from the side of the store, where he and Junior were studying the empty frames on the wall, tilting their heads this way and that.
Gabriel stepped behind the counter and placed his books and coat on the bottom shelf beneath the cash register. Then he lifted his dark green shopkeeper’s apron from the row of hooks and secured it around his waist. Lastly, he tucked a small notebook into the front pocket of the apron, and slid a pencil behind his ear. He was ready for business.
Mr. G strolled over to the counter. “Greetings, Master Gabriel! Punctual, as usual.”
Junior trailed behind, his cane tapping against the wooden floor with every other step. He held a small frame at arm’s length, assessing the dull gold vines twining around the edges. He gave a decisive nod.
“This is the one,” Junior said to Gabriel, as if he had been in on the decision. “I see moonlight and dreams and long-buried wishes. Ideal for O’Shaughnessy.” He handed it to Gabriel and pulled on his long, gray beard – his Tennyson beard, as Dusty, another regular, referred to it. “Now, use your imagination, Gabriel, and tell me what you think.” He hooked his cane on the counter top and cleared his throat. Mr. G stood next to him in deep concentration, his knuckle crooked on his chin.
Gabriel divided his focus between the emptiness inside the frame and Junior’s recitation. The old man was a born performer, his voice rich and melodic, his gestures fluid and natural as he swept his arms to the ocean in his mind’s eye and lifted his gaze to the beauty of the moon.
We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
“That was real nice, Junior. I’ll add that poem to my General Knowledge notebook.” Gabriel ran his fingers over the wooden frame and positioned it in front of him. “And this is the frame for it. I can see it and it will be the perfect match.” Gabriel opened his notebook and Junior obliged him by reciting the lines again. At the last word, Gabriel added an emphatic period.
“There’s more, of course,” said Junior, pulling on his beard again. “But to my mind, the first stanza’s the best. Besides, the rest won’t fit.”
Mr. G lifted the frame, nodded in agreement, and handed it back to Gabriel. “An excellent choice, indeed! Gabriel, can you wrap this for Junior? I must attend to Mrs. Cranford. I’ve left her deciding between three lace tablecloths.”
“Sure.” Gabriel soon had the frame wrapped in brown paper tied with the store’s trademark red string. “There you go!”
“Should have it ready next week.” Junior tried to flex his gnarled, arthritic hands, tucked the package under his arm and thanked Gabriel. He turned around at the door and tipped his hat. “Then it’s on to Shakespeare. The sonnets. Perfect for holiday gifts, don’t you think?”
“And they’ll fit in almost any frame!” said Gabriel.
Junior gave him a wink in understanding and left the shop.
Gabriel waved goodbye and wended his way down the labyrinthine aisles. He stopped to assist an elderly customer, Mrs. Peasley, find just the right gift for her husband. After listening to her describe her husband’s interests, Gabriel tapped his cheek a few times. Then he held up his index finger and led her to a display of items related to coin collecting, and another section on birdwatching.
The next hour passed agreeably for Gabriel. He heard the cash register ring with sales, accompanied by Mr. G’s hearty exclamations to customers and their appreciative remarks. The little bell tinkled in the background as customers came and left.
Mrs. Peasley finally decided on the items for her husband and Gabriel carried them to the counter for her. He froze in his tracks when he heard Mr. G say, “Greetings, Tommy! Came to see the rocking chair, eh? There’s Gabriel, over by the assortment of globes.”
Gabriel stood rooted to the floor as Tommy walked up to him. “Hi, Tommy. I – I thought you were coming tomorrow.”
“I was at the soda fountain with some of the fellas so I decided to look at the rocker today.” He took a step closer, wondering at the apron Gabriel was wearing, the pencil behind his ear, and the items in his arms. “What are you doing?”
Mrs. Peasley patted Gabriel on his shoulder. “Thank you, young man. I couldn’t have made up my mind without you. Chester will be delighted.” She held up the items for Tommy to see. “An illustrated Audubon book – and binoculars! I can hardly wait until Christmas to give them to him.” She gave a small chuckle as she headed to the counter. Then she turned around. “I’ll be back next week. Let’s see what we can find for sister Lobelia. She collects bluebirds. And bells. Small ones.”
Gabriel whipped out his notebook and jotted down the items. “I’ll start my search today.”
Tommy’s eyes widened. “You’re working here?”
Gabriel winced and nodded.
“And you didn’t tell Mom? You’re in big trouble.”
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