by Jill Hand
The shop exists. I’ve never been there, but I’ve been assured it exists by people I trust.
It’s not easy to find, the Shop of Lost Things. It has no fixed location, appearing one day between a bakery and a dry cleaner in a sleepy town by a river in upstate New York and the next it may be in Cairo, or Helsinki, or anywhere in between.
Type “Shop of Lost Things” into your computer’s search engine and you’ll get several results, but you won’t find the real Shop of Lost Things. It has no online presence. If, once having found it’s storefront, the next time you look it will be gone. The building will either be empty, its windows dusty, displaying a scattering of dead bugs and a yellowing poster from last summer’s firemen’s fair, or transformed into a chic little boutique that sells Italian cashmere scarves and ridiculously expensive fountain pens.
Let’s say you’re fortunate enough to stumble onto the Shop of Lost Things. You enter, not certain at first what kind of place it is. The items in the window don’t give much of a clue. There’s a John Rogers plaster statuary group of a scene from Othello, where Othello is confronting Desdemona (Desdemona’s nose, you notice, is chipped). And there’s a Gibson Flying V guitar, with a mahogany body and a rosewood fingerboard, next to a Rookwood pottery jardinière in the particular combination of celadon green and dusty pink that always makes you think of the nineteen-thirties.
The brass bell over the door gives a brisk jingle as you walk in. Inside it’s crowded and dimly lit, filled with a wild mish-mash of items: boxes full of books by authors you’ve never heard of, milk crates full of vinyl records that you dimly remember your older siblings owning, racks of old clothing, a chess board on which the pieces are taxidermied mice. A pair of fantastically ornate ormolu cut-glass girandole candelabra that might have come from the Alexander Palace sits atop a battered toy chest on which are stenciled nursery rhyme characters.
A ginger cat sleeps curled up like a cinnamon roll, atop an Oriental rug. It’s quiet, and you can hear clocks ticking slowly and patiently. Dust motes spin and whirl in the dim light. It is the kind of scene that you might encounter in a dream, but this is not a dream.
You look around and notice an item on one of the display cases, the old-fashioned kind with curved glass fronts. You approach it hesitantly, not believing your eyes. It might be the little metal horse, dapple grey with a red saddle that slipped from your hand when you were five and tumbled into the heating grate on the floor of your bedroom. How you wept when you lost that little horse, the little horse, so calm and brave, who was your constant companion. You pick it up, and it fits perfectly in your hand. Tears come to your eyes, and you whisper the horse’s name: Dobbin.
Or it might be the wooden box with your initials inlaid on the top that your grandfather made for you in his workshop. You kept your most prized baseball cards in it, and later, cufflinks and foreign coins that you picked up on your travels, before it was lost during one of your moves. It might be a picture of your mother, dead these thirty years. It might be anything, the thing that you find in the Shop of Lost Things, but whatever it is, it is your lost thing.
You carry it, trembling a little, not believing your luck, to the rear of the shop where a person sits behind the counter reading a book. The person might be a young man who wears a brightly colored knitted cap, his hair falling over his shoulders in dreadlocks. It might be a woman about sixty years of age, her manner reserved and her eyes behind little, round, steel-rimmed glasses. Or it could be someone else entirely.
The person carefully places a bookmark in their book, and asks if they can be of help. You ask how much the thing is that you’re holding in your hand.
“That?” the person behind the counter queries, squinting doubtfully at the object, “There’s no price on it? I’d say … five dollars?”
They pose it as a question, as if you might dicker with them and offer four dollars, or maybe three for the thing you’re holding so reverently.
You whip out your wallet and hand over a five-dollar bill, quickly, before they change their mind and say they were mistaken and it’s not for sale after all. The person rings you up on an old brass cash register with National stamped in ornate letters on the front and wishes you a good day, turning back to their book. They don’t give you a receipt, or offer you a bag and you don’t ask.
You leave the store feeling absurdly happy, holding onto the prized thing you’ve found after it was lost for so long.
Someday, if you’re fortunate, maybe you, too, will find the Shop of Lost Things.