If you were a chosen kid and in desperate need of a magical what-not to guide you through the turmoil of pubescence, whomp your enemies and maybe teach you a lesson in morals; Kline’s Kuriosities was totally the place to go. Ideally you’d stumble across it when being chased by cruel, two-dimensional bullies, or during a pensive walk—your fists clenched and brave eyes tearing, misting the vision of a brightly painted door. There might be crazy unseasonal fog obscuring the shop that is possibly from the sewers, but you don’t dwell on that because it is gross and this is totally your moment of hope. Point being, Kline’s will appear right when you need it, seemingly out of nowhere, definitely in a place you’d swear there’d never been a shop before. If you had the luck to be one of those privileged little assholes.
Kline himself was a toad of a man with a potato of a nose and steel-rimmed glasses, though children seemed to like him enough. The kids were always a little preoccupied anyway, what with the escaping the brutality of their peers, or heavy introspection. And there was the surprise. Kline prided himself on the surprise. Hearing their gasps through panting breath and brimming tears as they ran their eyes over the artfully dust-covered shelves.
The unexpected location of the shop set it up, though how Kline pulled that off was a jealously guarded trade secret. It was the arrangement of the novelties, the oddments, the dust collectors and minor wonders that knocked ’em dead and Kline loved to talk about it. He’d spend hours describing the mixture of art and science that went into his process, patiently expanding tricky points to the caged birds who lived with him in a room above the shop.
“It’s not as though these children are jaded,” he’d explain while readjusting his glasses in a movement so repeated it had lost the sense of affectation. “They’re just in a state of defeat. Their protective shell of apparent disaffectedness works for us. When they spy, in glimmers through the dust, all the minor wonders (and oddments, etc.) what they see is justification of their personal beliefs, that there is something better. Their outer layer of apathy cracks and hope begins to shine through.”
He had often considered writing a monograph on the subject.
Kline checked his watch and dusted the shelves. That is, he moved the dust about. He’d clean a tin box that held who-knows-what here, heap the dust like a snowdrift along the corners of an uncomfortably bound book there. He liked to keep a schedule, to “run a tight ship,” as he told the birds. His account books were meticulous and spidery, each encounter crafted and personalised precisely. “A customised browsing experience” was another slogan the birds heard quite a bit during his lectures.
The bell above the door clattered and Kline looked again at his watch. Early.
Even with his careful plans, he was still a professional who could roll with the punches when necessary. So he ducked behind a display case and listened. Now was the moment for the awed catch of breath, his cue to enter. Kline heard instead soft footsteps and tuneless humming. He peered around the case.
What he saw was definitely not one of those lucky little chosen kids and probably never had been. Kline snorted in disgust. The intruder looked up, spotted Kline and pinned him with over-bright eyes.
“Oh hi!” Realising it was useless to continue hiding, Kline shuffled from behind the case while the—woman, he seemed to remember these being called ‘women’—prattled on.
“Y’know, I was just driving by (I’m running errands) when I saw your shop and I just had to stop in. I’m crazy about junk shops, but I’ve plain cleaned out, like, everything worthwhile from the ones around here. So! Like I said, I had to stop and check out this one, ’cause I’d never seen it before (are you new in town or am I just a major space?) and the possibility of new and untold wonders was totally too much to bear.”
Kline was unsure how to respond to this. He wanted to look at his watch, see how long he had to get this creature out of his shop. He could tell it they were closing soon, then casually check the time while doing so. Two birds, one stone; thank the gods and personal demons for that idea, it would be perfect. He affected a posture of apologetic sternness and opened his mouth.
The woman, who was browsing the shelves in a way that seemed to border on manhandling, saw his intention and quickly misinterpreted it.
“Oh dang. I am so sorry I called this place a junk shop. What is the proper thing now, second-hand store? Thrift shop? Vintage boutique? Antique mall? I so did not mean to completely disparage your establishment, that was decidedly uncool.”
Lifting his hands in reassurance, Kline began to correct the presumption and explain that he was closed, but the woman put the cart before his horses again and was talking once more. Kline’s hands sank to his sides as he watched the woman violently examining the merchandise. It wasn’t that things were being rearranged or put back incorrectly, though his careful dust was a loss. Objects just looked wrong after the woman touched them. It was as though their aura had gone limp.
Kline realised he probably hadn’t spoken since he’d given the birds their morning sermon—today’s theme being the sins of pride and how best to exploit them. He certainly had not made a sound since this creature came through the door. He blinked hard and saw that the woman was no longer in the aisle in front of him, but had wandered off somewhere. It was still talking. Kline checked his watch, saw that there was still time. He used the constant voice like radar, threading the aisles until he was facing it again.
Quickly, as it noticed him, Kline meaningfully looked at his watch.
“You’re closing? And I’ve barely begun to scrape the surface! Oh well, that’s the fun, right? I’ll be back again soon and poke through some more.” Wincing at the creature’s choice of verb, Kline moved toward the door, hoping it would follow. It did not. Kline slowly began to panic in earnest.
“I did, however, find a couple of super darling things already. This is really an eclectic shop, I just cannot believe I hadn’t seen it before.” The woman, Kline saw, was queuing up in front of a register faintly identifiable beneath purposeful stacks of documents. He scuttled over, frantically trying to remember how the machine worked.
Privileged little chosen ones did not pay for their emotional keystones. They were given a grandfatherly look and told something vague before being gently shooed out. The register was little more than a set piece.
The woman’s choices sat neatly on one of the more stable piles of paperwork. Kline gave them a glance. No minor wonders in the group, but the lot wasn’t all dust-collectors either. Kline named a price, not caring at all if it sounded appropriate. He had the flair of the condemned. The creature flipped a card from its wallet and Kline’s knees went liquid with relief.
“We don’t take plastic.” He almost shouted it. The woman made a moue, tucked the card away and left without a word. Kline felt like vomiting, his stomach churning with released adrenaline. His heart fluttered and he tried to catch his breath, feeling like he’d just finished a marathon.
He was still gasping when the bell clattered, his thankful wheeze matching one magical little kid’s intake of surprise.