The owner of Beachman’s eBay store had it bad for my best friend Gedaliah. I didn’t trust him because his eyeballs were made three times smaller by his glasses and it was rumored he kept a time machine in his stockroom used for poaching antiques. The eBay thing was just a front and a former ketchup plant kept the whole operation mostly hidden from public view. Gedaliah paid nine hundred dollars for her walnut pembroke table but the bureau that Beachman sold me was a reproduction with drilled-in wormholes. Gedaliah’s table reeked of tea bags close up. The nails piecing it together were oily when you cupped your hand underneath. Its edges had barely softened. 

“Come back with me for the set. Please. You’ll learn to love him,” she told me in the car outside his shop. Gedaliah’s first husband was cut down from lead paint and her second was eaten by a piano. For the in-between times there was me. For her third husband we had parked between great vats of crystallized ketchup and a yard sign that said Fast Cash 4 UR Stash. 

“Five minutes. My chaperone days are through,” I told her. 

Small talk burbled up easily in between Beachman and Gedaliah. No problem doing that with no customers. I couldn’t handle the flirting and so I excused myself down a path carved through sewing machines and mirror glass framed by cherubs. Their wings were more like parrot wings. I followed an extension cord to where it lead under a door marked EMPLOYEES ONLY. SERIOUSLY, DON’T COME IN. Most likely a stunt to keep the time machine rumors moist. I considered throwing a pineapple shaped cookie jar to the ground until Gedaliah told me that we were all meeting at the Mystic Steak Loft for brandies. 

We waited in the bar for hours. “Don’t do this,” I told her.

“Oh stop. You don’t see it?”

“See what?”

“He knows me. And he’s so handsome. His face narrows in a familiar way like one of those gray movie actors,” she said finishing our third bowl of olives. 

When Beachman finally showed up, draping his trench coat on a stool, I was drunk and I told him he was full of shit. 

“It’s not a perfect machine,” Beachman claimed. “It can only return eighty-three years.”

“So invest in stocks,” I said. 

He looked right at my best friend, collected her tiny hands in his and said, “I’m drawn to what is rare.”

Familiarity is easily confused with love you shithead, but under the table Gedaliah was already exploring his shin with her foot which meant soon I’d be alone. 

Throughout their engagement Gedaliah wrote me emails. At first they were joyous and typeset with magenta. She’d describe which TV programs they watched together or how skillfully Beachman could apply nail polish to her little toe without getting any on the cuticle. He often returned from his excursions with special gifts. An engagement ring stolen from a major Vegemite proprietor or a toy rocking horse with its sales tag still intact, just like the one she had when she was five. 

And then her emails turned black. She wrote how Beachman had become short tempered. Money was getting tight. Young couples no longer desired real woodwork for which to decorate their homes with. Young couples aren’t even buying homes. His antique poaching also came with side effects like nightmares and weight gain. He started skipping the spaghetti dinners Gedaliah cooked and spent every night on an elliptical in their basement. No more TV programs. It seemed as though, she wrote, that Beachman was tired of her. 

Gedaliah became stricken by cramps that began as glass in her stomach before working their way up to her memory. In a final email she had come to realize that she knew Beachman from somewhere else. A man that cleaned her parent’s house or a faceless flannel coat splitting up bread for ducks at her teenage hangout. Always watching. Mashing toxic paint chips into powder. Familiar cramps are easily confused with love. 

A year after her emails turned white, Beachman’s eBay store went up in flames. They found a body. They found several other bodies which might’ve been manikins. The cologne from ancient baseball cards, dinnerware melded into velvet paintings of Garth Brooks, brass sows, and rugs embedded with hair. Windsor-style armchairs, Pandora beads, postcards, VHS tapes, real pearl, fake pearl, young adult novels about teachers who were really aliens, bronze babies bred from tropical fowl, ottomans, wood paneled digital alarm clocks, luggage, electric guitars, bureaus with forbidden love letters still stashed within their hidden compartments, samurai swords, Christmas ornaments, Penthouses and coin collections all unified in the afterlife. Gedaliah had soaked them from inside. She entered with a jar of nail polish remover and escaped through the time machine before it too was destroyed. 

Now behind the ketchup plant is only emptiness. I think they won’t do anything with the space. In Gedaliah’s first email she had said through Comic Sans, “it all tastes exactly like sweet lint.” I think of her now living among the heirlooms where they are all brand new.

Travis Dahlke is the author of Milkshake (Long Day Press) and Mount Summer (Out to Lunch Records). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Joyland, HAD, Juked, and The Longleaf Review, among other journals and collections.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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