Weaver’s Sundries

— Douglas Cowie

Weaver’s had been empty for a long time, ever since old man Weaver went to Attica.  The sign still hung above the door and window, however, as though everybody was too afraid to take it down, as though somehow Weaver would find out about it, and get them.  Or maybe he still technically owned the place, and nobody could do anything about it.  It was a bright blue sign back then, with bold white lettering that said WEAVER’S, and underneath that in smaller letters, SUNDRIES.  Now, though, it was faded and peeling from years of inattention and cold, snowy winters followed by hot, dry summers.  Back then, Weaver would get up on the ladder every spring and repaint it himself, even when he started getting on in years.  It was the local joke: forget about robins or the groundhog, when you see Weaver up on that ladder, it means winter is over.

Weaver must have made decent money out of that place.  He used to go down to Florida for a month every winter, closing the shop for all of January before returning to organize the mid-winter, pre-inventory sale, when all the on-hand merchandise, “everything without an expiration date,” as his ad in the Examiner always announced, packs of playing cards, stationary, even typewriters, went for half price.  The old calendars would go down to twenty-five percent, and Weaver would endure the inevitable taunts from the twelve and thirteen year-olds who uncleverly pointed out that the calendars had dates on them as they slunk around the shop, buying a pencil or pack of gum while trying to steal pornography.

Nobody was afraid of Weaver.  Nobody had reason to be.  He was the nicest guy in town, and everyone knew it.  He always went to Little League games, and told the players how well they’d done the previous week when they came into the store.  He remembered everyone’s names, and always asked about their wives or husbands or kids or parents.  He’d give free lollipops to kids whose moms stopped by every week to buy Good Housekeeping and Redbook and pay the bill for newspaper delivery.

The delivery job itself was a coveted position among the boys in town.  Weaver employed two boys, one for each half of town, which is split into equal parts by Highway 12, the main road running north-south from the I-81/88 junction to the Thruway, and it was well known that Weaver rewarded his delivery boys for a good year’s service with ten bucks and stack of comic books at Christmas.  One year he employed a Jewish kid, and dispensed the bonus across Hanukkah, a couple of comics a day until the eighth day, when the kid got the ten bucks and some old packs of baseball cards Weaver had found in the storage room.  Every February, dozens of kids put on their Sunday dress shirts and asked their dads to help them tie their ties so they could interview for the delivery job; the employment only lasted a year, and nobody could hold the position twice.  He’d interview each kid for five minutes, asking him about what he wanted to be when he grew up, who his favorite ball players were, that kind of thing.  He hired a girl one year after she told him her career plan was to play second base for the Yankees.

The storefront had a large bay window in which Weaver displayed the newest and nicest merchandise.  To the right of the display window was the maroon door and stuck to its glass window were stickers for the chamber of commerce, and stickers shaped like firemen’s helmets that showed Weaver’s support of the volunteer fire brigade.  The police inspectors spent two hours in Weaver’s that day, and carried three cardboard boxes out the door when they left.  Three boxes.  Nobody knew for sure what was in them then.

The door was boarded up when, three weeks after he was convicted, some kids smashed a rock through it and looted everything they could carry: porn, comics, cigarettes, dip and condoms.  The window display had a typewriter, some copies of the 1989 edition of The Farmer’s Almanac and the sign, which always stood in the corner of the window, advertising the newspaper delivery service.  Visible from the sidewalk, sitting on the counter next to the register, was a jar of pickled eggs.  Like Weaver’s annual sign painting, those eggs, too, were a source of local legend.  Some claimed that the same eggs had been sitting in that brine-filled jar for as long as Weaver had owned the shop, that nobody ever bought them.  Others maintained that Weaver himself ate them, and always had a reserve jar ready to go.  Still others claimed to have bought eggs from Weaver, but couldn’t agree among themselves how much he charged for them.  The jar still sat there, the yellowish eggs at the bottom like oversized stones in an aquarium.  There weren’t many, but it was impossible to discern the exact number.  There wasn’t enough light to see deeper into the store, to see if it all looked the same, preserved as though it were still in business, and Weaver was just down in Florida, like he always was this time of year.  Only the boarded up door and the peeling sign hinted at the truth.

Everybody said they were shocked that day.  Weaver was arrested right there in his store, led into the state troopers’ car with a coat over his head, like you see on television, even though there weren’t any television cameras, just a few people on the sidewalk and the neighboring shopkeepers to hide him from, and they knew what he looked like anyway.  The Examiner didn’t hardly have any other news in it, except the sports reports, and it had interviews with people who lived on his street and even a couple of the boys who’d delivered papers for him in the past few years, everybody trotting out the clichés you always hear when these things happen: he was nice, kept to himself mostly, never had a problem with him; only some of which were true of Weaver.  A lot of people assumed he was guilty right away, but most of the town maintained his innocence.  The owner of The Mill started a legal defense collection in the form of a jar, similar to the pickled egg jar, that he put on the bar and into which he encouraged people to unload their spare change.  Lots of people did, especially on the weekends, when, towards the end of the night, drunken discussions would turn into inspired proclamations about Weaver and his merits as a generally upstanding citizen and businessman, and dollar bills would be stuffed into the jar.  It didn’t matter, though, and when he was convicted, the people who had said he was guilty from the beginning gloated, and those who had supported him shook their heads and repeated the same clichés, which the Examiner dutifully printed.  It didn’t make the news any further away than Syracuse, just another small town sensation.

That was all so long ago now, and nobody talks about it anymore.  The kids who’d be delivering his papers now weren’t even born when it happened, and their parents have better things to worry about than some incident that caused a few weeks of excitement more than a decade ago, and in their minds has long since been resolved.  Weaver has faded from the town’s collective memory.  The only reminder is Weaver’s itself, and even that is fading now, nothing more than a boarded up door, a peeling sign, a pile of outdated Farmer’s Almanacs and a jar of pickled eggs, the place where the old man had earned his living and the town’s respect for longer than anyone except a few of the older people can now remember.  But somewhere underneath the accumulation of all those years, the people who were around then must still remember, it must still creep into their minds once in a while, when they’re thinking about something else.  Who he was and who he became are too much a part of the town to be completely erased forever.  Yesterday, returning to town and standing outside that store for the first time since I left so many years ago, I remembered, all these things came pushing back into my memory, and that’s why I’m heading out of town now, driving up Route 12, driving towards Attica.

 


 

Douglas Cowie was born in Elmhurst, Illinois and has lived in England and Berlin since 1999. He is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is the author of Owen Noone and the Marauder and two linked novellas, Sing for Life: Tin Pan Alley and Sing for Life: Away, You Rolling River. His most recent novel, Noon in Paris, Eight in Chicago is a fictional account of the 18-year relationship between Simone de Beauvoir and Nelson Algren.