The windows were smoky; I held my hand against the light to peer in through the glass. In the gloom there was an array of untidiness, cases and boxes stacked around in a disorderly way, the glint of brass from a well rubbed handle around a heavy mahogany counter. I could see a figure, waistcoated with a small chain hanging from a pocket. A bell tinkled as I lifted the catch and pushed open the heavy door, the words FrancisFickleworth’s etched into the opaque glass. A familiar honey type smell greeted me as I entered.
‘Hello there, not seen you for a while,’ he said as I approached the counter across the well rubbed parquet floor.
‘Yes, I haven’t been in for some time now,’ I laughed, thinking back to the times I had regularly called in during my teenage years.
‘What can we do for you?’
There was a lady standing with her back towards me, tall and thin, her hair combed close to her head. She was surveying the small hand written labels on the boxes stacked along the wall. Each box held a roll of parchment, tied with a ribbon inside, the writing on which could only be read by someone in need of its contents. The dilemmas it contained could be a variety of things, some just trivial, some quite purposeful but each needed thought and contemplation to solve, perfect for people who had simple uncomplicated lives, in which nothing in particular ever happened.
Along the side wall of the shop were rows of glass bottles, all different colours and sizes, all glinting in the candlelight. The quandaries were fun, the liquid could change to a smoky colour when touched, if it wanted to be chosen, but if you drank it down while still clear, it tasted bitter and made you burp all day.
I remembered back to one I had chosen some time ago. What do you do if your aunt is coming to stay, the one who knitted you a perfectly silly Christmas jumper in the most daring of colours, which you had let the dog sleep on for some time now? Of course I spent an hour trying to pull the hairs off with sellotape; I was bound to be discovered.
I looked intently at the gentle green eyes of the man behind the counter. ‘I have come to change my mind.’
‘Ah, of course,’ he said, ‘let me see.’
He reached down to a large bunch of keys hanging from his belt. The dim light reflected the thin shiny brown stripes of his trousers, as he chose a key and unlocked the panelled door behind him. He ushered me through into a long narrow passageway. There were doorways on each side, the one on my right opened as we approached and a lady came out, with a jaunty greeting to us both. Under her arm she had several travel brochures, all of which looked well thumbed. That room was the ponder room. There were no furnishings, just plain walls, a warm fire and a big comfortable armchair, a quiet place where you could gather your thoughts.
The next room along I had not been in but it was the deliberating room. The door was ajar and I could see mirrors around the walls, lots of different seats and a set of scales on a large table. This was a place for weighing up the odds, somewhere to see all sides of a situation. But it was more than this that I needed fromFickleworth’s today, I needed help.
The gentleman came to another door. This was the inconceivable room he stopped and opened the door, letting me pass inside. There was a huge sofa in the middle of the floor, the seat was just high enough for me to put my hand on, but there was no way I could sit down on it. The floor seemed plastic, not sound under me but not still either I leaned with my back against the sofa side and closed my eyes. My insecurities came flooding back, pressing down on my shoulders and quickening my breathing. I must not look backward, I whispered; just think about a good memory, something from my childhood.
There was a seed, a day when something unexpected came. I remember my brother running in, excited and panting to say that he had seen a gianormous lady, with flowing skirts, a soothing, velvet voice and dancing eyes, hanging a poster on a tree. He was waving a flyer; it depicted a huge red and yellow striped tent, with flags flying from the pinnacle and the words ‘Grayson’s Amazing Illusions’ printed across the front. He dropped a small wooden box on the table where my mother was peeling potatoes. She opened it so find frogs hopping out and all over the kitchen!
I giggled in recollection and opened my eyes to wipe a tear from them. The light in the room had softened and changed. One or two pictures of smiling acrobats and prancing horses were hanging on the wall and there was sand beneath my feet. The sofa was still there behind me, the seat up to my chest height, so I climbed onto it and stretched out.
There was a pack of cards on the cushion. I shuffled them several times and lay them down, splayed. I did not want to tempt fate so I swirled them round in a clockwise direction one, two, three, four, twelve, twenty or so times, until suddenly one fell from my fingers and landed on the floor. Cautiously I peeked over the side and looked at the card. There was simply a bird on it, but it was a fantastic bird, with purple and gold feathers and the most amazing curved tail. As I looked up the ceiling was filled with tiny birds, blue, darting, mischievous birds, flashing and whirring about. A warm breeze stroked my cheek and palm trees rustled above my head. I felt such an immeasurable glow of pleasure as I stirred from the far reaches of my mind. I knew I could be settled and happy, if I only changed my mind to it. It was clear I could bumble on doing what I always had done, feeling in my safe zone, comfortable. Or I could try, try something inconceivable. I reached into my bag and pulled out the folded letter.
Application to attend the ‘Flights of Fancy’ trapeze school. .
Why not, I was tall enough, didn’t weigh over the odds and, as I glanced into my compact mirror, had dancing eyes. Why not give it a try? I got up from the sofa and looked back at the room, a busy cluttered room, the walls festooned with pictures.
I opened the door and stepped out again into the passageway. There was a man there, dressed in a businesslike suit with a briefcase in one hand. He was fumbling with his free hand along the wall opposite me.
‘Are you alright?’ I said as I saw him struggling.
‘I am looking for the handle,’ he muttered sharply.
I gently ran my fingers along the wall until they closed around the knob and turned it. I pushed it open and he stood blinking in the pure white light that issued forth. The in fathomable room was one I had never entered before; I pitied the poor man as he looked down the never-ending length of the room, stretching on almost as far as he could see. I left him and retraced my steps into the dusty shop.
‘Thank you,’ I said as I stood in front of the counter. ‘I do not know what I would do if you were to retire.’
‘Not much chance of that,’ he said, his eye winking at me as the bell rang again.