BY LISA DUCHESNAY
Over the last three years, Lisa Duchesnay has published a number of articles on Canadian and American sites. Copyright is held by the author.
THE WHITE CUBE VAN with the red PEST CONTROL signs is parked all the way up the long driveway in front of the double garage. Partially hidden from the street by overgrown cedar hedges and a tall fence. Nobody around at this time of night. The quaint St. Marys’ neighbourhood is dotted with yellow limestone brick mansions. They stand two or three stories high, some with Victorian corner turrets.
The stone house is dark and foreboding. A cold January wind whistles as their boots crunch on the porch’s fresh snow. Mac punches in the door’s lower glass panel and Tiny reaches in to unlock the dead bolt from the inside. He lugs in a bundle of large canvas bags and drops them on the vinyl flooring.
Mac says, “Shush.”
“You’re going to wake up the old guy, you dope.” Mac says as he gently closes the kitchen’s side door.
While they tape a piece of cardboard against the jagged glass hole in the door, Tiny says, “He’s probably as deaf as a door post anyway.”
Holding a flashlight, they creep down the hall towards the front rooms. As they reach the living room, Mac says, “Wow, look at this.”
Tiny bends over the contingent of knick-knacks on a grand piano. “No kidding, following that mailman for a while to see who got those ‘signature required’ packages was genius.” He slowly turns around the crowded space and says, “Don’t know much about antiques but let’s grab this stuff and get the hell out a here.”
Mac agrees, “Getting the bags.”
The French doors connecting the living room to the study are closed. Theodore Ferris, age 85, is stretched flat on his stomach in there, squeezed under a couch. The carpet’s dust balls are the size of oranges, tickling his face and nose. When the burglars came in, he heard the floor creak and saw a faint light reflection from the sombre hallway. He dove down and crawled underneath the couch he had been dozing on. As he browses on Ebay with his laptop at night he often forgets the time and lays down under a throw on the study’s sofa till mid-morning.
A lone widower for many years, bidding online is his only vice left. Mrs. Crane, his housekeeper comes everyday at 10:00 am and leaves at 3:00 pm . She prepares a few snacks and a dish to reheat later. Adding the cursory cleaning and tidying upstairs and down, in between cups of coffee and cigarettes. She helps herself to a small bonus every week, as she pays for bills, contractors and shopping. Mr. Ferris lets her. After two decades it’s too late to start with a new one.
Theo doesn’t know how they broke in or the time, probably 3:00 am, he thinks. If he can stand this musty hideout, they might hurry and get on with it. The thieves seem more intent on stealing than dealing with him. Later he will report the burglary to the police and then have the paperwork for the insurance company. He has a general idea of what items are in the house and he keeps immaculate records of all his Ebay dealings. You never know what Ebay sellers are up to these days.
Trying to ease further back against the wall, something loose dangles on his forehead. A sudden urge to sneeze takes hold of him, clamping both hands over his nose to no avail. “Atchoo.”
Tiny looks up and drops a handful of miniatures on the floor. “What was that? Somebody’s in there.” Stepping in front of the glass lattice doors, he flashes his light in the study. All he can see is a desk, bookcases, a couch and not much else.
“Maybe it’s a cat?” Gus says.
“That ain’t no cat, you idiot. What are we going to do now Einstein?” Grumbles Tiny.
Mac bristles, “Move the big armchair in front of the doors you big oaf, and the old geezer can stay in there while we get busy.”
Tiny complies and adds a heavy table on top to complete the barricade. They nod at each other, Mac turns a lamp on and they swiftly proceed filling their canvas bags. Next, they move to the dining room across the hall, then upstairs.
The Ferris family built this home and has lived in it for three generations. After St. Marys enjoyed the prosperity brought by the Grand Trunk Railway Station during the late 1850s, the country burg with its famous limestone quarries, grew into a lovely town. It was settled on low hills on each side of the Thames River.
Eventually, a Woolworth’s store opened on the main street in 1906. The five and dime’s first stock boy was Warren Ferris, who worked there for 40 years ’till he retired as the general manager. His eldest son Samuel, followed in his foot steps. After the Second World War, grandson Theodore took over management with a business degree under his arm. The St. Marys’ emporium closed in 1990, shortly before the whole American Woolworth’s Company chain became defunct in 1997.
Theo married a wealthy spinster late in life, a plump German woman called Hildy. They had no children. His first love was the store with all it’s fun goods and trinkets. He admired them as a boy and never lagged in his devotion. He also enjoyed the prestige his family had accrued over decades of being the most successful retailer in St. Marys. Big fish in a small pond some would sneer behind their backs.
Not only did the store contain all manner of low cost utilitarian and decorative items, but their house was the repository of the ancient leftover stock. To this day, with so much room available, Theo found it easier to just hang on to all the nostalgic and sentimental keepsakes. In fact, that’s how his Ebay obsession evolved. For little money he buys the best of the 1930s novelty pieces that he can find: odd and delightful ashtrays, ugly cookie jars, quaint toothpaste holders, exotic figurines, cast metal piggy banks with nodding heads, and porcelain pieces with naughty sayings. Every corner of the house has it’s treasures. Throughout the week, Theo can’t wait for the mailman to arrive.
The guys are done. Mac and Tiny lug eight overfull duffel bags back to the kitchen door. Then trudge their way to the back of the van, open it and carefully set down their booty inside on a large padded mat. Next stop is Hamilton, where their fence Leonard has a storefront Laundromat. It opens at 8:00 am, plenty of time for them to get there and lay out their hard night’s work for his inspection before lunch.
As Mac drives out of town, he says, “Lonny’s going to be bummed, man.”
His mouth full of Cheetos, Tiny swallows and mumbles, “….Why?”
“All the cash he’s going to have to give us, that’s why. Don’t you get it? We got the mother lode for once.”
Theo waits till he hears the vehicle go down the driveway, then he pushes himself out from under the couch and takes a deep breath. He feels grimy and sticky. Behind a large fern on a stand by the desk, an unobtrusive door is barely visible. He moves around the plant and opens the door to reveal a small corridor that connects to the kitchen pantry. This was part of the servant’s backroom quarters in the old days.
He considers the irony of the situation as he turns off the lights and slowly climbs the stairs to his bedroom. Those poor fools are unlikely to get much cash for that lot of old stuff. Who is going to bother to sell what they stole for a few bucks a piece in profit? Might as well drop it all off at the nearest thrift shop. Mrs. Drake will be happy to see it all gone. As for me, I hope I live long enough to replace some of those nifty doo-dads.
Later on in Hamilton as they stand in the backroom, Lonny leans on a baseball bat as he shouts at Mac and Tiny, “Don’t you two jerks ever bring me this kind of cheap crap again, DO YOU HEAR ME? Now get.”