The Collector

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I was in the middle of a bad break up and a friend of mine invited me to store my things in the basement of the building in which she lived. She had offered for me to stay with her but I declined. More friendships had been dissolved or destroyed by moving in other people’s spaces. I had lost my man; I certainly didn’t want to lose one of my best friends. But I was happy for the space to store my things until I could find a place of my own.

The building had no basement to speak of; that is unless you considered a collection of storage cubicles and cages warehoused in an area that looked like a closed off concrete garage, a basement. There were a total of fourteen sections of cages, one for each floor of the building, and six additional cubicles with three sides made of concrete and gates for the closure. I didn’t give it a second thought as I pulled my car into the gated area marked with my friend’s apartment number to unload the bulk of my belongings. I didn’t plan on being here long. Despite being well lit and fairly open, the space was casually creepy: almost as if it had been intentionally designed that way.

I had other things to tend to. I did not have time to spend agonizing about the feelings elicited from my intended storage space, but something piqued my curiosity.  This was not the time to suddenly be experiencing symptoms of the Sci-Fi investigation gene; for one thing I had seen how on multiple occasions it led to unhappy endings in both sci-fi movies and horror films.

But as I stood looking at the space parallel to mine I saw an old roadster, what would have been considered a sports car in its day. It was clean as if it had been washed and polished recently. The remaining contents of the cage, however, were covered with dust so thick you could germinate seeds. If that wasn’t enough to raise some questions, the fact that the floor seemed to be free of dust and dirt as well, more than bothered me.

Beyond curiosity now I wanted to see what the other cages held. In the cubicle next to me, there were no boxes or containers, but it held a large ebony wood carriage, like the kind that drove the wealthy before cars were invented. It must have been the pride of whoever owned it. It had neither scratch nor scar. It would have been valuable and though obviously quite old it was as clean as if it had never been used. Even the wheels looked as if they had never touched ground. The space around it had neither dirt nor dust, the same as the floor where the roadster was held.

Curious I called my friend.

“Who owns all these antiques that are down here?” I asked when she answered the phone.

“I don’t know. I have never stored anything down there. The space is mine but I don’t have a vehicle and I don’t have many belongings to need extra storage facilities. I was offered the space if I needed it in the future, but I have never used it. In fact I have only been down there once and I never paid any attention to what else was there. The place made me feel uneasy.” She replied

I knew what she meant, but now I wanted to see each cubicle from the beginning. Some sections had small closet like cages only large enough for personal belongings. But in each I noticed some antique item that had been preserved immaculately, despite being surrounded by dust-covered crates, containers, and boxes. Every floor surface was cleaned and polished.

I wondered how they managed to keep the floor, the cars, and other items so clean while the rest of the cage was covered with dust.

The fourteenth floor’s cages, where my friend’s storage space was housed, were closer to the entry gate and seemed to be cleaner and contain more recent treasures. Elaborate sport or luxury cars, art work, motorcycles,   and even jewelry.

I supposed the items were safe enough. Nobody seemed to come in or out at the time I was there. I imaged, like my friend, that nobody even knew or paid attention to what was down there.

I was startled when a handsome older gentleman approached me. He was casually but expensively dressed.

“You seem very interested in my collection,” he said, “might I show you around?”

“How nice of you to offer, do you live in the building?” I asked.

“No, I own the building, and though I have never lived here, I have had many friends who have. Each of these spaces contains a treasure or memento left to me by my friends.” He said and looked nostalgic.

I didn’t feel radars going off so I accepted his offer to tour the facility. In his conversation I learned that he had bought the building as a youth and that money, very old money, from family long ago had allowed him to collect and preserve some of the most interesting things. He seemed to favor cars and such, but admired art and jewelry as well.

He spoke as if he had known the owners of each cage or cubicle personally, and seemed to cherish the memory of each meeting. His list of friends read like a who’s who throughout the centuries, and I was beginning to get the feeling that there was more to him than just a wealthy landlord.

From the twelfth floor cages he showed me a race car owned by a famous driver from the very first Indie 500, from the sixth floor we saw the jewelry of a famous movie star, he had manuscripts and parchments from ancient authors from the third floor, and in the first floor cages he showed me his pride and joy; A golden chariot and sarcophagus, and a selection of gold artifacts.

I was stunned and amazed. In this room there was not a speck of dust or dirt despite all of its surroundings.

“Who are you?” I asked, “It’s is impossible to have known all of these people from living in this building.”

“You are correct. Many did not live here, some lived before the building even existed, but I have collected and stored their things here just the same.  I have sorted and packed the things that had meaning to them, and displayed for my own pleasure the things that were most valuable to me.  As to who I am, well let’s say I walked among the pharaohs and were counted worthy among those who lived back then. Those things are counted the most precious of my belongings.  When the building is too old to house them any longer, my collection and I will move on.

“But how can you outlive the building? That’s impossible!” I said.

“On the contrary, I have already outlived several structures, and some I have simply outgrown. I have had many wives and children, friends and family, all whose treasures I maintain. Though I do not open often those who have no personal connection to me, always I display their most valuable treasure. I have lived many lives of men, and I shall live many more.”

I was not afraid, but suddenly I began to feel as if I did not belong here.

“Will I be doing your collection a disservice to leave my things here?  I have no place to put them presently, and I am not certain how long it will be before they have a home of their own.”

“No, you may leave them here as long as you need. The residents seldom use this space for very long; many move on after a few years, some have left their things behind and never returned for them.”

“Is that why some of the cages are so dusty?”

“Yes, even for them I display their most valuable treasure, but I do not disturb their belongings.  Like the roadster, which belonged to a young aristocrat, he left one day and never came back, no one knew what happened to him. I have managed his belongings for a century but he never returned. His car seemed to be his most favorite belonging. I have preserved it as it was when he purchased it.”

“That seems like such a sad life to have forever, maintaining things from the pasts of others.” I said.

“No, I have had a life of tears and joys, loves and losses. It is my lot. If you wish I will share it with you. A woman like you seems like a valuable asset. You seem like a life of treasure would suit you. You will never want for anything, and in the end though I will lose you, I will maintain the memory of you forever.”

I was flattered. Here was a man who did not know me, offering to care for me and cherish my memory forever, without knowing a thing about me.  I had never known a person like him.

After a year of getting to know him, I removed my car from the storage and gave it to my friend. As he had said, she too got married and moved away. My belongings stayed in the storage which belonged to her apartment, but I no longer needed many of the things I had stored there.  He had begun to fill my life with replacement treasures and only the things given to me by my loved ones mattered anymore. I had a garage sale and sold most of what was stored there, packed the remaining items in strong wooden crates, and pushed them over to the wall. I did not value cars or jewelry, and though I loved art, it was not likely that I would ever own any that was worth anything. I wondered when I was gone, what would be the thing that was of value that he would display.  It would take my lifetime to know.

The Collector, © DJuna Blackmon 2015, All Rights Reserved

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