3 - Recollections

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By the time she made it back to the main lot, most of the crowd had made its way deep into the heart of the storage facility. It was the usual crowd of regulars at this type of thing: Broad-bellied men in button-ups, the sleeves rolled past their elbows, jagged fingernails with thin crescents of grease underneath. Lean, leather-skinned women with their hair teased out to hide its thinness, shirts and shorts worn tight but an expression of warning to anyone caught looking. Or else husband-and-wife teams, nervous 30-somethings who forget to bring cash, standing confused at the edges bickering among themselves about who's driving back to find an ATM. 

People who have been making a living as pickers since before anyone thought to make a TV show to glorify it, and people who would have never tried if they didn't see it on a reality show first. 

Nat did not see any other children among the crowd. She did not see any other wilting and washed-up erstwhile gothlings, either. 

The group clustered around the open door of a storage locker, a dozen or so people vying for position to see inside, their eyes screwed up against the sun and the dust. Liz had worked her way to the front of the group, close to the auctioneer. A security guard -- maybe from the storage company, maybe the auctioneer's private detail -- stood at the mouth of the unit, hands clasped boredly in front of him, waiting to push back against the crowd if anyone tried to cross the invisible line at the doorway. 

Nat tried to get close, but found the mass of bodies impenetrable, a wall that emanated heat and smelled like sweat and dirt and the sort of hopeless ambition of people who make money by selling other people's trash. 

Past the crowd, it was hard to see much of anything inside the open storage unit. Nat could see the hint of items, vague shapes hidden behind sheets and tarps. The storage facility owners do that themselves, she'd heard once: They move through the abandoned units and stage them to be more enticing, and attract higher bids. Nat didn't know whether that was true, but it seemed like it might be. 

The auctioneer rattled off his bids in a smooth, rambling chant: "One-fifty, one-fifty, do I have one-sixty, sixty, sixty-five, who's got one-seventy..."

There had been a time when these auctions had been even more over-crowded and expensive, flooded with hobbyists thinking they could find their fortunes inside. It took a while for people to realize that the contents of abandoned units rarely contained precious treasures. It wasn't like what they'd seen on TV: Here, rent went unpaid because the renters were in prison, or had died, or simply no longer cared enough about their belongings to bother with a bill. 

The storage auction boom had been short-lived, as trends go, and Nat and Liz had barely glimpsed its peak when they jumped into the business. It was like swimming against a current, a certain satisfying unnaturalness to moving against trends. They built an antique store from donations and private sales, picking up curiosities from people who had inherited things they no longer wanted or who were transitioning, had to leave their things behind: People marrying, divorcing, dying, going homeless. 

They profited from people's misfortunes in the most roundabout way possible. 

Not that the goal had ever been profit, really. They'd had no illusions of fortune, no ambition toward finding some rare collector's item or artist's original that would lift them from obscurity and secure their futures. 

They had just wanted a little shop of their own, something they could have between them.  Their shared love of antiques had been something that bound them together, the common ground beneath the foundation of their relationship. Liz, with her love of rare and fine things; Nat, with her interest in history and gothic aesthetic. 

They'd met in a used bookstore, Liz prowling the shelves, Nat restocking titles and browsing through paperbacks as she put them in their place. Liz had asked about their special collections, the rare books kept behind glass, and Nat had shown her that and then they'd gotten to talking and somehow that had led to kissing, and then the two of them were pressed against each other, bodies entwined, lips touching, leaving behind hand prints on the glass case.  

Nat thought, somehow, maybe, that staying close to those roots could keep that passion close at heart. 

But that was along time ago now, ancient history, part of the life Nat had left behind.

The life she had, now, was encircled in dust and cobwebby storage units and the reluctant grasp of a five-year-old's hand. 

The auction closed at $200. The crowd began to disperse, shuffling disinterestedly toward the next unit. A few peeled away, retreating from the blazing sun. Nat saw Liz moving toward the auctioneer, pulling a wad of money from her pocket and counting it out for him. Nat felt a familiar sense of curiosity and trepidation, the way she always felt when Liz made a decision without her, and made her way closer. 

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