8 - A Graveyard of Antiquities

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Liz's house had become a graveyard for unwanted antiques.

Things that they could not sell, projects awaiting refurbishment or items simply too strange to find a market had settled on the shelves and cases that cluttered the home. It teetered on the edge of absurdity, just short of what might be called hoarding. If the items in question were not so expensive and high-quality, the state of the home might have caused Liz some shame. As it was, though, she held onto them with a kind of sheepish pride, like trophies that could remind her of the success of her ventures -- or, at the very least, remind her that what she was doing was real. That the hours she spent gathering and repairing and selling were not wasted. 

Liz Loman had never enjoyed the feeling of having her time wasted. She had been a woman of ambition, and she'd learned at a young age that such ambition had a tendency to be intimidating. Instead of allowing that knowledge to bother her, she had leaned into it. She had taken it on as a part of her identity; a woman who would take no shit, and who could not be stopped. 

She was not a large woman, but she had a certain air of severity -- from the way she wore her hair tightly drawn back from her face to the thin line of lips she refused to embolden or soften with makeup. She liked to think of herself as a dragon: Surrounded by its hoard of treasures, beautiful and dangerous, admired and feared.

The house itself was something of a trophy in its own right. Unlike its furnishings, the house was modern, new construction from a time when the housing boom had swept through the neighborhood, causing suburban developments to crop up like weeds. It had been purchased by Kyle, a badge of honor for his bank account made flush with corporate stock and an engineer's salary. Kyle, like his now-ex-wife, had an instinct toward surrounding himself with reminders of his success and status.   

But in the end, Kyle had lost the home in the divorce, and Liz had wasted no time in customizing it, cramming its modern off-white spaces with vestiges of time long since past. It was like a well lived-in museum, the home of an eccentric old woman with a young hipster's ironic sensibilities. Liz had gotten the house in the divorce in part, her in-laws at least insinuated, in exchange for the generously shared custody. As if she had simply traded some of his equity in the house for some of her equity in their child.

"Remember your shoes," she intoned, distractedly, as Liam rushed his way past the foyer. She hung behind, scraping her feet on the mat, watching in her peripheral vision as her son froze in place to start working his feet free of his dusty sneakers.   

"We'll have to make a few trips," Nat said, stopping behind her and peering over her shoulder. "We can probably fit most of it in the garage for now?" 

The finished garage — ostensibly Liz's work area — was already packed full with projects, among which the torn sway-back sofa now numbered. The paintings wouldn't take up too much room, and she could probably stack the end table  atop one of the dressers for a few days until she could find a good space for it in the shop. Maybe she could take a load to the store tonight...

Deep in thought, she worked in silence, ignoring the tension in her spine and tautness that coiled in her muscles. Twilight gathered outside, a very long day at last unwinding its way into night. 

The dog, once again, was the last to be unloaded.

Liz and Nat carried it into the garage, setting it down beside a work bench. Here, in proper lighting, it was obvious how well cared-for the specimen had been. The fur glistened in the overhead light, oilslick rainbows of blues and violet gleaming in its glossy pelt. Its tail was held slightly aloft, curled at the tip, allowing the feathering of long fur to unfurl like a banner. He looked like something out of a painting, one of the Victorian-era oils with its muscled hunting dogs and well-coiffed ladies.

"He is a very handsome dog," Liz said, tilting her head as she circled slowly around it. "Not just the way they have him stuffed. When he was alive, he must have been something to see. I'll bet he was important, somehow. A prized hunting dog, something with an expensive pedigree. Some historically famous war hero, or something. There's just no reason to have taken such good care in getting him stuffed. This is really good taxidermy."

She did not stop to ask herself when she had begun to call it "he." It just felt right.

"People get sentimental about their pets," Nat said, sounding equal parts skeptical and impatient. She did not look directly at the dog. 

"Sure, sure. But even so."

"Mama!" Liam poked his head into the garage. "Where's Fluff?"

"I don't know, sweetie, did you look under your bed?"

"He's not there."

Fluff — full name Percival V. Fluffernutter — was the cat. A fat, long-haired tuxedo who had originally been Natasha's. The two had lived alone for a long time, falling into the rhythms of apartment living and what Liz liked to tease her by calling "training-wheel spinsterhood." Now, like everything, he was communal property, owned by the family. 

Liam was fascinated by the animal, and Fluff accepted his attentions good-naturedly but without reciprocal affection. He had grown skilled with evasive maneuvers over the past year, finding refuge in tight spaces and tall cabinets. Liz imagined he was probably tucked away at the top of a bookshelf somewhere, peering down at them like a black-and-white surveillance camera, two golden eyes like searchlights watching and waiting for a safe moment to escape.

"He's around here somewhere," Nat said. "Let him be. Don't you have to finish packing so you can go to your Dad's?"

Liam wrinkled his nose, looked at his mother for confirmation.

Liz nodded. "Get your backpack. I want to see what you're taking. Remember fresh socks!"

He gave an exaggerated sigh and dragged himself laboriously out of the room, walking stiff-limbed like a zombie. He passed around the corner, down the hall, out of sight.

Liz pointed back at the dog. "I think we should bring him inside."

"What?" Nat snorted. "Are we going to set out a food and water dish for it, too?"

"Very funny." Liz reached for the dog, brushing her fingertips over the crest of his head, stroking the lines of his brow. The dog looked up at her, and she thought there was something oddly tender about his glass eyes, something adoring. "I just meant so he's not in the way in the garage. I want to get him appraised and see what we're dealing with before I try to sell him. What if he's worth a ton and we just let him slip through our fingers?"

"That's fine. It can wait out here, with the projects."

"We'll trip over him. It's so fucking crowded in here. Come on. We'll just go drop him in the sitting room, nobody goes in there anyway, he won't bother anything."

Natasha sighed, wiping at a smudge of dirt that had smeared across her cheek. "Okay. But if the cat messes with him, that's on you."

Together, once more, they lifted the dog and moved him into position, standing like a sentry near the entrance of the sitting room. Now, anyone who came inside would pass through the mud room and be greeted immediately by the sight of the black hound and his pleading eyes, the loose jaws with their placating smile. 

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