20 - Miriam

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The customer was one of their regulars, an old woman named Miriam. She was dressed today as she often was: Flamboyantly, a jumble of patterns and bright colors tied together with chunky jewelry, a look she managed to make look somehow chic - an Iris Apfel sort of look. She rustled as she walked, the layers of fabric and heavy jewelry creating a quiet soundtrack for her movements. Today, she was wearing a blue-and-white polka dotted dress with a leopard-print waist-length jacket and a fox stole that Nat recognized; Miriam had bought it last week. Her multiple pieces of jewelry rattled as she lifted a hand in a wave.

"Good afternoon," she said brightly.

"Hey, Miriam." Nat grinned. It was hard not to like the old woman, with her eccentric tastes and outspoken personality. "Looking for anything in particular today?"

"Oh, no." She raised a well-wrinkled hand, stroking the nose of the fox stole pulled around her shoulders. Her eyes, magnified hugely by their thick-framed glasses, strayed over the shelves. "Whatever speaks to me, you know."

Miriam was an old eccentric, in every sense. Widowed at a young age, she had never remarried and lived alone today in a small apartment that must have been crammed full of antiques, considering how frequently she bought them. From what she'd told Nat and Liz, she had never worked but seemed to have ample quantities of money, perhaps courtesy of a very large inheritance or life insurance on her late husband's part — there was no way to know for sure. Though she was chatty, she tended to veer away from giving too many personal details, and those she did gave often failed to add up to anything.

Nat always wondered how much of the woman's appearance and behavior had been cultivated this way and how much was genuine craziness or senility. She tended to shop by touch, running her fingers over the items in the shop, sometimes closing her eyes as if concentrating very hard, and she was forever coming up with various whimsical explanations and back stories for the items they sold.

This antique medical bag, she would say, holding up the heavy leather satchel, had once belonged to a field medic during the Civil War. Or, this button-eyed doll was hand-sewn by a girl who lived on a plantation, forced to be bedridden after a horse riding accident. If you ever asked Miriam about these stories, or how she'd come up with the explanations, she'd simply smile knowingly and tap a fingertip to her temple.

Today, though, nothing seemed to catch her attention. She seemed distracted, glancing around listlessly as though looking for some irritating insect buzzing just out of reach. "You ladies get something new in today?"

Nat nodded, leaning over the counter, propped up on her elbows as she watched the old woman meander around the store, running her fingertips over objects. "Lots of things waiting to be processed. And a very nice couch you might like, once we've reupholstered it."

Miriam shook her head. "There's something else," she said, and her brow furrowed, eyes narrowing behind the frames of her glasses, before she relented with a shrug. "Something...Well. Never mind." Her expression faltered, like the momentary slipping of a mask, before she recovered her smile. "Tomorrow, maybe something will want to come home with me."

"Tomorrow," Nat agreed, smiling. "I'll see if I can bring in something new for you."

Miriam's smile began to slip again, and she glanced back over her shoulder once more, pulling her fox stole tight around her slender old body. For a moment it looked like she might speak, bu she changed her mind. Instead,  she bade her farewell before tottering outside, tugging at the fox, stroking its narrow flattened head as if for comfort.

The old woman's arrival had been enough to temporarily distract Nat from her earlier uneasiness, and she had almost forgotten entirely about the message she had sent to Celia Rivera — until she returned to the staff room and saw a message notification on the screen. Frowning, she approached to click it. She hadn't expected a reply at all, much less one so soon.

The message was, indeed, from Celia. It was short and simple:

If you know what's good for you, you'll burn everything while you have a chance. 

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