December 18, 2004

The Doomed Location

For a long time it was a mom and pop luncheonette, but as the place aged its customers did too, and when the old couple realized they would not be able to find a buyer for the business, they retired—there was nothing left to struggle toward. Since then it’s been one cutely named boutique after another, none of them lasting more than a couple of years. The stores on the next block do all right, and so do the stores on the previous block. Maybe it’s something about the traffic flow, or the way this block is at the middle of a hill, or an ugly juxtaposition of signs, or the way the sun glares in the gaps between buildings.

You happen to walk by on a crisp late fall afternoon: cool metallic skyshine, just enough breeze, the kind of day when everyone feels they’re doing the right thing. The new shopkeeper stands outside on a short ladder, stenciling the name of the place—a bakery, with a naughty–nice double entendre—on the window in winsome cursive. He’s a quietly friendly–looking guy, tall, lean, sandy–haired, with a face that’ll be craggy someday, as his grandchildren will remember in their dreams.

You stop and watch him at work. “Opening up soon?” you ask.

“We’re shooting for right after Christmas, maybe early January.”

You can’t tell him, of course. It’s not as if it’s something you know for certain. Maybe the past doesn’t always repeat, and anyway it would be crueler to tell him than not to. Maybe he even knows already—got a good deal on the rent, and is determined to defeat the curse.

As you watch the letters filling in, you can see just how he sees it, like in an artist’s representation of a mall: contented shoppers, clean sidewalks, perfect young trees. Then, maybe because he needs a rest, or maybe because he wants to lasso a future customer, he hops off his ladder and starts telling you his plans, pointing through the window at the various sections of the empty room.

“And we’ll put a couple of tables outside here,” he says smartly, “for people to sit and have a cup of coffee with their pastry…”

You stand and imagine it together. You can see it. You can see it clear as day.