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by Mary Saliger

Jackson Browne is playing on the jukebox, singing about walking slow down the avenue of his old neighborhood. Ned insists on dancing me around the room, his arm looping mine over my head as he spins me. He can’t sing but he mumbles along with the words as he swings his hips and shuffles his feet.

It embarrasses me, all this movement, but in this little bar no one cares about me, about us or whatever we think we’re doing in the dimly lit space in front of where the music is playing. Ned had picked the song, started snapping his fingers and getting all twitchy with his shoulders and arms once the sounds had started up. He pulled me off the barstool and we were off. It was like a carousel as we moved, the people rushing past me, their faces a blur as Ned took control. I tried to relax and just allow him to take me away in the same way I let the river nudge me along when I swim.

We weren’t supposed to be in the bar. The real destination was an old barn on Route 3 that housed dozens of antique collectors the first weekend of each month. People sat or stood behind old card tables, their prized possessions laid out in front of them. To me, it was all junk, attic scum and residue scraped from the bottoms of chests and old hat boxes. Ned called them undiscovered treasures.

A late start meant that instead of getting there when they opened at 9, it was sliding closer to 11, so, hungry, we stopped by the tavern for a beer and whatever they could prepare that was edible. Cheeseburgers of course, and fries. And the jukebox, something that Ned could never resist feeding coins in. “Just one song,” he always said. So, we ate, danced one song, and now here we are in the barn by noon.

Inside, it smells of hay and mildly of sweat and the oil from long unused farm equipment. There is a low-grade murmur from the sellers, the lookers and the buyers. There is a sense that we are in a library or museum, that there is research going on, much hunting, a few discoverers. It is a big, open space, easy to move about since everyone is eager to see what is on display, what is tucked away, if they will find their true love.

Ned savors these occasions, the people, their stories. I indulge him; after all, it is only once a month and the cards he purchases take up little space. It isn’t like he is collecting lamps or ships in bottles. He stores his treasures away in shoeboxes stashed under the bed. What he admires are the colors, the designs, the whimsy of the cards; the face patterns and how the queens and kings and jokers are portrayed.

He is quick, decisive in his purchases. It was the same when we first met. He saw me at the card shop where I was bored behind the counter, Forever Amber in my lap. I might have been blushing when he surprised me with, “Good book?” I remember I snapped the cover closed, almost dropped the tome in my haste to hide it. “May I help you?” I stammered, irritated to be caught reading but immediately attracted to him. “May I take you to lunch during your break?” he asked with no hesitation. And that was it. Quick, decisive.

He wanders from stall to stall. I follow aimlessly, watching him. He loves engaging the people, hearing how business is. Finally, he asks if they have playing cards. Most don’t which makes the hunt all the more rewarding when he finds anyone who does.

We leave after only an hour. No luck. He takes my hand as we depart the stuffy coolness of the barn into the early afternoon heat. Married more than thirty years and I still am comforted when he takes my hand in his. We belong together. There may be another antique dealer or two on the ride home that he’ll want to visit. Or maybe a bar with a happy hour and a jukebox with barely enough room to dance.

I’m game for either one.

Mary Saliger is the pen name for an author best known for writing a book about a religious cult that was a number 1 Amazon bestseller in its true crime and cults categories, as well as more than two dozen short stories in the dark fiction genre. The author is a professional member of Pen America and film rights to all stories are represented by Steve Fischer of the Agency for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles. Author profile: http://goo.gl/dWEA8N.