not just a hardware store

by phillip gillis

the store felt...
different.

yellow numbers-
once vibrant-painted on the uneven concrete floor-
stretched the length of the building
(chipped and tattered).
painted by a grandfather
repainted by a son
rerepainted one last time by a grandson
every five feet-
once measured wire-
once measured chain-
once measured rope-
now lay lifeless covered in dust.

“If you ain’t got nothing else to do,
grab a broom.”

aisles once bustled with the murmur of a story
fix this.
repair that.
maybe just drop by when you get off work-
or don’t.
old men gathered on the front counter
sign read Open 7:00 am
the first there at 6:45
grandpa there at 6:30
stories of tobacco fields they grew up in
and that one man…
birds chirped a song
the same song he whistled.

“Listen, I need about three feet of-“

the once lively platform
pulled apart board by board
auctioned to the highest bidder.
scales that measured thousands of pounds of nails
(per year)
auctioned to the highest bidder.
a piece of his soul
auctioned to the highest bidder.
and the child stood there in his pint-sized green cardigan-
his mother said it was brown.
his eyes were hazel.
shoulders slumped
held the sign-
actually just part of a cardboard box
that once held a…
what was it?
he used it for a secret base or was it a hiding place?
now ripped apart
the sign read
Bah humbug.
Do not bother until CHRISTmas.
it once took him three steps between yellow marks on the floor
then two
now just one...
one step closer to the back door.
ninety feet from the front.
a metal bar stretched across
to stop the thieves from breaking in
and sometimes he felt like it was for him
so he couldn’t get out.
one long step and he would be there

“Go help your brother.
The lumber won’t cut itself.”

the saw roared at the back of the building
his great-grandmother warned him about it.
remember great-grandpa.
remember the sawmill.
they got there too late.
they always got there too late.
gone.

“Sold!”

the musty smell back in his lungs,
he counted out the last steps.
eighty…eighty-five…n-
he wasn’t ready
turned around to find
a drink on the back counter.
that gold tooth gleaming.
a joke he shouldn’t hear.
a train rushed by the window.
a family.

“But I don’t want to go to college.”
he waited
a hand on his shoulder.
“Well…you can’t stay here forever.”

Phillip Gillis is a teacher, writer, wanderer, semi-retired professional wrestler, and father of two beautiful children. He is also a proud native of Allensville, NC and grew up in a hardware store, C&G Supply Center.

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