The Collector

A cat. All white. She lounges on an ornate pillow, her tail flicking carelessly back and forth, green eyes half open. She bats at the carpet for her own amusement and then stands and stretches.

A bell tinkled somewhere in the depths of the store as the man stepped through the threshold.  He wiped his entire face with one hand and shook water from a clogged ear, cursing quietly. The door clicked behind him before he called into the store.

“Hello!”

“Hello, welcome,” the Collector rounded a corner with a grin.

“Is this Bateen Arts? Are you the art collector?”

“I am, are you buying or selling?”

The man leaned in closer, a droplet rolled down his neck and he shivered. “I’m here for The Lady in Blue.”

The Collector let out a low whistle and the man noticed a white cat asleep on a couch weaved with gold thread behind him.

“That piece is one of our most prized possessions. I wouldn’t show her to just any guest.”

“I have money,” the man spat.

The Collector seemed to be amused by his irritation.

“Oh, I don’t care about how rich you are. I want to know your character.”

The man gritted his teeth.

“I’m a banker.”

The Collector’s face fell.

“I- I have a family.”

The Collector shook his head.

“A daughter! Her name is Lila, she’s in the car outside!”

The Collector grinned, “Now you’re talking.”

The man’s boots squelched in the mud outside the shop. Lila was sitting in the front seat, her eyes just visible over the dashboard waiting for her father’s return.  He opened the front door and called out over the rain.

“A man inside, he wants to meet you.”

Lila looked at him dubiously, “Why?”

“Dunno.  But he has about a dozen cats wandering around his shop.”

Lila’s door clicked open and she hopped down straight into a puddle, her shoes and socks instantly soaked. Her left hand heaved the door shut behind her and her right hand held the doll that she never left home without.

The rain outside delighted her. She didn’t care that her party dress or her careful curls were getting ruined. She tipped her head back for a moment feeling the rain on her face and then stepped inside behind her father.

“You must be Lila,” the collector smiled down to her.

Lila didn’t answer, her eyes drinking in the impossible number of beautiful objects in the room. Gold and china plates, carved wooden horses and carefully stitched fabrics.

“Lila, be polite!” her father snapped.

She stuck her hand out with a straight arm, “Pleased to meet you.”

The Collector shook it like she was a grownup and Lila liked that. He didn’t hold her hand like it was delicate.

“Why don’t you take a look around my store? That’s a pretty doll you have there.”

Lila nodded, “Thank you.”

She let her feet carry her into a room away from her father and the man who looked like a scarecrow. She crouched beside one of the white cats and stroked it gently, scratching behind its ears.

“I can see that you’re a good man who’s raised a good child.”

The man scratched his nose and nodded, his eyes on the floor. He hadn’t been the one to raise Lila, the child had been thrust on him when her mother died and the two were barely getting to know each other. All they really seemed to have in common was their green eyes.

“Can I see it now?”

“I must warn you sir, once you see the Blue Lady you will want her for yourself. You can’t be angry with me if you give up more than you can afford to get her.”

The man scoffed, “I know my price and I won’t go above it.”

The Collector smiled to himself, he led the man down a hallway full of portraits that seemed to stare, and into a small room.  

When the door clicked behind the two men Lila had just crossed the threshold of the most beautiful room yet. She was following another of the white cats, but was immediately taken with a huge gold mirror leaning against one of the walls. There was space at the bottom between the back of the mirror and the wall that she thought would make the perfect hiding spot if she lived here.

Lila walked up to the mirror, her socks still wet in her shoes, and placed her doll against the wall next to it. She faced the mirror on both knees; feet tucked under her, and touched a finger to the glass. It rippled like a stone in a pond. Distantly she heard one of the cats crying for attention in another room, but the rippling mirror had captured her.

“Do you agree to the trade?” the Collector asked the man in the small room.

“Yes.”

Lila put her whole hand against the mirror this time. It rippled so much that she felt herself sink forward and through. She landed in the crawl space behind the mirror with a mewl.

The man carried his new piece of art to the car, carefully shielding it from the rain. It wasn’t until he got home that he realized what he’d paid for it.

A white kitten crouched behind the mirror with her tail upright and twitching.  The Collector came by and put her doll on the shelf with all the other beautiful things.

 

Photo: Arthur Heyer, “White Cats Watching Goldfish”

 

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