Heart of Truth
by Thomas Willits
“Oh, yes-sir-ee!” He bellowed cheerfully. “Most upsets ever, I’m sure of it. But good for the little guy like me! I never do business with chains. They’re so impersonal. You never get the service when you deal with those places.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Kay’s has a nice selection, but when you deal with me, you deal with the best. Written in stone, my friend. My word is my life, don’t let that seem like it’s not worth as much as some fancy store clerk’s warranty. I guarantee all my items, for life! That’s how I do business. Eternal truth, my friend. Eternal truth.”
“I see,” Todd responded delicately. “That’s impressive.”
He considered asking how he stayed in business with returns and everything but decided against doing that so he could see what the old geezer had and he could tell him “no thanks” and send him on his way.
“Now,” he went on, “I know what you’re thinking: ‘How do I stay in business,’ right? ‘How do I make sure everyone is happy with their purchase and remains happy?’ Well, that’s easy, Todd. I simply sell the best jewelry on the market today. In fact, most of what I sell is rare... how shall I put it... out of country stuff, let’s say. No knockoffs or junk, mind you. Items that are unique and of superior quality.”
“Sounds too good to be true.”
Todd’s mouth froze. He’d stepped right into another one. Too late, but just the same he wished he’d kept his mouth shut.
Frank nodded. “Like I said, Todd, Eternal Truth. Like love, there’s nothing higher. For what is love without it?”
Somehow that made sense, Todd couldn’t understand how but it did, and curiously he now wanted to see what was tucked away in that briefcase.
“I’m guessing you’ve been married for a few years. Ten... maybe fifteen years. You know what I’m talking about right? The kind of love you can’t live with or without? Either you have it or you don’t, that’s what they say. and if you have it then it’s just... right as rain.”
Frank smiled for a brief second, exposing his stained teeth, and Todd tried not to stare at them noticeably long.
“You can make people do a lot of things. Right now I could tell you all kinds of things about my work and the quality of my items, and if I’m having the day of my life I might even be able to get you to buy something.”
Frank flushed, a bit embarrassed, but went on before it completely changed the seriousness displayed on his face. “If you’ve got it and she doesn’t, it just doesn’t work. It’s like a scale, you know. A relationship is like a scale, it has to be equal, balance itself out or one side will fall.
“If she’s got it and you don’t, well then, that scale will tip and fall and you’ve got a real mess. You can make people do a lot of things, Todd. Politicians are the best at it, and people like me, of course. I won’t be ashamed to admit it. But not love, my friend. Not if you expect the scale to stay up. It’s the quintessential answer to mankind’s legacy. Eternal Truth.”
“I guess I see your point.”
“Sure,” he said, his hands resting steadily palms down on the brief case sitting in his lap as if it were filled with a million dollars and he wanted to make sure it was safe. “Sure it’s that simple. I guess I go on like that because I care.
“I was married for forty-two years. But she got the Big C and that’s all I’ll say about that. I was lucky to find it the way I did. They say it only comes around once, you know; true, reciprocated love, the kind that never dies.”
Todd eyed the briefcase now more curious than ever and he suspected that if Frank didn’t open it soon he’d have to tear it from his grip and force it open. What could this man be selling? He certainly had an approach one could appreciate or relate.
Was this all part of the pitch? Todd didn’t think it was, at least it didn’t seem like it. Too natural, too unrehearsed and spur of the moment to be scripted. Todd reasoned if he had told the schmoe at the last house the same speech, then he was the most gullible person on the planet.
“Well I’ve already gone on long enough about love, you probably want me to show you what’s inside so I can be on my way.”
Todd grinned not caring how this person kept knowing exactly what he was thinking at each step of the way and kept his eyes on the case. It was almost like a trance now, he couldn’t look away. He simply had to know what was in there. For all he knew he had the Hope Diamond stowed away. Just open it already.
And he did.
What astonished Todd more than the sparkles and shines that emitted from within when he finally thumbed the hasp free and unhinged the small treasure chest was how remarkably bigger the inside was than what he had expected it to be from the outside. It was stuffed full, every nook and cranny.
There were fold-out trays, lift-out ones, stand-up dividers that had pieces snapped in place, an accordion-style tray that unhinged from the upper lid that probably had hundreds of pieces inside it alone. He lifted a dozen trays out of the bottom of the case before he reached what Todd surely thought was the bottom of the lid and lined in each of those trays were dozens of items all spectacular to behold. It was really quite mesmerizing. He didn’t know where to begin.
His jaw dropped. “My... God!”
“Well,” Frank shrugged, “you can never be prepared for every contingency. I have another case I take to large events, but it takes a wheeled cart, and I’m not a young man any more. This gets me by just fine these days.”
Todd shook his head, “There’s so much. How do you get everything inside?”
“Well,” he said, lowering his head so no one else could hear, “I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s actually bigger on the inside than it is on the out.”
Todd laughed but Frank seemed not to share his humor.
“It was given to me by a very dear friend. I can travel the world with this case — and still have room for my entire collection and room to spare!”
Todd’s smile faded. He was serious. Bigger on the inside? Was this man for real? Obviously that was impossible. He had probably stopped for cocktails after lunch and didn’t know the floor from the wall. But he didn’t appear intoxicated. He certainly didn’t smell of it. So what? Was it actually bigger in there? Todd peered inside into the black canvas and couldn’t see the bottom.
Okay, Todd thought. That was eerie. I didn’t see the bottom. Probably a trick of the light. Blended material with the daylight through the windows and a distance of about five and a half feet...
But he leaned closer and looked deeper... He could see farther in as though it went on beneath Frank’s legs and into the couch. It was creepy.
Perhaps a special mirror?
Todd looked away not wanting to fall into some kind of a trance by it. That and he didn’t want Frank noticing his infatuation with it. He was supposed to be examining the jewelry.
“Well,” Frank said, removing a pair of earrings from the stand up divider. “How do these fancy you?”
They were turquoise inlaid with gold.
“Those are nice,” he commented. “But I guess my wife has plenty of those already. Not in turquoise, but a lot of earrings. What do you have in necklaces?”
Frank’s left eye raised in acknowledgment.
“Oh, I think I have a few items you may like. All depends on the occasion and what would be a good match for her. I could narrow things down a bit if I could get a photo of her. Is that her over the fireplace?”
Todd looked over his shoulder at Amy’s portrait in the standup frame. It was taken last fall before she chopped her hair to her shoulders. He liked it long. Didn’t know why. Just seemed right that way.
“Oh... Yeah. I’ll get it for you.”
He rose and returned with the portrait. Frank took it gently and held it out in front of him at arm’s length as if reading poetry down at the amateur club. His eyes appeared to be entranced by it, examining every facet of the photo like a witness going over mug shots. At last he smiled and nodded with approval.
“Yes, something special,” he uttered, continuing to nod. “I think I might have just the one. I believe I still have it... it’s just a matter of finding it.”
Frank shuffled through the pullout trays inspecting each item carefully. Most of them were necklaces with a fair amount of bracelets. He set the standup aside. Those were all earrings and bracelets. His hands went into the side pockets and the accordion folder but came back empty. Frank shook his head.
“I’m a bit embarrassed,” he confessed. “I don’t know what to say. I was sure I packed it in here this morning. I’m certain I still have it — I’d remember selling it, you see. A magnificent piece. And I’m sure it would be a perfect match for her. I must beg your pardon.”
“Oh, it’s fine,” Todd reassured. “I’m sure you have lots of others that would do just fine. To be honest, I’m not sure if I could afford anything today anyhow. I mean I could... But without knowing the prices...”
There were no prices listed, no tags strung to the pieces to identify which ones were the economical ones or which ones were the fine and dandies. To a man who knew little about jewelry, it was nearly indistinguishable. He added that every piece he had seen was fantastic, he hadn’t spotted a bad piece yet, but he simply could not find a common measurement of these artifacts.
“Well,” Frank reassured. “I’m sure we can come to an acceptable price. I just wish I could have found that piece. I’ll tell you what, Todd. I try to be fair. I’ll knock twenty-five percent off your purchase today because I let you down. It’s the least I can do.”
Todd stared perplexed at the trays and didn’t know where to begin. The briefcase was still open and he had hundreds more to look through over there but for now he just investigated the trays on the coffee table.
“Feel free to pick up any item. I clean them every night before bed.”
“Uh, by the way. Might I use your restroom? I wasn’t able to get to lunch today and I had coffee this morning before I set off.”
“Sure,” Todd said and pointed to the hallway. “It’s the last door down on the right.”
Frank rose and so did Todd.
“Oh, I trust you. You strike me as an honest individual. Please, continue without me. I’ll just be a moment.”
Todd felt a bit uncomfortable being left alone with Frank’s treasures. The entire area was littered with jewelry. He’d never seen a more beautiful coffee table although the vegetable tray and dip seemed a bit askew like going to the prom in your pajamas.
But he went on with his shopping as if they weren’t even there. He hadn’t really planned on going out today, as he had claimed. Basketball would be going on late into the evening, and he wasn’t going to even get up from the couch except to go to the bathroom and get more snacks. It was his treat every year. Sort of a routine.
He eyed the briefcase across the table sitting on the opposite sofa. He glanced at the hall and discovered the bathroom door closed and light spilled out beneath it. He gradually rose from the couch and stepped gracefully around the table.
He had to know.
It was just too damn eerie. It had to be a trick, it had to be. Todd had been to magic shows before but this was the mother of them all.
He stopped short of the case and turned back to the hall. The bathroom door was still closed. He examined the case closer, still keeping his distance from it as if there might be a king cobra nesting inside to ward off would-be thieves. The sides were dark, lined with black leather maybe or suede. Finding the bottom however, seemed a bit of a mystery. His eyes couldn’t seem to focus on a surface where one should be. It was eerie, damn eerie.
He crept closer.
His eyes sharpened to their finest acuity yet he still could not see the bottom.
Had to be there, had to be.
He crept closer still, now expecting Frank to be finishing up in the bathroom and drying his hands. He would come out in a moment and find him hovering over his briefcase like a child over a Hot Wheels collection, and he’d be in a real pickle then, wouldn’t he? What would he say, then?
Oh, don’t mind me, Frank. I’m just admiring your briefcase that seems to have come from the Twilight Zone. It’s bigger on the inside after all. Right, Frank? You can’t blame me for being slightly curious, can you? What else you got in there? Maybe your car? Your apartment? Or perhaps you’re a homeowner?
But Frank hadn’t returned yet, and Todd felt strangely drawn to the briefcase as if it had cast some wicked Harry Potter spell and there was no counteracting it with another. His legs moved to the corner of the table and around its edge. Before long he was standing directly over it and was finally peering straight down into its maw, the sides at last moving out of his obstructed view.
There had been a movie he’d seen, years ago. He couldn’t think of the title. Not right now, anyhow. He was completely transfixed by it. He did remember what the man had said when he stared into the geometric figure that was one by four by nine and cried, “My God! It’s full of stars!”
It felt a little like that.
He lowered his head, studying it, trying to decide where the sides ended and the nothingness began. His hands felt for the edges and clasped on, knuckles ratcheting tight. He hadn’t even looked at the sides to know if he would grasp them, his eyes never left the center of the case.
He knelt lower, trying not to fall into the thing and wondered if he had, how would he get out? His head bobbed left and right trying to find the mirror or material or whatever it was that was blocking his view of the bottom and causing this impossible phenomenon. If someone were to walk in right now they’d think there was a crazy chicken trying to attack the briefcase. But he couldn’t find the bottom because it just wasn’t there.
There was no bottom!
Cripes! Todd thought. This is the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen!
Copyright © 2011 by Thomas Willits