The Collector

K. Bond

George blamed his early balding for never having married or even fallen in love. Living alone wasn’t as bad since he found Midas. The oversized white cat gave him someone to talk to when he felt lonesome. If he grew bored talking to Midas, he dusted and reorganized his vast collections. The apartment’s lack of space did not deter him from shopping for additional items every Saturday afternoon.

George browsed the outdoor flea market aisles one Saturday when he felt a pinch on his back. He swung around to see an odd looking man dressed in a coffee-colored fedora and tattered khakis.

The little man analyzed a piece of white fuzz that he clutched between his wrinkled fingers. He looked up and asked, “Do you have pets?”

“Just one cat. Midas is his name.” George brushed off his faded black T-shirt.

“I’m Earnest. Nice to meet ya.” The little man extended his hand.

“George,” he said as he shook it.

Earnest lifted his hat and wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. “George, I don’t suppose I could interest you in some Egyptian figurines. I need to sell a few, so I can get out of this heat. It could kill a man my age, ya know?”

Partly out of sympathy, George agreed to follow the vendor to his table. He was impressed with the figurines’ detail and thought the vibrant colors would give his studio apartment an exotic flair, a real sense of soul.

“How much?” George asked the little man, who was quick to sit in a folding chair behind the table.

“Ten dollars. Forty for all five of ‘em.” Earnest reached in a bag to reveal a stack of registration cards. “The purchase includes a full lifetime warranty as long as you fill this card out.”

He took the forty dollars extended to him and handed George a pen. He grinned as his customer scribbled his name, address, and telephone number on the card.

George handed it to him. “My clumsy cat may force me to redeem this warranty.”

Earnest’s toothless grin grew wider. He said, “Visit my table next week. I may jus’ be gettin’ a new shipment in. You’ll be here, right?”

George replied, “There’s more? I’ll be here. See you Saturday morning!” He grabbed his new treasures and eagerly returned to his studio apartment.

Bookcases stuffed with alphabetized book, CD, and DVD collections lined the walls. George surveyed the apartment for the ideal spot to display his five statues and settled on a console table. He carefully arranged them in a semicircle and glanced suspiciously at his cat. “Midas, you stay off of this table. You hear me?”

The shorthaired cat did not even open one eye in response. He remained curled in his basket, soaking up the warm sun. George sighed as he walked to the kitchen, where he filled a pot of water for the stove. When he turned around, he noticed the figurines formed a straight line. They angled toward the window.

George shook his head in bewilderment and rearranged the five wooden statues back into a semi-circle. He stared at the figurines until he heard the sizzle of his overflowing pot. He was present-minded enough to adjust the heat but, distracted by the puzzling situation, added handful after handful of spaghetti.

The racket in the kitchen stirred Midas, and he jumped on the counter. “Bad Midas, get down!”

Midas eventually leapt from the counter when he was satisfied there were no open tuna cans.
He kneaded the seat of a worn chair, circled his tail twice, and curled up for another nap.

When George entered the living room, he again noticed the figurines changed position. They formed a straight line and angled, this time, toward the couch.

He decided to ignore the wooden statues and pushed Midas off of his favorite chair. Out of the corner of his eye, he witnessed the Egyptian figurines swivel toward the cat as he moved back to his basket. As illogical as it seemed, George accepted these figurines moved of their own accord. He noticed Midas’s placement in the room affected their angle.

George jumped to his feet and grabbed the “E” book from his encyclopedia set. The four-page Egypt entry briefly mentioned a cat god known as Bast. “They’re worshipping him,” George mumbled to himself as he closed the book.

George knelt on the floor and peered at the figurines for several minutes, trying not to blink. The five statues stood motionless. George’s legs grew stiff, so he sat on the floor with his legs straight out to ease the discomfort.

The stiffness spread to the rest of his body. Careful not to remove his gaze from the statues, he laid flat on the floor. The mild discomfort grew to a severe pain, enough to warrant a moment’s glance at his hand. Then, he noticed his new tawny complexion. He closed his eyes in disbelief.

The pain abruptly stopped. George opened his eyes to see Midas sniffing his face. The cat appeared enormous! He batted George’s head with a paw. The room spun around him, much like it did when he drank too much. He wanted to scream for help, but he was paralyzed.

* * *

The man from the flea market waited in vain for George’s visit to his table on Saturday. He dialed George’s phone number from the registration card. The phone rang without answer. After several more phone attempts, Earnest figured it was time to pay a personal visit to the address on the registration card.

The landlord unlocked the door and waited impatiently as the little man looked around.

“Thanks so much,” he said to the landlord as he handed him a fifty-dollar bill. “It’s unlike him to run off like that. He must be in some serious trouble. Let’s see, George only wanted me to get a few things.” Earnest tried to ignore the cat urine stench.

“Here they are,” he said as he gathered six wooden statues.

Midas purred and rubbed against his feet. He stooped to pet him. “And the cat, of course. He’s probably starving.”

“I don’t need no dead cats around here, that’s fo sho,” the landlord said as Earnest clumsily scooped the cat in one arm and held the statues tight in the other.

Earnest scurried out of the building to his car. He threw the cat in the backseat and carefully placed the Egyptian figurines on the passenger seat. As he drove away, he caressed his new statue and said, “I used to be just like you, George. You start a collection and when it’s complete, you feel complete. But only for a short while. Then, you need another quest, another collection to complete, to feel whole again until you spend all of your time caring for your things and shut everyone out of your life. All you ever really needed was people. That’s why I only collect people now.”

He picked up one figurine. “This is Chloe, I found her at the supermarket. Fred, well, I’ve had him since high school. I was an only child, you see. Now, I have friends that will never hurt me or abandon me. It’s all just so perfect, don’t you agree?”
George heard all of the crazy little man’s words, but he could not move his mouth in reply.

After a few moments of silence the little man said, “I thought so.”

© 2010 K. Bond. All rights reserved.
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