Thrift Store China

by Melissa Secola

First Place: Flash 405 June 2016, Judith Freeman’s “Metamorphosis”


She was going to call me at 2:00 p.m. The mass had grown from 5 cm to 8.9 cm in less than two weeks.

I decided to go to the thrift store. Doctors are never on time.

I walked in, the unmistakable breath of second-hand merchandise hanging in the air. Miscellaneous coffee mugs, dollar store glass vases, and odd numbers of matching drinking glasses littered the dishware section. Amidst the disarray sat a delicate tea cup with pink and green flowers. Instinctively, I picked it up and turned it over. Noritake china from Japan. I scanned the shelves and found the rest of the set, abandoned most likely because of divorce, death, or the fact that no one uses fine china anymore.

My phone rang at 2:00 p.m.

“Hello, it’s Dr. White. So…the mass needs to be removed surgically.” I looked at the matching dinner plates and salad plates and bread plates. Each piece had a platinum band around it. The words “possible hysterectomy” punctuated the next few sentences, like persistent little pin pricks.

I had never been one of those women who dreamed of having children.

I examined each piece of china, scrutinizing it for cracks and other imperfections. It suddenly became imperative that I buy it.

I began putting each piece in my cart, torn between feelings of burden and hope.

Unless I rotated them, one plate would end up more worn than the others, which would sit stagnant on my kitchen shelves, thick with layers of old paint and small fossilized objects.

I put the china back.

China was for people who were married with houses and kids and dogs. Not thirty-nine year-olds living alone in brown-carpeted apartments. And even if I vowed to use the china every day until the time came to pack it up and bring it to a thrift store, who would pack it up when I was gone? Don’t grown children usually do that for you? I felt the panic set in, the paralysis of over-analysis taking hold of my body, as though I were its prisoner. A nearby shopper glanced in my direction.

This china was for a life I didn’t have.

And yet, I had to have it. My body had betrayed me, but I would nourish it with food served on this china, damn it. I put it back in my cart and headed for the register.

The gravy boat, I left on the shelf.


Judge’s Comments:

I loved the movement in this story, in and out of immediate-and-flash-back-time—first here, then there, then here again, time travel done so seamlessly. I especially liked the rhythm of the prose, the movement (again) within and between sentences. And the ending—endings, ugh, they’re so hard to do!—but this one was a beauty. It nailed it in one sentence.

Melissa Secola studied film and television production at University of Southern California. Her essay, Kimiko, appears in the anthology, Waking up American. Her essay, The Opera Singer’s House, appears in the anthology, Italy, a Love Story. She lives in Pasadena and currently teaches English at a military school.

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