The Nostalgia of the Neighborhood Hardware Store
The dog and I walk to the hardware store in the snow like that first winter in Chicago when we were still young and brave. We were one and 22 then. We are 12 and 33 now. We need keys for the new place where we’re starting our new life, and snow makes newness feel safe. We slide down the sidewalk with that old sense of promise, two girls against the world, the city a glistening pearl at our feet.
In front of the store, a crowd disperses as a truck slips and swerves away from the curb. Inside, the man at the counter wears a utilikilt. I say, “I need to copy this key,” and he says, “I was just helping those guys push their truck out and I ate it on the ice.” He rubs his right arm and winces while I stand there, stupid, key in hand. As usual, I missed the whole thing.
Another employee comes in from the snow and asks Utilikilt if he’s okay.
“I’ll be fine,” he says. He has a viking beard almost as orange as his vest.
“You fell down hard, man,” his coworker says.
“It’s not so bad,” he says. I think he should go to the hospital. I think he should wear pants.
While Utilikilt Viking cuts my keys with his remaining good arm, the dog and I roam the aisles looking at parts. I wouldn’t know what to do with most of them, but they’re soothing all the same. This nut fits that bolt; this joint threads with that pipe; intention and usefulness abound. In the housewares aisle, I pick up dish soap, the fancy kind, and picture wire, and hooks. The dog sniffs a box of rat poison on a low shelf until I notice and pull her away.
In the back of the store, a wall of toilet seats makes me cry. There are reasons, but how silly they sound: the way our old landlady had warned us about the toilet when we moved in, “I mean, I don’t know what you eat, but just in case.” The time we stood in the too-small bathroom of that too-precious house and named the fish on the shower curtain. How my new landlady is more nosy and less kind, and my new apartment has a bigger bathroom with a better toilet, and how I wish he could see the sink, the way it fits into an old wooden cabinet with plenty of room for two people’s things. How I had believed my days of going to a hardware store alone to fix up an apartment for just me and the dog were long gone. I sink to the floor beside a plunger display and the dog sticks her face in mine. “Sorry, kid,” I say. I want to scream obscenities until someone calls the police. I want to fill my arms with every kind of hammer and run down the street breaking windows and heads.
I read somewhere that the end of a significant romantic relationship affects the brain the same as death; grief is grief, no matter the cause. Some days, I envy the widowed and terminally ill, publicly praised for their bravery and strength. There is no honor for the heartbroken bereft. I am not brave or strong, I am merely surrounded by bathroom fixtures and alone. Cry me a whatever, woe the fuck is me.
“My girlfriend loves this soap,” says Partnered Utilikilt Viking as he bags my things. If he saw me by the toilet seats, he isn’t saying a word. This store is quite small.
“You should put the rat poison up higher,” I say. “Since you’re dog-friendly? It’s kind of unsafe.”
“I never would have thought of that,” he says. He still isn’t using his fallen-on arm.
He hands the dog a large biscuit, and me three identical keys, and I tell him he should go to urgent care.
“Yeah thanks,” he says, “You take care, too.”
Twelve in dog years is 84 in human, common wisdom says, but really it depends on the dog. The vet told me mine could live to be 16, which would be 112, which is very old, but still not enough. I think when the dog dies, I’ll die, too. I’ll be 37 then. It’s young, but people can understand that kind of giving up.
We walk out the doors into snow already turning to slush. Winter never lasts in this town, which should be some sort of relief, but imagine if snow stuck around long enough to count. Imagine if love never died, and neither did dogs, and winter did its job for once. We head towards our new home, two old girls against a world already starting to forget. The city is a riverstone, a comforting weight. It will pull us under if we let it, but we won’t, we can’t, we won’t.
Elisabeth Geier is a writer, editor, and teacher based in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has appeared in places like The Toast, Painted Bride Quarterly, NANO Fiction, Monkeybicycle, and Bright Wall/Dark Room (where she is also an associate editor). She’s on Twitter, too.