My store, Main Street Toys was finally open. I obtained a mixture of handmade toys and antiques. The toys were supposed to stay local but that was more difficult than I’d realized. Soon I figured if the toys were handmade in Michigan, that would do. Most of the handmade toys were from Farmers’ Markets all over the state. A lot of money went into traveling to the markets but I was able to find beautiful craftsmanship. One woman from Paw Paw made a toy archery line. The bows were carved with vines and flowers. In Troy, I found cloth dolls that resembled storybook characters. The detail was painted on using watercolor. Possibly the best toys were the mailboxes and wooden letters. Each mailbox was unique and the buyer had the option of adding a mailbag and postman hat.
The antiques were slightly easier to purchase. eBay. Garage Sales. Second-hand stores. People were anxious to sell their junk. And I was anxious to buy it, clean it up, and add it to the store shelves. I put a sign outside the store that read “Looking for antique toys in good condition.” Like I said, people were anxious to sell their junk.
I had the grand opening a month after opening the store. The mayor showed up to shake my hand. A reporter took our picture and my shop was featured in the newspaper. Every hipster, even those who supported local businesses but travelled to Kalamazoo to shop, was there to eat from the goodie bar. They all promised to be loyal customers. “This will be perfect for Christmas shopping.” “My niece’s birthday is in a month. Great timing.” “I’m buying this shit for myself. Forget the kids.” I made a fair amount that day, but not enough. People had no problem buying the cheap items; five dollars here, five dollars there, but the more expensive products remained on the shelf.
From then on I saw four, maybe five, customers a day. On a weekend I had the traffic of ten to fifteen people. Months passed and I waited for improvement. It was only summer. Christmas would arrive and rich parents would be looking for unique toys for their over-indulged children. I just needed to wait a little longer.
As the summer came to an end, I felt a sense of urgency. Anxiety is a better word. One morning I drank a little too much espresso and set a sign outside the door. “Dearest white yuppies, prove to your kids that you actually give a shit about Battle Creek. Buy local.” That day a lot of the men from the BCMAMS (Battle Creek Metropolitan Area Moustache Society) showed up. They all gave me a high five and left without buying anything. I wanted to yell, Shave your beard and show me what you’re hiding. Loads of Kellogg employees (the yuppies) walked by my store and laughed, taking pictures to post on Facebook. Good on them for not realizing they were reason for the sign.
My most memorable visitor, though, was a homeless woman. I could smell her from where I stood. Smoke and urine. I tried to be civil but homeless people stopped by often. They talk forever. They talk about another world in which they have are important and the reason for others’ success. They philosophize and solve political issues. They reminisce over their past. It’s all very sad. I have to listen until I can’t anymore and make some excuse. This woman was different.
“I saw your sign,” said the woman.
“Oh, yeah. I’ve been meaning to take that down.”
“I want to sell you something.”
“Wait,” I pause. “Which sign are you talking about?”
“The one in the window — says I’ll buy your shit.”
I laugh, “It doesn’t say that.”
“No, but that’s what you meant.”
The woman stepped up to the counter and dropped her tatty backpack on the wood. After rummaging through, she pulled out a figurine wrapped with fabric. From the fabric came a porcelain unicorn. There was nothing unique about the unicorn. I had seen them before. Clay flowers wrapped around its head and along the base of where it was mounted. A rainbow arched over its body. A standard unicorn.
“It will bring you luck,” said the woman. It didn’t seem to do much for you, I thought.
She was in earnest and waited for my reply. I picked up the figurine and observed its markings. Nothing unique. Nothing special. I could have found this in a dollar store.
“How do you know it will bring me luck?”
“It told me,” said the woman.
“How did it tell you?”
The woman smiled. “I was lying. It didn’t tell me. But,” she paused and appeared uncomfortable, “I need the money.”
“How much do you want for it?”
“Twenty-five.” I scoffed at this amount. Twenty-five for a dollar-store unicorn?
In the end, I bought the unicorn for eighteen dollars. The more we haggled the more I felt like an ass for bargaining with a poor person. I set the unicorn in the shop window.
We return from LIDL. Nuala carries a bag of tangerines. In Aoife’s hands is a container filled with hummus. Aoife calls it hummel and that was all she wanted while at the shop, even though there’s plenty in the fridge. Nuala tears into the net and takes out a few tangerines. She runs through the backdoor into the backyard.
“Nuala, slow down,” I yell but it doesn’t matter much, she’s already gone to see the unicorn. Aoife runs after her and I have difficulty pulling her back.
“Aoife, you little scut, stay with me.” I grasp at her hand and we walk together outside. The unicorn has moved near the shed and Nuala is trying to convince it that tangerines are delicious.
“Please eat it.” Nuala sticks the piece of fruit near its nose. She turns to me. “I told you. He won’t eat tangerines. He wants oranges.”
“Enough with the oranges, Nuala. The tangerines were on sale. They taste the same.”
“They are not the same.”
“Give me the tangerine. I’ll feed him.” I take the pealed tangerine out of Nuala’s hand and approach the unicorn. I bend in and stare into his black eyes and whisper, “Now listen, you fucker, you big rotten piss-bucket, eat the damn tangerine.”
The unicorn lets out a snort then takes the tangerine from my hand and inhales it. He sniffs my fingers for another. “Here, Nuala. Go on then and feed him.”
Nuala grabs another ball of orange from her pocket and begins to peal it. She then returns to the unicorn and starts shoving more slices at his mouth. “Can you get me more from the kitchen?”
Will you look at this girl, bossing me around as though she’s in charge? I take Aoife into my arms and go inside. I hadn’t realized how late it is. Already 11:30 and Aoife still needs to take a nap.
“Nuala, I’m making lunch, okay?”
I throw a few tangerines outside and then begin making sandwiches and chopping carrots. Aoife only eats hummus but she does use the carrots as a spoon. Ingenious child — makes her mom think she’s eating vegetables.
Already I know Nuala has her own quirks. She dislikes mayo and has ketchup instead. Eggs and ketchup. Tuna and ketchup. Turkey and ketchup.
“Waffle,” says Aoife.
“Waffle.” Right, yeah, I got that. Maybe she means the potato waffles in the freezer. I show her the box and she says something that I, once again, don’t understand. I assume she’s happy with this choice, which is surprising. I didn’t think she ate more than hummel.
I bring the food out to the backyard and we sit on lawn-chairs. The unicorn proceeds to eat the tangerine peels strewn across the grass. Nuala sits cross-legged next to him, chewing on her ketchup and ham sandwich.
“I’m glad you like the tangerines,” she says to the unicorn. “After lunch I could brush your mane. It’s looking a bit tangled.”
The unicorn steps closer and smells her hair. Nuala giggles. Aoife laughs also and climbs down from her chair. She runs over to Nuala with a carrot covered in hummus.
“Don’t run with your food,” I yell but Aoife doesn’t give a shit what I tell her. “When you’re done with your food we’re going to go inside for quite time and N-A-P for you-know-who.”
“Why?” says Nuala. Because, I need quiet time more than you. “Because . . . your mom said so.”
Sadly, ‘Main Street Toys’ went out of business.
The building was now going to be rented by a comic book dealer. I sold my merchandise on Amazon, held a close-out sale that brought more customers than I’d seen in ages. The rest was boxed up and held in my parents’ attic. I lost everything. It had only been two years since Main Street Toys was opened. They say your first few years of business will be a struggle but I’d got to the point where I’d have zero customers in a day.
I moved home and into my old bedroom. The lawyers basically told me to go for broke and file for bankruptcy. So, in between meetings with bankers, lawyers, etc., I accepted defeat and ate chips while watching television. That’s where I was when my mom got a phone call from my aunt in Ireland.
“Send her to Ireland,” she said to my mom. “Laura needs a babysitter.”
Aoife is finally asleep after one hour of convincing her that going to sleep is in her best interest. Nuala sits in her bedroom reading a book. It’s a good thing she appreciates literature or it might be difficult to keep her in the room.
I go back to the kitchen, make more peppermint tea, and return to the sliding door. The unicorn is still eating grass. That’s all he does, eat. I hope he leaves soon. He’s making me nervous the way he looks over every now and then. It’s like he disapproves.
“You don’t know me,” I mumble towards the glass pane. I slide open the door and step outside.
“We need to talk.” The unicorn continues to deplete the lawn of grass. “You should probably look at me while I’m talking.”
He looks up and starts walking towards me. I am fairly sure why he’s here. To laugh at me. To remind me I’ve failed.
“I’m not a failure,” I say to him. “I didn’t fail. Okay, fine. I am a failure. I couldn’t keep a simple toy store in business. Twenty-six. Twenty-fucking-six. I had a plan. I was going to be successful by twenty-five with a boyfriend and a dog that we’d adopted together. We were going to argue over pet names because that’s what boyfriends and girlfriends do.
“All that work. All that money spent. Goddamn it — my credit score. My poor unfortunate credit score. I’ll never be able to buy a house, or have a car, or even rent an apartment. I’m going to have to live with other people for the rest of my life.”
I start to cry. I’m a mess. “The worst part is that people talk about me. That shouldn’t matter right? Bullshit! It matters. They’ll smile and say ‘But at least you tried.’ But they don’t mean a word of it. And you . . . You were supposed to be my good luck charm. I put you in the window of my store.”
The unicorn begins to lean to one side and then the other. He’s taking deeper breaths than normal.
“Hey, are you okay? Do you need water or something?”
He falls to the ground — his mouth foaming.
“Shit. Unicorn?” I watch in shock as the unicorn convulses on the ground.
“What are you doing to him?” I look up to see Nuala staring out the window. “Nothing. I’m not doing anything!” I yell back.
“You’re killing him.”
“Stop yelling and get down here.” I turn back to the unicorn, who lies still in the grass. Maybe he’s sleeping?
Maybe unicorns sleep with their eyes open? I bend to check for a pulse. Nothing. He’s dead.
I’d thought that when a mythical creature dies, they disappear, go up in smoke, turn into glitter. It didn’t occur to me that their bodies lie still, inanimate, on the ground. An abandoned building left to fall apart. Nuala stumbles out and flings herself against the unicorn.
“It’s my fault. I poisoned him with the tangerines. Oranges — unicorns eat oranges, not tangerines.” She’s so distraught she stops making sense.
I kneel down and pat Nuala’s back. I don’t want to sound patronizing, so I allow her to cry but she keeps going on about having poisoned the unicorn.
“Nuala. Tangerines are not poisonous. You didn’t kill the unicorn.”
“Yes, I did. It’s my fault.”
“No, it’s not. Sometimes these things just happen.” Oh, God, I sound like a Hallmark movie. “He was already sick, okay? I mean, you saw the amount of grass he ate . . . ” This wasn’t helping.
Nuala brushes his hair with her fingers. She hiccups. I walk inside to get her a glass of milk. From the window, I see her lie down beside him.
It isn’t our fault. It isn’t our fault that the unicorn chose to beam down from a rainbow and die on our grass. And if tangerines are deadly to unicorns, it would say so in a fairy tale. The child is irrational. Really, none of this is rational. I could muddle through a list of excuses, organize my thoughts in folders, and talk with a therapist, yet I’d still come to the same conclusion: unicorns aren’t real. But there he is in the backyard.
I continue to watch Nuala. Already I’ve forgotten about the milk. She doesn’t seem to need it anymore. She’s placing stones in a circle around the unicorn, marking it as his grave. As soon as she finishes, she picks dandelions and fashions a crown for his head. Nuala is already having a funeral.
I turn away from her.
The death of my store wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was a damn good idea. I worked hard to give it life. Battle Creek, though, wasn’t home for a toyshop.
I’ll find a home for ‘Main Street Toys’ and a window for my unicorn, eventually.