Suitcase Full Of Broken Dreams
by Amanda McLeod
I laid them all out on the bed, all the broken parts and shattered pieces of my dreams. For all I'd held on to them so tightly, they didn't seem to amount to much. But dreams can be priceless and you never know, especially if you're not an expert. So I wrapped them up carefully in sheets of old newspaper and packed them into my dented leather suitcase; then I dragged them down to the curio shop to see if they could be repaired, if they were worth anything. As I walked, the suitcase bashed against my knees. It was heavy, as broken dreams often are; they tend to get heavier the longer you carry them.
The curio shop smelled of dust, and things people didn't love enough to keep. These objects of neglect and despair seemed coated with a fine layer of glitter, in a bid to convince customers that other people’s heartbreak was valuable. The only other client in the shop passed me on his way out the door. He was wearing a coat the colour of regret and cuffing furiously at his eyes. I wondered if his dreams were irreparable, or just not worth fixing.
I manoeuvred my suitcase between cloudy glass cabinets filled with oddly shimmering pieces of the collateral damage of living. It was impossible not to look; to see what shapes other people's unfulfilled desires took. I passed a case which held a shabby leather-bound volume open about half way through. The pages were yellowed and mouse-eaten around the edges, with only a few scant words written on them. Across the book lay a fountain pen, with a chewed tip and a broken nib. I realised this was the book someone couldn't finish; the story they couldn't tell. Even the film of glitter across it couldn't make it appeal. Nearby was a faded rosette, frayed ribbons hanging limply from a withered centre adorned with a disc reading ‘someone for mayor’. I couldn't make out the name. This was someone’s dream of making a difference, of contributing to civic life. On a plinth near the counter stood a music box, lid open, tiny ballerina figure in her minuscule tulle tutu frozen mid-pirouette. I turned the box, looking for the winding mechanism, and giving it three careful turns. Instead of some cheesy music box ditty and a spinning dancer, I was rewarded with a tuneless grinding sound, and a ballerina who lurched a drunken three quarter turn before stopping. A broken hearted little girl somewhere wasn't going to be a principal dancer, then.
I reached the counter at the back of the shop. My knees were purple and aching from having the heavy suitcase bash against them with every step I took. With one last effort I heaved my suitcase full of broken dreams up onto the counter, and peered about for the valuer.
I heard her before I saw her. She was humming a melancholy dirge, which drifted out through the open door behind the counter. There was a privacy screen, so I couldn't see what else might be through the door. Based on what I'd already seen in the shop, I was relieved; I didn't think I could take too much more of other people’s sadness objectified. The sad, lilting song that drifted across me brought with it a soft cloak of despair, which settled on my shoulders.
The valuer appeared in the doorway, a tiny woman almost swamped by wild blonde curls streaked with silver that hung around her head like mist from a waterfall. She looked about the same age as my mother, I thought, but something about her eyes seemed much older and much younger at the same time. They were slate grey, and I felt as though they saw me and through me and within me all at once; and knew all of me and had known me for millennia. I felt a tightness in my throat.
“How can I help you today?” she asked. I swallowed heavily.
“I have these…” I opened my suitcase and stared at the bundles wrapped in newspaper. “I've carried them around with me for years, even though they're all broken,” I said in a rush. “I thought it was time to maybe see if any of them are worth repairing,” I drew a shaky breath, “or if I should just give up on them and see if others have any use for them.”
The valuer gave me a sympathetic half smile.
“All I can promise is that I'll be honest with you,” she said, patting my arm gently. “It may not be what you you want to hear, but everything you hear from me will be the truth.” She slid my suitcase across to one side, leaving an expanse of empty counter. “Let’s see, shall we?” And she took out my first wrapped bundle.
She unravelled the layers of newspaper, revealing a pair of tiny, ivory and lace booties. They sat in a nest of shredded cellophane in a clear plastic box riddled with cracks. I carted that dream of a baby around with me from my very first relationship until the end of my last one and beyond, until after yet another failed round of IVF my older sister suggested it might be time to let go. My eyes prickled as I looked at them. The valuer held the plastic box in her hand and surveyed it critically.
“There is nothing unique or special about this. I have a dozen pairs out back just like them.” She wrapped them back up and slid them to one side, without saying anything more, but I understood perfectly.
The valuer unwrapped my next bundle and stared at the travel guide. All the pieces were there - the embossed cover, the frontpaper with the handwritten message from my mother commemorating my graduation from university, each of the individual pages with my own notes and highlighted sections. All my plans, in pieces. The valuer opened the cover, checked the spine, counted the pages.
“Everything is here,” she said, looking up at me. “This can be repaired. We can rebind it all back together, inside the original cover.” She paused. “Of course the only value in it is the value you attach to it yourself. Sentimental.”
I'm surprised anything could be done with my dreams of travelling the world, given their age and fragile state, but I readily agree to having them repaired and agreed to a price and collection date.
She continued through my bundles of dreams, consigning some to abandonment and others to salvation, but none were rare treasures to anyone but me. Finally she came to the last one. Carefully she unwrapped it and lay it out in front of her. It was a set of tiny mirrors, each no bigger in circumference than a teacup. They were hinged together so they folded like a concertina, and each disc had an enamelled back that depicted a defining moment in my life. My breath froze in my lungs. I'd kept that one wrapped up and tucked away for so long I'd almost forgotten about it. The valuer raised her eyebrows.
“Now this,” she murmured, “this is something incredibly special. Nobody has these anymore. They're all so obsessed with who they want to be, or who they think the should be, they forget who they are. There are a few chips, but nothing that renders this useless. It's not really damaged, just unfulfilled.” She turned it over in her hands, running her fingers over it, tracing the enamel. “This is rare. I can assure you an excellent price. Will you sell it to me?”
I stared at it, sitting there in a stranger’s palm. My dream to truly know myself. Chipped and battered by the demands others had placed on me, buried under the construct of what I thought the ‘best me’ should be like. I considered the other dreams I'd seen, out in the shop. They seemed trivial, compared to this one. Even the other broken dreams I had in the suitcase when I arrived seemed insignificant beside this one. And yet I'd pushed it aside for so long. I thought of my non-existent baby, the travel I didn't do, all the other broken dreams in my suitcase, and I began to wonder. Had burying this one broken all the others? Was I ready to give this dream up?
As I watched the valuer’s fingers curve around it, my dream told me the answer. I took it from her hands and wrapped both of mine around it.
“I'm sorry,” I said. “I'm not ready to part with that one.”
The valuer smiled.
“I know that,” she said, “but if I hadn't asked, you never would have realised.”
Amanda McLeod is an author and artist based in Canberra, Australia. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Spelk Fiction, 101 Words, Five2One’s #thesideshow, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @AmandaMWrites