The Bronze Woman

My sister and I debated selling the bronze woman for months. After I lost my job, she brought it down from the shelf at the back of the hall closet. “We don’t need that yet,” I told her. “I’ve still got my savings.” She set the woman down on the kitchen counter, and there she stood for a few months.

I sent out a couple dozen applications the first month, and got some rejection letters almost immediately. The governor was cutting the higher education budget, and since I was still an inexperienced low-level, there weren’t many people hiring in my field.

Kiersten applied at local shops and restaurants. Most people told her right off that they didn’t have any openings, but she applied anyway. Better to be safe than sorry.

A month went by and the bronze woman on the kitchen counter taunted me. I sent out more applications, though fewer this time. I got more rejection e-mails.

Kiersten went to the mall and walked up the rows of stores, filling out an application at each one.

We both knew that there was no way she would be able to afford the house payments by herself, but if she could get a part time job, and I could find some freelance work, we could make it for at least awhile. If I could get another full time position, we could stop worrying.

Two months went by. I had a phone interview, then an in-person, then another rejection letter. I eyed the bronze woman on the kitchen counter.

It had been passed down through my mother’s side of the family. It predated Christianity by about 600 years, and depicted a Celtic goddess, though which one I never knew. She stood on her platform with her hands spread in front of her, as though offering me something. But her palms were empty. Her face pleaded with me, begging me to take something from her, or to put something in her grip. I shook my head. I didn’t have anything to offer her.

I picked up a freelance job for the third month, wrote 70,000 words in only four weeks, made about $3,000 after taxes. Then my car broke down, and the air-conditioner went out, and the dryer broke. By the time we got everything fixed, my earnings were almost gone. I paid the mortgage, and looked at our remaining funds.

“We have one more month,” I told her.

“Jason,” she said. “You know what we have to do.”

Before she had passed, our mother had told us to keep the bronze woman, to pass her down to our children. It had to remain in our bloodline, she had explained. No matter what happens, it has to stay with us.

“We promised,” I told her.

“Our promise won’t mean anything if we lose the house,” she said. “It won’t mean anything if we starve to death.”

“Just give me one more month,” I said. “If I don’t find anything by then, I’ll take it down to auction.”

There were only a few more places in town we could apply, and we did. Then we waited. No word came. Our cabinets began to run bare as the bronze woman stood on the counter, her hands outstretched.

On the last Friday of April, Keirsten finished off the pancake mix and the eggs, and we ate together at the kitchen table while the bronze woman watched us.

Finally, I took the woman up in my arms, walked her to my car, and strapped her into the back seat. When I put the car in reverse to back out of the driveway, I saw her eyes in the rearview mirror.

“I’m sorry,” I told her, pulling onto the main road. “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have to.”

The auction house was filled with people. They were dressed in smalltown formals, as though they’d just come from a fish fry. I was dressed in my school suit, and felt overdressed.

The man who took the bronze woman smiled at her more than me. “This is great,” he said. “Excellent. Perfect. I’ll get our appraisers to write her up. Are you staying for the auction?”

“No,” I told him. I didn’t know how to explain to him that I had promised my mother I wouldn’t sell the bronze woman, and couldn’t bear to watch her be sold, or that I didn’t have any money anyway. So I said, “I’ve got errands to run in town. I’ll come back after the auction and pick up the check.”

“Sounds good,” he said.

I got a box of cookies from the bakery on the corner, then walked down to the university campus and into my old office. It was a Friday, and there had been more firings, so my vibrant office had been cut down to six people. I stopped to talk with them for a few minutes each.

“When are you coming back?” Dolores asked.

“When you can afford me,” I told her.

“You should talk to Miranda,” she said. “She’s in a meeting now, but she’ll be back down soon.”

“I’ll wait for her,” I said. “Mind if I make a cup of coffee?”

Dolores went to the cabinet and got down my old coffee mug. I must have forgotten it on the day they fired everyone. I’d cleaned out my desk quickly, packing as much as I could into an empty printer-paper box. My mug must have been in the sink when I left. I felt better holding the old token, the name of the university printed on the side, the warmth of the coffee permeating through me.

Dolores and I stepped outside with our coffee and she offered me a cigarette. We watched the students walking through the quad, and talked about how hard it was. The cuts, the money, the governor.

Miranda was back in her office when we came in, and smiled up at me. “Ready to come back to work?” she asked.

“Ready to pay me?” I asked.

“As a matter of fact,” she said, “we were authorized to make one new hire next month. If you want the job, it’s yours.”

I couldn’t breathe. “Are you serious?” I asked. “Cause that’s not a funny joke, getting a man’s hopes up like that.”

“I’m serious,” she said. “We’ve still got your resume on file, I’ll write your letter of recommendation myself, we’ll get you set up at your old desk. It’ll be like you never left.”

“Shit,” I said. “Yes, absolutely, I want the job, but I have to run. Call me later, or send an e-mail.”

“Consider it done,” she said. “Welcome back, Jason.”

I ran down the street, my coattails catching the air behind me, my dress shirt sticking to my skin by the time I got back to the auction house. I stepped inside, and the sudden silence smacked me in the face. There was nobody there. I wondered if I was too late, if the auction was over and everyone had gone home. But I’d only been gone for a little over an hour.

I walked to the great hall and opened the doors. Inside were rows of chairs filled with still, silent people. Up on stage, the bronze woman stood on a blue cloth covered table. I went to raise my hand and rescind her sale when I noticed the eerie absence which should have been obvious to me before. The auctioneer should have been standing behind the podium, his voice carrying through the hall. Instead, I could see that he was splayed out prostrate behind the podium, his right hand hanging off the stage.

I looked to my left and right, and saw that everyone in the hall was lifeless, their eyes open and blank.

I walked down the center aisle and stepped up onto the stage. The bronze woman offered a stack of money to me in her outstretched hands. I took the money, a brick bound with a bank roll declaring it twenty thousand dollars, and put it down into my jacket pocket. Then I picked up the bronze woman.

“Let’s go home,” I told her. Her blank face stared up at me as I walked back up the rows of her victims. It had to stay in our bloodline, my mother had told me. “You’re staying with us,” I told the bronze woman.