The Silver Lining


constantine_icon.gif delia_icon.gif

Scene Title The Silver Lining
Synopsis There's a price that everyone has to pay for freedom.
Date April 2, 2011

The Old Apothecary

One part traditional druggist's and one part antique shop, the Old Apothecary does not number among the brightly-lit boutiques that sell similar but more common items at an inflated cost. Lights are intentionally kept low, providing a subdued, intimate atmosphere and a warm glow designed to illuminate the store's wares without banishing the shadows to the far corners of the room. Just to the right of the entrance is a wooden counter with a sign hanging from it that reads: Cash Only. There is no digital register, no accompanying card reader. Apart from the electricity that powers the overhead lights, the most contemporary piece of equipment in the entire store is the French coffee press and unpolished steel carafe, though even this looks as though it could have come from a different era. Coffee is advertised at sixty cents per cup.

The walls - papered in dark green with widely spaced, thin vertical columns of tiny, deep red rosebuds - are lined with shelves made from wood stained a dark brown to match the floorboards, which are haphazardly covered by a collection of faded, Persian-patterned rugs. Many of these shelves are home to a variety of books spanning at least one and a half centuries, ranging from dusty old tomes to more modern reading material that includes a small selection of New Age titles published by respectable authors, all of it non-fiction. Others display glass bottles containing essential oils, jars with more exotic contents - snake wine, roasted crickets and dried tree lizards - as well as small tins of loose leaf teas, painted ceramic bowls, cups and pitchers, although there appears to be no particular ordering to any of it. Beneath these shelves are rows of apothecary cabinets, labeled but locked, their drawers acting as storage for herbs, seeds, roots and other ingredients that the shop's proprietor values enough to keep inaccessible to customers.

Most of the store's floor space is occupied by other goods that have either been specially imported or acquired from flea markets, the quality of which varies from very low to extremely high depending on the nature of the individual item. A selection of pocket watches, ladies' jewelry, fine silver and war medals stands behind glass. One corner features a stack of vibrantly-coloured rugs from Turkey and Iran, another a bin of glass plate negatives, old postcards and water-stained letters still in their envelopes, some dating back to the First World War and in languages other than English. Ornate oil paintings, antique swords, knives and firearms, perfume bottles and decanters of every shape and size imaginable, boxes of brass and silver keys that unlock nothing - the store's collection is constantly changing as new items are purchased and sold by the owner.

Behind the counter is a velvet curtain that divides the front of the store from the back, public from private, and in case anyone should be tempted to cross this barrier without permission, a small monkey skeleton standing on a bird's perch inside an iron cage keeps watch.

The rays of light that filter through the old windows of the apothecary are broken by a shadow from the outside. It passes by once, then again, and once more as if its owner is either pacing the front of the store or window shopping. She hopes that if she has someone following that they think it's window shopping. One of the older antiques, made of bits of wire and chunks of metal, isn't readily indetified and she pauses. A few tendrils of long red hair fly out to the side, carried by the breeze.

Delia stares at the piece for a while before deciding that it must be a piece of a typewriter, or something along those lines. The ancient herbalist's kit that lays alongside it still has little vials that are filled with powder and crystals where there once was liquid. A curious twitch of her eyebrows upward and a lean toward the window has her nose literally pressed against it. If she's lucky, her new job won't entail cleaning the smudge left behind.

The jingle of the bell announces her arrival, a week too late. "Hello? Mister Filatov?" She's uncertain if it's doctor, she saw the clinic only once from the outside. "Are you here?" The door is open, logic would dictate that someone is here. "Ranger?"

The moments of silence that stretch out might seem tense. Maybe they should be. At the very least, until Ranger comes ambling out frombehind the curtain, snorting and sniffing as he always does when there's someone to investigate. Of course, when he realizes just who it is, he picks up his pace to a sort of trot for the last few feet, happy and excited that one of his people has come to see him. It takes another full twenty seconds before Constantine finally emerges from behind the curtain, spending a few moments toweling off his hands rather than immediately acknowledging someone who's come in. In fact, it looks like Delia may have to initiate the conversation this time.

Dropping to her knees, Delia stratches and rubs the bulldog around the ears and neck with her free hand. The babytalk that she usually greets him with is absent in favor of an excited "Hey boy, how you doin' huh? How you doin'?" When Filatov stalks out from behind the velvet partition, the redhead looks up and gives him a small smile. "Hi, sorry I'm late. I— I didn't want to leave Staten until I thought it was safe." That, and she's uncertain if the man is on the run from authorities.

After giving the dog a final pat, Delia rises to a stand and walks over to the counter. She lays an armload of books down, mostly bawdy romance novels but there are a couple of language books. All of them are old, the soft covers of the bodice rippers faded and bent while the hard covers of the book on how to speak Russian is cracked in places.

"Believe me, I understand," is Constantine's response. The towel in his hands is tossed somewhat haphazardly, and rather quickly behind the counter, and he returns his attention to the matter at hand. "Even on the mainland, it's becoming, delicate." Perhaps an appropriate word to describe, almost anything in the modern age. When the books go down onto the counter, the street doctor sifts through them, briefly looking over the titles. "Quite a collection you've brought in," he says, "Garage sale?"

"I read all the other books I have," the young woman says of the romance novels piling them up in a solitary stack of shame. The book of Russian language is laid alongside them, too big to actually stack on top, and she shrugs one shoulder. "No, I went to a place I used to work at, a bookstore on Roosevelt Island." Lifting the largest, she flips through a few of the pages and quirks her lips into a half grin. "I have a goal, I'm going to learn how to say 'where is the bathroom' in every language there is."

It's not a goal that's especially ambitious, if you're looking for success or fame. Even money. "I know French, Spanish, and Russian so far."

"That's a lot of languages. More if you count different dialects as individual languages, I would suppose." Probably a terrible idea. "That's a good goal to have, I think. Attainable, but challenging. Not looking to learn a new language in it's entirety?" As Constantine speaks, he begins arranging the books, even the ones still being piled, into different stacks that must have some meaning in their arrangement, if only for him. "Because that would be a good goal as well."

"My goals have a bad habit of being unreachable," she begins, watching the shop owner rearrange her neat pile into a few neater piles. "Something always happens to block the way. I didn't really decide on this one until I got a couple of room mates that are Russian. I thought I could say some stuff to impress them. Instead I think I made one of them mad." Shrugging, she flips open the book to a marked position and reads out loud. "Private, g'day vanya coomnata? Hello, where is the bathroom? I'm getting better at it every time I read it." Realistically, she's probably getting worse.

"That's not bad," Constantine remarks. "Maybe a little strange grammatically. Instead, you could ask Gde tualet? Where is the toilet? It's a little more specific. Or, mozhete li vy pokazat? mne v tualet? Can you show me to the toilet? Different ways to say the same thing." Of course, this information may well create far, far more questions than it actually answers. Since it probably didn't answer any questions at all, this is hardly surprising.

"Private, g'day twalette?" while Delia isn't exactly from Flushing, she is from around the area and sometimes the accent comes through in spades. Her eyebrows furrow together as she watches the tall man and her blue eyes narrow just a touch. "What was that last one? Something about Mozart? Do they play Mozart in the bathrooms over there?" Shaking her head, she looks down into the book again and then flips it closed. "Sorry, I've never been anywhere. My dad's been all over the place but Mister Logan got me a passport and registered me, so maybe someday I'll be able to see everything I want to see."

Constantine can't help but chuckle. "Rachmaninoff would be more likely than Mozart," he says, "But no, they don't play it in the bathrooms." Or do they? "They may have started and I just happened to miss it, I don't know." Another chuckle, but he rapidly gets himself under control. "Travel is difficult right now, but there is so much to see there. It would be good to see it, someday. When you have a chance, you should go."

"First I'm going to see California, the giant redwoods there. I have a giant redwood bonsai tree, I'm scared that I'm going to kill it because I'm not so great with plants." She's never been further west than Texas either, that was a few lifetimes ago. Pushing the language book toward one of the other piles, Delia straightens to a stand and looks around the empty store. "So, what sort of thing do you want me to do here? Sell sell sell? Or do you like it quiet? I used to get loads of business for Ichihara when I worked there, I could probably get a bunch of people interested in your caged monkey too."

"The monkey stays," Constantine warns, "I've grown as attached to it as a man can grow to the skeleton of an animal kept behind metal bars." Actually, a tiny bit unnerving, if you think about it too long. "But I expect what, you might expect me to expect. Sweep the floor on occasion, help customers find what they're looking for, or help them figure out what they're looking for. Appraise any item someone brings in for sale, fend off protection rackets, change the coffee when it gets old, those sorts of things."

"F-fend.. Seriously? Fend off protection rackets? I can't fight my way out of a wet paper bag.." Let alone thugs looking for money. A worried glance is cast toward the door and Delia grimaces just a little, her lips curling downward just a touch. "I'll do my best though, maybe I can talk my way out of it. I'm pretty good at talking, I do a lot of it."

Giving Constantine a bright smile, she shrugs her shoulder once rather helplessly and gazes up at the monkey. Her eyelashes flare out as her eyes widen and she looks at him with a measure of excitement. "Oh! I saw something weird on the internet the other day.. How do you feel about shrunken heads?" Making two L's with her hands and angling in a box over her boss' face, she turns her body to frame a space on the overfull shelf. "Not real shrunken heads… but did you know if you peel apples and let them sit out a while, they start looking like little shrunken heads when they dry? We could totally varnish them and sell them as keychains."

On the topic of weather he's serious or not about the protection rackets, Constantine is quiet. But on the topic of shrunken heads, he gives his chin a thoughtful stroke, and the fact that he hasn't dismissed the idea outright is as good a sign as any. "More of a novelty than a curio," he says, "But that's an idea. How about making one, and we'll see how it looks?"

One of her hands closes into a fist and comes down quickly as a pump at her side. "Yesssss," she breathes, a measure of success in her business savvy or at least where trends in the macabre are concerned. "I'll pick up a bag of apples on my way home and carve some up! I don't know how long they'll take but I think I could probably decorate them really well.. Like, we could get little beads for eyes and sew their little apple mouths shut…" It's the details that are important.

Rubbing her chin to mimic Constantine, she puckers her lips and squishes them off to the side thoughtfully. "I wonder if I could dry them faster if I put them in the oven. I didn't actually pay attention to the part where it said how long it takes."

"By all means, you should try several different ways to determine which works the best. But I do believe they refer to methods like that as 'oven logic.' I believe, at any rate." After a moment, Constantine's thoughts apparently turn to coffee, because he grabs a styrofoam cup, and then hesitates as if suddenly remembering that, even if the coffee has not grown cold, it's been in the carafe for some amount of time. Instead, he reaches under the counter and brings out the trusty electric kettle. "Tea?"

"Tea sounds fabulous," the young woman emits with a grin. Pulling a piece of paper from the pocket of her long sweater, she smooths it out on the counter and begins drawing little tiny malformed stickheads on it. "I wonder if the apple is tough enough to sew through or if I'll have to draw the stitches on…" A conundrum for sure, her eyebrows twitch and then she glances up at him. "Uhm… there was something I wanted to ask you… but I can't remember what it is right now."

A small look is spared to the carafe and she humms a small offkey tune, her voice could possibly be used in a horror film just because it's that bad. The humming stops when she becomes conscious of the fact that she's actually singing and flushes a faint pink. "Will I be allowed to do homework on shift? I'm thinking about going back to school now that I have the option again. I don't know if they'll take me back in the program because I missed a year… but if I can, I'll can become a real nurse."

Constantine listens as he pulls out a bottle of water, twists the cap off and begins pouring the contents into the kettle. His reply is initially a soft smile. "The world moves so fast now, it hardly leaves you time for anything," he says, "Some day, our institutions will catch up to it, but since they haven't yet, by all means. If you aren't helping a customer, or the shop's upkeep is already done, then by all means, yes. I will of course insist that you become a doctor, but that's my own bias."

There's a smile that touches Delia's lips and she nods once. "That's the plan, eventually… I want to get my Bachelor's in nursing then I can go right into medical school, skip the whole premed part. Plus I'll be able to take shifts to get more credit." She leans her elbows on the counter and then cups her face with both hands as she waits on the tea. "So, you're a doctor then? I wasn't sure if I should call you doctor or mister… I went with the safer choice. Sorry if I offended you or anything."

"'Was' would be a better descriptor. I was a doctor, and then a scientist. Now, I run the shop, the price I pay for my freedom." Whatever that means, exactly. Constantine doesn't seem set on discussing it. "You'll find a lot of obstacles on your way, Delia, but don't let them stop you. Not ever. The world needs courageous people now more than ever."

There's a slight nod from the redhead and a rather somber purse of her lips. "I get that, price of freedom, my brother gave up everything to keep me free. I did the same for my dad, sort of. I'm not supposed to talk to any of them anymore because of what I did." Taking a deep breath, she lets it out slowly and then lowers even further to rest her chin against the counter top. Using one finger, Delia draws a design on its surface, her eyes crossing just a little to focus on the digit.

"But the bright side is, I can go back to school. Lose a family and gain a career, right?"

The water in the kettle begins boiling, as if in response to Delia's statement. Although Constantine doesn't give a vocal reply as he adds tea bags to cups and start pouring the water, the single nod of his head, and then finally his thoughts on the matter, show they are in complete agreement: "Silver lining to every cloud."

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