I found Melissa in a jug on a shelf at Wolfgang's, a little do nothing shop that sits between a meat market and a winery in downtown Columbia. I never noticed the small red brick building with the faded gray trim before. Frosted windows obscured viewing from the outside.
A cowbell clattered when I opened the door, clattered again when the door closed. The room was large—much bigger than I thought it could be—with shelves lining the walls, tables forming aisles. Fluorescents hung from the ceiling, bulbs caked in grime, casting a yellow glow about the room. Dust clung to everything, including the counter at the back of the store, where an old man sat. What little hair he had poked out along his skull, one long strand stretched down the side of his face and disappeared behind his back.
He looked up. I looked away.
The trinkets that lined the tables and shelves were nothing more than what you would find at most souvenir shops in America: small statues, thimbles, decorative plates and spoons, post cards . . . from the dead.
I found the display odd, lifted a post card from its tray and wiped the dust away.
"That is a post card from George Custer," the man said.
Startled, my heart sped up and I wheeled on one heel. Up close, the man was older than I thought. Wrinkles lined his face, eyelids drooped, teeth yellowed. I fumbled with the card, setting it back in its tray.
"Can I interest you in anything?"
"No, just looking. Thank you, though."
Her voice caught my attention. "Charles, help me," she said. I turned, frowning. I heard my wife, but she sounded so far away, like maybe she was outside or in a closet. I glanced back at the shop owner. He gave me a crooked smile.
Edging away from him, I followed the voice until I reached a shelf filled with glass jugs near the back counter. They were different shapes and sizes and colors, as well. They were marked with white tape, names on each one: Wayne, Robert, Lee, Sandra, Doris. . . Melissa. And many others.
"Charles, help me," she said again, her voice hollow. "Get me out of here."
I lifted the bottle marked MELISSA off the shelf-it was heavy, much like my Melissa was. There was nothing small about my Melissa. Large body, large attitude, large and venomous mouth.
"Careful. Those bottles are very heavy," the proprietor said.
"Yeah, I can tell." I gave a nervous chuckle.
"Get me out of here," Melissa said again, this time a bit more anxious. A thump came from inside the jug.
"She seems quite taken with you."
I looked back at the shelves, at the many odd urns "What are these?"
"Those are soul cells," the man said with a smile.
He nodded. "Yes. Some folks need somewhere to be, since not all of them are that pleasant to be around."
I thought of Melissa, my wife of four years, who never made it a habit of being kind to people, especially not me.
"Charles, get me out of here." She was angry.
"How do they get in there?" I asked.
The man shook his head to the side, an odd gesture. "They put themselves in there."
"With their deeds." He raised his eyebrows in a ‘you understand what I am saying’ expression.
"This one is fairly new, isn't it?" I asked, trying to remember the last time I had seen my wife.
"Yes-only had that one since this morning. Had a fit of a time with the lady, if I might say."
A slight since of fear swept over me, but faded with Melissa’s yelling from the jug. "I believe you."
I winced, almost dropped the bottle.
"Careful," the man snapped. "If the bottle breaks or the cork comes out, the soul goes free."
The thought occurred to me, maybe this old man killed Melissa, but as I said before, she wasn’t a small lady. "If you have their souls, where are their bodies?"
"They are disposed of in due time, but, trust me, nothing goes to waste around here."
"Charles! Stop your yapping and get me out of here."
I set the jug back on the shelf, wiped my hands of the icy feel of the glass.
"Charles, what are you doing?" Melissa yelled. "If you don't get me out of here, you'll regret it."
"A feisty one, isn't she?" the old man asked with a toothy smile.
"You can say that again."
I backed away from the shelf, went back to the post cards. "How much are these?"
"For a post card? Seriously?"
"Flip it over and listen."
The backside was blank except for Custer's signature. A moment later, the card began to speak of battles in the civil war and with Native American tribes. Startled, I fumbled the card, caught it without creasing it. Custer told his story, not missing a beat.
"I'll take it," I said and paid for the card.
I passed Melissa on the way to the door, she yelled at me. I flinched, hurried by her.
"Make sure you stop off at the winery and the meat market. Today's specials are heavy treats."
I smiled. "Thanks. I'll do that."
I opened the door, the cowbell clattered. As it closed behind me, I could hear Melissa's angered voice. The cowbell clattered again. Suddenly, I was hungry for steak and a nice red wine.
"Melissa in a Jug"
Copyright: © 2010 AJ Brown
AJ Brown is a southern born writer with constant headaches and a limp acquired from the beatings his muse gives him. Currently, he is sporting a broken nose, inflicted by one of her minions. As of the writing of this bio, she stands over him, whip in hand. He must get back to writing....