But maybe he’d always liked the subversiveness of notions. Maybe from young he’d sensed the latent kink in the old five-and-dime aisles. The prim brutalism of straight pins, needles, seam rippers, collar stays, pinking shears, hooks and eyes. Maybe Michael (like you) had been raised by a hair-shirt of a mother who favored Simplicity patterns, tri-blend denim from Amish markets, stiff belts on soft parts. Maybe (like you) all Michael had wanted was the store-bought his friends wore. The factory-made, logoed and embellished. Maybe his mother (like yours) had often told him he lacked a purity of soul, and thus, true imagination. Spare and uncluttered, the kind for seeing God. Maybe Michael went off to business school confused, dressing for class and Campus Crusade For Christ missions in a crust punk vest he adorned himself with nailheads and safety pin chains and NIN stenciled with White-Out. Maybe the only way to free himself from the hard seam of his mother’s words was to borrow money and buy up the old five-and-dimes and fill them with an unholy array of adhesive Velcro strips and iron-on hem tape and neon fabric markers. Maybe as his empire grew, Michael stocked the most ph-unstable memory books and damp-prone plastic tubs and acid-rich papers he could source, all for preserving moments too threadbare to be precious. Like his own (and yours). Maybe grievance was simply too good a business model to ever get past it.
Maybe Michael also liked Michaels Notions because it was close to notional. The suggestion of pre-imagination, a place where a shopper (like you) could imagine herself imagining, if imagining itself was too demanding, as weekly mass is to Twice-a-Year Catholics. Maybe he wanted his stores to be a safe space of low expectations. A place to buy a basic friendship bracelet kit and a bag of Haribo Goldbears and feel no judgement at the indecipherability of picture instructions, no shame when the embroidery floss included isn’t enough to span a stubby wrist, no guilt over giving up on a barely-started effort and chucking it in the trash with the morning K Cups and bacon grease.
Maybe Michael (like you) just liked small things. The way they fill the crevices, plug the gaps. The idea of an atomized biota inside a big box. The bazillion wooden dollhouse cribs to paint a kajillion neutral greys. Maybe deep inside Michael felt like an empty warehouse. Maybe always expanding store inventory did nothing to make him forget his mother’s words. Maybe the narrowed aisles and bulging end caps meant overwhelmed shoppers getting only what they needed instead of lingering. Maybe he almost alienated the regular browsers (like you) who need wide berths for their barren carts, their purses bulky with expired coupon mailers and COPD inhalers, their sluggish DIY tendencies. Maybe when his mother died, Michael (like you) went to the local franchise and bought armfuls of the least realistic plastic flowers he could find to lay at her grave. Maybe alone in bed at night, Michael dreamt (like you) of the mini molded babies carried in the shower-and-party aisle. Swinging from the hooks in crisp cellophane bags. Lidless, mouthless, a pimple for a nose. Their reaching arms, their hard factory seams. Maybe on muggy, lonesome nights, he sat in his car in the far corners of his parking lots and watched the last customers leave his stores, the letting go of the carts, their drift like drowned bodies, and wondered if God was crashing them into the curbs for kicks. Maybe Michael kept a steel knitting needle in his cup holder for digging into his wrist canals, all while dwelling on the rough, unforgiving hiss of that word, crafts. Maybe sometimes he overheard people idling in other cars, the husbands (like yours) asking their wives what took them so long when they didn’t even buy anything, how much fucking time they think a person’s got, really, so fucking inconsiderate. Maybe Michael met the eyes of the wives in the passenger seats and knew what they hid inside their coats, their purses. The lifted bags of babies, the cribs, the tiny paint pots and brushes, the squares of felt for swaddling. Maybe he understood all too well that a company has to assume a measure of loss.
Maybe as he watched the cars leave the lots, Michael thought of the word he didn’t use in his stores’ name. How it takes in everything. How a single thimble or spool of thread or colored clothespin or announcement stamper or organza favor bag or twisty gift bow or bib snap or alphabet bead or number birthday candle or happy cloud stencil or dream of a life unlived is a notion.
© Eileen Tomarchio
[This piece was a finalist for the 2021 Forge Flash Fiction Competition and was selected by Valerie O’Riordan]