Saturday, my partner and I went antiquing. Though I keep a short running tab of vintage/antique objects I’m looking for (brass candlesticks, salesman’s cases, small wall mirrors, picture frames), we shop like magpies. Our collective style could best be described as “maximalist,” but I feel like that implies a level of cohesion and intention that your average corvid probably isn’t capable of. The only unifying theme is “stuff we like.”
Usually, it goes like this: One of us sees a thing. They point it out to the other. We name it and freewrite an entire backstory for it. If it evokes enough emotion, we’re probably going to try to bring it home. We’ve done this with everything from live plants to… Well, I’ll get to that in a minute.
There’s a spot in Kensington, MD, that’s antique shop upon antique shop. It’s one of the places we like to hit up periodically, just to walk around and browse. Sometimes we find some neat stuff, sometimes we just end up making up stories about the people in old portraits. It’s always a lot of fun either way.
When we walked out of one shop, we passed through a small alleyway between two buildings.
“Stopstopstop. Don’t move,” my partner said.
“There’s a boy,” he pointed to a little huddled mass of feathers. It took me a bit to spot him: a house sparrow, sitting in the middle of the pavement. Something looked off, so I approached him cautiously. When he didn’t try to fly away, my heart sank.
“I… don’t think he’s gonna care if I move.” I bent down and held my hand out. He startled a little, but still didn’t fly. I gently stroked the patch of black on his chest and looked him over — ruffled and broken feathers, one eye squinched shut, a skinned patch on the top of his head, and a dazed expression.
We crouched near him as we called wildlife rescues, though I had my doubts. Sparrows aren’t native here; they’re even considered invasive agricultural pests. Would a rescue even take him in? If they did, was there anything they could do? Nobody picked up at the various numbers we called. I also knew it’d be a bad idea to try to take him home and nurse him back to health, especially without a way to keep him secluded away from both of the cats.
Carefully, I scooped him up in my hands and carried him to the shade of a bush. It wasn’t much, but there were bugs to eat there and he’d be out of the noon sun.
A bit later, when we were eating at deliCLUB, I jumped up. I had a water bottle and a small quantity of yellow cake with buttercream… Not ideal, but maybe it’d do.
“I have an idea,” I said.
A few minutes saw us on our hands and knees under the bush, carefully pouring out some water into a bottlecap and breaking off tiny bits of cake. I knew it wasn’t the optimal diet for an animal that’s doing poorly, but I know I also probably shouldn’t’ve eaten my weight in lime gelatin when I was in the hospital, either. We nestled the bottlecap in the mulch around the bush’s roots, and made a little pile of cake crumbs (sans frosting) beside it. I didn’t see him try to eat or drink, but I didn’t want us to hang around too long, either. He’s a wild animal, scared, vulnerable, and possibly in pain. No matter what we did, our presence was going to cause more stress to an already highly-stressed creature. Without a better way to care for him, we left him in the safest place we could find with a little food and water.
Torn about the decision to leave him behind, we finished up and headed home. This time around, we’d picked up a silk top, a floor-length silk robe, ornate chopsticks, a typesetter’s drawer, and a folding screen.
I mean, I guess it’s a folding screen, though the words “folding screen” don’t really do it justice. It’s a hand-carved, painted screen made to look like medieval art. We don’t know if the artist intended to depict a specific person or just generally evoke the feel of medieval-to-Renaissance period portraiture, but they repeated her carved portrait eight times. I call the woman Isabella, because she just looks like one to me. In some, Isabella looks amused. In others, bemused. In one, vaguely sad. In a couple, angry. These don’t seem to be intentional on the artist’s part, just the product of subtle differences in the grain of the wood. The natural texture produces a furrow in a brow, the subtle downturn of a lip, or the course of a tear down a carved cheek.
My partner spotted the screen in a corner and pointed it out to me. I was immediately intrigued. (Baffled, also, but mostly intrigued.) I’d never seen anything like it before and doubted I would again. It gave me flashbacks to this fantastic couch I’d spotted in a thrift shop once years ago– a Neo Rococo-style chaise longue in polished mahogany, upholstered in ochre crushed velvet with silk fringe. It was the most beautifully bonkers piece of furniture I’d ever seen, and I’ve always regretted not buying it when I could. I didn’t want that to happen here.
A little haggling and a few minutes of rearranging things and figuring out how to fold seats down (why are the levers in the trunk?), and we were headed home with the screen in the back.
When it comes to objects I own that are potentially haunted, I feel like this has the highest probability. As soon as we got it/her/them home, I immediately lit some incense and fumigated everything we brought in.
“If this object houses a malevolent spirit, you need to get the fuck out. If you’re cool, you can stay. Repeat: No evil spirits. If you’re neutral or benevolent, you can hang. If not, leave my house now!”
I keep hearing footsteps and the rustle of taffeta, but I’m sure it’s nothing.
More pictures once I’ve placed their majesties in a suitable spot.