by Judith Rook
Marjorie Broadbent was an all-time good friend, best neighbour, dependable helper and highly efficient handler of objects that could be collected. She had once been intrigued by a television programme which taught her one could attend auctions, buy things, then a few weeks later, return the objects for re-auction, and probably turn a little profit out of the enterprise. All that was needed was time, a car and persistence.
Marj began to buy and sell. She became well known in local auction rooms, and she began to pick up knowledge about the things whiåch people, perhaps now dead, had once used and found attractive.
She was successful because her scale was small, and the items she offered were modest and in good condition. She ran her own personal and private collectables exchange, and the foundation of her small economy was people’s never-failing desire to acquire quality at rock-bottom prices.
She invested not the slightest iota of emotional involvement in her material capital; Marj acquired, but she didn’t keep. She circulated the currency and took out the profit.
However, over time, she realised one item never found a second buyer. Although it had been taken to many auction days it had returned home, quietly and determinedly tucking itself into a corner of one of her cardboard boxes.
It was the terra-cotta figure of an owl; wings held against its body, head slightly forward, coloured as no natural owl would ever have appeared, with the brightest of pink eyes. In terms of sensible aesthetic appeal the owl was strange, somewhat embarrassing, and Marj often wondered why she had chosen it in the first place.
She tried all the moves she could think of to find it another home. She displayed it against attractive backgrounds; she tried selling it as part of a miscellaneous box. The box sold, but the owl was taken out and left behind.
In the guise of an ordinary buyer she would pick it up and exclaim over its unique character; she surreptitiously placed it among items brought in by others. It didn’t sell. It seemed determined not to be traded. But Marj also was determined, and the owl made regular appearances.
One heady day, a nice-looking lady bid for the owl and got it at Marj’s last, desperate reserve price – two dollars. As the figure was handed over, Marj noticed what seemed to be a twitch, a fumble, and the lady almost dropped it; but she recovered herself and carried the owl out of the auction room.
The door closed behind her, and Marj pumped the air in genteel triumph. Almost immediately the lady returned, spoke to the auctioneer, then came across to offer the owl to Marj again, with the explanation it wouldn’t actually match the décor of her lounge after all, and could she please have her money back.
At the end of the transaction, following a brief trip around the auction room, Marj returned to the owl.
“All right, you win. Which do you want?” She held out her hands. In one was a carved wooden owl with outspread wings, appearing anxious and down-trodden, and in the other a glass owl, looking unbearably smug.
That day, Marj went home with three owls. Now she has fifty-three, and each one has a distinct and different personality. Other items continue to bounce in and out, but the owls collect and stay; and at their centre, successful in intention and persistence, is the owl with the pink eyes.
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