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antique church

A brown glass bottle had been crushed almost flat, close to the wheel of a parked car. Due to the strong adhesive on the bottle's label, some of the broken pieces had remained bound to one another even after their fragmentation, retaining, in some places, the residual shape of the bottle they'd once formed.

This wasn't what I was looking for.

I was waiting to pick up a repeat prescription. I'd asked the pharmacist if it were possible to pick up extra medication, as I was planning on leaving town tomorrow and wouldn't be coming back. She said it wasn't possible, but she was kind about it.

I can't stand still, so instead of waiting in the store for them to put the meds together I walked around.

The area might be described as post-industrial if there had been much there to begin with. The only building taller than one storey was a nearly abandoned church, half-boarded up, half-strung with ivy, but with one wing still being used, just.

A stuffed stag's head, mounted on a board, was propped against the railing of a wheelchair access ramp that led to the only door that wasn't sealed with security mesh. I watched as a man carried the stag's head inside, presumably closing up shop for the day. He was a seller of antiques. Beyond him, I could see more heads hanging from the walls, as well as paintings of other animals, deer and trout and parakeets.

He let me look around before he closed. It was early in the afternoon and I couldn't remember having seen a pedestrian all morning, so struggled to imagine who his customers might be. I could imagine him locking the door as soon as I left, but couldn't picture him opening up again tomorrow. The place felt like it wouldn't wake up if you let it succumb to sleep.

The antiques and collectibles on display looked, to my untrained eye, broadly unsellable. There was strangely little to look at. Successful secondhand stores manage to overwhelm the senses with their variety, a cluster bomb of items that might appear individually worthless but imply, through their sheer number and glittering eccentricity, that you might soon find something you have no use for but can no longer do without. There was no such promise here.

A spattering of 70s cookware, posters of old Hollywood movie sequels I'd never heard of, a record player embedded in a bulbous, silver coffee table, clogged with dirt and looking like an exhumed vessel for interplanetary travel. Of the few pieces of furniture, only one or two had price tags, making it difficult to tell which were for sale and which were merely left over items from the old church, chairs and cabinets no one had carted away.

The whole narrow atreum felt like a space with very little idea of where, when, or why it was. Nor did it feel transitional. It didn't feel like somewhere that was trying to work itself out, or a place that was on the way to being something else, uncertain in its transformation but transforming and therefore purposeful. It felt like a glitch, an oversight or an error message, presided over by a man whose job it was to smoke the last cigarettes in the carton and prevent this vacant mess from spilling out onto the road.

The last item I looked at before leaving was a small portrait image of a fisherman with huge, feral eyes. When I looked more closely I realised it was actually a young boy dressed as a fisherman. The image was faded and warped. I couldn't work out wheter it was an artist's print or an old photograph. Either way, it looked haunted.

Outside, I took a photo on my phone of the dead ivy no longer climbing the church wall and the live, green ivy that was rapidly taking its place.

Walking back to pick up my prescription, I thought about how that room, like many antique stores around the world, was a sinkhole for human projects, expired achievements, failed visions, and furniture no one wants. I thought about sound technicians working on those old Hollywood movies. Some of them would be dead by now, cancer and car crashes and old age. I thought about the person who shot the stag, the factory worker who manned the machine that made the rifle, and the taxidermist who attempted to preserve it against time, knowing it would eventually be eaten by moths. I thought about whoever it was that painted or captured the image of that strange, alien-eyed boy dressed in fisherman's clothes, distorted by a process of decay that took place outside of the image itself.

We simply never know where everything ends up, but some of it is here.

Invercargill 240323