Fiction from Elias Keller


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Must Be the Location

I JUST LOST another tenant: that’s five in as many years. Vicky’s Pet Shop, Shaya’s Healing Stones & Crystals, Alana’s Judaica Boutique, Mimi’s Party Supplies, Lisa’s Sports & Fitness—all out of business.

But stores close all the time, for good reasons beyond anyone’s control: the economy, competition from big-boxes and online retailers, mismanagement… Still, other stores in this same shopping center, some only a door or two away, have been thriving for years or decades. And the shopping center itself is well-trafficked—it’s just my location that’s become a commercial dead zone, that can’t keep a retailer in it for more than a year. The electricity and plumbing works fine, though, and there’s a good-sized stockroom, a back door to receive merchandise—there’s nothing physically wrong with the property.

So if it isn’t a physical problem with the actual retail space, and if the general location is fine—then I’ll have to look deeper for an answer. I can be a touch introspective now and then: especially if it might benefit me. Hell, maybe I should look into those crystals Shaya sold—for nine months, anyway. Ah yes: serene Shaya, the yoga teacher out to spread love and enlightenment by retailing stones and crystals bought wholesale from a Chinese sweatshop devouring young women and belching out black fumes of death. When she signed the lease, I’d predicted she wouldn’t last the year—but why keep the space empty when here was cash at hand?

I was right, though: I don’t think Shaya had even one profitable month. Her knack for business was—laughable, if I’m being polite. What surprised me, though, was how angry she got at me, personally, when she had to close up shop. What was it she called me? “Hypercritical, controlling, and manipulative.” That was an interesting meeting. And there was one more thing she said—Oh. Yes. The retail space was “set up to fail.”

“How so?”

“It has a negative energy.”

I rolled my eyes. “Well, why don’t you use your crystals to change it?”

“I tried,” she retorted. “Sometimes the energy is the energy.”

Sounds like a bunch of hippie bullshit, but who knows? Maybe she had a point. All right, then, fine. I’m willing to open—ugh—my heart chakra and meditate on her accusation. Had I really set up all these retailers to fail?

I went through the defunct stores, one by one, and I did start to see a distinct pattern. I had scoffed at all of them, not just Shaya’s flaky New Age shop. Take Vicky’s Pet Store: I thought pets were too much hassle, too much noise, too much mess and responsibility—ergo, the dog and cat accoutrements she sold were a ridiculous waste of money. Energy bars for dogs and refrigerated gourmet cat food—seriously? Now, it’s not like I prevented customers from buying stupid junk for needy helpless animals who’d be just as happy with a stick or a piece of foil… but if my opinion could fill the space with negative energy, it certainly did when Vicky was there.

Next up: serious, meticulous Alana seemed like the best businesswoman of the bunch. Alana, the religious widow with a fat inheritance check and a lot of time on her hands. She set up a nice store, too, clean and precise and well-merchandised. The problem, which I diagnosed even before I’d deposited her check, was that her ultraposh Judaica boutique catered to a ridiculously tiny market: how many people really need sterling silver dreidels or organic soy artisanal Shabbat candles? Even worse, her merchandise only highlighted the nauseatingly superficial side of organized religion, something I’d divested myself of long ago. So—yes, I’d stocked Alana’s shelves with plenty of negative energy (even if partially justified).

What about garrulous, festive Mimi? Well, I’d seen the party store as frivolous for sure. Balloons, decorative paper plates and napkins, plastic trinkets, wrapping paper and gift bags—gaudy nonsense to be used once, and then to the landfill. I remembered looking at dangling baggies of glitter, in dozens of different colors and shapes, and wondering how we as a species had come to this. Parties! Noisy shallow charades of fools—how plebian! Or just as bad, the overdone children’s parties: all that money and time spent desperately trying to make spoiled snot-nosed brats happy for an hour. Besides, life was grim and hard, to be endured and battled, not celebrated. But here was Mimi, selling joy and fun and parties. Well, I guess I showed her.

And spunky, athletic Lisa? At first I thought she had a real shot of succeeding. Physical health and fitness wasn’t a bad thing. I did some exercise myself and ate healthy food. But I had no interest in running marathons or biking across the country or any of the other sweaty boondoggles Lisa helped people “accomplish.” It’s ridiculous, though, isn’t it? Droves of healthy, energetic men and women channeling time and energy into running nowhere, rather than improving civilization. We’re trudging through a Dark Age, I’d think, looking at the digital pedometers Lisa sold—and we can track our every step. Eventually her store became so depressing to me I’d actually felt a little thrill when she told me she was closing up shop, too. Maybe civilization was realizing there were more productive and meaningful things to do than lift heavy pieces of metal and strengthen our cores.

OK, OK, I admit it. I had picked at all these stores. But why? Why this compulsion of mine—like an unstoppable sneeze—to pass judgment on their stores at all? All I really had to do as the landlord was get a check and a signed lease, and then hand over the keys. Why should I care about what merchants want to sell and consumers want to buy? But Shaya was right. I’d filled all those stores with negative energy and set them up to fail—as though that’s what I wanted.

So you get to be right, I murmured to myself.

But wouldn’t it be to my gain, too, to have a long-term, thriving retail tenant?—You’d be jealous.

Almost like I wanted my tenants to fail or be failing.—Then you keep the upper hand.

OK, maybe Shaya was right. But now I had to do something to change the energy. This constant merry-go-round of retailers was time-consuming. And I’d had my fill of heartbroken shopkeepers struggling to remain businesslike and not cry as they called fixture scavengers and returned the keys.

Maybe—maybe what I’d do is take the space myself and set up a proper realty office. Sales, rentals, purchases, property management. Right now I just worked from my apartment, my car, and my phone, which gave me flexibility and freedom. I’d never really wanted to open an actual office, something with my name on the door. But now the idea was somewhat attractive. And I really would try to stay positive. I wouldn’t think about how I was just one more realty office in the herd. I’d even try to avoid those really dark moments when I brooded on the ultimate futility of owning anything, on the brute fact that eventually the species would go extinct and not even Shakespeare or Gandhi’s achievements would matter, let alone my piddling mercenary work, buying and selling empty cubes of space.

Yep—I’d just stay positive and believe with all my negative little heart that I’m helping people improve their lives, to “live their dreams.” Maybe I can even convince myself that my realty office will be helping civilization: property rights are the backbone of a civil society, right? That’s a stretch—but worth a shot, I guess. Anything’s better than more accusative lectures and weepy meetings with failed retailers. And you know what? Maybe I’ll even pick up some healing stones and crystals for my new office.

Just for decoration.



Elias Keller is a Philadelphia native. His fiction has appeared in Wordhaus, Literary Orphans, Crack the Spine, Every Day Fiction, APIARY, Slush Pile, Forge, and elsewhere. He currently lives in New Orleans.

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