Fiction from Mandira Pattnaik

A cluttered antique shop.

Photo: Beth Macdonald

Where Fate Keeps Her Tools

We—banjo clocks, ivory mirrors, jadeite—love to be Fate’s tools. We hold up flags of bygone times in the fifty-year-old store named after George the Sixth, where the cobbled street bends away from Town Square. At George’s Secondhand Shop, all we do is—wait. When the wait’s over, we mark our pawns as they arrive, cling on. There’s no mercy to expect, no apologies to offer.

Tonight, we’re kicking a rumpus for the bored shop owner Charlie. He’s swatting insects like he always does because we are usually without customers. The Romanian bells with the lovely bluebirds, jingle. The German handmade kettles, increasingly rowdy, are bludgeoning a helpless ragdoll the Queen is rumored to have played with. Reminds us of the man sprawled on the boulevard just outside only last week. He was still clutching the cursed key chains. Remember how the ambulance blared?

Sushhh…silence! My man’s here! Shopping for his new wife Martha?

I know the others will enjoy seeing me in a good bargain. Jonathan simply seeks ruin by walking in.

I’m the kukri he’ll buy, a gift for the ever-vivacious Martha, because she loves antiques, especially from Tibet. I’m that, and I’m the one still bloodstained. Martha knows he’ll buy it, recognize it as the one she used on Sam. I know her story.

Martha remembers how, when Sam touched the first time they met, wildfire raged within her. When she discovered Sam’s roving eye, months into marriage, how her lungs singed, like smoke from burning coal. The day the other woman said to her, Ugly little village rat, the way the flames leapt.

Now, it’s fusion. A combustion. On repeat. A chain reaction. Jonathan’s a link in that chain.

The next morning, the lanes will glisten with frost. A woman will walk out of one of the tile-roofed houses, her lips newly coated a sharp coat of burgundy.

They’ll discover Jonathan on the bed many hours later.

Under the lamppost in the next village, Martha will wait. She’ll wait to collect the discarded household items from the tile-roofed house famously belonging to the late-deceased-loving-husband-Jonathan, to stock up the secondhand store.

Mandira Pattnaik‘s fiction has appeared in DASH Journal, Citron Review, Watershed Review, Passages North, Miracle Monocle, Amsterdam Quarterly, Atlas and Alice, and Best Small Fictions Anthology among other places. Four-times Pushcart Prize-nominated, thrice for Best Microfiction, and for Best of the Net, her fiction has been translated and highly commended by editors including Honorable Mention in CRAFT Flash Contest 2020, and Highly Commended at Litro Magazine Summer Contest 2021. She writes columns for Trampset and Reckon Review and blogs at

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