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The Broken Dish


David Rothman

Early on the morning of my wife's birthday anniversary I stood on a chair next to one of our kitchen cabinets. As I reached far into the cabinet for her hidden gift, the old chair began to teeter, and I lost my balance. Suddenly my legs wobbled, my arms flapped awkwardly, and I must have looked like a terrified duck. In desperation I grabbed a dish, the first thing in the cabinet I could get my hand on. Just then the chair toppled from beneath me, and an instant later I was on the ground, the dish next to me, broken into a hundred small pieces.

"Damn it! Should have had that chair fixed." The dish had been extremely valuable, a Limoges gold embossed platter handed down to my wife, Marcelle, from her great, great grandmother. I began to panic, for the dish had been not only valuable, it was Marcelle's most cherished family heirloom. If she discovered its remains, she would scream, perhaps throw the fragments at me, and, worst of all, probably never forgive me. Without question, Marcelle must never know what happened.

My pulse was racing. I needed to do something immediately because Marcelle would come into the kitchen to prepare breakfast at any moment. I took a paper bag from the broom closet, wrapped the broken dish in yesterday's newspaper, placed the wrapped pieces into the bag, took the bag into the garage, placed it in the trunk of my car, ran back to the kitchen, closed the cabinet, set the collapsed chair out of view, and swept up any slivers of china still on the floor. When Marcelle came downstairs, I was pretending to be calm while anxiously searching the Yellow Pages.

"Morning honey. What are you looking for?" she said.

"What's for breakfast?" I said.

"French toast," she said as she yawned. My anxiety approached defeat when I found no dish repair or china repair listings. Disheartened, ready to quit looking, I turned in desperation to the appliance repair listings. Jumping off the page was a small ad: Fredrick's Repair Shop. We Fix Everything: Appliances, Electronics, Breakables, Etc. It was located on Brand Street, in the old section of the city, not far from the office. Perfect, I could take the broken dish there on my way to work.

Cruising between the many abandoned buildings that lined that bleak section of Brand Street, I searched for the address. I parked my car in front of the repair shop, whose storefront consisted only of a rusting door built into a deteriorating brick fašade. There was no sign to indicate a repair shop existed, and, if I hadn't been looking for the address, I would have missed it. I stepped out of the car and removed the paper bag with the dish from the trunk.

To the left of the repair shop I noticed a "Walk a Mile for a Camel" sign mounted over a broken window that exposed the littered showroom of a tobacco store no longer open for business. My eyes shifted to the right of the repair shop where a rotating type red and white striped barber pole, its color faded, stood motionless in front of a barber shop. Visible through the shop's grimy window was a tattered barber's chair and a cracked mirror. I felt uncomfortable, but my fear of Marcelle was greater than my discomfort.

I approached the repair shop. I couldn't tell if it was open or closed, for it had neither a window to look through nor a sign indicating hours of operation. Although the uninviting door discouraged entry, I knocked several times. Under normal circumstances, after receiving no response, I would have returned to my car; however, my desperate situation emboldened me to grasp the door knob. As soon as I touched the knob, the door swung open.

Tentatively, I entered the small showroom. When my eyes adjusted to the dim interior, I saw a large variety of broken items scattered everywhere. I remember seeing: a torn oil portrait of an old man; a marble sculpture of a lion with a broken tail; a damaged brass microscope; a big telescope with a cracked lens; a large tube type radio emitting static; and a black and white TV tuned to an unfocused test pattern. From its contents I concluded this little shop must repair everything - or at least try to.

"Hello, hello, anybody here?" I said loudly, just below a shout. "Hel..."

I was startled when a slender, gray haired man suddenly appeared behind a counter. He looked quite dignified, standing straight as a rod, formally dressed in a tailored suit and wearing a monocle attached to a gold chain. The spots and wrinkles on his hands and face suggested he was well into his seventies.

"Welcome. What brings you here?" he said. I was mystified by the disparity between the man's regal bearing and the store's disarray. I was also disturbed by the jumble of broken items crowding the store. While contemplating whether or not to entrust Marcelle's dish to this strange place, I slowly approached the man, cleared my throat, nervously pinched my chin, and stared at him, speechless.

He stood facing me in silence. I pulled the pieces of my wife's heirloom from the paper bag, and after unwrapping them, carefully placed the pieces on the counter.

"Can you fix this dish so that my wife won't know it was broken?" I said, praying he could, hoping he would undo the severe damage I had done. The man stared into my eyes, as if to say I shouldn't ask such a silly question.

"Young man, I can fix anything," he said.

He rearranged the fragments and carefully fitted them together. The dish looked hopelessly ruined, reassembled on the counter like a jig-saw puzzle, cracks between the pieces clearly visible.

"Can...can you please make it look new?" I implored, as if conversing with a higher power.

"My wife will never forgive me if you don't." I had never pleaded before, but in this man's presence my normally forceful manner became subdued, for he radiated an energy that humbled me.

"Once I am finished no one will ever know it had been broken."

"You mean someone unfamiliar with fine china won't, but someone with a sharp eye like my wife would know." I said.

"No, not even a technician using an x-ray would be able to tell," he said.

"But how can that be? You can't recombine the molecules of the dish. The glue or whatever you use could be detected with the proper equipment. Isn't that so?" I said.

"I assure you if you leave the pieces with me, the dish will be just as good as new when you return to pick it up." Even though his shop was cluttered and decrepit, I trusted the old gentleman. "When can I pick it up?" I said.

"Let me see, today is Wednesday. How about Friday morning, say about ten?"
How could this old man fix my dish so quickly with all these other things waiting to be fixed, I thought. He must have lots of help somewhere, I guessed. "How much will it be?"

"Looks like a simple job. Five dollars will do," he said.

"Thank you Mr... I mean, thanks Fredrick... uh, you are Fredrick, aren't you?"

"See You Friday at ten," he said. I was elated as I drove to the office. Though the neighborhood was desolate and the shop unimpressive, there was something about Fredrick, perhaps his age, maybe the confidence in his voice, or the way he stared into my eyes, that made me believe he would restore my wife's dish to its original condition.

Friday morning arrived and a critical early morning meeting had been scheduled at my firm with our most important client. Because of the meeting I would have to pick up the dish from Fredrick on my way home, rather than in the morning as planned. Since I didn't know the store hours, I referred to my Yellow Pages for the phone number so I could call the shop before leaving for work.

Impossible! The store's listing had vanished from the directory. Alarmed, sensing something peculiar was happening, I began to worry and felt compelled to immediately drive to the shop. When I touched the shop's door knob, the door again swung slowly open. As soon as I entered the shop, my eyes were drawn past all the clutter to my wife's dish sitting on the counter, glittering under a beam of light. On close inspection, the heirloom was beautiful again, as good as new, just like Fredrick promised.

I smiled and my chest rose. "Fredrick are you there?" I said. I wanted to pay him and thank him, and get his business cards and hand them out to everyone I knew. "Fredrick." Still no answer. I walked cautiously to the door behind the counter. I slowly opened the door and peeked into a brightly lit room. A pyramid, perhaps seven feet tall, stood in the middle of the room. The pyramid had a door, or rather a hatch, and a panel with various gauges, lights, and buttons. "Must be how he repairs things," I thought.

As I scanned the room for Fredrick, a green light on the panel illuminated and began to flash. When the light stopped flashing, the hatch slowly opened, and a man who appeared to be in his forties stepped out. "Hello," he said. It was Fredrick! Even though the man's face and hands were not wrinkled, and he wore a repairman's uniform instead of a tailored suit, I could tell it was Fredrick: his voice, facial features, and regal bearing had not changed. "Did you see your dish?" he said, as if nothing was unusual.

"Yes. Yes, yes I did. Ju...just as good as new, as you promised. Yes. I don't know how you did it. My wife... Yes I'm going to send you a lot of customers, lots of them," I said. Amazed by Fredrick's transformation, my voice was higher than normal, and I stammered as words were hard to find.

While I spoke, Fredrick strode purposefully to the counter. After he wrapped the dish in soft paper, I handed him a twenty dollar bill. Without waiting for change, I picked up the dish and rushed out of the store.

As I drove to work, my 'just as good as new' dish resting safely in the trunk, all sorts of ideas crossed my mind concerning the pyramid. I arrived at work too excited to attend the scheduled meeting, and went directly into my office to dial my friend Joe, an electronic engineer.

If anybody could figure out how the pyramid worked, Joe could. He asks the right questions, questions whose answers reveal the most guarded secrets. Joe would either explain how this remarkable device worked or prove it to be a hoax. Joe was never fooled.

"Joe, I've found something you have to see, repairs anything broken, and literally a 'fountain of youth', makes old people young," I said breathlessly.

"Where is this marvel?" he asked. My friend Joe, always skeptical.

"Come over to my office now. We've got to jump on this opportunity immediately, before anybody else finds out about it. You can figure out how it works and then design it for mass production. This thing is worth a fortune, and just think of all the good it can do for the world, for humanity," I said.

"Slow down Michael. Are you sure it will be good for the world?" Joe never jumped into anything.
"Well even if it isn't we can still make a fortune. I'm sure Fredrick, the owner, will agree to form a partnership with us."

"I'll be there shortly," Joe said.
Waiting for my friend to arrive, I envisioned how we would structure the new business. I would handle finance, sales, and production, and Joe, who was more interested in the technical aspects of the pyramid than its business potential, would be in charge of design and development. Fredrick, even though he was now a young man, could retire with a large, well deserved, share of the profits.

With Joe by my side, my car screeched out of the office parking lot, and it practically flew to Brand Street. We had barely come to a stop in front of the repair shop when I leaped out of the car and ran to the door, which almost came off its hinges as I flung it open.

"What's the big hurry Michael?" said Joe, walking up behind me.
We both looked through the opening. The store was empty! Where had the portrait, the sculpture, the TV, the microscope, the radio, and everything else gone? "The showroom was filled with all kinds of things this morning," I cried out.

I sprinted behind the counter, Joe not far behind. I pushed open the door, and we both gazed into the empty back room. The pyramid with the hatch and panel was no longer there. A small white envelope lay on the floor in its place.

I was stunned, unable to speak. I solemnly walked to the center of the room and picked up the envelope. Inscribed on it with the most elegant handwriting I had ever seen was: Michael Huber. How did Fredrick know my name if I had never given it to him? Where was the pyramid? What about my new business? Dejected, I opened the envelope, removed the note, and read:
Dear Michael,

Good luck with your dish. The pyramid must be used wisely. You are not ready to use its power, so I must take it. You do not need a pyramid; you can repair most things without it - if you try.
Regards, Fredrick

"David, David, David! Are you alright?" said my wife while she shook me to consciousness. I was lying on the floor, holding her precious dish. She took the dish from my hands and set it on the kitchen table. She walked to the freezer and brought me some ice for the bump on my head. I stood up and took the ice.
"What's for breakfast?" I said.

"French toast," she said.

"Happy Birthday. I need a ladder to get your present," I said.
As Marcelle prepared breakfast, the doorbell rang.

"That must be the man from the repair shop. I called them yesterday to pick up that shaky chair." she said.
I carried the broken chair to the entry hall and opened the door. I looked into the eyes of a young man. They looked familiar. They were Fredrick's eyes.

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