Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Button Collector

When I was younger my mother had a cookie tin filled to bursting with buttons. I used to sit beside her while she crafted, my small hands buried in the buttons. I loved how they felt as they slid across my skin, the noise they made as they slipped and came together, passing through my fingers... I loved the way they would catch the light, rhinestones glinting, flat plastic faces reflecting my mother's work light. It soothed me.

It's no surprise, really, that I began collecting buttons myself.

It started with stealing one or two buttons from my mother's stash... Ones I didn't think she'd notice. I kept them in the back corner of my closet where I'd peeled back just the very edge of the carpet. I lined them up so that they were tight against the wall then laid the carpet back down on top of them.

I would drift off to sleep at night staring at my half-open closet door - not because I was worried about monsters but because I knew there was treasure in there, waiting for me, calling to me.

I began seeing buttons everywhere... One under a seat on the bus - a cool oval tortoiseshell button with only two holes... Another under a rack of dresses in our local department store - a plain black plastic one with three holes... They both came home with me and I added them to my collection.

Eventually, my collection outgrew the space I could get away with on the floor of my closet so I started taping them to the back of my dresser. Neat rows of buttons adorned the side of my dresser that only I saw. Before the collection got too big, I used to count them all each night before I slept and, as I drifted off, my attention now on that chest of drawers rather than my closet.

Sometimes, I would see buttons on people's coats or their clothing while I was out with my mother and I would be transfixed. A sparkly button could make my whole day and going a day without seeing a button that I deemed interesting could certainly ruin my mood. I'd be thunderous until we reached home again and I could escape to my room and my treasure.

When my mother died, I made sure that I got all of her buttons, but it wasn't difficult - neither of my brothers were interested.

My collection grew and I started housing it in a glass-fronted cabinet so that I could look at them all the time. My brothers think I'm weird but they no longer lived in our mother's house so their opinions didn't matter. I was alone there with my treasure and it was just how I liked it.

Going out to do things like grocery shopping I began to realise that the lovely buttons that I saw on other people weren't being appreciated the way that I would appreciate them if they were mine. It's wretchedly unfair so I started carrying a small seam ripper with me. I was on a personal mission to liberate unappreciated buttons.

I became quite adept at "accidentally" bumping into someone and freeing a button from their coat or sleeve. I made it into something of an art - I was like a strange little pickpocket except I never stole anything of value to my "victims", never any money or anything like that. Just buttons. Buttons they didn't even know were missing until it was too late. Buttons they must have presumed fell off of their own accord, as buttons are wont to do sometimes.

It's been a few years since I've seen any interesting buttons. I guess that's to be expected where I live now but it saddens me. I still collect them when I can but my collection is super small.

I only have three buttons now and when I'm not in my room my buttons are hidden in a pair of socks. I keep them tightly wrapped in my fist when I sleep. I dream of them. I dream of buttons, of course. I try not to dream of the woman whose beautiful button took my treasure away from me...

She was standing on the platform, waiting for her train - I had followed her into the station from the coffee shop two doors down. She had the most amazing floral buttons on her dress and I couldn't tell if they were acrylic, resin or glass but they were stunning. Hues of pink and purple petals set off against a dark green background - they perfectly matched her summery dress. I had been waiting for my moment for some time when it finally came. Her train was approaching and I slipped my seam ripper into my hand, gripping it tightly, keeping it firmly concealed. Because the platform was packed for rush hour, I knew this would be easy - I'd done it hundreds of times before.

I approached the woman as she bent to grab her bags in readiness for boarding the train and I rushed forward, pretending I was eager to be one of the first to board the train. She was significantly distracted. My hand moved in a practised motion and in one swipe the button between her breasts was mine. I pocketed the coveted button.

But she had felt her dress pull apart and she jumped back slightly, startled. I never understood how, but at that instant, as the train pulled along the platform, she was suddenly shunted forward and into me. I put my hands up to protect myself as she crashed into me and we fell to the platform.

My chest felt warm and wet and I couldn't work out how or why as I started trying to push the woman off of me when I realised people were starting to shout around us.

I couldn't hear what they were saying but there was so much warm water on me that I began to wonder if the woman had peed herself.

When I finally slid out from under the woman and stood up the shouting turned to screams and I heard the words "She's got a knife!". I looked down at the woman, confused - If she'd had a knife, I would have seen it. I'd been watching her quite closely and she definitely didn't have a knife. I knew they weren't screaming about the woman on the platform but I was then confused as to why she was still down where we had fallen together. She wasn't moving.

It didn't matter, I had to get out of there. Knife person or not, I definitely needed dry clothes.

As I approached the barrier to leave the station I turned to look back at the platform. I wasn't holding my seam ripper anymore, I must have dropped it. It was OK, I had several more at home but I wanted to see the woman whose button I had taken. I wanted to make sure she had made her train. I didn't want her to be late.

She was there but she still hadn't moved.

And there was a wet patch all around her, spreading out from under her on the platform.

As I walked back to her, I noticed that people were moving out of my way, some were running. The whole thing was very confusing.

As I knelt down to ask her if she was OK, to ask her if she needed any help, I saw my seam ripper. For a flash I was excited. I didn't want to lose a seam ripper.

But my excitement was short-lived as I was abruptly tackled from behind. As I fell forward, smashing my face into the platform, I realised that my seam ripper was embedded in the neck of the woman with whom I had fallen. What a silly place for her to have put it!

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