The Exchange, a short story by Deryn Graham at
Samuel Ramos

The Exchange

The Exchange

written by: Deryn Graham



Walking past the antiquarian shop on her way to work, Julia’s attention was grabbed by the ‘one of a kind’ antique double barrel brass telescope, mounted next to its finely crafted and engraved wooden box, sitting in pride of place in the window. She knew it was a unique piece because the salesman at the collectables shop in the next seaside town across had told her so just a few weeks ago when she’d picked it out for Joe’s birthday. It was the first milestone they had celebrated together after dating for almost a year. Her own birthday was today, and she had been glad to be the first one to give a gift, not because she expected it to be matched in extravagance (although she had gone way over budget) but because she wanted to demonstrate to Joe exactly how much he meant to her. His appreciation and gratitude for the present made her think he understood, but now she saw that neither she nor the telescope meant anything to him.

She pulled up her coat collar and cinched in her belt a little tighter against the cold of the biting wind that was whistling down the high street, swirling up rubbish and pockets of grime and beach sand. She was already late but made a note to come back in her lunch hour and find out if it was indeed Joe’s telescope. The engraving on the box suggested that its original owner had been part of Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole in 1911, or so the man from Timeless Treasures had told her. Either he was a conman par excellence or Joe was lying to her about how much he loved the gift, having got shot of it at the first opportunity. She wondered if he got the same amount for it as she had paid.

Although disappointed, Julia decided not to let it spoil her special day. When she got to her desk, it was festooned with balloons and a banner proclaiming ‘Happy Birthday, Boss.’ She spent the morning fielding phone calls from clients, friends, and family getting very little work done as a result. From Joe she received a simple text message, wishing her a lovely day and telling her he’d booked their favourite restaurant for dinner and that he’d pick her up.

At lunchtime, she slipped out before everyone could insist her birthday was an excuse for a few drinks in the pub. As the door to the antique shop swung open, it rang a loud bell that Julia couldn’t imagine tolerating on repeat throughout the day. The interior smelt musty and was not as polished – neither the ambience nor the items on display – as Timeless Treasures. The displays were haphazard, silverware mixed with fine bone china, lacy flapper gowns jumbled on a rail with moth-eaten dress suits, and books and jewellery sharing a cabinet whose glass front was sorely in need of a clean. She peered blearily at the titles on the spines of the books but the panes of glass were almost impenetrable with dust. A key with a tassled fob hung from the lock and she turned it gingerly. Padded velvet trays stuck with cameo brooches, and draped with old necklaces and bracelets were casually arranged alongside men’s and ladies’ watches, rings, and earrings which dangled from a wire strung between two shelves.

Despite the front door having so loudly announced her arrival, no one had yet emerged to assist her and Julia wondered for a brief moment if she should grab the most valuable item she could and make a run for it. Tempting, but not her style. She closed the cabinet and turned the key to secure it and wandered back over to the front of the shop. From the inside, the window display was difficult to access, blocked with old prams filled with porcelain dolls, and an elegant roll-top desk which took up most of the space in front of the raised dais which was the street-facing shop front.

As she was peering around the desk to get a better view of the telescope and its box, she heard a man clearing his throat, subtly announcing that she was being watched. Julia turned around slowly and was greeted by a portly but elegant old man, dressed in a tweed suit, and waistcoat, complete with bow tie and matching pocket square. A fob watch was strung across his ample belly. He fitted the surroundings perfectly.

They greeted each other politely, and the man adding the customary ‘Can I help you, ma’am?’ before he stepped around a shelf of chalices and other religious reliquaries into the middle of the shop floor, nothing more than a minute island of faded carpet.

“I’m interested in the telescope in the window,” said Julia, repeating the same words she had used just a few short weeks ago in another shop.

“Ah, you have a discerning eye, young lady,” smiled the old man. “It’s a one-of-a-kind piece.” The conversation was echoing almost word for word the one she had had in Timeless Treasures.

“Can you tell me a little more about it?” Julia went on, “and of course, the price.”

“Before I tell you that,” the man murmured, “first let me tell you about its provenance and then you will understand its value.”

The man’s story was consistent with the one upon which she had based her original decision to buy the telescope. She had, of course, related it to Joe, who in turn must have shared it when he decided so quickly to part with her gift. The man concluded by telling Julia that for the time being the telescope was not for sale, since he had only just come by the item, and he needed to verify its history.

Full of questions for Joe, Julia thanked the man and left the shop, jangling the bell as she gently opened and closed the door behind her.

Getting ready for dinner, Julia wondered how she was going to broach the subject of the telescope with Joe and how this would affect their relationship. She wasn’t sure she could forgive him, or even understand why he would have sold it. Joe owned a ship chandler at the harbourfront and Julia thought the telescope perfectly complemented his modern sailing gadgets with its own nautical history. She so badly wanted there to be a reasonable explanation as to why it was now sitting in another shop window and not his own.

Once they were seated in a corner of the small Italian trattoria, Julia blurted “I know what you did with the telescope…” she trailed off, realising she was more hurt than she had thought.

“Oh, I see” he replied, not even bothering to deny it. “I had hoped he wouldn’t display it. I took it in yesterday for an evaluation, then I saw this… I needed it in time for tonight…. So we made what was supposed to be a temporary straight exchange, until I could get back to settle in cash.”

Fishing into his jacket pocket, Joe pulled out a small black box, and prising open the lid revealed the most exquisite diamond ring Julia had ever seen.

Latest posts by Deryn Graham (see all)