Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Yard Sale

Another sort of story. I hope you enjoy it. Pass the word if you do!

I feel cluttered up, I realize. I feel like I can’t move in my own house anymore. Things are piled up taking the air and the light from the place that I live, making me feel small and abandoned and afraid. Time to have a yard sale.

I don’t know if yard sales are popular everywhere, but here in the Deep South they are almost a tradition. We bring out our dross but also our gold for others to paw through on beautiful weekend afternoons. It is true that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I have treasures I have bought at such sales that I wouldn’t part with for a million dollars. I also have heavy decorative things that I paid way too much for that I can’t wait to get the hell out of my house.

Some yard sellers are highly organized individuals, they spend weeks going through their attics and deep dark cellars judging the value of objects carefully. They clean, they label, they affix a price. They sort by type, by size, by color and by age. They have a trash pile and a good enough for charity but not worth a quarter pile. They never ever have the I know I buried this down here out of sight but now that it is cleaned up I might just have to keep it pile.

I am at the other end of the spectrum when it comes to deciding what goes into the yard at dawn. I decide to sell things at the last minute, I sit and ponder for two days thinking where did I put so and so or I know that was a gift but gawd I want it gone! I wander through barely lit spaces dragging out boxes and peeking inside. I say ‘That’s where that went’ as often as I say ‘I knew that piece of junk was still here somewhere’. If I am not careful I go on a rampage. Haven’t touched it in two months? OUT! Haven’t noticed it’s beauty in a month or two? OUT! Do I need two things so similar even if I love them or need them totally? OUT! Just tired of this life being cluttered and yearning to be free? OUT! OUT! OUT!

I also keep things for no good reason. If something stood me well at any time in the past, I feel obligated to keep it. If I reached for it once an eon ago and it was where I had put it the eon before that, I keep it. I keep artifacts from those that have come and gone through my life both good and evil; My mother’s robe, my son’s pocket knife, my first husband’s cuff links. I take them out mad in my desire to empty the corners and come to a skidding stop. The shock is so sudden and so loud in my head I can almost hear the noise it makes it the room. I gently brush the wrinkles from the robe and bury my face in the soft terry. I know it is impossible but even after 7 years I think I can still smell her on the fabric. When my son died this robe soaked up an ocean of tears and an oil slick of anguish, substituting it cotton embrace for my mother’s touch I had wrapped myself in it night after night until the pain had lessened just enough for sleep to drop in for a moment. I refold it and tuck it back away, crying and shaming my self for even considering it for a split second. 

Because it is ritual with me I go from the robe to the knife. I hold it and laugh. My son worked at a concrete plant and the knife has been rendered unusable. A Swiss Army knife, all of the spaces between the blades and screw drivers and hooks and bottle openers and corkscrews are packed with concrete dust soaked with his sweat, resulting in an eternally preserved, concrete entombed amazing piece of engineering. One lone blade, the corkscrew hangs out teasing, taunting the viewer, forcing them to wonder what blades remain encased. I always ask myself what spared the corkscrew. My son would drink a forty but he would never open a bottle of wine. And why did he have this useless piece of metal and stone in his pocket the day he died? My husband and I had given it to him one Christmas, years before. I like to think he carried it for the same reason I kept it. To remind himself that he was loved, that people were out there who would give up their lives for him if asked. I wish he had asked.

His father’s cufflinks rest in the same bag. They are a child’s, given to him on the day of his confirmation. They are gold squares with an elaborate monogram, WYG, etched into the smooth face. For years when I saw them my stomach turned and a black, venomous anger swelled up inside me, a chant arising unbidden ‘youselfishnogoodsonofabitchhowcouldyoudothattoyourchildren’. I had thrown them away a million times, only to dig them back out from the coffee grounds and the empty milk jugs and put them away for another day, another time. 17 years have passed since he died and I can finally look at them, not with love or affection, but not with that soul eating anger either. I say ‘huh’ to myself and put them, with a bit more care, into the bag. I tie the drawstrings tightly, once more smoothing it’s contents and place it softly on the clean, well lit and airy shelf where I try to keep it. Pain is as important as love and joy in this life. I realize that.

The day of the sale dawns (or will shortly, it is 6 AM) softly and I waken early, pour a too stout cup of coffee from a pot only half through brewing. I pull on sweats and tennies and get to work. Tables are pulled out of the garage, from the back porch and out of the breakfast room. Mismatched cloths are used to cover their stained or cracked or scuffed up finishes and to showcase the items that will be sitting on them. Boxes of books (I loathe giving up books, but they bring people to these things) are lovingly lined up, spines all facing the same way, with one or two being set under the table with the longest cloth, having decided that I absolutely couldn’t part with this copy after all.

Cartons and crates with odds and ends go next; Candle sticks and salt and pepper shakers and ashtrays and banana holders and doilies and odd cutlery and old handbags lay next too a drill without a charger, barbells, framed  photos of strangers with the price tags still on the back, random children’s toys and a box of buttons. A few stunning objects take center stage, Murano glass ware, sterling silver brightly polished for the event and jewelry. These would be the money makers, but will most likely not sell. Jars for keeping odd screws sell, the cordless drill (with no battery) to tighten them sells, the Italian vase for 5 bucks will not but it will make people stop and shop.

A few last-minute-thought items sit on a box half under a table. I know I need to get rid of them, they aren’t doing me any good, but I am not sure I can part with them either, so they sit, sort of displayed, sort of not, waiting for fate to make the decision for me.

The first few customers come early but don’t buy anything. They take a quick walk around, looking for items for their thrift stores or flea market booths. A man, a professional yard sale shopper, asks me off handedly if I would sell my five dollar vase for a buck. I tell him I bought it in Venice myself, I know it is worth more than a buck and he snorts, pulling out his handkerchief and making a rude, rude noise. He tells me he will be back at the end of the day to give me a dollar for it because it sure won’t sell for five and lumbers in his dirty boots and old jeans and sprung suspenders back to his filthy, creaky truck and putt putts away. I am a bit irritated but the slow and steady flow of buyers takes my mind off of him, allowing his ugly aura to dissipate with the rising sun like the last lingering wisps of morning fog.

A man jumps out of his car, looking irritated with me because he felt the need to stop. ‘Hey!’ He shouts while scanning the objects about him, everything (except my beloved books and the box containing the items I have been unsure about letting go) in plain view. ‘Hey, do you have any lamps I need a lamp!’ I look around at the tables containing even the proverbial kitchen sink, but no lamps and state the obvious. ‘Uhm, no, no lamps.’ ‘Well I need a lamp’ he wails as if expecting me to whip one out of the pocket of my sweatshirt and present it to him with a chuckle and a flourish.. I suggest WalMart, he glares at me as if I told him to go to hell and storms back to his car, gunning the engine and pealing out of the driveway like he was in Knightrider. ‘Weirdo, weirdo!’ I say to myself while smiling at the lady with four kids struggling across the yard.

‘I need a night light’ she says as her head swivels trying to keep an eye on all four of the kids swarming around the yard. ‘I haven’t got a single one, sorry’ I answer as my head swivels also trying to keep an eye on all four kids swarming around the yard. Somehow both of us miss one of them pick up stones from my garden and start tossing them at my car. I yell at the kid, because it is my rock, my car and my yard. She looks a bit miffed and snatches him by the ear, tugging sharply so that he comes up on his toes and back pedals as fast as he can to get closer and therefore reduce the pressure on his ear.

‘What’s in that box under the table?’ She asks me in a confrontational tone, as if she thinks I am hiding a whole box of night lights from her on purpose. There isn’t a night light in the box but now I wish there were several, all perfect, all exactly what she needed and none of them for sale. I try to explain to her that it is full of old items that I am not sure I need anymore, but not sure I want to sell either. She bends down and drags it out into the light. ‘What the hell…..’ she mutters as she and the herd of children start rummaging through it like so much dross. ‘These look like lights’ she hollers triumphantly as she yanks one out and holds it in my face accusingly. I am mortified. I can feel the flush start at my toes, now shooting roots into the ground so that I can not move, and race through my veins to the very top of my head where it breaks out in a cold cold sweat.

‘Ummm, that was a not so bright idea. I thought it was a great one, it burned like lightening for a few moments but then dimmed perceptively once I turned my full attention to it.’ The idea still held a little glimmer, a little glow letting me know that it wasn’t the worst idea I ever had but not much of one. Not enough to make a good night light that’s for sure. She turned it in her hands, this way and that way then asked me flat out ‘Why in heaven’s name did you think this was a good idea in the first place? Anyone can see this will only cost you more money than you have and more time than you have and the emotional investment alone, well that right there shows you it is a damn bad idea’ My arm jerked out spasmodically, grabbing my once shiny idea and shoving it into my pocket. She laughed at me and the kids sneered as she herded them up and out of my yard.  I pulled my little idea out and saw that she was right. Any glimmer of light left in it was just a reflection of the midday sun and that in the daylight it looked flawed, irregular and ugly. My heart broke a little with the realization. I turned and shouted at their collective backs ‘Your kids smell like pee!’ and I threw the bad idea after them as hard as I could, but it fell short and skittered across the pavement and away from me as her laughter wafted up into the heated air.

I feel suddenly exposed, sitting in the middle of my yard surrounded by junk and fight back the tears and the anger that threatens to stifle me. I pulled my box over and started to take out the items one by one. The idea to make my living through painting was big and heavy, still pregnant with possibility and hope but in the harsh light of shame and anger I saw that it would never bear fruit as long as I kept it in my possession. I rubbed it with the hem of my shirt until it shone like a gem, an opal in the center of a mound of crude rock, and laid it on the closest table. My idea to be a teacher was cracked, having suffered from dry rot when I realized I was D O N E with other people’s kids in general. It could be salvaged, I supposed, but my heart sure wasn’t in it anymore. A quick buffing and it too took it’s spot between the deviled egg plates and Christmas decorations. My idea for an English garden (hello, I live in the Deep South) was moldy and had no hope whatsoever of being revived, at least in my area so I tossed it into the dustbin with a satisfying thunk. As I sifted through the ideas, both big and small my mood began to lighten and my spirits to soar. Decorating ideas? Polish and price. Adoption? Dustbin for sure! The idea of a dog or similar pet? On the table the furthest from me, front and center, priced to sell. A few went back into the box to be kept and possibly resuscitated at some point in the future. The idea for an Alaskan cruise, that baby is staying here! I may never use the idea but it is so much fun to get out and play with every few years that it is worth the space it takes. The idea for opening my own restaurant? Although cumbersome, frighteningly heavy in fact, I see its possibilities and still have faith in it. I carefully put that one back, hiding it under the others. It is near and dear to my heart and I do not want the neighborhood rapscallions taking it out and questioning it’s worth.

Under the pile of ideas lay the personas I have shrugged off throughout the years. I had honestly forgotten they lay in this box, weighted down by ideas to keep them in place and seeing them gives me a start, a quick heart beat of panic and I try to slap the cardboard flaps in place before any of them can escape.

‘Yoo Hoo!’ I snap my head up from over the box to see a little old lady come toddling across the uneven grass. Torn between the need to hide these pieces of me and the desire to help her keep her footing I sit on the box and reach out a hand to her. She is a sweet woman with nothing better to do than drive around to yard sales and talk to the people hosting them. She wants to talk about the weather, about her health, my health, her children and their health, the misguided youth of today and that thing called reality TV.. As she wanders from table to table I must stand so I put a heavy plate over the top of the box, hoping that any persona for which that would not be a deterrent is either so far down in the box or so long unused as to be dead and therefore not a worry to me. As I try to follow her progression around the yard, her baby blue cotton no wrinkle shorts and pastel colored flowered camp shirt looking cool and comfy, her white orthopedic sandals cradling her bony feet and a suitcase sized white plastic purse over her arm I am reminded of my grandmother and forget to keep an eye on the box. She finally settles on salt and pepper shakers with a chicken motif and I give them to her for a quarter. I don’t think she has even that to spare but is too proud to not buy something after talking my ears raw for an hour. I offer her the matching napkin holder for free and help her to her car, an old Cadillac that was her dead husbands.

Feeling nostalgic now, and slightly saintly for having tolerated her presence with good humor long after she ceased to be entertaining I turn toward my seat and feel terror grip me. A couple of old persona are playing soccer with an idea and are not going to be easy to get back into the box.

One of them is little, slightly chubby, and black and blue. ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ I wail as I rush forward and try to grasp it by any available part. It promptly falls down, crying, gnashing it’s teeth and saying ‘I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry’ over and over again. ‘Stop fucking apologizing!’ I hiss at it ‘ I don’t do that anymore! That is why I got rid of you in the first place and it wasn’t easy, let me tell you!’ ‘I know, I know, I’m sorry, so very sorry!’ I pull back my leg and with all the frustration born of years of taking the blame for anything just to keep the peace I boot the little bastard into next week. My sultry persona watches him fly into the distance and turns towards me, a sneer in her lips and a cigarette in her mouth she thanks me for finally getting that little toad out of her life. ‘Listen missy, you are not hanging around out here either. I used you, I know. I took advantage of your coldness and ego centric thought processes but I have moved on from you too. I don’t need that, I am in a better place now.’ She slowly straightens, pushing up her breasts and evening out the hem of her blood red silk dress she glares at me. ‘How can you do that? How can you just box up the persona that got you through the hardest time of our life? Didn’t I get you laid? Didn’t I get you through school? Didn’t I allow you to just boot that little bastard into next week?’ ‘You did’ I make the exclamation without thought, my hands flying to my mouth. ‘You did’

I sink to my knees in the grass, shocked and confused. How have I dealt with life without her being a part of it? She is my strength, my heat, my drive all rolled up into a sexy package begging to be unwrapped. I look as she sits in the only chair, sniffs at my iced tea and drops her cigarette into the glass. She stretches out luxuriously, crossing one ankle over the other and turns her face to the sun. I open my mouth, an apology coming unbidden when it hits me; the little black and blue toad has sidled up on me and is ready to lay himself like a mantle on my shoulders. ‘Aw hell no’ I mutter as I flick him aside like dandruff.  I stand and turn to face her, blocking the sun and forcing her to look at me for a change. ‘You did do those things. HOWEVER you also made me put my kids second, you made me put my safety second, you made me put my dreams second. Because of you half of the ideas you were just kicking around died a needless and untimely death’ I feel myself growing tall and taking on light as I confront her with her failures. ‘You and the toad need to get back in the box or I will show you for what you truly are, no one here will want you’ I threw open the box flap with as much force as can be mustered with tired cardboard and pointed a long finger. ‘In, NOW!’ The toad covered it’s head, cowering and ran crouched to the box, diving in with relief at having escaped unscathed. The ego in the red dress muttered that she would be inside, waiting, she had decided to go home with the man with the dirty truck and the sprung suspenders if he came back for the vase. He, she told me, would appreciate her.

As the sun began to wane I took stock of my situation. The tables still help piles of stuff, but much less than they had. The few really good ideas had been purchased or purloined or just gone off on their own to find someone who would do something with them instead of keeping them in a box. My pocket held a few more dollars than it had this morning, my nose was burned and I felt newly at peace. As I packed up the remnants for Goodwill the man who wanted the lamp drove up, rolling down his window and hollering ‘No lamps yet?’ ‘No, try Walmart’ I hollered back. He drove into the cul-de-sac and in the middle of his turn stopped and opened his car door. I saw him reach down without getting out and pick up my little irregular idea from the gutter. As he held it it glowed, faintly at first and then brighter and brighter until it almost blinded us both. Well I’ll be damned I thought as he drove by yelling ‘I knew you were hiding a lamp!’

My dear husband came out to help me wrap and pack and I asked him would he like a bonfire this evening as I picked up my box from the yard.