Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Garage Sale Find-A Short Story by J.A. Bennett


JA Bennett

Please welcome JA Bennett to our blog. JA is a member of GFW Writers, studies creative writing  at UNT and is a full time mom of four. After spending 15 years in the Human Resources field she realized that life was too short to ignore what she'd always wanted to do, so after finishing school for the second time around she hopes to teach English as well as pursue a home for her own stories and novels. She enjoys spending time with her family, reading and, of course, writing. If you like her story, please let her know by leaving a comment and sharing the post with your friends.

“Oh!”
Mother twisted in her seat and pressed her fingertips against the passenger side window like a child ogling the passing primary colors of an amusement park roller coaster.  All I could see of her was the cap of coppery hair teased to a transparent pouf that sprouted from the back of her head, sticky with hair spray and the scent of Chanel. The ideal trap for catching things like tiny fluttering leaves, amorous insects, and truths.
“Mom, I’m exhausted.  Let’s just go and eat.”
“Oh, come on Katie, just one more. That looked like a good street. Come on now, turn around.”
I sighed and gave in.  Pulling into some poor soul’s conveniently located driveway, I winced my apology at the house’s lifeless windows and headed back the other way.  Back towards the unimposing side street sporting a hastily scrawled “Garage Sale” sign on its corner.

Someone had stuck a ragged piece of cardboard on a wooden spike then impaled the result firmly into a clump of thick summer grass. It certainly didn’t look promising, but Mother clapped gleefully as we crawled into the cul-de-sac and parked.
“Look at all that,” she gushed.

 If the act of salivation were audible I would have reached out to turn down her volume. I rolled my eyes.
“It must be a moving sale. I see Christmas decorations too.” She kicked open the door and let in a wave of stifling air.
“It’s August. And you don’t need more Christmas decorations, the attic’s already overflowing.”
“You can never have enough Christmas decorations. Besides, you’ll need your own collection soon.”
“You’re picking again, Mom. I told you. I’m never getting married. I refuse to give any man that kind of control over my life.”
“Don’t spout feminist propaganda to me, chickie. I was burning my bras before you were even a gleam in your father’s horny eye.”
“Too much information, Mom. Highly inappropriate.”
“Oh lighten up.”
The house was set close to the road, one of a series of identical boxes distinguishable only by variation of colored brick and landscaping.  The subdivision was fairly new, planted over what was probably used a few years prior as a cattle grazing field.  Last night’s rain had coaxed a few brave, pale pink primroses to bloom; they drooped over the curb, eying us as we strolled up the driveway and into the maze of makeshift tables covered in, well, everything imaginable.
“Hey there!”
A bouncy blond skipped out of the shade of the open garage to greet us.  She looked like she was nearing 30, but she dressed more like an unfettered college student, with short denim cut-offs, a hot-pink Dallas Cowboys t-shirt that showed more than it covered and a pair of bedazzeled flip flops.
“Take a look around,” she encouraged.  “Everything’s gotta go-I’m leavin’ town in the morning and I can’t take all this crap with me.”
Mother gave her a distracted wave and dove on in.
“I’m Tracy,” the woman called after her.  “Let me know if you have any questions!”
“Don’t mind her,” I explained. “She’s a garage sale addict.  She’s lost in the rush, but she’ll surface eventually, after she finds her quota of treasures.”
“What? In all that trash?” Tracy giggled.  “But whatever, right?  It’s all gotta go-I need the cash.”
We stood for an awkward moment, watching as my mother swam circuitous laps through the heap, searching for her starting point.
“Whew, it’s hot out today,” Tracy fanned her face with one acrylic nail tipped hand.  Little beads of sweat glistened on her forehead.  She wiggled inside her clingy t-shirt and shifted her weight from hip to hip, looking for a non-existent breeze.
“So you’re moving?” I asked.
“That’s right.  To Florida.  I’m driving first thing in the morning.  I recently reconnected with my first love on Facebook.  Can you believe that?  The internet is an amazing thing, don’t you think? We decided to get back together and so I’m moving to be with him. Romantic, right?”
She beamed and fanned herself some more, frantically trying to force air across the exposed expanse of flesh along her neckline. “Good Lord, its hot out. I’m gonna go grab a beer.”  She bounced off, a child housed in the shell of a womanly body.
Truthfully, I was a little jealous.  Girls like this Tracy had always made me feel inferior and dull in comparison, like a dusty moth next to a vibrant butterfly.  I spent my high school and college years glaring at them disdainfully from behind my hardback copy of Jane Eyre and thick lensed glasses.  It wasn’t that I wanted to be exactly like them, I’d rather die than be forced to go through life with a personality as deep as a watermark, but I couldn’t help but be envious of the comfort Tracy seemed to have with herself, with her body.  She flaunted her skin proudly and shamelessly, while I kept my starched white polo buttoned up to the top.  Consciously, I was proud of the woman I’d become, successful, independent…respected.  But despite all of that, I still felt out of place in my own skin, compelled to cover up, to be safe beneath the armor of my clothing.
 
As she disappeared inside the house, I reached up and popped open the top two buttons of my shirt, baring a hint of pale cleavage to the raging summer sun.  What the heck, maybe I needed to learn something from Tracy and, as Mother said, “loosen up.”  Besides, it was August after all.  And August in Texas is, frankly, hell.
My mother was elbow deep in empty picture frames.  I wandered, perusing the things a person collects over the years, collects then discards when new and better things come along.  Paperback sci-fi novels, power cords, a leather recliner, stacks of DVDs and CDs, an unused camping tent, a rotary saw and ancient ratchet set.
On a table set off to one side, Tracy had laid out a collection of elaborate Victorian dollhouses. Their miniature pieces of perfect furniture had been moved out and strewn across the table’s surface, as if the dollhouse’s porcelain inhabitants were also vacating the premises. The tiny inside walls were barren, unfinished. The lady of the dollhouses hadn’t bothered to hang wallpaper or curtains and the rough wooden floors were badly in need of a bit of carpet. I picked up a carefully carved wooden spindle chair.  It was handmade, lovingly sanded and stained by some unknown craftsman.  I realized then that all of it had been handmade. The outer walls were painted in beautiful soft pastels, the window shutters fixed with tiny perfect hinges, and the pitched roofs were sturdy shields of miniature wooden shingles ready to weather the elements. Each was a home fit for a queen and her family. It was a shame Tracy was selling it all.  Wasn’t this the kind of thing people kept?
A sharp clucking sound came from across the table.  I glanced up to meet the bitter scowl of an elderly woman, a neighbor, who stood with her arms crossed like an angry sergeant as she eyed the open garage.“That girl is something else,” she tisked.  “Selling all this stuff like that.  It’s shameful!”
“What?”
“That Tracy is selling all this so she can run off and leave her husband.  Why he’s letting her get away with it is beyond me.  If it was me, I’d just tell her to go on and go, but she’d not get one nickel, not one stick of furniture from me.”
“Huh?”
“Look there, you see him standing there in the garage?  Poor man.  Poor Jason.  It’s shameful. So shameful.”
I turned to look.It took a moment for my eyes to adjust, but eventually I made out the dim outline of a figure leaning against the garage wall.  A stocky figure dressed in loose khaki shorts and a navy city fire department t-shirt.  He held a beer bottle in one hand, bringing it up periodically to his lips as he stared out across the driveway, watching it all with a sad stillness.
“Poor man.  So shameful,” the neighbor repeated before turning and making her way back into her house.
Tracy came bouncing back outside.  A minivan had pulled up, and an eager looking family poured out.  She hurried to greet them.
I’m not sure why I approached.  It definitely wasn’t in my nature to be nosey.  But something about that man compelled me and I moved forward, stepping across the line of harsh summer light and into the shadowy cavern of that garage.
“Hello,” I said to him.He nodded but didn’t look at me.
“The dollhouse and the furniture.  Did you make that?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“Thanks.”

“I don’t understand.  It must have taken you ages.  Why are you selling it?”

He paused, then drew a deep breath as if gathering the clarity to respond.

“She’s selling it all.  Everything. It’s all gone.  Nothing left.”  He replied, puzzled by the words, unable to make sense of what was happening.

I stood and waited, an eager tension slowly building somewhere in the center of my chest
.
“She told me last night.” His voice was a low rumble, a roll of distant thunder.  “She told me she was leaving me to go back to that guy.  Her high school gym coach.  They had an affair when she was sixteen.  He was married.  Now he’s divorced and wants to be with her.  She says she still loves him and wants to be with him too.”
I watched him raise the beer bottle to his lips and drink.  It was the only part of him that moved, but my eyes had adjusted to the dimness and I could make him out more clearly now.  His ashy blond hair was clipped short, military style, and his grey-blue eyes were framed by dark circles, like he hadn’t slept the night before.  He wasn’t exactly tall, but his shoulder was exactly the same height as my cheek.  His waist, the perfect width for wrapping my arms around …
I wrote Tracy a $1,000 check.  She was ecstatic as she helped me load the dollhouses onto the backseat of my car.
“Are you sure you won’t regret it?” I asked her.
She laughed. I buttoned up my top.

Two days later I went back with a pan of homemade lasagna and a plate of cookies.  Tracy was long gone.Jason was still drinking, alone in the empty house.  He was drunk enough to let it happen. For the first time in my life, wide-eyed and shockingly sober, I started things. I peelied off his clothes like I was unwrapping the most important gift I’d ever received and loved him.
Our first child was born the following summer.  And, thanks to my Mother’s uncanny foresight, my precious budding family has its very own collection of Christmas decorations.

                                                            ###

Thanks for stopping by. Have you ever discovered a valuable garage sale find?

10 comments:

Ruby Johnson said...

Jennifer:
Thanks for posting this delightful story. I've never found something like your character! When I lived near my sister, we loved going to garage/estate sales. She always came back with something worth a lot more than what she paid for it.

Caroline Clemmons said...

I am so happy you posted this story. Your phrasing is wonderful, and I reread it to let it sink in. Descriptions like the mom's hair and that the stickiness caught moths and truths, and many others. Best of luck with your writing. Obviously, you're a terrific writer.

George said...

 “If the act of salivation were audible I would have reached out to turn down her volume.” Great line. Creative and packed with mood, and the parallel to the moving moving out to Tracy. Hugely enjoyable. Dialogue works hard in the piece, building characterization and moving story. In 100 words the neighbor appears, piques crisis, and reveals plot. Thank you for sharing GSF with the blog.

George said...

...the parallel to the dolls moving out to Tracy. A typing oops.

J.A. Bennett said...

Ruby, Caroline and George,

Thank you so much for the supportive comments! This story was alot of fun to write, and if you enjoyed it even just a little, as I'm sure you all know as writers yourselves, it means the world to me!

SusieSheehey said...

This was fabulous. 'Personality as deep as a watermark'... priceless! You have such a unique gift! Can't wait to read more of your work!

J.A. Bennett said...

Thank you Susie!

Anonymous said...

Your writing is compelling and really good. I would have liked to see this as a novel with the development of the romance. I would think the hero would have trust issues. Keep up the good work.
Thorne

C. A. Szarek said...

I LOVE it Jen! Just LOVE it! Its great to see it here as it is on your blog. I wish you would write more for it! :)

J.A. Bennett said...

Thank you Thorne and Chrissy! I suppose this story might eventually morph into a novel, right now its in my head as a link in a chain of short stories .. but we'll see! Thanks again for the kind words and support :)

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