Author’s Note: This is the first satisfactory draft of a new story.
They were in a neat stack on top of a hospital table, one of those things on wheels that roll sideways to fit under your bed so you can eat your bland hospital food while you watch the television and try to ignore the beeping equipment, announcements, harsh light coming in through the windows.
Six boxes of them. Men’s Super Plus. Maximum Protection. Adult diapers.
Most of the things at the yard sale seemed like a man’s things to Claire. Sports magazines, tools, a small television. Individually, they were all things that a woman might also like, but taken together, they said ‘man’ to her. Older man.
There were a couple of stuffed and mounted trout, a scarred, near-shapeless baseball glove and a bat so dry it looked ready to splinter. There were maybe half a dozen hard cover books, mostly biographies, a rack of plain and sturdy shirts and pants in browns and blues. A stack of vinyl record albums, a moustache cup.
Claire imagined the man watching a baseball game, wearing one of the blue shirts, drinking a beer. His fish trophies were on the wall, the stack of sports magazines near to hand. The vision seemed so familiar somehow, as though it was a dusty memory rather than something of her imagination.
She fingered a box of dominoes. Next to it was a narrow wooden game board with a lot of little holes and numbers marked on it. Cribbage. She remembered her father had played it . Like many of the games he had played with his friends, it involved cards and beer and quick calculations made among high shouts and laughter.
Further down the table was a man’s jewelry box. Plain, dark brown vinyl colored to look like leather, then stamped with gold to try to make it look rich and exclusive. It was a drugstore item from the days when drugstores sold jewelry, had lunch counters and candy counters. The gold stamping was worn away in spots. Inside was a tired watch that wasn’t running, a few mismatched cufflinks of silver and gold with large fake gemstones of aquamarine and tiger’s eye. And one gold tone tie clip with a set of initials engraved into it. It had tiny spots of rust on it.
Next to the jewelry box there was a small collection of ceramic coffee cups with various inscriptions: “World’s Greatest Dad”, “World’s Greatest Fisherman”, “#1 Dad”, etc. They were the kind of gift you got when no one knew what to get you. He had probably had a lot of Father’s Day ties, too, and been the sort of guy who hated to wear a tie.
Suddenly Claire stopped, stood still in the too-long grass of this man’s front lawn.
He was likely dead, this man she had been imagining, or in a condition where he no longer needed what was being sold off. The realization struck her like a slap and sent her heart beating faster. She pivoted, the grass squeaking under her shoes, and she did not know what she was looking for. But then words curled underneath her tongue, seeking exit.
At a table next to the street, a tired looking woman was collecting money, smiling and thanking people. Claire imagined herself walking up and asking the question she now inexplicably wanted the answer to: Did he like his life – had he been content?
To keep herself from doing just that, she looked again at the tables and forced herself to concentrate on what she saw. He had kept the coffee mugs; one or two had even been mended. So there had been meaning for him in even these generic gifts. Unless he had just been frugal. Her own father had been raised by someone who had lived through the Great Depression and Claire remembered how he had hated to throw something useful away, especially if it could be repaired.
The tables said he had had hobbies. He had had family. He had been acknowledged by them. But none of tables held the answer to her question. Had he been content? She would not expect happy, not many people had truly happy lives. But satisfaction that work had been done, that responsibilities had been fulfilled, that affection – love – had been present… had he had that?
She looked around again, feeling oddly off-balance, attempting to find her footing in a new perspective. About her, people moved to pick up and put down, to verify a price, to ask for a lower one. Cars pulled up to the curb and left again.
She took a deep breath and let it out, feeling something tight in her throat ease a little. Saw the hospital table and the boxes. Took another breath. She walked to the woman who was managing the sale and said, “I want to buy all of the men’s diapers.”
Light brown eyes, which had been looking somewhere over Claire’s right shoulder, suddenly snapped to her face. For a moment they just looked at one another, then the other’s expression became something Claire did not care to see and she busied herself getting out her wallet and counting out the cash. When she handed over the bills, their fingers brushed and Claire pulled back from the touch, but the money had been taken.
“Thank you,” the woman said to her quietly. “And good luck.”
Claire nodded and turned away to go gather the packages into her arms to take home.
Six boxes. Men’s Super Plus. Maximum Protection. Adult diapers.