Yard Sale

Author’s Note: This is the first satisfactory draft of a new story.

Picture of items at a yard sale

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.

Smoke on the Water

pic of mist on water

The song, or rather just the first line of the chorus, had been going through his head all day. Repeating and repeating. He wondered if this was some new torture the liver cancer had dreamed up for him or if it was just his own brain tiredly trying to tell him something.

He settled himself on the toilet, using the newly installed grab bars for support. Changing his adult diaper while sitting down was easier than trying to do it while standing up and he had already been caught twice by another flow while in the middle of a change. Sitting on the toilet was safer.

This part of the end game was humiliating. But at least he was no longer pissing his pants. Or worse.

Smoke on the water…

He had never given much thought to the way he would leave this life, but if he had, he would not have guessed this. He had survived a lot of crazy, dangerous shit, but here he was. Finished changing himself, he  tossed the used diaper into the lined pail now kept in the bathroom and steadied himself to get to the sink and wash his hands.

He took his time getting out of the narrow bathroom and used the walls, counters, and furniture to get into the kitchen and poured himself a beer. His wife hated that he still drank, but an occasional beer at this stage couldn’t make that much of a difference. Okay, if he was honest, it was more like three or four a day, but he had no intention of giving it up. Everybody was entitled to go to Hell in their own way. Or if they weren’t, they ought to be.

Smoke on the water…

The dog was at the screen door with a tennis ball in his mouth, so he went outside to sit on the porch steps and throw it a few times until the dog stopped bringing it back. Beautiful fall day. The breeze smelled of sycamore trees and the nearby creek. There was a buzzing sound in the background and he looked up to see the wasps had started a new nest. Damn them. He’d have to get the wasp spray. But not now.

Crazy thing that you’re on your way out and still you have to deal with crap like dogs who want to play catch and wasps building nests in your porch. Shouldn’t everything just go on hold until you were gone?

Smoke on the water…

Sometimes he wondered if his wife would be able to manage this too-big property by herself. He just hoped she wouldn’t leave him before he died. He’d sure as hell given her plenty of reason in the last few years. She would be better off without him, and he had told her so, but he was too selfish to let her go.

He listened to the birds a bit and looked at the pear tree, which was swollen with fruit that needed picking before the squirrels got them.

He didn’t want to die now. But he wasn’t sure he wanted to live, either. Mostly, he kind of wanted things to go on pretty much as they were, though he would be glad not to have to wear diapers.

He grabbed the porch railings and levered himself up from the steps to go inside. Little House on the Prairie reruns were on soon and he didn’t like to miss them.

Smoke on the water…