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.

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Love Enough

dried flowers

 

You were there when I came home

Smiling, but distant and uncertain

What was it that made me end the play

Bring down the final curtain?

 

We never knew that it would end

But each silence was a clue

I cried when you said you knew it was done

It was all I could do for you.

 

Chorus:

Sometimes love isn’t quite enough

You gave and I gave

But the taking was rough

Sometimes love’s not enough

 

When we met we knew there were rifts

That we though our love would cross

But what do you do when the rifts remain

And compromise is lost?

 

You were gone when I got back

From your bittersweet note I could see

That you meant us never to meet again

It was all you could do for me.

 

Chorus:

Sometimes love isn’t quite enough

You gave and I gave

But the taking was rough

Sometimes love’s not enough

 

Bird Dog

(Gutsy, bluesy, sung with humor)

wet grass

We made it like rabbits

Time before there was Time

Thumping along in the wet grass.

 

We had a deal in those days

About never trying

To make it Real

Make it Feel

Make it Steel

But just to Make It.

 

Why couldn’t you leave well-enough alone?

The rabbits in the grass

Have thumped away into the past

Because you couldn’t leave a good thing alone.

 

I don’t want no peacock

Who struts his stuff at work then

Drags his technicolor tail home

 

Haven’t you said,

“Domestic bliss is a language

That is Dead

Never Read

Bad in Bed

It’s a fable”

 

Why couldn’t you leave well-enough alone?

Boy, you know birds in a cage

Always get to look their age

If you’d only left a good thing alone

 

I want to find me a bird dog

A happy wet-nosed woofer

We would roll in the hay

Letting it lay

Making it play

And just Making It.

The Tale

I got nothin’ to say to you, man.

I walked around in front of him and pushed my index finger into his chest. He stopped as though I had pushed a button and his eyes flicked my way then off again. He stepped back. Then he stepped to the side and moved away. I started toward him and his walk became a trot and then a full-on run. He was gone.

I stood there a moment, confused. I had needed to tell him something vital, but he just wouldn’t hear it. What was I supposed to do now?

I turned back to my original direction. And here he came. Here he came.

He was the one. The one who would listen.

I stepped forward to tell him.

The Master Executioner by Loren D. Estleman

The Master ExecutionerThe Master Executioner by Loren D. Estleman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These days it is popular to tell people to work and what they love and success will be sure to follow. The Master Executioner is about a man who takes this advice and its impact on his life.

This is not my grandfather’s western. It is a modern novel that happens to take place in the years just after the Civil War and before the turn of the century, when people were migrating in hordes from east to west and industrial innovations were happening so fast the landscape could change from year to year.

Oscar Stone is a pragmatist. After abandoning his father’s farm and serving in the Union army during the war, he decides to leave the east completely and travel to Missouri. He reasons that with a building boom going on, carpenters will be in short supply, so he apprentices and becomes an excellent carpenter. From his master he receives advice, which he takes to heart about being a craftsman and being meticulous and knowledgeable about your work. During his last months in the war, he sees a lynching, badly handled, and this affects him profoundly.

While apprenticed, Oscar meets a young woman and applies his formidable honesty and persistence in winning over her reluctant father and they take a wagon train west. But they are late to the party. There is a surfeit of carpenters and Oscar has a hard time finding work. Finally, he takes a temporary job building a gallows and meets Rudd, a master hangman. Rudd tells Oscar the young man has a gift and would likely make an excellent hangman. It is steady employment, and best of all, a chance to experience satisfaction in a job well done. Rudd offers to teach him everything he knows, and eventually, over his own misgivings, and his wife’s flat opposition, Oscar becomes the hangman’s apprentice. It is an experience and occupation that is both more satisfying and more unforgiving than he could ever have expected. He loses his wife over it and the majority of the book covers his subsequent career and attempts to locate her.

This is not a book of self-examination. Though generally more honest with himself than most people, Oscar Stone is not that kind of man. And Estleman deliberately confines himself to Oscar’s actions and conversations, leaving it open about what the man actually feels which makes it ironically easier to understand him.

Though the novel is full of criminals, each walks the stage for a short time only, which makes it all the more remarkable that Estleman’s clear writing can make them all so human and mostly pitiable. Oscar, however, remains the star, a man of neat habits who looks more like a banker than a hangman, a problem-solver, and a man who takes pride in providing each client with a swift and painless death.

Eventually Oscar finds his wife again and once more his life is altered permanently. The ending is one of those which seems inevitable and is therefore satisfying, but you don’t anticipate it because Estleman’s writing is like setting yourself afloat in a briskly moving creek – you go with the flow and are content to do so. In their ways, so did Rudd the hangman, and his apprentice Oscar Stone.

Historical novels about the old west are not a usual choice for me, but the subject and the sample I read made me want more so I bought the book. I am very glad I did.

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Tasting

 

Sometimes I can almost taste a different life

Where foods that never touched

my tongue

are familiar

Where smells I can’t

remember are

nevertheless

remembered.

I can taste the still, busy air

layered with lives

soaked with labor’s sweat

washed with cheap soap

floating down hallways in

crowded buildings

Fatigue and love and someone else’s

hate are buried

in the old wood of the door frames above

the flaked thin carpet

where I never walked

 

August Writing Challenge

Via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this month, I was invited to participate with three other writers in a 100 words a day challenge. Though we are free to write more than 100 words, I wanted to stay as close to the minimum as possible, since finding words has never been my problem, pruning judiciously is.

Here are the first week’s snippets, not including the first day, because I started later in the month.

Day 2 – Wednesday, August 05, 2015

It was a broken smile. Though the corners could still turn upwards, there was a shadow in each preventing the mouth from moving beyond simulated to heartfelt. One shadow was disappointment. The other was resignation. The lips themselves held a minute tremor, as if at any moment, they might give up trying to smile and collapse into a default position of ugly weeping. Above them, the eyes closed, imploring the brain for a distraction. But the brain was not listening; it had abandoned the present for the past. And underneath them all, the heart continued to pace madly in its cage, wanting nothing so much but to stop caring.

Day 3 – Thursday, August 06, 2015

She took his heart like the keys to a new house, exclaiming over its virtues; the vaulted ceilings, the spacious chambers. She went through every room, hanging new pictures and painting the walls in combinations of colours he had never seen before. She placed new furniture and pulled off the old drapes to let in expanses of sunlight. Through the open windows he saw parklands filled with laughing families; there was a breeze that smelled of Sunday pancake breakfasts. She worked with certainty, aligning memories to a gentle alphabet and when she was finished, his heart had become a home for them both.

Day 4 – Friday, August 07, 2015

Outside, I saw a dead rat. He looked alive: his small, round black eyes shiny, his brown-ticked fur clean and groomed. Was he dead?

There was no blood; no deformity that argued for death by car. What he could have died of; be dying of?

I brought my shovel and dug a hole. Had he died slowly? Killed by something I couldn’t see? If I left him, could he recover or might his body poison another animal? Was he dead?

I put him into the hole and watched him. After a while, I shoveled in the loose dirt, stamped it down and walked away. Was he dead or only soon to be dead? I wondered.

Day 5 – Saturday, August 8, 2015

“Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!” She pushed herself away from him and slid along the wall to the door of the classroom, where she stood, pounding a fist against the frame. “You have no idea how much I hate you at this minute. How much I wish I could just let myself go and kill you. It would be such a relief to stop trying to be reasonable, stop trying not to interfere. I want to interfere with you. I want to use a knife and interfere with you in a big way.” Her black eyes were stark in her white face. “I think killing you would give me an orgasm.”