I was blown away to get an email from EveryFreeChance.com this week; they let me know “Estate Sale,” below, won their short story contest. ‘Every free chance’ refers to when some people read, and the women who run this site are true Reader Girls. Check their work out: http://everyfreechance.com/ (Another contest opens next month…)
They had culled their parents’ effects, taking the few things they wanted and had room for–photographs, cherished gifts they’d given as children, some books. Sal had a coffee cup and an ashtray–she no longer smoked, but memories of pinochle games were ground into its thick amber glass base. Mindie took her father’s ratty maroon cardigan.
The rest they moved into the living room, organized neatly, displayed. Big things,– beds, dressers–they left in the bedrooms, drawers slightly opened.
They scoured the apartment until it was painfully clean; when the sale was over, they’d just have to vacuum.
They took a roll of masking tape and ripped off chunks, putting prices on their parents’ beloved possessions: $15.00. $2.00.
The books they put in a couple of big boxes and labelled them, “50 cents each.”
They had bags and change and hand sanitizer. They had Mitch, Sal’s boyfriend (“She won’t let us call this one ‘current’,” Mindie told Shot, hopefully), for the heavy toting.
Mindie’s husband, Shot, was home with month-old Martin.
They could hear people on the stairway outside the apartment door, where, below the particulars, a sign warned, “Absolutely NO earlybirds.”
They were ready. They swigged down the dregs in their coffee cups, wiped their hands on their jeans, opened the door.
The crowd surged in.
A squat woman (crazy hair, mottled skin, steely glasses), marched to the kitchen sink, and flung open the doors. “This for sale?” she rasped, nudging her head at the cleaning supplies.
Sal reached for a box. “Just leave me the windex,” she said, as the woman packed up scouring pads, cylinders of powdered cleanser, what was left of the Scrubbing Bubbles.
Mindie roamed. She noted the people who were interested in certain things. A very young couple, still dewy-eyed, bought her parents’ bed. She called Mitch, who took minutes to take apart the frame. They bumped through the crowded living room, getting headboard, footboard, pieces and parts, down to the couple’s aging pick up.
She watched people handle picture frames, dig through books. A grinning young man, fingernails caked black, ran his hands over the end tables her father built from old treadle sewing machine drawers. He talked to Sal; he took money from a tattered wallet; he accepted a receipt.
When he hefted one table to take downstairs, Mindie hefted the other. “I’ll help you with that,” she said.
Mitch appeared. “Let me get it.”
She relinquished the table. “I’ll go with you,” she said.
Sal registered them leaving in some under-level of her mind. People threw questions at her, stuck items in her face, made outrageous counter-offers. She parried, feinted, tucked money in her waist bag, wrapped breakables in crumpled newspapers.
Mitch and Mindie clomped back upstairs, directed people through the small apartment, kept them from buying the toilet paper. Sometimes a buyer needed help carrying; sometimes Mitch was enough. Sometimes Mindie went with them.
By 2:00, they were done. They locked the door, and boxed up what little remained–some books, a little chotchke. Mitch lifted the one box, looked around, kissed Sal.
“Philo at 5?” he asked.
“Yep,” she said, a little grim. “I’ll run the vacuum, go home and shower.”
Mindie kissed her sister, too, and grimaced. “We’ll see you there,” she said. “I need to feed my baby.”
“Go,” said Sal. “I need to say goodbye.”
Mindie looked around and hurried out behind Mitch.
He asked, at the bottom of the stairs, “Are you going to tell her?”
“Eventually,” said Mindie. “But—maybe not today.”
Sal pulled the vacuum from the entryway closet–the only thing left; even the hangers had sold. Starting in the spare room, she carefully vacuumed every inch of carpet, sucked down any hint of cobweb, cleaned the dust and fine grit from sills. Room by room, she removed the hints her parents had left behind, cleaning the slate for the next occupants.
Mitch pulled into the Goodwill lot, hefted the box into the donation center, and declined a receipt.
Mindie parked the minivan in the driveway. She slid out of the driver’s seat and stood behind the van, doors open, assessing.
Shot appeared by her side, stocking footed in the crunchy leaves, offering a warm, fuzzy Martin. The baby’s eyes lighted as he saw his mother; Mindie nuzzled him close.
“Ah,” said Shot, and he pulled his wife and son into his circle of protection. “What’s all this?”
“I couldn’t,” said Mindie. “You had to see some of those people. I couldn’t let them have Mommie and Daddie’s special stuff.”
They stared at the end tables her Dad had made, at dressers that still bore scars from Sal’s Match Box derbies, Mindie’s nail polish adventures. There were picture frames, little statues, dishes and mugs.
“The good ones,” Mindie said, “I left alone. But when someone…nasty…wanted to buy something special, I followed them out and offered them more than they paid for it.”
She stared at the cache in the mini-van.
“They took it,” she said fiercely, “every time.”
Shot drew her and the baby to face him, kissed her forehead. “You,” he said, “have a hungry baby. And we need to shower before we meet Mitch and Sal at Philo.” They spun as a unit, a marching band move, toward the back door.
At the apartment, Sal made one last circuit; the rooms were anonymous and blank. She put the keys on the Formica peninsula counter and made sure the lock was turned; then she took a deep breath, bundled up the vacuum, pulled the door shut behind her.
She peeled the cardboard sign off the door. She stuck it in the nearly full bin at the end of the sidewalk. As she drove off, she could see its top in her rearview.
Estate sale today, it read. Everything must