Yard Sale

Her friend, the wheelbarrow, had been doing the hard transporting of goods but it was a shape not conducive to carrying boxes with its small rectangular bottom and widely sloping sides. The boxes lay on it at precarious angles and threatened to fall at the least irregular movement.

Kay felt weariness supersaturate her muscles and her bones.  It was the penultimate load of things to bring back in the house. The wheelbarrow would be no use to her for the remainder.

There were empty frames. Biggish ones. There were tubes of posters in a tall plastic container that might once have been a laundry basket. It had a fretwork of aeration holes going down two sides of it. When Kay tried to balance it on her friendly wheeled porter, the tubes of posters slid out. Impatiently, she removed the awkward container and picked up all the posters again. It wasn’t heavy. It just was, well, awkward. There was no other word for it.

“Bite the bullet.” she berated herself. “If you leave it now,  you’ll never have the courage to finish up. And it’s going to rain tonight.”

She dragged them to the back stairs below the porch. It was only two steps down to the basement door but they felt like Mount Everest. Every re-packed box needed to be brought in and placed back into storage.

Kay dropped a heavy carton into place and straightened up creakily. She stretched her muscles, twisting and straining to the left, trying to pull them out as far as possible and then she did it to the right. The muscle spasm in her lower back would not disengage.  She straightened, leaned her head back in another stretch, twisting her neck from side to side, joining her hands at her back and pulling her shoulders up and back.

As she continued to pull, she heard it. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

“What on earth?” she asked herself. She tendered her ear to listen more carefully.  And then she remembered the little girl. She was seven, maybe, dressed in a practice costume for ballet school. It was a body suit made in a tender rose colour. It had spaghetti straps and  a little transparent over-skirt that fluttered, barely covering her buttocks. Her hair was tied back in a tight pony tail with a frilly hair decoration in tight curls of bright rainbow colours .

Sweet as a button, she kept pulling on her father’s arm to help him look at the dazzling array of Kay’s merchandise.
“Daddy, Daddy! Look! Here’s a box that looks like a heart!”  It was one that Kay’s  aunt had left to her, crocheted in perfect kitsch and starched ro sugared  into box-like submission.  What it ever could be used for was beyond Kay’s understanding.

“Daddy, Daddy! Look!. ” She tugged on his sleeve. There was square travel clock, shiny with gold. It was the wind-up sort and Kay activated it to prove that it worked. It was now buried in a box and still ticking.

Bantering as she always did, Kay asked the little girl, “Did you just come from a ballet lesson?”

The bright coloured ribbons in her hair nodded. There was no answer; the girl had turned shy.

“Can you do a pirouette?” Kay insisted, trying to get the girl to respond.

“Or an arabesque?” The girl tightened her hold on her father’s arm.

“Show me what you can do,” Kay persisted.

With one awkward bent knee pointed backwards in the air, the girl balanced rockily on one foot then she fell, almost, catching her balance and then jiggling in frustration.  She tried again with the same results.

“Wonderful!” Kay encouraged her. “You just did a wonderful half-pirouette!”

The child seemed happy to be praised. She tugged on her father’s shirt.

“Daddy!” she insisted, “Now it’s your turn. You do it!”

Kay laughed, but the child was serious and pleaded. “Come on, Daddy. You can do it! It’s your turn.”

The tall, heavy man, looked down and smiled, “I don’t think so”.

Some how he diverted her and, on Kay’s suggestion, she tried an arabesque. Again the leg went out awkwardly, backwards. She toppled after a moment of concentration.

“Would you like the clock?” Kay said, realizing the father needed a way out from his child’s insistence.

“No clock today, ” replied the father and he leaned down to his daughter. He explained they had to pick up the mother. She would be waiting. And they were gone.

Two young Phillipinos arrived on bicycles and examined the merchandise with particular care. They conferred in whispers and seemed be very serious about their purchasing. They selected a lamp which Kay was pleased to have go to a new home for a dollar; they looked at some cutlery and rejected it; they seemed to be looking for household goods.

He picked up Kay’s folding chair and started to inspect it. It was new and in perfect condition.

“It’s not for sale,” said Kay hastily forestalling an offer. “It’s for me to sit down.” He looked puzzled and Kay realized he barely spoke English. She pointed to herself and the chair. He backed away in a nervous gesture, nodding that he had understood and he had not wanted to offend.

Kay proposed a shower curtain. “It has never been opened,” she said, encouraging them. “For a dollar?” and they took it. There was a large red carpet. It was a beautiful one but it was no longer fashionable with its low shag pile and bright red colour, but it was an excellent quality. All wool. Lovely red leaf designs in a Scandanavian aesthetic.

The two  looked at each other, their eyes questioning a hopeless assent from each the other, but the young man shook his head and pointed to his bicycle.

“Is it because you can’t carry it?” asked Kay.

“We have a bag,” he replied. But obviously not for the carpet. It seemed that it was not the right size for their house and they declined. They picked up one other item, a little gewgaw ornament of no consequence.

“Fifty cents?” he offered.

“You can have it,” she replied. It wasn’t the money. It was the the de-cluttering that was important. Besides, who else would want it, she thought. The free item unleashed their smiles and the couple recovered their bikes and took off.

It was a perfect day – not too hot. Not too cold. The heat, earlier in the week had been searingly hot. It had been forty degrees Celsius on Wednesday, thirty six on Thursday. Now rain was expected in the evening. The temperature had dropped to twenty three and it was warm and comfortable.

Kay had spent two days of sorting through books, pulling out items she wouldn’t read. She had taken several tours around the house looking for things that she didn’t use and wouldn’t use. While sorting out old books, she had found a box of classics – Shakespeare’s plays; Faulkner; Tennyson and Keats. She set aside the  Letters of Cato and two books by Balzac and put the rest in the sale pile.  She found a box of Mother’s favorite recipe books and culled them.

The  advertisement in the paper had announced the sale from ten until two, but on Saturday, people began to arrive at nine-thirty. It had taken two hours to set out the goods on the front driveway but  from nine-thirty onwards there was a  steady stream of six or seven people. The boxes had not been undone. One woman helped to put out the treasures onto a scrap piece of carpeting that kept breakables from the asphalt surface.

It was only an hour later that Kay found a perfect rose, a deep red rose, dried and still intact laying on the carpet where the goods were arrayed. At some time in her early love life, she had carefully kept this one rose, but who had given it to her? And for what occasion? It was a mystery. She picked it up and the petals fluttered to the ground one by one.

“How much are the books?” called a woman who was bending over the boxes of pocket novels and the old books.

“Everything is one or two dollars, except the one you are about to pick out It will be twenty dollars, so please make sure to ask. ”  The customer looked baffled then realized it was a joke and she joined the common chuckling.

Vans and trucks, Suburbans, SUVs, new cars and old came by. Some slowed while the occupants made a quick assessment of what they could see from the road. Others sent an emissary. One woman came and surveyed the offerings then left just as quickly saying, “my husband will want to see that.”

Husband and son descended from their van and the young man discovered a survey measuring tape bound in leather.

“A dollar?” asked the man. Kay’s heart fell. She shook her head.

“It was my father’s. I couldn’t let it go for just a dollar.” A silence fell between them. She didn’t know what price to say. She couldn’t keep everything. But what was it worth? To her? To him?

“If it was your father’s you should keep it,” he replied. He had given her permission to retire the item from the sale and she did so, gratefully.

“He was a surveyor,” she explained. “And an engineer.”

“My father is an engineer,” he replied pointing at the elderly man standing beside me.

“Really, you are an engineer?” she said. “What kind?”
“Electrical,” replied the father.

Kay picked up an ebony coloured object. It had two parallel bars with bits of brass that allowed it to swivel. Whether closed or separated, the bars always remained parallel. She handed it to him.

“Tell me then. What’s this? I know he must have used it for drawing but I can’t figure it out.”

“You’re right. It’s for drawing. It’s for writing the list of materials or directions down the side of a blueprint. It keeps the lines equidistant and parallel and all the right length.” He looked at it with some fondness, as if he had found an old teddy bear.

“Would you like to have it?” she asked, and his eyes shone but questioned her. “It’s yours. It’s a gift, ”  she said and he took it willingly.

Meanwhile, people were picking up items and turning them over, feeling edges for chips, looking for cracks, missing pages, faulty bits or other defects. In the Free box, a man lifted a round black container with a grill on it.

“What is that gizmo,” Kay asked. She’d found it in the basement and had no idea what it’s use might be.

“You put crystals in the little wire cage here” he said pointing out the little basket under the lid. It’s a chemical and it absorbs the damp from the air. Later, you find that the crystals are gone and the the bowl is full of water. You can buy them at Canadian Tire in sachets. ”
“I’d better keep it then,” said Kay. “When I found it, it was full of water. I must have damp in the basement, ” and she put it in the box that was gradually filling with things that she had reclaimed from her sale.

“Was your mother an educator?” asked a women as she held out a little blue book in one hand while proffering a dollar with the other. “My friend and I both thought the title was hilarious – “Tests for group intelligence” and someone has written a whole book about it.

“I wish mother were here. We used to come to garage sales together every week. She would have bought something. She always did,” a fortyish woman sighed in remembrance.

“Mine complained when I brought things home”  Kay countered, and thought of the countless times she had sneaked things in carried in her large black tote – mostly books.

From the first customer to noon, there was no stopping and then there was a lull. Everyone must have gone for lunch. Kay brought out her sandwich and gratefully rested in the folding chair. She had been on her feet  since eight. But it wasn’t long before she was back on her  feet, re-deploying her wares, consolidating the empty spaces, mentally sorting how the remainders would go back in boxes or be packed in the trunk of her car to be taken to the local thrift shop.

After one o’clock, a few others came, looked and went. Vini, vidi,Vici, thought Kay. I came, I saw, I conquered, as Julius Caesar purportedly had described one of his victories.  She wondered what the Latin garage sale would say. I came, I saw, I bought? Or, I came, I saw, I mocked?

The afternoon clients were not talkative. The good stuff had gone. There was now more junk than treasures. The curious were more critical, more disdainful and less apt to find something to take away. There were more pot-bellied men with long, greying hair, tattoos and leather jackets, their tee shirts proclaiming affiliation with Harley Davidson groups. Even the women were more casually dressed.

Kay had started to box the items for the thrift store when an elderly man with a hint of a German accent asked in a deferential manner, “Did you learn German from this book?”

“No,” replied Kay, ” it was my mother’s. I tried to read it when I was young, but I couldn’t read the Gothic lettering. By the time I was in school, the Gothic text was no longer in use for text books. ”
Kay proceeded to tell him how Mother had taken her last German lesson when she was sixteen; but when Kay had taken her to Europe and they had visited with a German family, Mother, at the age of  eighty-nine, had still been able to carry on a conversation with the man of the household. ”

He was a soft spoken man and when he wasn’t talking, he was listening intently. No one was about and so Kay stopped her labours and they talked. He was a carpenter who had immigrated when he was twenty, never returning to his home in Austria until after his Grandmother had died. They talked about craftsmanship and other lost arts. They exchanged memories of times gone past. He had selected one of Kay’s posters of Jean Millet’s painting, Vespers. It pictures a woman holding a  scythe in her hand and that reminded him of his family’s farm, of simpler days more in tune with nature, he said.

He turned the little Gothic German primer in his hands. It was for his grandson. He hoped it would make him think of his Austrian heritage, how things had once been. Kay silently wondered how such a messily marked up school book would mean anything to a teenager; but the man had a steady presence and gentleness about him and so she did not voice her doubts.

It was four o’clock, two hours past what she had foreseen for her sale. Her packing was partially done when Mirabel from the little white house with awnings, directly across the street, came darting across the busy road.

Though Kay had owned her house for two years, she had never spoken to this woman whom she saw out in the garden from time to time. Lively and talkative, she introduced herself and apologized for not coming over sooner. They complained about the neighbours, the new temporary residents of the house that was to be re-developed. She complained about their lawn which had been allowed to grow to three feet in height.

Mirabel was ninety-two, still driving, still doing her own gardening and house maintenance.  She recounted that, one evening while watering her plants at  early dusk, a young man  quite bizarrely dressed had insisted that she give him candy. He was speaking  weirdly and aggressively. She had been very nervous but had joked with him, mocked him, so as not to show her fear. It was just two weeks ago. She now was very wary. feeling vulnerable and frightened about living alone.

The conversation went on and on. Kay was so pleased to have met her but was anxious to finish with her day, to clean up the yard and put away the remaining debris. It sorted out without a hitch. A mother with her handicapped child came, another neighbour, and the conversation shifted. Gradually Kay resumed her packing and the other women did not seem to notice as she withdrew.

At last Mirabel called, “I have to go now. I bought a blower and I’m going to clean out my garage with it this afternoon. Come over and have tea with me sometime!”

What a marvel, thought Kay, as Mirabel darted across the busy street again. Within minutes, Kay could hear the blower droning as her elderly neighbour chased cobwebs and dry leaves from her garage.

In earnest, Kay began to haul away the boxes to the back yard with her trusty wheelbarrow. She filled the car with things she would no longer need – not even to plump up and fill out her next yard sale.

She returned from the back to see a lady standing with a small hand made pottery jug. “I don’t have any money to pay you for this, ” she said.”I’m just waiting for a friend to go walking so I didn’t bring any money.”

“The sale is  finished,” said Kay.  “Take it with you. I don’t want to pack it or keep it. If you really want to pay me for it, leave me a loonie in my mail box up there on the porch some day when you are passing by.”

It was six o’clock before the last trace of the sale was removed from the yard. Exhausted, Kay’s spirits sank when she thought about going in to make dinner. She was famished. And then a luminous idea began to grow.

Here she was with a bundle of new found cash! She could pay someone else to cook dinner! And the last we saw of Kay that day was her driving down Dewdney Trunk Road heading for Austin’s Fish and  Chips cheering up considerably at the thought of crispy battered cod, their fresh light coleslaw and book to keep her company.


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