The Bidder and the Kid
By William M. McIntosh
You set up a chair and plastic craft table and spread out your life. You put a value on your memories. You hawk little bits of yourself, or at least you hope to.
You figure you’ve got seventy-five or eighty good pieces of high-quality, gently used American life just waiting for a second wind. You figure you can recoup just enough cold hard to reinvest in more stuff that will ultimately come to be known as junk. Your junk, but junk, nonetheless.
You make signs with Elmer’s glue and glitter. You get up early and drive to the bank and turn two fresh twenties into ones.
You’re sure that your Perry Como and Frank will go fast, but it’s well into the third hour before anyone thumbs them. You’re wounded, but you go on selling your macramé wall décor and beer helmet and smile anyway.
You haggle old copies of Reader’s Digest and National Geographic from a dollar down to fifty cents. You never sell the baseball cards or used gift bags; those you throw in to grease palms and sweeten deals.
A seemingly gentle old lady inquires about the old, cast-iron Singer Sphinx sewing machine, but sours when you laugh off her insulting starting bid. She moves slowly as she examines the remaining fodder, making sure you hear her when she says I wouldn’t call this gently used and would you just look at this hideous color. Even after this, she finds a breadbasket that she just can’t pass up, but you hold back on the baseball cards and gift bags.
You go on jawing ears and shooting shit and rearranging sections of the table where items used to sit. You straighten hung dress shirts and old faux fur jackets.
Some guy walks up for the third time today and fourth time this weekend. He’s been eyeing a Pyrex punch bowl and a crystal Doberman statuette. He buys something small each visit, but he’s really doing research. He’s watching everyone peruse your pile and taking note of those who linger near his treasure. He’s already heard you deal with two prior offers and he knows where the action starts. When he finally dives in and plays ball, he ends up strolling away happily with the punch bowl under arm.
The Doberman ends up back inside owing to a change of heart. You’ll pick the price tag off with a thumbnail later, rub it with Goo Gone, and place it back where it belongs with the rest of your junk that’s too precious to part with.
It’s midday and you’re up thirty-nine dollars. The crowd has ebbed, and it’s now that the clouds turn mean. A chilly breeze rolls in and the tablecloth flaps and turns over salt and pepper shakers and kitschy refrigerator magnet displays. You’re just about to drag it all into the garage when a car pulls up to the curb. A sixties station wagon, pristine if not for a circular dent on the driver door and a bumper sticker that says Brentville Rolling Betties League Champions 1975. The old bird is back for more.
You’re covering items with plastic and folding up chairs when she starts up the drive. Thin touches of rain spit at your face as the old bag stops shy of the table and just stares. You let go of the plastic and stare back, feeling for the rock you placed on the corner of the table to keep weight. For a few minutes you just stare at each other, bow-legged and squinty eyed. You could swear you see her wiggling her fingers like she’s about to draw from the hip and cut you down like the price of so many old VHS tapes.
The Singer sewer sits behind and to the right of you like some filly in need of saving, some damsel to duel over. The old bitty darts her eyes back and forth between you and the bounty. You wipe your brow, uncertain if it’s the spitting rain or sweat that’s tickling your temples.
What’ll it be, you shout to the geriatric gunslinger. She doesn’t speak, but instead looks back to the wagon and nods. From the passenger, you see a man in all black step out and move to join her, something tucked in his arms. They move forward as one and for a moment you lose your nerve. You step in front of the iron machine and steel your emotions. This is your yard, and it isn’t big enough for the three of you.
They’re standing right on top of you when the old she-wolf says I’ve got something for you. She smiles vile and looks at her compadre. He’s holding the breadbasket and slipping his hand inside.
This is it, you think. The outcome you’ve feared for as long as you can remember, since you were five years old and your father ripped off some poor losers when he made them pay ten a piece for six counterfeit stamps. Ever since you were too small to know better but still helped your dad fill up cans for recycle with rocks to add weight, and had to watch as the old man took a beating from the guys at the scrapyard.
This granny has come to even the score. She’s come to rebuke your rejection of her, you’re sorry to say, offensive offer. She’s come to cut you down like the balloons that are still tied to your mailbox by the street.
The old man pulls his hand from the basket, and you squeeze your eyes shut and stick out your hands. Holding your breath, you wait for the hammer to fall and the lead to pump into you.
When nothing happens, you open one eye and find the two oldies looking confused, nothing in their hands but an old American flag folded neatly in a tiny triangle.
They say they just want to return the flag. They say they figure it’s important, that you didn’t mean to let it go. You tell them they’re right, it is important. You tell them it’s the flag that means your dad died across the ocean and you must have stashed it there for safe keeping. They push it into your hands and tell you they’re just happy to return it safely, that they’re sure you’d be devastated to learn you’d let it go for a measly three bucks.
You hold the flag, examining it and screwing up your mouth as you think. You look back to the decrepit couple and say thanks, that you’ve thought it over. You say, I’d be willing to deal for another three dollars, and they just stare at you and keep quiet. You say, going once, going twice, and they just wave you off, hurrying to the car and exchanging worried looks.
You just smile and finish packing up, laughing to yourself as you stow boxes in the garage and fold up the table. You say, thanks dad, and go off looking for another place to stash the flag.
You live for yard sale season, and you die a little when it’s gone. It gives value to your memories to relive them with others. The bits you hawk breathe new life. And there’s nothing quite like sending the 1975 Brentville bowling champion packing with nothing but an empty breadbasket and thoughts about dead dads, flags and antique sewing machines they can never have.
William M. McIntosh is a writer of unpublished drivel and collector of rejection letters. He loves literature, film and any other kind of art he can get his grubby little fingers on. His work has been published by Maudlin House, The Yard: Crime Blog and most recently The /tƐmz/ Review. He doesn’t tweet, but if he did it would be @moonliteciabata. He is based in Cincinnati.