A Flea Market Operated by Ghosts

Anton Repponen

About the ground-floor hallway and the windowsill of the first-floor landing of my apartment building.

I believe these spaces that I pass through everyday — unkempt, unassuming — are a portal to a parallel universe. Unmanned items emerge from unknown origins, materialize unexplained, and then vanish anonymously, silently swallowed through another door, another portal.

Books, jewelry, furniture, clothes, accessories, air conditioners, cleaning products, containers, art supplies, whatever — all deemed “trash” by someone — appear there, sometimes amid bona fide trash (recently: Swedish Fish wrappers and a suspiciously festive number of pizza boxes). The paraphernalia is here today (what is it? from whom?), gone today (where to? and why?); the space is a flea market of apparitions, a barter bazaar operated by ghosts.

Most times, you don’t acknowledge the goods as unique antiques but rather as unremarkable relics. They’re valueless anachronisms; as with a phone booth, you pass un-paused.

But sometimes a thing, a siren, sings. Other times it pleads, pitiful. Either way you hear its call, scrounge it up, then lug it up (five flights, in my case). You welcome it in, and when your roommate arrives, appeal like your new shoe rack is a feral cat. “Please can we keep it? Please?” Sure, it’s a little mangy — god knows where that thing has been — but look how comfortable it’s made itself already.

Items are recovered, resurrected, repurposed. I found a little wooden shelf meant for VHS or DVDs or other obsolete media. Now it holds my shortest books — height-wise, I mean — and thus serves as a tiny, explosive library, highly concentrated with power and pith: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Of Mice and Men, Lolita.

I snagged a four-shelved, six-foot-tall industrial metal shelf. With strength and cunning, my roommate coerced off its awkward top. Now it hosts large books, not to mention some candles, journals, yarmulkehs, a dead rose hung upside-down by a rubber band, and a puppy photo of my roommate’s dog in a gold frame. Before the shiny Metropolis-ian monstrosity arrived, we didn’t have room for it. Now, like Mary Poppins’ bottomless bag, it seems to expand the room with every new item it holds.

The hallway and windowsill is a landmine. When you turn the corner and stumble upon the space, it may detonate garbage or gold or nothing at all. It’s a real-world, otherworldly incarnation of a Mario Kart mystery box: I’ve never seen it bestow bananas, but sometimes there are shells — and other beach-ly miscellany prickled with the sands of an unknown shore.

And Super Stars, too, or at least items so serendipitous and so glimmering they’ll make you feel invincible. Like the gaudy, glitzy silver layered rhinestone necklace I found on the windowsill on my way to work. At the office I donned it as a joke. Hours later, I find myself rocking it with pride on my commute home. Turning irony to earnestness? That’s alchemy, and alchemy is magic.


Ben Kassoy is the Managing Editor of DoSomething.org, the coauthor of eight books, and a former online columnist for Glamour and Details. He has a Twitter, a Facebook, and a website.


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