I can’t resist a good garage sale.
Or a bad one.
When I see one, I have to stop and look around,
glimpse into the lives of others,
sift through the cast-off skins and empty nests.
I rarely buy anything.
Mostly, I gather memories of the things being sold,
and of the people browsing and selling.
Occasionally, I’ll bring something home:
an old record too scratched to work,
a broken-spined novel I’ve never heard of,
an untitled amateur painting.
One Saturday morning in spring, I was cruising neighborhoods and spotted
a house with the usual items on display,
a dozen people checking out the seller’s wares,
an older man overseeing purchases.
I expected to find nothing I needed.
As usual, I stopped to peruse the remnants of a family’s years
and watch the people who might want it.
On display for sale:
a tan corduroy jacket,
a purple duvet cover,
eleven wine glasses,
three boxes of crayons (unopened),
sixteen pairs of shoes (men’s and women’s, no kid sizes),
a rack of dress shirts (blue, white, gray),
an electric screwdriver,
a circular saw,
a tool box of various tools (including
a bubble level,
a ratchet set in its own case,
a crescent wrench,
a small box of nails,
a handful of small tools I couldn’t identify),
an old computer with monitor and keyboard and mouse,
a yellow rotary dial telephone,
a stack of books about woodworking,
a stack of paperback romance novels (all read, apparently),
a box of picture frames (photos still in place —
a young woman with two children at the beach,
a family posing by a Christmas tree,
a young man in military uniform).
There were other items, too.
“Take your time, if you wish,” the old man told me as I looked around. “But just remember, at the end of the day, everything must go.”
I nodded and continued looking around for a few minutes before moving on.
Later that day, I passed back by.
What I saw made me stop again.
I pulled into his driveway.
Nothing was there.
Not even his house.
All that remained was
a concrete slab (a solid, empty promise)
and exposed pipes (dead trees in a forgotten lake).
The old man was still there.
He was wearing only
He carried a walking stick.
I got out of my car and approached him.
“You were serious,” I said.
“This is serious business,” he said. “List the days and you will find them gone.”
He joined the sidewalk and headed west,
a lightness in his step,
a faraway look in his eyes.
Originally published at www.plummercobb.com.
Author’s Note: I decided to play with formatting for this short story (and it is a short story, not a poem), but Medium’s formatting has limitations. Which is disappointing since formatting (in this case, at least) has meaning in the context of this story. If you want to see the formatting as intended, you can read the original here.