by Shane Plassenthal
Everything had to go. All of it. Those were the rules. So, I put it all out in the driveway. I put the stuff she left in the spot where she used to park. I figured that would be best. Besides, there wasn’t a whole lot left. She’d taken most of it when she’d gone. What she’d left behind was her nightstand and an old handheld vanity mirror with a silver handle. It was very dirty; the glass was streaked with dust and grime. I remember she had used it a lot when we were first married but after a while, she’d just kept it put up in a drawer. I didn’t think I’d get much for it. Whenever you looked in it to see yourself, it was all blurry and distorted. That was no way to see things. No way at all.
After I put everything out I sat on the lawn in an old tattered lawn chair with rusted legs. It was hot. I had a cooler filled with beer. I sat there and had about six of them and got soused. After a while, this car pulled up, real slow and all. I thought maybe the guy inside would get out and have a look around, but he just kept going. That made me drink some more. I had a pretty good buzz going on when from across the way my neighbors came out. They hadn’t lived there for long. A man and a woman. I didn’t know if they were married or not, but I knew they were a couple. You could tell. Today the lady was all done up and the man had a suit on. They must have been heading somewhere fancy. I didn’t know much about them and I didn’t want to.
Before the guy got into the car he waved.
“Yard sale?” he asked.
“Yesum,” I told him.
“Good luck. It’s always good to get rid of some stuff, clean out your closets.”
“Yesum,” I said again.
He looked at me for a moment. I could tell he wanted more from me but I had nothing to give. He nodded and got into the car. The lady waved to me when they pulled off. She looked like she felt sorry for me. I could tell because she sort of half-smiled. I’d seen the sort of look before at funerals for the grieving family members.
I was piss drunk after that. The old television set, the end tables and a sofa seemed to be swimming in the afternoon heat. Or else my head was spinning. I was about to pass out when a car pulled up and stopped. It was a real nice car, black and elegant looking. A young lady got out. She was wearing too much makeup and clutching a purse that was meant for an older woman. She wore a pricy pressed pantsuit. I wondered who she was trying to impress. For some reason, all I could think about when I looked at her was my own daughter who used to play dress-up with my wife’s clothes.
“Howdy miss,” I said. “See anything you like?”
My speech was slurred, and I was sort of embarrassed to tell you the truth. My wife used to get on me about that before she left. She said part of why she was leaving was that I had a problem. I told her I thought I did too. I thought it would make her stay but it didn’t.
“I just thought I’d have a look around,” said the girl. “I love yard sales.”
“Well if you see something you like just make me an offer. Everything must go. All of it. I mean it. I’m serious. Just make me an offer and it’s yours.”
“You mean a reasonable offer,” said the young woman. She was giving me a funny look.
I just smiled and drank my beer.
I watched her walk up the driveway. She wasn’t very pretty. She had long brown hair, tied up in a red ribbon. I would have liked to reach out and touch it. I thought about it. I really did.
Most of the stuff she looked at with indifference. I watched her run her finger along our old dining room table and frown. She picked up a lamp and then put it back down again. I thought she was going to leave when she stopped and reached out for my wife’s old vanity mirror.
“How much do you want for this?” she asked.
“It’s not for sale,” I told her. I don’t know why I said this, but I did. The words just sort of came out. I realized I didn’t want to give up the mirror. It was old and dusty, but I didn’t want to see it go to someone else. I felt silly about it, to tell the truth. I hadn’t been ready to part with it. The booze had made me see it that way. I always saw things more clearly through the bottle.
“But you said everything had to go,” the young woman said.
“I know. I know I did but not that. I guess I forgot about that. Besides, you don’t want it. It’s dirty.”
“I used to have something like it,” said the girl.
“It belonged to my wife,” I told her.
The girl frowned and put it down.
“How long has it been?” she asked.
“How long has it been since she passed?” She looked real sorry about it, you could tell. I almost wanted to laugh.
“Oh, about a year or so. She had cancer of the esophagus,” I lied. I’m a real smooth talker when I’m on the bottle, I really am.
“The girl shook her head and patted me on the shoulder. She was eating it up. I should have felt bad about it, I know, but the attention was nice. I wouldn’t have gotten the same sympathy had she known the truth. But everybody needs a little self-pity, don’t let anyone ever tell you anything different. Self-pity makes the world go round.
“Have a beer with me?” I asked.
“Oh,” she said looking around the yard. “I don’t know. I’m not much of a drinker.”
“Please. I could use some company. I’ve been sitting out here all day.”
“I just stopped by to look at the sale,” she said. “That’s all.”
“Look, you don’t have to buy anything. Just have a beer with me. Please? I haven’t talked to anyone since my wife died.”
It worked. She nodded. She pulled up an old bar stool and sat down. I handed her a beer and she cracked it open.
“I know what it’s like,” she said. “To lose someone, I mean.”
“It’s just the pits,” I said. I downed my beer and grabbed another.
“You ever been married?” I asked the girl.
She shook her head.
“I was engaged once,” she said. “But it didn’t work out.”
“These things happen,” I told her.
She looked down at the can in her hands.
“Sorry I don’t have any wine or anything,” I said. “All I got is beer.”
“That’s alright. I’m not much of a drinker, like I said.”
“Me either,” I told her. “I hardly ever touch the stuff.”
I finished off my beer and grabbed another.
“It’s nothing personal,” she said. “Just, well, you know how it is.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I guess I don’t like to drink cause my Dad was such a bad drunk,” she said.
“That’s a shame, it really is.”
“Tell me about it,” I told her. “You can talk to me.”
She glanced around the yard. I could tell she was uncomfortable, but I didn’t care.
“You lived here long?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Tell me about your father.”
“Well,” she said. She sort of chuckled. “We’re strangers, mister. It’s just not something I talk about with people I don’t know.”
“I want to know about it,” I said.
She put the beer down.
“I don’t know,” she said. “It’s personal, mister.”
“I understand. I won’t judge.”
“When my mom had enough she left my dad. I was twelve. My brother was thirteen. She came home one day, and my Dad was passed out in his recliner like he always was. She just put her purse down and said she was leaving. She said she’d had enough. She said we could come with her if we wanted. She told us she was moving to California and that she would be leaving soon.”
“Did you go with her?”
“No,” she told me. “I loved my Dad. I did. He tried. He worked all day long down at the Chrysler plant and he always paid the bills. He just had a problem, that’s all. But it got bad. When she left, I mean. It got worse. I don’t know how but it did.”
I nodded and drank some more.
The afternoon sun beat down on us and nothing was hidden from the light.
“I would come home from school and there he would be slumped over in his chair. Sometimes he’d wake up and he’d say, ‘’Who are you?’ and I’d have to tell him that I was his daughter. ‘I don’t have a daughter’ he would scream. That always hurt because there was no talking to him. I’d have to leave for a while and let him pass out. When he woke up he wouldn’t remember. Sometimes, I’d call my mom, but she wouldn’t answer. She was mad because I stayed behind.”
“That must have been hard,” I said.
I reached down for another beer, but I didn’t really want one. So, I just sat there listening. I liked hearing her talk. I felt like what she had to say was important.
“He drank himself to death,” she said. “He turned green from the liver failure. It was awful. I couldn’t get him to stop. He just kept drinking right up until the very end, but I loved him. I did.”
There was silence.
Everything seemed very still. I could hear nothing but the sound of the insects buzzing. I couldn’t feel a thing I was so wasted.
“Can I touch your hair?” I asked the girl.
She looked at me for a moment.
“I guess,” she said.
I reached out and felt it. It was very soft. After that, we kissed. It just sort of happened.
I don’t have an explanation for any of it. Don’t expect one, either.
“Let’s go inside,” she whispered.
So, we did.
I led her the way, stumbling the whole time.
When we got in, I felt all wrong. I mean, the house I had known for so long didn’t look like mine anymore. The rooms were all empty. I was empty. The rooms, which had at one time seemed so familiar that I could move about in the dead of night without a single light now seemed foreign as a distant land. We were like visitors to someone else’s home. For a moment, I had a vision that we were in another life, we were husband and wife and were just simply house hunting. That made me feel low, it really did.
I led the girl upstairs to my room which felt like it could have been anybody else’s room. All that was left was the mattress. There weren’t even any blankets or sheets. The sun poured in through the windows. There was no escaping it.
The girl sat down where my wife had once sat. Now my wife was in someone else’s bed, in another house, in another city. It was over. I had loved her so much that at any point I would have given up my life so that she could live. I didn’t feel that way now. We were in this room where my children had been conceived and now none of it seemed to matter. I was passing away, I was being sold, along with my stuff out there in the driveway. I didn’t understand how I had ever loved my wife or why I got this girl to come up here like this. I didn’t understand anything about anything and that made me feel pretty sad.
The girl began unbuttoning her blouse.
“Don’t,” I said, trying hard to remain standing.
“What?” she asked.
“Don’t,” I repeated. I couldn’t do to this to her, it just didn’t seem right.
I felt something go down my face. I realized I was crying.
home,” I told her. “Will you just go home, please?”
She got up. She slapped me.
“You’re a real pig, mister, you know that?” she yelled.
“I know,” I told her. “I’m lousy as hell.”
She stomped down the stairs. I followed her. I almost fell. We got back out into the evening sun and she was just about to her car when I called out after her.
She turned around.
I could see she was crying just like I was.
“What?” she asked.
“You forgot the mirror,” I told her.
“The mirror? You’ve got to be kidding me. I don’t want it anymore. I don’t want a damn thing from you, mister.”
“No,” I said, coming down the driveway. “I want you to have it.”
She just stood there.
I was losing my buzz. Everything—the air, the heat, the sun—I was beginning to feel everything and it was terrifying. It’s all too much when you stop and to think about it, it really is.
I picked up the mirror where she had left it on the dining room table and handed it to her.
She took it with shaking hands.
“Maybe you can use this,” I said.
She nodded and then she did something that surprised me. She took her fancy-looking blouse sleeve and wiped the dust away from the glass. I was amazed at how clean the glass was after she had done it.
She held the mirror up and both of us were reflected in it.
I could see things how they were, the yard with all of my stuff, the discarded beer cans littered all over the lawn. It was funny, I thought, now that the dust was gone, things were beginning to look so clear.
Category: Fiction, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU Student