Su Baccino and Bob Moore

© Robert Moore  2011







The Yard Sale

I made the turn down Elbow Road into the neighborhood known as Rapier.  I’m not sure why it was called that, but it was once mill housing, maybe that was the mill.  I slowed when I approached her parent’s house, and stopped when I saw the yard sale.   I thought it was at her house, and my heart pounded, but it was the house next door.   Karen had grown up in that tiny colonial.  I’d ridden my bike into that yard a hundred times.

But this was the house next door, of which I had no memory.  I don’t think it had been built when I was in high school, and as it usually is with relatively young houses, the yard sale wasn’t big; they hadn’t been there long enough.  It was an odd yard sale; where most have tables on the driveway piled high with children’s clothes and games, this one had a makeshift clothing rack and the clothes were mostly suits and dress shirts, with dress shoes lined up sloppily underfoot.  It was nearly noon on a sunny, crisp early fall Saturday, a few leaves crunching underfoot.  The crowds, if there had been any, had moved on.  I was the sole customer when I got out and crossed the cracked sidewalk.

Rapier had always been a sad neighborhood, few trees, untended lawns, small lots.  Some of the homes were row housing and some were old houses divided into rentals with seven cars plugging up a stubby driveway, and a motorcycle on the lawn.  This house was a split-level, maybe thirty years old.  The shingles needed paint, a fence was falling down on the side, the gutters were full.

I sell antiques, and I can usually tell from the curb if a yard sale interests me, and I saw nothing interesting.  I had returned home, to Mishawaka, Indiana, to see to my father’s estate, Mom already gone five years ago.  Tomorrow I returned to New York.  There was only one bit of Mishawaka I missed, and Karen hadn’t made the funeral.  Maybe she didn’t live here anymore.

What drew me out was the woman; she looked just like Karen should look today.  Karen liked to wear dresses, and so was she, and she parted her hair in the middle with bangs, like Karen.  She was holding a small tin cash box, and her teenage son was sitting on the front stoop, leaning back as if to tan, eyes closed and ears plugged into an ipod, around in case someone bought more than they could carry.  Where the lawn met the front sidewalk was a For Sale sign topped with a ‘Sold’ placard.

I got out to see her because I’d never see Karen again.  She smiled and nodded to me from inside the garage.  I pinched the sleeve of a wool suit to pretend interest. Walking past a folding table with paperbacks, the Goosebump series, and some kids movies on DVDs, I found a table covered with Tupperware.  It looked new, priced ‘$1 piece, $20 for all’ for about thirty pieces.  There was also a binder filled with motivational booklets and cds devoted to selling Tupperware.  Sitting open on the driveway was a sales suitcase propped open, filled with samples of Mary Kay cosmetics, marked ‘$30’.  It began taking shape; this was the flotsam of a woman trying to get rich selling to friends and neighbors.  I had to wonder whether she would be missed.

Though I was savoring the warmth of the sun, the rest of the sale was in the dank garage, and I considered heading for the car instead.  But there was something about her, opening the cash box and frowning, or her son now riding his bike in wide circles on the hummocky lawn, like an eaglet preparing to leave the nest.  I stepped inside the garage and saw another folding table covered with sales materials for Uncle Charlie’s Coffee, bundled up for ‘$75 or B.O.’  A little pricey for a yard sale, I thought.  Besides glossy sales brochures, there were small coffee samples.  I sniffed a foil packet and caught a hint of the promised French Vanilla.

I hadn’t heard of Ted’s Seeds, so I was actually opened the book and read the first page of his sales book; it was only thirty pages long, hard bound with wide margins and nothing at all earthshaking within, going for ten dollars.  She popped in front of me with a smile.  “I can cut that price to five if you’re interested,” she offered.  “If you want to get in the business, they’ll charge you thirty-nine-ninety-five.”

She sounded like Karen.  But of course, she was local.  Every woman raised in Mishawaka sounded something like Karen.

“It looks like you’ve tried a couple of these home sales products.” I no longer sounded like Indiana.  I sounded like a four year college in Pennsylvania and years more just north of New York City.

She smiled sourly.  “My husband, Roger, was the one that went for this.  He thought he could get rich quick.  I can’t believe how much he spent on it.”

I caught her scent, a fruity perfume; I had no idea what scent Karen would wear, if any.  In school she had smelled of shampoo and something with cinnamon overtones.  Karen and this woman had dark brown hair, but up close this woman’s was silvered.  It was just the two of us there, in the garage.  The dank concrete made us seem closer, the only sources of warmth.  “He died a month ago, from an aneurysm.  At a Ted’s Seeds party, no less.”  She looked murderously at Ted’s Seeds.

“Roger sold cosmetics?” I asked, joking, looking pointedly at the Mary Kay case.  I wanted her to smile.  Karen had been relentlessly cheery.

She smiled a sardonic smile, not the happy one Karen always had.  “He said I needed to support him, and he thought Mary Kay was ‘going places’.  That was his phrase.  He thought we could team up, have one house party, he could pitch Tupperware, I could sell cosmetics.  I mean, I tried, but I wasn’t like Roger.  I couldn’t just sling bullshit.  And it probably showed that I didn’t think the cosmetics were worth the money.”

“It’s hard to get rich doing the selling.  The trick is to recruit people who sell for you.”  I was surprised at myself; it was borderline rude to explain the secret to the seeker.

“Yeah,” she agreed, looking at me like I was the first English speaker to happen by in months.  “That’s what I said, but you couldn’t tell him anything.  I said recruit other suckers, but he was convinced he could beat the odds selling the product. And he worked his ass off trying.”  She shook her head and said, softer; “He was an accountant, so I figured he’d be good with money.  Then, about five years ago, he got laid off.  So he went nuts with this stuff.”  She crossed her arms on her chest and shook her head.  “Selling coffee and kitchen aids.  Roger didn’t do shit in the kitchen.  He couldn’t even make fucking coffee.”  She blushed, and looked around to be sure we were alone.  “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that.”

I smiled a conspirator’s grin.  Glancing over my shoulder, I asked, “Did you ever know the people in that house?”

She looked, shading her eyes.  “Just an older man, is his name Pillock or Hillock?” She guessed.  “I think he had a family before, but when we moved here it was just him.  He got put in an old folks home a year or so ago.  I think it’s empty now.”

I nodded vaguely; I’d knocked on the door three days ago, after finding no phone listing.  Karen Pillock, lost to me forever.  I smiled at the new Karen and looked at her dead husband’s suits again, hanging from the rack.  They could be tailored.

Karen and I had never passed second base, which kept her desirable and sacred in my memory, and when I stepped across the cracked sidewalk I had a vague idea of inviting the new Karen to lunch, to maybe seduce her, to experience what I had missed and would never have.  But I saw that she was trying to shed her failed past, to leave behind a house of bad memories, and her son looked healthy and the house had sold, so she had a chance.  I realized then that I would probably never return to Indiana, and that saddened me, but just a little.

So I wrote her a check for a hundred and ninety – including two of the four suits –  and let the son help me fill my wagon.  Uncle Charlie’s Coffee in the front seat, the Tupperware in the back seat on top of the suits.  I stowed the makeup in the tailgate to drop off at the Goodwill on my way out the next morning.  I shook Karen’s hand, wished her well, and drove off.