Sunday, August 9, 2009

At the yard sale. . .writing prompt response

I finally have time to breathe and decided to go back and respond to some of the writing prompts I had missed.

Whew! That may have been a mistake. I could not stop writing. Before I knew it, I wrote 3500 words.

It's amazing how a simple writing prompt can break that writer's block and open the flow of creativity. I won't blame you if you don't read everything, but it is here so feel free.

Prompt: At the yard sale. . .

At the yard sale, her seventh for the day, Jane skirted the long tables overflowing with ‘lightly worn’ clothing according to the sign, moved past the children’s toys and man tools, AKA boys’ toys. She headed straight for what most people considered the junk pile, the stuff pulled out from the back of a great aunt’s closet or a grandmother’s bureau. Those people did not comprehend that the trinkets they tossed into a heap at the back of the yard sale were actually a goldmine.

She had always been a collector, but never had any money. When she first started college as a chemistry major, she met a girl named Amy in her history class. Amy used to sit in class with magazines. At first, Jane thought the magazines were Cosmopolitan or Glamour, the typical magazines college girls would read. In one class, Jane sat right behind Amy and as she flipped the pages, she saw photos of salt-n-pepper shakers, cups and saucers, hairbrush and mirror sets. The journal she read was not a women’s fashion periodical, but a publication on antiques.

While the teacher spoke in the front of the lecture hall, Jane leaned forward and whispered behind Amy. “What are you reading?”

Amy didn’t respond, but she did close the magazine and slide it to the side so Jane could see the title. It read, Vintage Art and Home D├ęcor.

When class finished, Jane hung outside the classroom and waited for Amy. “Why are you reading that magazine? Is it for a class or something?”

Amy wrinkled her nose on one side in a sneer and drew her eyebrows together. “What business is it of yours?”

Jane stiffened and snapped her shoulders back. “It’s not. It just looked interesting. I like to collect stuff and some of those pictures looked really neat. If they’re old they have to be cheap, right?”

This time, Amy scoffed at her question. “Only if you’re lucky do you find antiquities cheap. Not only would you have to be lucky, the person selling it would have to be an idiot.”

“Are you rich?” she asked without thinking. Jane’s grandmother would have rolled over in her grave at the audacity of her question.

Amy never did answer her question, but they ended up grabbing a cup of coffee in the coffee house in the recreation center on campus. She explained to Amy that she rented a small place off-campus and wanted to decorate it but could not afford new or even moderately expensive. “The place is so stark and boring, I have to do something.”
“Have you tried yard sales or flea markets?”

“Other people’s junk?” Jane had asked wrinkling her nose. She may have been poor and desperate, but she didn’t want someone else’s throwaways.

Amy shrugged. “One person’s garbage is another person’s prize.”

Amy explained to Jane the art of selecting collectibles. She told her what to look for, and what to stay away from. Then they set a date to go dumpster diving. That was what Jane had called it and still did.

That cup of coffee started the lifelong friendship she had with Amy today and her love affair with vintage collectibles.

One Saturday her sophomore year in college when Amy was home visiting her parents Jan struck out to go dumpster diving on her own. On the Thursday before, she picked up the Weekend section of the newspaper, looked for the listings of flea markets and yard sales, and planned her route.

After a quick breakfast of cinnamon-raisin bagel with cream cheese and juice, she packed up her notes, and went in search of collectible knick-knacks. None of the places she stopped at had much. She found one old glass jar, butter churn that actually had the wooden paddles. She snatched that up for a mere five dollars. It had been worth ten times that. If she didn’t keep it, she could sell it to an antique shop and still make a profit. Tucked in the very far corners of one flea market, Jane saw an old manual typewriter. She pressed a couple of keys and heard the clinking sound.

“She still works,” an old man dressed in pinstriped overalls, told her from his perch on a folding lawn chair. “She’s all oiled and has a new ribbon in it. Here, let me show you.”

“Oh, you don’t. . .” Jane let her words trail off as the older man hefted himself up from his seat and came to her with a wide grin on his face. Pride radiated from his smile. “Okay. Thank you.”

Mr. Conrad introduced himself then tugged a clean piece of paper out from under the typewriter. He slid it in and rolled it up then typed a paragraph as neat as can be onto the white sheet.

“Now you try.” He gestured with an outstretched hand toward the typewriter and took a step back.

How could she refuse? Jane stepped forward and typed just as smooth and efficient as Mr. Conrad.

“She still hums.”

“Why do you call the typewriter a she?”

Mr. Conrad had laughed a loud raucous of a laugh, one of a joy for life. She liked Mr. Conrad.

“All men’s favorite toys are female.” He winked at her and laughed again.

His laugh was infectious and Jane found herself chuckling right along with him. Then she stopped and asked him about the typewriter.

“The new century caligraph was built in 1899 by American Writing Machine Company in New York.”

“Where did you get it?”

He beamed at her. “My grandfather’s attic when I went to school.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a retired lawyer.”

Her eyes must have bugged out of their sockets because Mr. Conrad practically spit at her when he laughed.

“Happily retired. Now I can dress and do whatever I want.”

“I see,” she said, but hadn’t understood.

“No, you don’t but you will someday. One day you will want the world to slow down so you can smell the flowers, see the sunrise, love life, and not work.” He winked at her. “Mark my words. You’ll come back to me one day and I will get to say I told you so.”

Jane giggled and hoped that day would come. Then she sobered. “How much?”

Mr. Conrad lifted one black and gray eyebrow. “Ah.” He rubbed his hands together. “Woman after my own heart, a straight shooter.” Fisting one hand on a hip and the other one hand rubbing his head in thought, he eyed her, and then the typewriter, back to her again. “For you, five hundred dollars.”

Jane’s hand flew to her throat where the price was stuck. “Fi. . .five. . . hundred?” she gasped out.

“Too steep for you.”

Hell yeah! “Uh, well, I hadn’t exactly planned on spending that much today.”

Mr. Conrad clucked his tongue. “I’ll make you a deal.”

Jane’s brows shot up toward her hairline.

“Relax. I’m not a dirty old man.”

“I. . .I. . .”

“Calm down girl,” he said waving a hand pushing air toward the ground. “I can tell you are going to be a force to reckon with in the business world.”

She felt her cheeks flush at the compliment. At least she thought it was a compliment.

“Remember though, there is more to life than work and money.”

“Says the retired attorney.”

“Touche.” Mr. Conrad bowed then straightened. “I’m going to teach you how to enjoy the other parts of life.”

Jane’s heart jumped inside her chest and banged against her rib cage. He was a dirty old man.

The burst of laughter that came from his chest surprised her.

“If you could see your face.” He placed a large hand on her shoulder. “I have an herb garden and I need help in it. Besides, you will be surprised what being out in the sun and playing in the dirt can do for one’s soul. It will help balance you and that drive for success I see lurking under the surface.”

“You want me to garden?” she asked in disbelief.

“Yup. That’s the deal. Do we shake on it or what?” Mr. Conrad dropped his hand from her shoulder and stuck it out for her to take.

It hung in the air, a snake ready to strike, but then Jane looked up and into Mr. Conrad’s smiling face. His pale green eyes sparkled with humor and knowledge. Why not? She shrugged and clasped his hand in hers, as much as she could, considering his hand engulfed hers. He gave it a firm shake and they struck a deal.

She had gone to Mr. David Conrad’s house every other Saturday afternoon since the day she met him. Long since paid off her debt to him, she continued to visit him every other Saturday six years later. Jane looked forward to their time together. She would show him the trinkets she picked up for a steal and he would teach her more about herbs and plants and life.

Exhausted from her fruitless search at the dusty and crowded flea markets today, Jane unlocked her small truck and slid behind the wheel. She could not wait to see David.

As she pulled into the drive of David’s Victorian home, she remembered the visit that changed her life forever. On one visit five years ago, she walked into the kitchen and almost tripped over the boxes littering the floor.

“What the heck?”

“It was time,” he announced from the arched entryway that led to the living room.

“Time for what, David?” she asked and knelt next to the cardboard boxes. She opened the first one and saw crystal. Jane lifted one piece out and held it up. The sunlight streaming in through the bay window struck the crystal and send shimmering beams of rainbows dancing around the room. “Beautiful,” she breathed out and looked down. The box was eighteen inches by eighteen inches and held nothing but crystal, crystal vases, dishes, candleholders, even a ring holder. “

“Their yours.” David walked into the room then and sat on a Windsor back chair close to where she knelt.

She stared at him, her mouth agape. David hooked a finger under her chin, closed her mouth, and smiled at her. She swallowed, wet her lips, and finally managed to squeak out some words. “I can’t. . .you don’t. . .”

“I can,” he said nodding. “I want to. It’s just stuff to me. It once meant something to me, but with Sara gone, they are just things that need dusting.”

Jane saw tears pool in his faraway gaze. Then he blinked and they were gone.

“I know how much you love those little do-dads and pretty baubles, so I’m giving them to you.”

“David. You can’t –”

“I most certainly can. It’s done. If you don’t want them then I will take them to a flea market.”

She gasped, snatched the crystal candleholder to her chest, and narrowed her eyes. “Don’t you dare.”

David chuckled and tweaked her nose. “I thought you would see it my way. “ He rose and offered her a hand. “Now, let’s have some lunch then go play in the garden. I think today we’ll learn about lavender and all of its uses.”

As part of her lesson, David had made lavender lemonade and lavender cookies then he taught her how to dry lavender and discussed its many uses in cosmetics and bath essentials. “It has to be one of the best herbs, especially in its oil state for relaxation there is.”

That afternoon her mind had not been on the lavender, but on the boxes of pretty things she could put in her small, dull place and make it beautiful and homey. She could not wait to go home and pick out the just the right spot for every single piece.

By the time Jane arrived at her rental house, it had been late, but she did not feel the least bit exhausted. After carrying the five boxes one-by-one inside, she felt energized. She poured herself a glass of wine then sat on the dingy rust-colored carpet surrounded by the boxes. Jane opened every single one of the cartons. With great reverence and care, she lifted out the delicate baubles and placed them on the floor.

By the time Jane finished opening and setting each piece out, she sat in the middle of sixty-seven pieces of art. To her, they were works of art, not someone else’s throwaways or garbage. What David Conrad had given her that day was love, a love he had lost, and she had found.

Surrounded by crystal, ceramic, pewter, and glass, Jane went from shedding tears to giddy laughter, and back again. In her hand, she held a funny looking ceramic frog dish with big bug eyes and a wide, open mouth used to hold a kitchen sponge. She flipped it over and the sip of white wine she had just taken spewed out in a spray when she couldn’t hold back her shock and laughter. The underside of the frog displayed the anatomically correct parts for a male frog.

With the frog in her hand, she unfolded herself and got to her feet. She stepped over all the baubles and moved to the kitchen to wash her hands and the frog and get a wet paper towel for the floor. When she slid the frog under the slow rain of water from the faucet, wiping off the green ceramic, she felt her world tilt. In gold writing, she saw initials and a number on the underside of the frog. Afraid the wine might have affected her vision, Jane pulled the frog’s bottom closer to her face.

Her eyes crossed and breath caught in her lungs. She panted for air. It was numbered in gold paint. Real gold. With a tight grip on the frog, Jane hurried back to the living room. She glanced down at the eclectic array of decorations and saw another frog. As if her arm were a frog’s tongue, she reached out and snatched up the green ceramic. She flipped it over and yes, there it was, the male frog’s mate with her anatomically correct features clear as day. She shook her head at the thought of David Conrad owning something so whimsical.

Then it hit her and she had to sit. He had a pair, a full set of vintage frogs in perfect condition. According to the gold writing, David owned one of only sixty the artist had made. Stunned, heart beating out of control with excitement, Jane jumped to her feet, still clutching the frogs, and ran to her bedroom.

She set the frogs on the bed then opened up the chest at the foot of it and started pulling out book after book of antiquity magazines and catalogs. When she came across one for kitchen art and collectibles, she paused, and started flipping through the pages. Her hands froze over the page with the image of her frogs. She blinked, looked at the frogs on her bed, then back at the magazine.

“Holy shit!”

She slammed the magazine shut, leaned back and reached for the phone on a little stand she had picked up at an earlier flea market. Her fingers shaky, she managed to drop the receiver on the floor. Oh, well. Blood echoing in her ears, Jane dialed David. No answer. She glanced at her watch. It was only eight o’clock. Maybe he had gone to sit on the deck.

“This can’t wait!”

Jane hopped to her feet, tugged open a drawer and pulled out her thickest pair. She stuffed each frog into a sock, hoping to offer them more protection than just the inside of a box, then with them pinned between one arm and her chest, she ran to the door, snatched up her purse and keys, and left the house without another thought. Fifteen minutes later, Jane pulled up to David’s.

“David!” she yelled as soon as she left her little clunker of a truck. “David! Where are you?”

David opened the front door and met her half way down his front steps. “What is it? Are you okay?” he asked, cupping his hands on both her shoulders.

Out of breath, she panted, “Yes. You. . .” She took a deep breath. “You have to see this.”

David wrapped an arm around her waist and helped her up the stairs and into the parlor where he had a small fire going.

“Turn the light on, David. You have to see this.” While David went to hit the switch, Jane slid the frogs out of their protective sock and set them onto the coffee table.

“Why did you bring those back here?” David asked with his brow furrowed.

Jane tried to suck in more air and instead choked on laughter. She pulled the magazine out, flipped to the correct page, and held it open, pointing her finger at the article.

“What the –”

Jane watched as realization struck David speechless for the first time since she had known him. As his eyes took in the article, he ran his fingers through his dark, silver hair. He finally understood her excitement.

“Well, I’ll be damned.”

Jane covered her mouth and chuckled. “That’s the understatement of the century. You’re rich, David. Rich!” she exclaimed twirling about with her arms flung out at her side.

“No. You’re rich.”

Jane stumbled then righted herself and stared unseeing at him. “What?”

“I gave them to you as a gift. The frogs belong to you.”

Hands fisted on hips, Jane narrowed her eyes. “Well, I don’t want them.”

“Too bad,” David said handing her the magazine then turned and sat down in a wingback chair next to the fire.

Jane spun after him. “Are you crazy?”

Leaning forward in the chair, elbows resting on his knees, David shook his head. “Not crazy. I’m just an old man who knows that I don’t need money to be rich. I have everything I need. You don’t. You’re going to school on college loans and grants. By the time you graduate, you will be in debt up to your eyeballs. Why not have your education paid for and be able to start your own business when you get out rather than work for someone if you want.”

Jane could not believe her ears. David was serious. Her heart squeezed as if in a vise. How had she been so lucky to have found a friend in David. A knot of emotion choked her up, but she managed to find the words. “I don’t want what is yours and was yours and Sara’s.” She moved closer to David, stood inches from his bowed head.
Before she could continue, David reached out and grasped one of her hands in his. He peered up at her, the firelight dancing in his eyes. “Jane, you’re like family to me. You’re the daughter Sara and I never had. Let me do this for you. Please.”

Now tears trickled down her cheeks. As much as she tried not to let them go, they fell anyway. Jane squeezed his fingers. “I’ll make you a deal.”

David sat up straight and she smiled. She would throw the same offer he had given her a year ago back at him and he knew it. Jane swiped at the tears and continued. “I’ll make you a deal. You teach me everything about herbs and how they can be used in cosmetics, be my chief consultant, and we will split the money from the frogs.”

“Cosmetics?”

“Yup.” She bobbed her head. “I want to start an organic cosmetics business.”

Releasing her hand, David sat back and stared at her. “You don’t even wear makeup.”

“Exactly. I can’t.” She wrinkled her freckled nose. “All the chemicals give me a rash or dry my skin.” Jane shook her head. “It’s not pretty.”

Jane saw the corner of David’s mouth twitch. HA! She had him. “Come on. We’ll call it Not-so-plain-Jane’s.”

Now the corners of David’s mouth lifted into a full blow smile that lit the room.

Jane stuck out her hand. “That’s the deal. Do we shake on it or what?”

She waited while he rubbed a hand over the day old scruff on his chin. When she didn’t think she could wait any longer David enclosed her hand in his and shook.

“Deal.”

Five years later, Jane had exactly what she had wanted, what she made a deal with David for, but now, she had to admit, she wanted more, and it had nothing to do with work. Smiling, she shook her head as she exited the same clunker truck she had owned forever. David had been right. There was more to life than work and success. Now if she could just find it.

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