Excerpt: Untitled Short Story

I would not mind your thoughts on this, the beginning of a short story I’m working on (that is due Sunday! but we’ll just gloss over that for now). I’m hoping this will be a series of related short stories. It is in a particular genre, but I’d rather get further before I disclose that. It is unedited, because my trusty personal editor is up north visiting family. So all grammar errors and poor constructions are on me. I looked it over, but not carefully. Feel free to give me your ideas. I know that some of my sentences are long and rambling; that is intentional for now.

Every yard sale seem to have a personality of its own. It’s not just the objects out for sale that are important, but how they are arranged on display that catches a purchaser’s eye. What kind of table they are displayed on, and how objects are positioned with one another can change the way the buyer feels about a potential purchase. Chaotic jumbles can be either intriguing if they are filled with items that evoke times or loves long past, or confusing and mind-numbing if they are filled with items better left in a dust bin. But sometimes re-arranging those dust bin candidates in just the right fashion can transform them. A collection of translucent turquoise colored jelly glasses, purchased at the grocery end cap in 1985 for $1 a piece are probably better off sent to the glass recycle than left on this plastic folding table that should have been wiped down before objects were heaped upon it. But spirited across the church yard to the highly polished sturdy oak dining table and aligned neatly next to the turquoise milk glass vases, with a pretty green-blue flowered tablecloth folded neatly next to them, a dark wicker basket, crystal candle-holders and the off-white tapers plucked from a dingy box of candle ends complete the scene. As a last minute thought add in some solid teal cloth napkins rescued from a box of old handkerchiefs and neatly folded alongside, and you’ve evoked an early summer picnic on the front porch at your grandmother’s – matching colors and textures to delight the eye and set a scene. Helen Lake freely moved items around the sale without really thinking about it, suiting her own sense of style, because no one was paying enough attention to tell her not to do so.

The yard sale was held by the church every year and run by a phalanx of church and neighborhood volunteers. Helen wasn’t one of them; just a shopper and neighborhood resident, but at this sale it didn’t matter to anyone how the items were organized. There were not lots or booths or separate pay stations, just boxes of discarded items carted to the church yard for the annual sale because it was easier than taking them to the donation, and because no one in the neighborhood wanted to throw something away if they thought it might have some use to someone, even if it was clearly beyond any practical interest to anyone else. “Someone might want them” is one of those the silly sentimental things we tell ourselves about the objects that pass on to others. It’s much easier to allow others to throw things out for us at the end of a busy day; separated from the sentiment of uneasy memory, it’s painless for a garage sale volunteer to toss the worthless walkman cassette player with a broken rewind into the trash. Or for Helen Lake to do so as she moved quietly past the table, reorganizing the less-interesting trash items to a back table unnoticed as she picked out a handful of useful things to purchase for herself, and arranged things she didn’t need but she could see had value in a way that displayed them to their advantage.

The lack of attention to what Helen was doing on the part of her neighbors was as much careful as careless. True that volunteers were in a flurry of activity selling yard sale items and refreshments, bagging purchases and counting change, moving heavy items to the back of people’s cars and directing traffic. But none of the residents of Olden Green was unaware of Helen Lake’s presence in the church yard, as much as they might like to be. Helen Lake might be one of the neighborhood’s (and the cities’) most famous residents, but she was not popular in the downtown Indianapolis historic district where she lived. Helen Lake had opinions about the neighborhood and its residents, and while they might be easily dismissed by her neighbors on the neighborhood mailing list, they were less so when they were fictionalized and examined at great length in a hit novel beloved by millions of Americans from all walks of life, published in hardback and soft cover and then reprinted as a book club edition with a question and answer dissection about gentrification, urban development and provincial attitudes printed in the appendix.

The thing that truly infuriated her neighbors was not that Helen Lake was right. She was, of course, as everyone could tell when they secretly checked the book out from the library and read it. Taken out of the context of email exchanges and personal wrangling, placed in a fictional setting and thoroughly knocked to pieces in a leisurely and entertaining way, the bitter squabbling engaged in by the residents of the 20 square blocks of the midwestern city — arguments over new construction, parking issues, low-income housing and petty theft — could be seen for the misguidedness and prejudice that it was.

What really made her neighbors mad, though, was that Helen pulled her punches with a graciousness they didn’t deserve. She was content with popping the over-inflated beliefs and logical fallacies of her neighbors. She didn’t name names or take pot-shots. She didn’t expect that her neighbors solve problems that were beyond the scope of what individuals could do. She merely called upon them to think, and empathize, and take the lives of people other than themselves into account. She was careful to change the names of the innocent and guilty alike. She moved the locale to a less identifiable place in the city. No one who read the book outside of the neighborhood itself would ever think to associate the fictionalized version of their myopic little ward with the real version where Helen lived, and they were reminded of that fact every time someone asked them whether they were friends with their famous neighbor, and if they could get a signed copy of the book for them. But her neighbors recognized the nicer, less mean version of themselves that came from Helen Lake’s pen, and while the tone of the association meetings and email exchanges had changed radically to studious politeness and a grudging willingness to take into account all there residents of Olden Green of varieties larger and smaller, no one had gone out of their way to befriend Helen Lake.

Which is how she liked it.

olden-green

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