by DS Levy
As soon as Colleen opened the door, they jumped out of their curbside Chevy S-10 and followed her into her garage like pesky shadows.
‘Fine day for a rummage sale,’ the old man said. He was wearing a dirty International Harvester cap and stained overalls. He picked up one item after the other, his big shaky hands searching for neon-colored price tags.
A woman with gray, broom-bristled hair hobbled up behind him with her aluminum cane.
‘Hey, Mother,’ he said, nodding at two dull green spindle-back kitchen chairs.
Colleen wanted five bucks apiece.
The old woman examined one, tipping it back on its hind legs.
‘They’s nice,’ she said.
As a precocious child, Colleen had often leaned back, balancing herself precariously on two legs. ‘You’ll break those damn chairs someday,’ her mother had scolded. Once, she even snuck up from behind and grabbed the back of the chair so that Colleen felt as though she were falling backwards and screamed. ‘Maybe that’ll teach you,’ her mother smirked.
‘Would you take three?’ the old woman lisped through wobbly dentures.
Three bucks was fair, even two. But Colleen knew rummaging was a game; give in too easily, they’d try wheedling her down on other things. That was pickers for you. Bargaining to make a buck.
‘I’m just opening,’ she said. ‘If they’re still here at the end of the day, I’d consider it.’
‘I see,’ the woman grunted, picking up a ceramic cow and putting it down on the card table where Colleen sat quietly, guarding her cash box.
Except for a cheap necklace, Colleen hadn’t kept anything of her mother’s. She’d never been the sentimental type, and truth be known, she was still pissed off at her mother for leaving half of her estate to Colleen’s step-sister, Joanne. It just wasn’t fair, she’d screamed at Joanne, whose bright blue eyes had gleamed mirthfully.
The woman circled back to the chair. ‘What’d you think, Dad?’
‘We got plenty of chairs.’
‘But they’d go with my table out back.’
Right, Colleen thought, just like the cow would match the purple moon hanging over their house. Pickers!
The woman frowned like a petulant child. Or maybe the two of them were playing Good Cop-Bad Cop with Colleen, trying to haggle the price down. Colleen stared at the chairs. Her mother had carried them through five moves and two marriages and painted them so many times a fingernail could chip off a rainbow of color.
‘You can have them for three,’ she said.
The woman sucked her teeth back up to her gums, and grinned.
A few weeks later, driving around in her convertible, Colleen saw a sign for a garage sale, cars parked on both sides of the street. The front lawn was strewn with junk. In no hurry, she stopped. The driveway was also loaded with junk. Her eyes raked over baby toys, pots and pans, an old croquet set, a left-handed set of golf clubs, and boxes and boxes of clothes, until she came to the garage, where she spotted them—the pickers, busy with other customers.
In a corner of the cluttered garage, she recognized her mother’s chairs. They’d asked $20 for both, though the price had been crossed out, ‘sold’ written over it.
Fools, she thought, pulling one of the chairs out and sitting down. She remembered the feel of hard wood against her bottom and pushed herself back on two legs. Just as her mother had warned, the spindly legs snapped clean. Colleen screamed as she fell backwards. She hit her head on the cement. When she looked up, the pickers were standing above her, the old woman sucking her false teeth, reminding Colleen of her mother.
She smiled at the woman, and then she couldn’t help it—she laughed and laughed, until she cried.
DS Levy’s work has been published in Fictive Dream, New Flash Fiction Review, Little Fiction, the Alaska Quarterly Review, Columbia, South Dakota Review, Brevity, The Pinch, and others. Her chapbook of flash fiction, A Binary Heart, was published by Finishing Line Press.