The Yard Sale Book

“Didn’t you say you know this famous author’s daughter?” Tiffany waved a book under my nose. “You know, the one who writes peculiar short stories?” she asked as we browsed the long table of books at a local yard sale. The air was sweet with jasmine and Saturday morning new mown grass.

“Yeah, that’s her. Olivia, her daughter, and I were to high school together.” I spied a pair of silver candlesticks, dent in one looked like someone had thrown it hard. $10.00. Gorham. Dent or not, they’d add grace to my pitiful, but cheap, studio apartment near campus. The older woman who was shedding her life by holding the yard sale frowned at a man quibbling over $25.00 for an elegant picnic basket with real china plates.  I winked at her.  She smiled back and held her twenty-five-dollar ground.

” Olivia’s moms’ book is one dollar.” Tiffany pushed it at me.  

I looked it over. Hardcover. Originally $29.98. Not signed.  First edition. I wondered if there had been a second printing.

Sunday, after working on my thesis for a few hours, I picked up the yard sale book and began reading the stories.   Halfway through the sixth one, my face began to burn. I flipped back to the first page and re-read the story, slowly. I felt sick, my lips were dry and my tongue hurt.  A bitter taste developed in my mouth. I couldn’t finish the story. I was humiliated. A tear drip became a waterworks faucet laundering my face; phlegm constricted in my throat, my nose ran, and I couldn’t breathe. God, is this is what it’s like to drown, I was queasy.  

At the kitchen sink, I splashed cold water on my face and dried it with scratchy paper towels.

When did this happen? Maybe it’s a mistake, and perhaps it’s not me?,  I wished miserably. I tried to remember my sixteenth year and Olivia. The book’s publication date was 2016. The year I got my driver’s license, a car and was friends, for a while, with Olivia; the author’s daughter. It was easy to see which character she was in the story.

I began to re-read the story, very deliberately and pondered why I suffered instant pain from what I read.  I knew it was because it was a precise, knife job on a bunch of teens performed with a sharp eye and finely honed cerebral switchblade of a smart, observant adult.

Tiffany, my next-door neighbor, knocked at the door, “Going to Rocco’s to join people for drinks and dinner, want to come?”  

I dabbed my eyes, blew my nose on paper towels, and cracked open the door, “No thanks. I’m tired.”

Tiffany peeked in; it was dim in the apartment, “Oh, you look exhausted. OK, take care, text me if you want me to bring you something to eat,” she waved bye and left.

Her footsteps ricocheted the chilled concrete walls and balcony then stopped. I heard the elevator doors clunk open.

I read the story once more and considered the morsels. It appeared the author had nicked fragments and shards of girls, cemented them at odd angles to hide the true originals, but it was a very thin overlay of deception. Was she admitting her daughter was very smart, but cruel and arrogant? How did she really feel about the characters taunting the main, vapid, character: The watery teen? The nice girl. The airhead…. me.

The conversations and physical description were really me, but inner thoughts attributed to the character where those of a stranger. Maybe there was more than one airhead teen in her life who looked and acted just like me?  I couldn’t remember anyone who was as clueless as I was that year.

She couldn’t have known all my interior thoughts in 2016 were focused on how my mother suffered and died of cancer a year previously. Nor of my static fear and confusion about my father’s mental breakdown which followed mom’s long road to death. I went to live with my Great Aunt.  That year I was new to the high school, a transfer student.  I didn’t know anybody nor they me. 

I never discussed my difficulties, problems, or grief with anyone, I just didn’t know how. I tried to erase mom’s long painful illness and dad’s breakdown, from my mind.   I was just trying to fit in.  I often cried myself to sleep.

I guess I made friends my during my junior year, because I had a car.  And because my Great Aunt trusted me, I had few controls or rules.  As long as my grades were decent, I had freedom, no problem, I kept solid four-point average.

I tossed the book of stories on the desk. Olivia’s mother didn’t know squat. I was certain she wrote the story to fill up space and paste it into a book, not to hurt me or others. She was just a pirate.  A thief who used a group of teen girls as a treasure chest of oddities. She sorted through us for her own fictitious publishing income benefit.

Crap, I had no idea what she thought.

I thought about my two years at that high school and contemplated with satisfaction now, at twenty-two, I no longer cared what people, like her, or her daughter or others in the clique thought about me, or my looks, or my vapid teen ways.  None of them, then, had any idea I was desperately seeking normalcy, reaching to the wind to stay on an even keel. I was anxious to escape pain, grief, fear, and loneliness. I was trying to be happy.  If the author thought I was shallow, dull, and just a dumb happy insipid teen, I guessed I pulled off the farce pretty well. 

A few minutes later, I felt better after I called dad about meeting for dinner or lunch this week. He said we’d make it a date night at FIA in Santa Monica, Thursday. I told him I loved him. Twice.

After a hot shower, I brushed out my long red hair, put on makeup, black cashmere sweater over skinny jeans and my mother’s carved jade, good luck, bracelet. Before I walked out into the spring night to have a beer and pasta with my friends at Rocco’s, I tossed Olivia’s moms’ book in the trash.


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