The next day was a Saturday, and most people were sleeping in. Rose wanted to, but Saturdays were important. She tumbled out of bed two hours before dawn. Shrugging into her hand-embroidered bathrobe and sticking some moccasins on her feet, she wandered out into the kitchen and mixed up some pancake mix.
While she was waiting for the griddle on her cranky old hand-enameled stove to warm up, she looked at the painting she had on her bedroom door. She could tell someone had spent a lot of time on it, because it had many meticulous details – but the composition was weak, and the balance of colors wrong, and the perspective off. It was what happens when a beginner attempts to create a masterpiece. She liked it, because she liked the sincerity and earnestness of the attempt, but she really liked the Klimt lithograph she had on the bedroom side of the door. She didn’t know whether it was the most beautiful lithograph in the history of masturbation, or the most beautiful masturbation in the history of lithography, but it must surely be one or the other.
Glancing around the kitchen, she hated all the dead televisions and radios on the shelves. They were okay, but they sure weren’t art, or even useful. She needed to replace them. Good utensils, well-used cookbooks, anything kitchen-themed and good, really, would do. She wanted something different for the kitchen ceiling, too. She had a collection of toys glued up there in an upside-down town scene, and that was pretty nice, but she couldn’t use the top row of cabinets.
She scooped pancake mix from the old mixing-bowl onto the griddle with a hand-blown glass punch ladle, then stepped outside for a few seconds to grab the newspaper. The city seemed relaxed, as though most people were still sleeping, or awake but just resting relaxed before they got up. Now that she was rested, all the dreaming ones just seemed soothing rather than threatening or overwhelming. Smiling, she scooped up the newspaper from the step. Getting an apartment where the newspaper delivery reliably came before 5 AM on Saturdays had been a stroke of luck for her.
Back inside, she flipped the pancakes and spread the newspaper out on the heavy old table with the ugly hand-carved legs, along with a map of San Francisco and a battered old ledger binder full of notebook paper.
When the pancakes were finally done, she flipped them onto an ancient Winnie-the-Pooh plate. She munched contentedly with an antique monogrammed silver fork that didn’t match any other flatware she had, and planned out her route for the morning. It was a Saturday, and Saturdays meant garage sailing.
Rose didn’t know how many people like her there were in the city, but there must be at least a couple dozen, because the competition to get to garage sales at opening time was fierce. It hardly ever did her any good to get there a few minutes late, so she planned ahead. She went through the want ads, marking little X’s on her map along with the opening times of garage sales, and when she was done with that she put the newspaper away, took the annotated map, and opened up the ledger binder. She was looking for garage sales that opened a half-hour to an hour apart, and were ten minutes or less from each other in order. That would give her fifteen minutes or so to check out each one right at opening time. Eventually she found three plausible routes with five or more garage sales each.
She had to take into account that the first leg of the trip couldn’t happen until the first bus came by at six. She’d catch it, make a connection downtown, and ride another bus to get her car from the lot behind Morey’s book-shop. That eliminated one of the routes from consideration, because its main attraction was a six-thirty estate sale that was just too far from the bookstore. The other two routes had a couple of plausible crossover points, so she decided she’d just start out on the one that was closest to her car and switch if it looked like there were too many of her kind of people working it.
She got dressed, in her favorite old beat-up red sneakers with the sequins on them, an embroidered chambray shirt, and a tie-dyed skirt that had been made in a hippie commune sometime in the early seventies out of hand-woven cloth. It was cold out, so she finished with a knitted Doctor-Who style scarf, cotton tights, hand-knitted striped leggings, a hat someone had decorated with glue and glitter, and a brocade duster coat.
With a look at her colonial-era clock, which still kept reasonably good time even though its wooden gears were showing a lot of wear, she decided she hadn’t time to wash the dishes and still catch the first bus, so she put them in the sink to soak and headed out. The bus was late, but all it meant was that she didn’t have to wait as long for the connection downtown, so she didn’t lose any minutes. She arrived at the first sale promptly at six fifty, which was, as planned, ten minutes before it started. She hoped they’d open a bit early.
There were already three others there. The first one, you could spot a mile away because of the toys glued all over his car. Rose sighed. It was such a cliche, and there really didn’t seem to be any art to it. Rose had an art-car too, but she’d gone a different route. She’d decoupaged copies of Sunday paper and puzzle-book puzzles all over it, and left dry-erase markers hanging from boxes next to her taillights, headlights, and outside mirrors so people could have fun with it. It didn’t give her the kind of comfort that well-used toys would have, at least not at first, so she had lined the headliner and carpets with old term papers. That had made it better, and it had been getting better as people worked the puzzles, but but still… she hadn’t been really secure about driving at all until she found the shoe box full of handmade watches that she kept under the front seat.
Anyway, the guy with the toys on his car was waiting inside it, and the other two were out among the tables.
There was a man she’d seen before, usually on Saturday mornings, who was pacing and prowling this way and that, running his hands across the tarps that covered the tables before the sale started and pausing once in a while when he found something good. His name was Mike Clelland. The woman, a stranger to her, was just standing and waiting for the sale to start. She couldn’t see him yet, but she could feel the homeowner too, moving around in the garage, still muzzy with sleep.
Rose got out of her car, with an empty basket in her hands. “Good morning,” she ventured.
Mine, Bitch, Mike thought, glaring at her. He really didn’t want any competition. The guy in the car didn’t respond at all, maybe even hadn’t heard her.
“Uh, good morning,” said the woman, yawning. Her name, Rose realized suddenly, was Sonia.
“Hi, my name’s Rose,” Rose said. Wonder what you’re here looking for today, she thought.
The other was startled by Rose’s sudden presence in her thoughts. I didn’t know anybody else could do that, she thought. That was you, in my mind? Then she remembered to say something. “Uh, hi, I’m Sonia.”
Yeah, it was me. There’s a few of us, Rose thought back at her.
All of us poor bastards are in each other’s damned heads all the fucking time, you goddamned interloping idiot! thought Mike. That’s why we all have to be out here so goddamned early!
Sonia jumped. He’s mean! she was genuinely shocked by the unshielded avarice in his thoughts.
Rose squeezed her shoulder, sharing a thought. Mike’s annoying but harmless. Don’t let him get to you. It’ll be okay.
Then the guy in the art-car got out and started for the end table, and Mike thrust his hand under one of the tarps, and Rose headed for the table with the books on it. Why’s everybody moving all of a sudden? wondered Sonia.
Then the homeowner, whom they’d all been at least a little bit aware of except for Sonia, opened the door of the garage, wishing he had a cup of coffee, regretting advertising such an early opening, and thinking who are these people and why couldn’t they wait until a respectable hour?
Rose grabbed six books off the book table, then something in the garage caught her attention. She headed back there, narrowing it down as she went to an old blueprint tube in the back. It had a garage-sale price-tag on it, and as she stuck one hand inside she felt deep substance and tranquility in the old yellowed paper.
SCORE! she thought jubilantly, then winced as Mike’s echoing DAMMIT! came back like a reflection. She unrolled it just enough to see what it was; an old mandala, a huge one. Tucking the tube under her arm, she turned around to see what else was in the garage. There was a sewing kit that was good. It had the memory of a grandmother’s love for many grandchildren. Rose picked it up and turned it over. She didn’t sew, so it wasn’t terribly useful to her. She decided her apartment was safe enough now, she was looking now for things she actually liked as things, instead of just for the substance or feel of them. Like that calligraphy set over there…
As she picked up the calligraphy pens, she passed the sewing kit to Sonia. “Here, this is nice,” she said. “Welcome to San Francisco.”
Sonia had been gathering up some stained-glass tools and some amateur stained-glass pieces, but her face lit up when she touched the sewing kit. Obviously she had trouble telling about something unless she actually got a hand on it. “This is great! Thank you, Rose!”
“No big deal,” said Rose. “I was actually looking for kitchen stuff.” Better you than mean old Mike, she thought, and I got something even better.
Sonia didn’t want to lose touch now that she knew she wasn’t the only one. “Uh, can we get together and talk sometime?”
Rose smiled at her. “Yeah, I work at Morey’s bookstore. Drop in anytime you want to see me. But for now, I gotta run.”
The four of them converged on the homeowner at about the same time; the next sale, as they all knew, would start two blocks away at seven-thirty. The guy with the glued toys on his art-car – his name was Walter, she could tell now that he’d gotten out of it – picked up a couple dozen more old toys. Sonia got the stained glass stuff, the sewing kit, and a couple of books. Mike had nabbed some woodworking tools that were really good, but kept glaring at Rose, who had the mandala tucked under her arm. Rose got the mandala, the books, and the calligraphy set. They left the homeowner sitting at his table, waiting probably a full hour and a half for his first non-freak customers to show up.
Rose reflected as she got back into the car. Four of them on a single route was a lot. Maybe the other route would be less crowded. So instead of two blocks, she went six blocks, cutting over onto the other route. It didn’t seem to matter; there were three others there too.
She got back to her apartment at noon, having managed to get to five garage sales at opening time. The big score of the day was the mandala, of course; it was on two four-by-eight foot sheets of paper, so it was the perfect thing for her kitchen ceiling. And it was beautiful. She couldn’t read the writing on it, but the geometric lines and mysterious characters glowed with meaning and love and serenity, and the tiny figures in the corners spoke to her of man’s place in the cosmos. Many people, for a long time, had rested their gazes here and worked themselves into trances; a little of the peace they had found clung to it. She spent the rest of the afternoon taking the toys down and putting it up. She loved the way it made her kitchen feel safe and warm.
She reassembled the town scene on two sheets of veneer, leaning it for the time being against one of her shelves. She’d probably sell it. She replaced three old television sets with three armloads of books and the calligraphy set, which made her living room look much better. The old TV’s went out in the trash. She filled in a few corners with boxes of old Playboy magazines, grimacing at the funky vibe they had. No better way to get people to pay attention to something, she thought, than with good fiction and naked pictures. Still, it was sex stuff, and she didn’t care much for it. Sex was dangerous. Other stuff for the kitchen included a set of old copper cannisters for storing flour and coffee and tea. The designs on each had been carefully added with a peaning hammer. She had also nabbed a tacky ceramic cookie-jar and some cookware. The kitchen, finally, looked just about done.
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.