The Flea Market Tales
Rheumatism they used to call it. The new fangled name was arthritis. No matter what the name, the old man knew it was more than an inconvenience. His knees hurt and it stiffened his fingers.
He faced a campfire and felt the warmth of the flames penetrate his skin. He glanced at his van, filled with his collection. It had taken many years to accumulate. Now it was time to sell it. It was time to end this collection so he could start anew.
He reached in the cardboard box and placed the last item on the table. Then he straightened up and admired his offerings. There weren’t many. He only had ten things to sell at this flea market. His table looked bare compared to many of the other vendors. His items were different, though. Each had its own story and its own power.
He could hear the babble of voices and knew the doors were open. The crowd was beginning to filter in. In a few minutes, they would begin filing past his table. Anticipation of selling his collection swelled within him. Several people walked past his table, giving only a cursory glance at its contents. A thirtyish woman, wearing an enormous wedding ring, drifted by. She stopped and stepped back towards his table. An oil wall lamp, made of tarnished pewter with a clear glass globe, was the object of her attention. She fingered the globe.
“This globe has wavy glass. Is it the original globe?”
The old man nodded. “It is, ma’am. It is one of my earliest acquisitions.”
She regarded it with appraising eyes. “I like this. How much do you want for it?”
The old man folded his hands in front of him and lowered his head. His eyes sought for, and found, her eyes. “Ten dollars.”
The woman opened her purse, withdrew a wallet and took out a ten-dollar bill that she pressed into his hands.
“Thank you. I think you will find that the lamp will illuminate many things you thought hidden.”
With a bemused smile, she glanced at him. “You mean it will help me find things that I have lost.”
With a mysterious smile, the old man said, “In a matter of speaking, yes.”
“It will look wonderful in my bedroom,” she said as she picked it up. “I shall take it out to my car so I don’t break it.”
She turned and walked away.
The old man’s attention returned to the crowd, which was growing larger. He noted a young couple studying his table from across the aisle. The woman was pointing to a wooden mantel clock that stood in the center of the old man’s table. The two crossed the aisle and stopped in front of it.
The young woman stooped to study its finely carved face. She glanced at her companion and asked, “Isn’t it charming?”
The man nodded. “Yes, it is quite an interesting clock.”
He reached up and pushed his flat hat back, revealing a balding forehead. Then he glanced at the old man. “Is this an old clock?”
The old man smiled and said, “Yes, it is old. I think there is a paper on the inside dated 1913. It was a wedding present from a man named Harry to his wife Dorothy.”
“Any relation to you?”
The old man shook his head. “No, I actually bought this at a garage sale several years back.”
“May I open it?”
Again, the old man nodded. “Yes, you may.”
Unclasping a brass hook that held the glass door shut, the young man opened the clock and peered inside.
He reached into the bottom and found a brass key used to wind up the clock.
He asked, “Does it run?”
“Yes, it does. And I think that after you wind it and start it you will have only as much time as it can keep.”
The young man smiled at what he comprehended was a joke. “How much do you want for it?”
“Twenty dollars, sir.”
Reaching for his wallet, the young man said, “That’s a fair price. I have seen them online for a lot more than that.”
Removing a twenty-dollar bill from his wallet, he handed it to the old man who folded it and put it in his own wallet. “Thank you.”
The man picked it up, smiled at his wife and said, “Well, we found something for our shelf in the family room.”
“I just love it,” she said as they walked away.
The old man watched them stride away, a slightly sad smile on his face.
Then his attention returned to the crowd. In the first hour, he had sold two things. Eight items remained. He had to get rid of everything today.
Lunchtime approached and the aroma of broiling sausages from the food vendor at the end of the aisle tugged at his stomach. He had just about decided to walk to the vendor and purchase a sausage sandwich when a gray-haired man approached. He glanced over the table and his eyes lit on the old brown radio in the center of the table.
His eyes lit up as he said, “My granddad had a radio like that.”
He stepped closer and studied it closer. “It was just like that. Same brand, same model. Where did you get this?”
The old man thought a minute before replying, “I don’t exactly remember. I pick up most of my stuff at garage sales and the like. When I get enough stuff to bring to the flea market, I bring it.”
“How much is the radio?”
The gray-haired man smiled. “That is probably more than it cost new.”
He pulled out his wallet, peeled a ten-dollar bill out and handed it to the old man. “I will just take it along,” he said.
“I am sure you will hear many memories on that old radio, sir,” the old man said as the gray-haired man picked up the radio.
“Oh, I am sure I will,” he said. Then he strode off carrying his treasure.
Another item gone. His collection had shrunk to seven and the hours dwindled. He cast an eye to the still growing crowd. He had been to these markets many times over the years and he knew that just after lunch the crowd would peak. By mid afternoon the numbers would begin to decline and by five o’clock only stragglers would remain. His heart quickened as a girl approached his table. She had the bored, teen-aged look of an adolescent pulled along on a task that they abhorred by parents that didn’t understand them. She studied his table with a bored expression until a carved wooden box on the table caught her attention. She walked up and picked up the box.
“Cool,” she said. “What is it for?”
“It will hold your deepest, darkest secrets,” the old man said.
The girl tried to open the box, to no avail.
“You have to have a secret to hide before it will open, young lady.”
She gave him a furtive smile as an older woman stepped up behind her. She looked at the woman and asked, “Can I have this box, Mom? It is cool.”
“What will you do with that thing, Miranda?”
“I can put stuff in it,” the girl said. “Please, Mom, I want it.”
“What kind of stuff will you put in there? It isn’t very big.”
“I can put my rings in it. Please, Mom, can I have it?”
“I don’t know, honey. How much is it?” The woman glanced at the old man, who said, “Ten dollars, ma’am.”
The woman opened her handbag and fished a bill out of her wallet, which she handed to the man.
“Try not to break it before we get home, Miranda,” the woman said as they walked away. The old man watched as the two walked along, the mother haranguing the daughter. He thought about the secret that the box might someday hold.
The old man rearranged the items on his table, moving them towards the front. He had sold four of his items and six remained. There remained enough time and the crowd was still thick with buyers. A silver-haired, well-dressed woman strode by his table, her nose inclined upwards as she glided along. She continued for a few feet, then stopped, as something in her peripheral vision struck her imagination. She stepped towards the table and stopped.
“This wine goblet is interesting,” she said as she picked it up. “It appears genuine crystal.”
“It is, ma’am. It is one of the finest items in my collection.”
“How much do you want for it?”
“For that set I would like fifty dollars.”
The woman set her voluminous purse on the table and fished a green bill out of her wallet. A second later, the visage of Ulysses S. Grant stared up from the palm of his hand. The old man slipped the money in his pocket. He pulled the box that he had packed the goblet in from under the table and carefully wrapped it in the white tissue paper. He handed the box to the silver-haired woman.
“Thank you, ma’am. The spirits that the glasses hold may not always be good spirits.”
“I assure you, sir, I always buy excellent wines.”
She sniffed and walked away. The old man watched her, remembering he had not specified that the spirits would be alcoholic in nature.
He stepped back from his table after rearranging his offerings and scanned the crowd.
He saw her looking at his table from across the aisle, her eyes narrowed with interest. She crossed over at a rapid clip, nearly bowling over teenage boy.
“Sorry,” she said, as she glanced at him. Then she resumed her course.
“I have looked all over for one of these,” she said as she picked up the receiver of a telephone in the center of the table.
It was an old-fashioned wall phone of an earlier age. In that, time callers had first to ring the operator, who then placed the call.
“Ooohh, I just have to have this.” She raised her excited eyes to him. “How much is this?”
“I would like thirty dollars for that,” he said.
“Gosh, I hope I have that much,” she said as she opened her purse. “I wasn’t planning on buying anything.”
She rooted around, finding a ten, three fives and two singles, which she laid on the table.
“That’s close enough,” said the old man.
“No, I have it. It will be change if that is okay.”
“Change is fine,” he said with a smile.
She dumped the change on the table and counted out the three dollars in quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies.
“There, I have it,” she said as she pushed the change towards him.
“I have a box for it,” he said as he reached under the table and pulled out a large cardboard box. He packed it in, stuffed it full of the wadding he had used to protect it and put it on the table.
“My, that is heavy,” she said as she picked up the box. “Thank you.”
“Thank you,” he said. “Beware of calls after midnight.”
“Oh, I won’t hook it up,” she said. “I just want it for decoration.
The old man watched her stride away and hoped she would heed his advice.
A glance at his watch told him he still had three hours left. Four items to sell in three hours. He was cutting it close.
One of the items appeared to catch the eye of a man who was slowly walking by. Clad in a tweed jacket and flat hat, he had the nerdish aura of one that loved gadgets. The old box camera that laid one end of the table bore the brunt of his interest. He picked it up and examined it.
Without looking at the old man, he asked, “How much do you want for the camera?”
Without putting the camera down, the man pulled a money clip from his belt. He deftly unfolded the bills, slipped a ten from the bundle to the table. Again, without a glance at the old man he turned and walked away.
“The picture that develops may not be the one that you take,” the old man called after him.
The man turned and smiled. “I don’t think I could even find film for this old camera, let alone take a picture,” he said. Thereupon he turned and continued on his way.
Three items still lay in the table, awaiting someone to purchase them. Nervously the old man switched the items around, still hoping to clear everything out.
An unlikely customer approached the table. A young man with tattoos adorning his arms approached. He had the blackened fingers of a man that worked on cars for a living. He did not look the bookish sort.
The man stopped in front of an old book with unadorned cover.
“What’s the book about,” he said as he flipped the cover open.
“It is an old story,” said the old man.
The old man reflected that the man was just being friendly. He finally said, “Five dollars.”
The man reached into his pocket and withdrew a wad of cash. He pulled a five-dollar bill out, tossed it carelessly on the table and said, “Thanks, old man.”
He picked up the book and began to walk off.
“Be careful when the story changes.”
The man turned and continued to walk backwards, saying, “Books don’t change, old man.”
The man turned and continued on his way.
The old man watched him. If only that were true, he thought.
Two items still lay on his table and the crowd was beginning to thin. Despair flooded his soul as he studied the items left. These might be difficult to sell. A young man in wire-rimmed spectacles approached, his eyes riveted to one of the items.
“Absolutely enchanting,” the man said as he gazed at the portrait of the young lady in the picture. “Who is she?”
“I don’t know,” said the old man. “I picked that portrait up at a garage sale. The woman who sold it had bought it at a small gallery in Ohio but couldn’t remember who it was of.”
“How much is it?”
“Ten dollars, sir.”
The man fished two five-dollar bills out of a bulging wallet and handed it to the old man.
“I’ll take it,” he said.
“I have a blanket that I had it wrapped in. Would you like that?”
The old man pulled the old blanket from under the table and wrapped it around the painting, securing it with some cord string. As he handed it to the man he said, “There you are, sir. Just be careful that you don’t become the person in the portrait.”
“Oh, I assure you, I won’t do that,” the man said with a smile.
I am not so sure about that, the old man thought as the man walked away with his treasure.
Pulling a folding chair out from the wall the old man sat down, folded his hands on his knees and studied the age spots on his hands. Maybe he wouldn’t sell the last item. The curse could end. It could end right here, now. A rueful smile played upon his lips as his memory traveled back over the years to that time long ago when the curse seemed a blessing. But the years passed and he gathered his collection. Now it was time to sell it. He looked up. Closing time for the market was fast approaching. The last item would not sell. Maybe the curse would end.
One last browser moved among the tables. She drank in the offerings still displayed by the vendors. Some of them were already boxing up their leftover offerings.
The late shopper, a woman who appeared in her forties, approached the old man’s table. Her eyes lit up in delight as she saw it.
“Oh, I just love doll houses,” she said as she hurried over to his table. Opening the various doors and windows she peered inside at the furnishings it held.
“This is amazing,” she said. “How much do you want for it?”
“Twenty dollars, ma’am.”
“Oh, I just have to buy it.” Her voice bubbled with excitement.
She withdrew a twenty from her purse and handed it to the old man, who pocketed it.
“That is my last item,” he said. “I can help you carry it out to your car.”
“Oh, would you?”
The old man picked up the house and followed her as she walked towards the exit. He could hear her keys jingling as she pulled them from her purse. The dull clunk that pressed in on his ears indicated she had unlocked the door with the remote. She lifted the back door open.”
“Just set it in there,” she said.
She looked at it again, a delighted smile on her face.
“That house is captivating,” she said.
The old man smiled and said, “Just don’t become captivated by it.”
“Oh, I already am,” she said.
He smiled at her mistaken interpretation of his words as he walked back towards the building.
The campfire burned low, popping and cracking as it sent a shower of sparks into the air. An old man who was no longer old sat by the fire, feeling its warmth. Tomorrow was another day. He would have to start another collection.