Her vintage “pin up girl” style attracted looks from old men who were reminded of their youthful wartime conquests. But with their diminished vision they missed the tattoo that ran down the side of her neck and piercings that were everywhere but her ears. Very few things would get her out of bed this early on a Saturday morning, but the ad in the local paper had intrigued her. “Old woman died, starving artist heir needs money, estate sale Saturday at dawn, 364 Seaside Avenue.”
Ever since she was a kid she loved all things old. Her Grandma’s kitchen was one of her earliest memories. Grandma would be making homemade noodles, rolling them out on her pink counter top dusted with just enough flour to make a cloud as she carefully worked the dough, turning it over and over, side to side. She remembered the sound of the rolling pin turning on its handles while music trickled out of yellowed plastic radio that sat towards the back of the kitchen counter. There were usually tomatoes sitting in the kitchen window over the sink ripening to perfection, the clock was plugged into an outlet on the bulkhead above. She remembered hiding under the table afraid of the pressure cooker as it would hiss, always wondering if it would explode and if she would be killed by a flying pot roast. At exactly 5pm they would sit down to eat. The table was set with the most colorful collection of Fiesta Ware; turquoise, orange, yellow. Grandpa would sit at the head of the table finishing off in 10 minutes what had taken her all day to prepare.
She had been to enough estate sales to know the usual crowd would be present; the lady who only wanted antique buttons, the middle aged man looking for trains to complete the set his father had given him as a child, the second hand shop owner looking for furniture. To them, she wasn’t a threat for she liked all the remaining odds and ends. She was particularly interested in dishes, glassware, linens, costume jewelry, purses and clothing. As they dismantled the lives of others, she was determined that a piece of the previous owners would continue on with her. She would buy only the best of the best, what was true to her. She was amazed at how many families would cast aside once treasured photographs, the chronicles of their lives. Often she would find an accompanying picture of the item she was purchasing. It might be a picture of the kitchen during the holidays with the dishes in the back ground or a long forgotten birthday party. She would rescue the photo and the item, pairing them together in her collection a glimpse of its past.
As she arrived on the scene, sure enough the usual suspects were all present and gave her a silent nod in greeting. After a short wait a middle aged man appeared at the front door. Although the ad had said, “starving artist,” he appeared very well fed as the buttons on his worn Hawaiian shirt gapped. Standing on the top step he grinned at the crowd, as if surprised that people actually had shown up. “Thank you for coming, this was my Great Aunt’s house, she was a collector of many things, all I take of her is in my heart and soul, the rest is for sale at a reasonable price!” With that, he stepped aside, held the door open and with a large sweeping arm gesture opened the sale.
Entering the house it was obvious the sale had not been staged, she might as well have been walking into someone’s home and peeking in their medicine cabinet during a trip to the powder room. Which after half an hour, she found herself doing, only to find old mecuricome, ancient aspirin, an empty bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume and a petrified tube of red lipstick. A silver magazine rack sat next to the claw foot bathtub stocked with old editions of Life and Vogue from the 1940’s and 50’s.
Beyond the polyester leisure wear that seems at some point to become the uniform of choice by the old, she found what she was looking for. It was a single dress box. As she opened the lid and peeled back the aging tissue paper she was greeted by the most perfect black dress she had ever seen with a simple label, Dior. In the bottom of the box was a copy of “The Tropic of Cancer,” by Henry Miller. Life had smiled upon her today for she had a figure that would liberate the dress from its long forgotten box. The “heir” seemed pleased that she had found something she liked and gladly took the $100 bill she offered him for the dress and the book.
Savoring the moment, she waited for night to fall to properly dress. The perfectly crafted garment graced her body as if 60 years ago it had been made just for her. She smiled at herself in the mirror, fresh red lipstick, hair up and her tattoo “what if” whispered down her neck. No particular plans, she stretched out on her chenille bedspread with her newly acquired book. As she leafed through the pages, a picture dropped to the bed. She recognized the woman from the photographs at the house on Seaside Avenue. She was wearing the very same Dior dress, her right arm laced around a man’s neck his face lost to the intimate embrace, both of them leaning into one another. She was consumed by thought of them, of the moment. Looking more closely at the book, she noticed it was a first edition copy and it had been inscribed; “J, for that which is known only to us, thank you. H.”
She smiled, knowing the $100 had purchased a priceless moment that she would forever carry with her. Truly, what if?