Our real estate agent, Bonnie, texted me about the estate sale. We had been in the new house for just over a month and had hardly finished unpacking: the cardboard boxes made a wrecked city in the garage: I couldn’t decide whether to break them down and keep them or bring them to the dump to be recycled.
She must’ve known from the look of us (Amy being pregnant with our first, our pockmarked Jetta) that we didn’t have enough furniture. And she would’ve been right: we had a few sets of chairs, a torn loveseat, a kitchen table which we had inherited from the previous tenant of an early apartment, a TV, nightstands, a coffee table. But everywhere I turned the house was empty.
She had found us a nice old farmhouse with a lot of rooms, with corridors that carried conversations and music and open window sounds, but also that peculiarly rural, whispery silence, and a good porch. But as yet, it was all empty, waiting: the chairs little islands bounded by a hardwood sea, a thin rug from my first dorm failing to hide our lack of a couch.
The estate sale was on a Sunday morning. I went for a run, showered, brought Amy coffee in bed and asked how she was feeling and if she would like to go to the estate sale. She said she would.
We put on our clothing, buttoning shirts and pants and lacing shoes, moving slightly this way and that way in the mirror leaned against the bedroom wall, and brushed our teeth in silence. It can be hard for us to speak early in the morning.
The GPS guided us: left onto Gardner, right onto Main, right onto Tower Brook, and a quick left onto Lincoln Street.
As we turned that last corner we saw cars lined all the way down the block and people, clutching Dunkin Donuts coffee in the 8 a.m. light, milling about on the street. We parked between two trees in front of number 26 and started walking to 143.
It was a cute street, one Bonnie hadn’t shown us, and I don’t believe either Amy or I had ever been on it. Amy used her new knowledge to point out original window casements and trellises and pergolas. Each time she sounded out a word (look at the little portico) her right hand would gently alight on my left shoulder blade. We were in it together.
I suppose the crowd didn’t strike us as unnatural: we were there, why shouldn’t anyone else be? And for all we knew some great mansion, an old yankee estate or maybe even the secluded retreat of the supposed elevator magnate, was being cleared out.
When we stood in front of 143 Lincoln Street we saw, however, a standard Colonial, slightly worse for wear, painted a deep silvery blue, with standard, evenly spaced white windows and pink and white and blue flowerbeds. In truth we could only see the house’s features intermittently: scores of people, possibly a hundred, weaved between tables and held up, for their partner’s inspection, toasters, silverware, picture frames, all with twisted eyebrows and downturned mouths: and what about this?
Fascinating, they replied, absolutely fascinating.
I couldn’t see what was so fascinating about an out of date, though not yet fashionably so, waffle iron but I was too tired, too stunned by sleep and exercise, to make conversation with anyone but Amy.
In retrospect, our lack of knowledge, our uninfluenced consideration of the objects, laid out like pieces of a deconstructed car on a blanketed and damp garage floor, connected by an unknown telluric force, waiting to be reassembled or sold for parts, for scrap, for the compactor, made the spectacle real: Amy and I were the pure viewers, the naïve shoppers, giving the crowd license to comment, contextualize, correlate, maybe even use a few terms they had underlined in their sociology textbooks all those years ago… Though, of course, we didn’t know that. We just wanted a couch.
And, after three quarters of an hour, with the crowd growing in number but few purchases being made, we found it. It had three seat cushions and rounded armrests; its pattern of gold and red ribbons crisscrossing and interlocking on a deep green field seemed to come out of a photograph: I pictured a Polaroid of myself on the couch wearing a plain white t-shirt, with my child on my left knee smiling at the camera and my gaze locked onto something over to one side, out of frame, and felt a strange chill go down my spine.
We paid 85$ for the couch to an unsmiling old man behind a grey foldout table. He wore a yellow button down with pens in its breast pocket and a green woolen cap. An old woman, old in the same sallow, froglike cast as the man, whispered in his ear as I asked a young man to help me to the car, which Amy had pulled up in front of the house.
“What’re you gonna do with it?”
We put the couch down behind the car; I opened the trunk and wiped a film of sweat from my forehead.
“It’ll be in our living room, I guess. The basement… Somewhere.”
We moved the couch awkwardly into the car and slid it into place with wheezing, purposefully casual exhalations of air.
“Isn’t that a bit sick… Like are you into that?”
“It’s a dead guys couch you mean?”
“I don’t know to be honest,” I laughed. “Look thanks for your help.”
Amy switched to the passenger seat: I watched her buckle her seatbelt: all of her motions seemed so tentative, so measured: I listened to her rain jacket rustle against the seatbelt’s nylon: her slowness made the baby’s presence in our lives palpable; she buckled her seatbelt and looked over at me, faintly smiling.
We didn’t really talk about the baby and we never fought: we were careful and scared: the baby cradled in the basket of our arms interlaced between oily movie theater seats and watched us from a regal distance, mouth open stupidly, when we gazed at each other across the dinner table: the baby, not yet born, required us to be prudent and incorporeal, waiting, like dumbfounded roaming spirits, to inhabit our bodies anew.
“Could we stop at a bathroom?” She smiled at me faintly.
“Of course.” I drove on, searching for the left onto Main Street.
Amy turned on the radio and quickly, with a jolt, careful now, lowered the volume: ringing bells and the intonations of a Catholic mass, Christmastime censer wafting into my nostrils; her fingers clicking the numbers upwards, into the mid 90s, wiping pollen from the display: 95.3, classical, a string quartet, volume lowered again: good.
I turned right into a 7/11 parking lot and parked in front of the doors.
“Could you get me a Coke?”
“If I have my wallet.”
She patted her pockets theatrically; I suspect she knew beforehand that she didn’t. I gave her two dollar bills and she disappeared into the store.
I changed the station to local NPR.
After some banter, this: the family of Gary Cimarron, convicted in 1986 of a series of grisly murders across the South Shore, is reportedly selling the contents of his childhood home. The town of Brattle Falls is awash this morning with true crime enthusiasts, as they are known, keen on seeing Cimmaron’s childhood laid bare.
I turned the radio back to classical; my eyes froze on the steering wheel’s VW emblem: I traced the chrome-plated lines up and down and over again and could not think.
Were there stains on the couch? I saw little Gary, bucktoothed and pointy-elbowed, vivisecting a squirrel atop it, the animal’s death shrieks, its abdomen exposed, the skin and fur pulled back and pinned onto the cushions with nails, the shrieks like shrieking gears and little Gary smiling, emptying an intestine like a toothpaste tube onto a cheese plate, curling the pink tract around his finger to make a ring… Were there stains? Remnants of blood splatter?
The couch was behind me in the trunk of my 2007 Volkswagen Jetta emitting putrid death stink into the cabin. I rolled down the window and coughed vigorously.
Why hadn’t the frog people told me? Why had nobody told me? There should’ve been signs every 15 feet, every 10 feet, warning shoppers: little Gary was here.
Movement: the 7/11 doors swung open and Amy walked through them.
I hardly heard her knocking on the window, unlocked the car reflexively, parted my lips to speak: no words, eyes forward: turned the car on: out of the parking lot, fluidly, anxiously, mouth flapping: drank the Coke too quick: foam, painful foam, fizzing at the source of my nostrils…
I didn’t tell her: I had to be careful: pregnancy is a fragile state- not fragile, but requiring prudence, sacrifice, forethought… So I didn’t tell her just then about Gary and the carefully cut squirrel and its spinal excavation.
Amy asked our neighbor Ted to help us move the couch. We put it in the living room and Amy directed us, waved hand, furled nose, till it was as near perfectly aligned with the television, the room’s only previous adornment besides a stainless steel IKEA lamp, as possible.
For weeks I fought back vomit spooning with Amy on the couch, late-night television playing bleary-eyed in the background, kissing her with barely concealed horror when she contorted to face me.
And for weeks and weeks little Gary walked in and out of doorways in my dreams, peaked his head comically around corners, asking me would I like to play, would I come see his latest project (Ted’s exsanguinated housecat or a freshly plucked blue jay) in a sweet, chiming child’s voice, and in the dreams I felt no fear: I watched calmly as Gary developed his precise vision, his incisions growing more and more exact, flashing sidelong smiles at me as if searching for my approval, my pride: Amy and I slept in our queen bed in our Spartan bedroom and in my head, next to hers, I dreamed a secret and I kept that secret with me.
Pregnancy is a fragile state; of course I didn’t tell her.
Image Credit: Gertrude Abercrombie “Reverie” (1947)
Ben Wiley is a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he studies Classics and modern poetry. He has not published previously.