This is not a story.
Well, it is a story, because I’m laying it out in a narrative structure, with intent to entertain (or, as the courts say, malice aforethought). But it’s not going into The Back File conveniently located on the sidebar, because it’s a true thing that happened rather than some stuff I made up. It’s one of those things that you wouldn’t dare to put into a work of fiction, because it’s so unlikely.
A great deal of time that I would prefer to have devoted otherwise over the past few months has been given to clearing out my parents’ house, and my childhood home. They have downsized, in the benign meaning of the word, moved into what you might call a deluxe apartment in the sky, or as skyward as the fifteenth floor of a rather decent condo tower allows. Nearly five decades of continuous inhabitation and repetition of the phrase, “Say, that might be useful later,” makes for some very compressed storage of junk. The decompression process recently ran a rather disheartening sub-routine: the garage sale.
As the day of the sale wore on, we found that there were unaccountable surges in traffic. The place would empty out, then swarms of unrelated people would toddle in to marvel at our pricing policy and buy books by the kilo. During one of the later surges, a lone person entered, which was in itself noteworthy; pairs were the norm. He was an older fellow, with an ill-kept white beard concealing everything between nose and collar. His hair was hidden by a cap which was adorned with the logo of a local energy exploration company. His eyes were indistinct behind thick, square-framed glasses. He wore jeans mounted so low that one might almost think he was trying to emulate the goonish youth fashion of displaying the top several inches of underwear, although happily the untucked ends of his shirt concealed whatever might have been peeking over the waistband. The shirt was a wonder– on a tan background, strips of rainbow fabric ran from shoulder to wrist on each arm, and down the full length of the front on either side of the buttons . From my seat at the cash table by the door, I also noticed some sort of red paper sticking up out of one of the jeans pockets.
He greeted me and my brother when he passed, asked a few questions about our astonishing pricing policy (“It’s all twenty-five cents?”), and circulated about the place amiably before stopping at the desk to give me a dollar and get his quarter in change. He also, as he was getting the dollar out, made a bit of a production of dropping his keys, inviting me to join in his merry self-directed chastisement at nearly losing this important clump of metal. He then bade us a good day and departed, smiling.
About five minutes passed, and that surge of customers was ebbing, when a lone person entered. An older fellow, wearing a cap emblazoned with the device of a local energy exploration company. He wore thick, square-framed glasses, and a remarkably untidy beard. From where I sat at the cash desk, I saw piece of red paper peeping out of the pocket of his alarmingly low-slung jeans. Happily, the waistband of the jeans was concealed under the untucked tails of his entirely plain tan shirt… which he was closing the buttons of as he entered.
He paused at the door, scowling about. My brother was distracted explaining a chafing dish to one of the other shoppers, so I was alone in greeting the old chap. He grunted, as one who is not quite moved to anger by an impertinence. He then stomped through our wares, hands clenched by his sides, peering about in what I can only say was a deeply mistrustful way, before departing without a word.
This is not a story, because it does not conclude properly. There’s no explanation, nor any sort of sting. It simply ends with the odd little man’s departure. Was he a frustrated criminal mastermind, practicing for a major score by trying his clever disguise and watching for signs that he was detected as that guy who looked almost exactly the same and just left at a succession of garage sales? Was his anger in the second run a result of me somehow giving the away my realization that it was, in fact, the same chap? Perhaps he is burdened with multiple personalities, Mr. Friendly with the colourful shirt out for a day of attending sales with Mr. Cranky in the plain shirt.
My brother provides the only closure we might usefully apply to this tale. Reflecting on the man’s purchases, he said, “Whatever his story is, with a ruler, an old cowboy hat, and a sheet of unfinished chain-mail, he’s all set for a party!”