Pickers

(11.5.17) Pickers 2My husband and I have lived in this house for twenty-two years. Here we raised three children, buried two dogs, raked an uncountable number of falling leaves in this season of constant leaving. All but a handful of our first neighbors are gone now. They have died in their own beds, or gone off to die in beds that smell vaguely of bleach. No one will ever live in their houses again. One morning I will wake up and hear a backhoe chewing down what’s left of their lives here: the doorways where they stood when the children came at Halloween and the carolers came at Christmastime; the windows where they waited, worried for a teenager who had not come home; the small rooms where their babies once slept.

But before a backhoe takes the first bite out of the perfectly sturdy roof that kept my old friends dry in storms, the pickers arrive. They have come for the “estate” sale at this little shoebox of a house. I have no rights here, and no one in the family would even know that I am mourning, so I stop in, too, hoping to find some lasting memento—an apron my friend wore when she baked, perhaps a book signed by another neighbor, now also gone. I try on the apron and think of the time my friend first told me about her book club, the one she had joined as a lonely young mother and belonged to all her life. I asked which book they were reading at the time, and she said, “Oh, honey, we haven’t read a book in fifty years.”

All day long a row of cars lines both sides of our narrow street. These are fine vehicles, polished trucks and SUVs with cargo space to spare. They rarely belong to the people you’d think to find at yard sales, people with too little money to spend in stores. Mostly these are the well-off bargain hunters, the eBay masters, the perfectly pressed hobby antiquers with cleverly arranged booths in the warehouse that passes for an antique mall on the edge of suburbia. They have come to pick the bones of the dead, and I think of them as big black birds, the ungainly carrion-eaters. But when I walk past them with my apron and my book, now forty percent off, I know we are neither vultures nor crows. An actual vulture turns death into feathers. An actual crow turns flesh into flight.

(11.5.17) Pickers