‘Where the hell is the sun? For Christ’s sakes, Marge, it’s rained for days. God, did ya make coffee yet, Marge?”
“Yes, Fred, the coffee is on the stove. Can’t you smell it?”
“Well, I can’t smell anything with all this damn medicine I am taking. I feel like a damn clock that doesn’t tick tock any more. Oh, Cripes shut the front door, it’s that pain in the ass little kid Delia.”
“Fred, be nice. She hasn’t many friends and for some odd reason she finds you interesting.” Marge opened the front door wider.
“Well, she never shuts up,” said Fred.
“It will do you good to talk to her. Maybe she could teach you something.”
“Yeah, I could teach her something, she ought to try washing for God sakes. She smells,” said Fred in disgust.
“Well, you don’t smell like gardenias all the time. And her Mom works two jobs and I think her priority is to have food on the table.”
“Well, what about soap?” Have they forgotten about soap?”
When I think about Fred, I liken him to spicy, salty barbecue potato chips with a little hint of sugar. He had steel blue eyes and wiry gray hair and a full library of books. Beautiful books, all aged with torn fanned edges. I could hear him fan the edges when he would talk to me, when he got upset and didn’t want to show it, or when he became uninterested in what I had to say. But, he was my muse. He enjoyed teaching me his ways and had a subtle way of making you feel important and for that I loved him.
I have always been fascinated with people’s collections of things. Fred use to say you could tell a lot about a person by the things they collect. When someone has a garage sale, they are trying to prove something to themselves. It shapes a person, he would say, a garage sale. For Fred’s sake, I took a keen interest in them to be near him and learn from him. He would limp around a lot when we would go together. He had one real bad leg that wouldn’t hold up that much in the hottest time of the day.
* * * * *
“How much for these old tins?” Fred hobbled over to the tin lady seller and asked.
“Oh well, let me see,” she said. She smiled and looked into Fred’s eyes.
“Mam, did you decide on a price. What’ll it be?” His eyes watered slightly from the sun that day.
The tin lady seller smiled again. “Well, I’m about to wrap up. Why don’t you take them off my hands.”
“Well, ahhhh,” Fred’s face turned red and he scratched his head. “Alright, then if you insist.”
“Wait up, Mr. Fred,” Delia ran from behind. “You’re going too fast. What da think of these bears?”
“Nah, Delia, they are dumb looking,” snapped Fred. How may bears can ya have for Christ’s sake.”
“I don’t think they’re dumb,” cried Delia. “They’re happy looking.” She grabbed them and said to the seller, “How much?”
The bear seller said “For you, honey, they’re free.”
“Gee thanks,” Delia hugged them.
“For Christ’s sake, Delia, you don’t need them, put them down,” growled Fred. “Let’s go, I said.”
Delia cried uncontrollably. “You said a potty word.” But she obeyed Fred. She left the bears in the dirt.
Today the old tin lady seller made Fred’s hard world a little soft and that was hard for Fred to swallow.
Delia continued to sob at the so-called death of her bears and she dragged her feet.
“I ain’t going home, Mr. Fred. I don’t feel well,” she yelled.
“Delia, how many times did I tell you that the word ain’t never for sale at our garage sale,” growled Fred. “Talk proper. Yes, you are going home. It’s probably that ice cream cone you forced me to buy you that’s playing havoc on your stomach.”
The six-year-old with big green eyes with dark black eyelashes belonged to Julia, a single mom, who had many men, but none to truly put shoes under her bed for her stability. Delia wore sky blue cat-like glasses that were a little off kilter, like Delia.
“Anyway, I have bears at home and they are tired today,” said Delia. “So am I,” snapped Fred.
“I better go, my Mom will be waiting for me anyway.” Delia’s chubby face wrinkled and she caught a little tear that left her eye. She got out of Fred’s car and slowly walked to her doorway.
Marge was cleaning her kitchen counter. She asked Fred, “How was the garage sale? And where’s Delia?”
“God, I’m glad we don’t have kids,” said Fred. “Delia started to carry on about these dumb looking bright bears and how happy they looked and she was crying a lot but, that kid has so many bears already and…”
“Oh God,” Marge cringed, “what did you say to her?”
“I said they were dumb looking.”
“Let me guess, you ran into that tin lady who has a crush on you and the little love you can muster up for Delia became distorted because someone was nice to you and you can’t handle that,” roared Marge.
Fred looked around sheepishly. “Well, honey, what’s for dinner?”
“Make it yourself, Fred, or better yet, why not have those dumb-looking bears make it for you,” yelled Marge. “And you better go and get those bears, or some bears, for that dear child.”
Fred’s hard heart grew a little pliable and he got into his car and drove back to the garage sale that was wrapping up.
“Oh it’s you,” said the bear-seller in disgust.
“Yes, it’s me.” Fred put his head down. “You still have those b ..?”
Before he could finish, the bear-seller abruptly shoved a pretty purple bag in his hand which contained the animated bears.
“Mr., it’s none of my business, they are free of course — the bears that is,” said the bear-seller. “Nothing else for you. You will have to pay for anything else. And I certainly got the idea that she wasn’t your child, but if I were you, I would look into why that child was crying so about those bears. But, I guess you didn’t notice, ’cause you’re a man.” She abruptly turned her head away from him and folded up her card table.
Fred felt like a fool, but didn’t show it.
* * * * *
There was a chaotic knock at Marge’s front door. A dried-out blonde with a very short skirt came to the door and chewing gum enveloped her whole mouth.
Marge answered. “Hi Julia, come in.” Julia hookered herself in with a little black eye.
“No, I can’t Marge, can you watch Delia tonight for a couple of hours. I just wanna go out with Bill and have a little dinner and celebrate. He just got promoted.”
Without the slightest hesitation, Marge replied, “Of course, we’d be delighted.”
Fred stumbled in the door and said, “Oh it’s you. Has Delia eaten?”
Julia smacked her gum. “Well, I made her favorite spaghetti and ketchup. But, she hasn’t touched a drop.”
“My gourmet fare,” quipped Fred. “No wonder.”
Without blinking an eye, Marge said “Well, we have plenty of leftover pot roast and Fred and I would just love it if she ate with us.”
“We would?” Fred’s eyes questioned Marge’s. “Julia, what happen to your eye?”
“Oh, Fred, I am so clumsy I fell.”
Without waiting for Fred’s reply, Julia dashed out the door and bent over, and one could almost see a full moon that night, and she picked up her cracked heel and grinned from ear to ear with a wad of gum.
“Oh boy thanks so much, Marge and Fred. Delia will be so happy. I’ll send her over.”
“Why sure send her over. Why the hell not. We are practically raising her for you. Oh, and your bastard boyfriend Bill has been promoted alright to a girlfriend beater. That shithead! Boy, he better never lay a hand on that kid,” roared Fred.
“Fred! Really, she will hear you. Delia, needs us,” chirped Marge.
Delia had the familiar smell. Not a dirty smell. It was discovered that it was more of an anxiety-produced body odor that would come to its peak when Julia and Bill would argue over money issues. Julia would get high and leave without Delia, and broken beer bottles could be heard crashing the floor and Bill’s shrill laugh and soft cry of a little girl saying no.
Delia’s faint sweat entered in Marge and Fred’s doorway, excited to sit down to a normal family dinner.
“Hiya Mrs. Marge. Pot roast smells good,” said Delia. She ignored Fred.
Marge said, “Sit down, Delia, honey, and eat. Are you hungry?”
“Yes, mam.” pled Delia.
Fred still felt shameful, but decided the only way he could redeem himself was to present her with the bears.
“Ahhhh, Delia I have something for you,” Fred said. He gave her the purple bag.
Delia turned her head away. Fred grew impatient and tried to remain calm. He put the purple bag on the table and out came tumbling one of the colorful bears.
“Ohhhhhh!” Delia leaped for joy and held the bear close to her heart. “Ohhhhhh!” She pulled the other two bears out and gave them the same amount of loving attention.
She ran over to hug Fred and would not let go. “Alright Delia,” Fred said. He cleared his throat. “Sit down and have some pot roast with us.”
“Okay,” Delia said. “Can my bears sit at the table too?”
“Sure they can, honey,” said Marge. “Ahhh sure,” Fred said. He had this odd lump in his throat. Marge pulled up three chairs to accommodate the bears.
Fred hobbled over. “So, Delia how are your other bears doing today? You mentioned earlier they were tired? Are they feeling okay?”
“Oh, they are very hungry, Mr. Fred, and happy too. Aren’t ya, Flowers, Pepper, and Smiley. She looked down at the bears. “Yes, they are,” said Delia.
“Oh good, we are glad,” Fred said. “But, I mean your other bears at home that you said were tired.”
“They didn’t get hurt at all, did they, Delia? Like maybe someone was trying to put your bears to bed one night and they accidentally pushed you or hurt you.”
Delia started to shake uncontrollably. “I dunno. I guess they are okay.” She wiped her eyes and started to cry. “Mr. Fred, I need to sell my other bears at our garage sale. They need a bath first.”
Fred hugged her as hard as he could. “Ok, consider it done.”
Fred and Marge followed Delia home and watched Delia pull the other three bears out of the trash.
They took the three bears back to their house and ran them under the gentlest warm tap water and Delia joined them in the tub, but needed to be clothed.
“So, Delia, you want to sell your bears at our garage sale?” asked Fred.
“Yup, I do,” said Delia. “They need a new home. I have a new Pepper bear to replace this one.”
“But, maybe the bears need you, including Pepper,” said Fred.
“I dunno, they hurt a lot and they need to be someone else. Pepper hurts the most.” She whispered in Fred’s ear, “My Mom’s boyfriend, Bill, likes Pepper a lot and plays with him real hard.”
Delia shook violently and tears fell on Fred’s shoulder. Fred felt the urge to cradle Delia in his arms.
“I want to get money for them so I can help my Mom live alone,” Delia nervously said.
“Oh, I see,” said Fred. “And do you want to live with your Mom?”
“I dunno, but I don’t want anyone else living with us.” Marge had to stifle a cry and scampered off into another room.
Fred said, “Delia, I want to show you something.”
“Okay, Mr. Fred.”
It was a forest of clocks. Ticking and chiming and little birds coming out of their house and chirping. They were displayed on tables with rich fabrics. Not a cobweb was amongst them, even though they lived in the basement.
“Ohhhhhhh my God, Mr. Fred,” she giggled and screamed, “you sure have a lot of clocks.”
“Yes, I guess I do, Delia. I guess I do.”
Delia put her finger to her chin and looked up at Fred and said, “They are never lonely, that’s why you have so many. I wish I could live with you, Mr. Fred.”
Fred did not respond, but started to fan one of the books that he picked up from his library off in the corner of the basement.
Delia sprang up like a sprinkler in the summer and yelled, “Wow, Mr. Fred, have you read of all of these books?”
“Yes, I have, Delia.”
“Mr. Fred, do you think, you can help me sell at my own garage sale?”
* * * * *
“All the clocks are half off.” Fred yelled out to the enthusiastic crowd. “They chime beautifully, and they will outlast us all for sure.”
“And all of the books 25 cents apiece and some are just on the house; a bargain to say the least,” yelled Fred.
There were three bears that sat alone on a distressed wooden bench and Delia said a long goodbye to each one and each time she put one down, she had a hard time putting the other back.
A young bald man in a white guinea tee and a baseball cap came by and sneered at the bears. He picked one up and laughed and put it down. He glanced over at Fred and said, “Hey Pops, how much are these bears? I like to get ’em for my daughter.”
The young man’s greasy hands tightened around the bear’s neck. Delia started to violently shake and Fred took on concern.
“Not for sale,” he calmly said, and grabbed Delia and pulled her away from the young man. “What?” the young man said in disbelief.
“I said, not for sale.”
The young man howled out a wild laugh and kicked some stones up with his old work shoes in Fred’s direction and whispered in Fred’s ears.
“That’s okay Pops, they look kind of dingy.”
For that moment, Fred longed for the physique he had as a young man so he could pop this punk in the mouth.
But instead, he shook a closed soda can in his hand and let his old age work its grace and let his hand shake uncontrollably and flipped back the top and it spilled on the young man’s crotch.
“Ohhh sorry buddy, these hands of mine ain’t like they use to be,” grinned Fred.
The young man screamed like a little girl ’cause his new tight jeans were painted with orange Fanta soda and a hungry ol’ yellow jacket started to buzz near his crotch and stung one of his droopy little balls. He abruptly drove away in his car.
Delia was still shaking, but managed to grab Fred’s hands.
“Remember, Mr. Fred, ain’t is never a word for sale at our garage sale,” chirped Delia.
Fred silently shook her hand in agreement and then Delia hugged each teddy bear and told them they were safe now and she knew they needed her.
That early evening, Fred and Delia sat on Fred’s porch swing and counted their profits. Fred made about $500 and with the portion of the money took Delia out to a fancy dinner.
“Are you sorry you sold all of your good stuff, Mr. Fred?” Delia asked as she plopped a huge fried shrimp in her mouth.
“No, Delia, I’m not. It’s time. I had way too much stuff for an old man like me. Let someone else enjoy it. That’s what garage sales are all about. You prove to yourself, that you had treasures and now it’s time for them to find a home ’cause you had to. But, sometimes you are reminded the treasures you thought you wanted to sell are priceless.”
“Like my bears,” said Delia. “Yes, like your bears,” Fred chimed along.
* * * * *
A long time had passed since Fred and Delia’s delightful dinner and one of the clocks that was left in the basement stopped ticking. Fred had passed along with it.
Fred had seen to it that Julia’s Bill became prison meat, and that Julia was claimed unfit to raise a child.
Many years had passed and there was this special place with yellow buttercup walls and a robin egg blue couch. Oh, and a beautiful yellow desk that had a small bag of spicy, salty barbecue potato chips with a little plate of sugar to remind her of his likening demeanor.
“Your next patient is early, can I buzz her in?”, chirped the receptionist.
“Yes, please do.”
Three clean little bears sat on one of her shelves alongside her plaque of credentials. And three brightly animated bears sat across from them on her credenza.
“Hi, please come in and sit where ever you like,” she said. “How are you feeling today?”
“I dunno,” replied the little girl.
“Do you want to ask one of the little bears, how they are feeling today. You can hold one of them if you like,” she said.
“No!” the little girl said.
“Oh, okay,” she said. She picked up one of the clean bears and hugged it and said to the little girl, “This one is my favorite. I renamed him ’Mr. Fred.’ His name used to be Pepper. But ‘Mr. Fred’ suits him better. He was a dear friend of mine. You can call me Delia.”
Lisa Flanagan lives in East Windsor with her adventurous husband, Lee, and their dog Sam. She enjoys sharing her imagination and creating characters that she hopes have a positive impact on the world.