backhand stories the creative writing blog

Elizabeth folded a plaid shirt, size eight–the same shirt she’d folded three times already. Her neighbor, Lara, volunteered to help her in the garage this spring morning for the sale, so Elizabeth let her pile the boy’s clothing and re-write some of the prices she’d written earlier on masking tape and little cardboard signs. She didn’t know what price at all to put on some items.

She straightened, tucked, folded every size from infant to eight. She didn’t mind it, but she should sit down because she felt so drained, she only took time today to put on an old house dress that came to her calves. Her stockings were still rolled down to her slippers, and her hair straggled over the creases in her forehead. She knew she didn’t look perky, but what could you expect after all this? It was a lot of work preparing for– Still, she had to get rid of the stuff, and it seemed better to sell it rather than give it all away. Not for the money, no. But the words, “get rid of” bothered her, like it didn’t matter.

“Am I doing the right thing?” Elizabeth asked her neighbor.

Lara was holding a small blanket to her face, as if she weren’t sure she should put the price tag on it. “It’s so soft,” she said, smiling. “But yes, to answer your question. It’s the right thing to do. Remember, it’s just a little sale. But are you sure you want to sell this, Elizabeth?”

“Yes. And that riding toy over there.” She pointed. “I saved everything I could. There’s no more room.”

They heard a screech, and Elizabeth looked anxiously to see who stopped so suddenly in front of the house. A man climbed down from his truck, shoved his hands deep into his pockets, and studied the bicycle Elizabeth had for sale on the lawn. It looked like new. Elizabeth had fixed it–new tires, spokes, paint–

“What do you want for this?” the man asked, kicking the tires.

“The price is listed,” Elizabeth said. She pressed her lips together. Why’d he feel he had to kick the tires? What did that tell him?

He peered at the tag hanging over the handlebars. “One-hundred and twenty-five dollars? That’s more than the cost of a new one!”

“It’s better than new.”

“You won’t come down at all?”

Elizabeth ambled inside the garage and busied herself behind a table, re-arranging some of the other items she had for sale–a deck of cards, a board game, an old football.

Lara touched her arm, glanced at the man beside the bike and back at Elizabeth.

“What do you want, lady, the moon?” the man said, coming into the garage.

“One-hundred dollars,” Elizabeth said. “That’s the lowest I can come down.”

“Look, I’ll give you ninety-five. Ninety-five dollars. That’s only five dollars’ difference.”

“So what’s five more then?”

“I can buy a brand new bike for less! Down at the discount store, I can buy one for sixty-nine right now. On sale.”

She turned her back to him, pretended to take something down off the wall. “Then buy it.”

“All right. I’ll give you ninety-eight.”

“It’s worth more. Much more.”

“Listen,” he said, handing her a card with his telephone number on it when she turned around, “if you change your mind–” He started to walk away, out onto the lawn.

“Wait.” Elizabeth followed him to the lawn. She thought, he’s a businessman who’ll resell for twice as much and make a profit off a poor…

A car tore down the street–and Elizabeth’s hands flew to her cheeks. Children were playing baseball in the street. She held her breath, heard shouts and a screech of brakes, then the motor gunning again. She strained her eyes. The children moved to the front yard to play now. Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief.

“You have my number,” the man said. “I’ll be waiting for your call.”

“I changed my mind.” She was still watching the children down the street. “I don’t want to sell it now. Not at all.” She returned to the garage. Especially not to you, she almost said.

The man ran his hand over the bike’s smooth red paint, tapped the seat.

“I wouldn’t touch that bike if I were you, Mister,” Lara said, “not at any price.”

He shrugged. “But what’s the matter with her? I’m offering a reasonable amount–a good price. What’s the matter with her that she can’t come down a bit?”

“She’s already come down as low as she can.”

“Lady–” He ignored Lara, reappeared in the garage where Elizabeth was looking for a chair to sit on. “Lady, your last asking price was one-hundred dollars. I’ll give you ninety-nine dollars, and that’s my final offer. Take it or leave it.”

The blood rushed to Elizabeth’s face, and she clenched her fists until they whitened. She raised her fists at him, shook them out like someone clutching a steering wheel. The man backed away.

Lara guided the bike into the garage and grasped the door handle. “We’ll find room,” she said.

Elizabeth let her tired arms drop. She paced toward a door that led into the house, then turned around and followed the man to his truck. She wanted to explain to him, if she could explain. But he’d already jumped into his truck. He screeched his tires, and drove off in a huff.

Elizabeth flinched. “You be careful!” she called. She pointed down the street where a ball had rolled.

She came back to the garage. “He was a good boy,” she said to Lara. “My son. He was a good boy.” She lowered her head.

“Of course he was,” Lara said.

Elizabeth shook her head back and forth. “I didn’t mean it.”

“I know. I know.” Lara patted her arm.

“It was an accident. I didn’t see him.” She waited a moment, listening for something, then shuffled into the house.

Carol Lemley (aka Vinci) has published fiction in many magazines, including in Chapter I, GWLitMag, Newsart, The Ultimate Writer, Freeway, and Frontier Magazine. Her most recent short stories appeared in The Dana Literary Society Online Journal and The Scrivener’s Pen Literary Journal. She has completed two novels that have won awards for their first chapters, one a First Prize. She is now at work on another novel while those are circulating.