Yet another story that began life as a one-hour flash fiction challenge/exercise and has languished unloved and forgotten on my hard drive ever since. Again, I don’t remember the prompt that generated this one, but if I know me, it probably didn’t have much to do with the story I ended up writing. Anyway, this little ghost story is called “Keepsake,” and like the others in this series, it’s more or less the hastily scribbled tale I wrote in an hour.
“Can we please leave?” Robert said, and set a tiny frosted glass swan back on a rickety cafeteria-style table. This particular table was loaded with tiny glass animals: glass frogs, glass ducks, glass rabbits, you name it. It was exactly the kind of useless (and worthless) junk you always found at garage sales, but despite the mountains of used Tupperware, the piles of ancient VHS tapes and CDs, his wife loved to sift through the cast-off debris of middle-class America.
Every time they drove through a residential neighborhood, Laura kept an eye out for the scribbled construction-paper signs posted on telephone poles and lampposts. To her, these signs pointed to an endless possibility of treasures waiting to be found in a nearby driveway or front lawn. To Robert, they meant standing in someone’s impromptu junkyard bored out of his mind.
“Yeah, just a sec,” Laura said from across the cement driveway of the dilapidated bungalow she’d forced him to seek out, following bright lime green signs declaring “Garrage Sale!” and “Every Thing Must Go!” She hunched over a collection of jewelry boxes, mismatched china, and other random gewgaws. He watched her reach for a small carved wooden box, but a gaunt woman in a shapeless green dress snatched it away before Laura could pick it up. “Oh, sorry,” Laura said, jerking her hand back. The woman frowned at her, then turned and walked toward the open garage. There, the proprietor of this little bazaar, a withered old man in a straw hat, sat in front of a three-legged card table, one gnarled, veiny hand resting atop a battered tin money box.
“How much for this?” asked the woman in the green dress.
The old man tilted his hat up with one finger, eying his potential customer. He said nothing for a moment, then smiled. “Sorry,” he said. “That box isn’t for you.”
“What?” the woman said, her brow furrowing. “Why not?”
“It’s not for you,” the old man repeated. “It’s for her.” He leaned forward and pointed at Laura.
“That’s bullshit,” the woman said.
The old man smiled again. “Well, here are your options. You can put that down and buy something else or put that down and get the fuck off my driveway. I don’t much care which.”
The woman’s eyes widened, and she opened he mouth to retort, but something stopped her. Maybe it was the way the old guy was staring at her, like he was hoping she might push things. She didn’t take the bait and tossed the wooden box on the card table, causing it to sway and nearly tip over. She then stalked out of the driveway.
Robert moved to stand next to his wife, and he put one hand on the small of her back and leaned close. “Can we please get the hell out of here,” he said softly. “This is got to be one of the sorriest collections of garbage you’ve dragged me to in weeks.”
Laura turned and kissed his cheek. “One more minute,” she said. “I like that box. Plus, he said it was for me.”
She approached the old man, and he picked up the wooden box from the card table and held it out for her. “It belonged to my wife. I got it in Japan during the war.”
Laura smiled and accepted the box, running her hands over the polished wood. Robert could see it actually was a pretty thing, made of teak or mahogany with an inlay of mother of pearl, a rare diamond in a pasture of manure.
Laura opened the box, and Robert, looking over her shoulder, saw it held a single faded Polaroid. He glanced over at the old man and saw he was staring at Laura, his mouth working, his eyes fixed on her hands. She reached in and picked up the photo. It showed a man and a woman seated at a table, arms around one another. They were dressed up in what looked like mid-70s dress clothes, and both looked very happy. The man in the photo was the proprietor of the garage sale, some forty years younger. The woman looked to be in her early forties, her long hair black hair lustrous, her eyes vivid green and beautiful.
“Your wife?” Laura asked, setting the picture back in the box and closing the lid.
“Yes,” he said. “That’s my pretty Amanda. You look a little like her.”
Way to sell it, dude, Robert thought. Laura was blonde, had blue eyes, and looked nothing like the woman in the photograph.
“Thanks,” Laura said. “Are you sure you want to sell the box?”
“Sell it? No, ma’am. I want you to take it.” He rose from the card table. “And the picture. Amanda would want a pretty girl like you to have it.”
“Oh, okay,” Laura said, obviously a little embarrassed. “Are you sure?”
“Take the box,” Robert whispered. “So we can leave.”
“The rest will be here when you get back,” the old man said.
Robert frowned, wondering for a second what the old man meant by that, but he was gently steering his wife toward their parked car, home free and uninterested in anything else but getting away. Minutes later they were safely in the Acura and driving away.
Laura had the box on her lap. It was open, and she was looking at the picture within. She said very little on the drive home, barely responding to his efforts at conversation. She was intent on the photo, her eyes hazy and unfocused.
When they got home, Robert was feeling guilty for being so pushy at the garage sale. He got out first, went around the car, and opened the door for his wife. She was still looking at the picture, but when the door opened, she set it back in the box and closed the lid. She turned her face up to him and smiled.
Her eyes were a vivid emerald green.
Unlike many of my one-hour flash challenge stories, I think the concept for this one is pretty solid. It needs more space, though. As it stands now, the end rushes up on you, and the reveal isn’t satisfying or even particularly well executed. Honestly, my favorite part of the story is the simple idea that garage sales are creepy; I could do something with that down the road.
If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.