There’s something wrong with Stan. It began a few months ago, his waking up in the middle of the night – the tossing and turning. He started mumbling in his sleep, too. I’ve yet to figure out what he’s saying but I can tell from the strain, or maybe it’s more the panic in his voice that something’s bothering him.
I mentioned it after that first night. We were bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, the sheets and blanket bunched up around his feet. I remember yanking on them all night. I turned facing him and asked if he’d had a nightmare or something. He stared at the ceiling, his breath stilted. He couldn’t remember – had no idea he’d been talking in his sleep. Then he apologized for keeping me awake, threw the covers off and got out of bed. I could tell he didn’t want to talk about it.
By the third night I decided to press further. The next morning I asked him what was bothering him.
“Yeah,” I said. “You sounded panicked last night.”
“Really?” He looked at me with an expression of disbelief, or maybe it was more of trepidation. “What was I saying?”
“I don’t know. Just mumbling.”
He let out a long sigh. I sensed the tension leaving his body. “Maybe it’s just a phase.”
“You make it sound like when Josh was moping around, smitten with that Leslie girl in eighth grade. Do grown men go through phases?” I asked. “It’s been three nights in a row now. You sure everything’s okay?”
He answered quickly. “No… I mean, yeah, everything’s good, I’m good.” He shuffled though a pile of mail sitting on the kitchen counter. “Really, I am.”
“Things at work okay?”
“Yeah, sure. Couldn’t be better.”
He said he’s good, but I’m not convinced. I know this not only by the angst in his voice at 2am in the morning, but there’s a nervousness to him lately. Like he can’t sit still – can’t take a deep breath and relax. He’s changed. We used to curl up on the couch, watch a movie or just talk for hours. Some of my favorite times were when we’d just snuggle with his arm around me in silence. We could read each other’s mind.
“You know you can talk to me.” I said. “About anything.”
“There’s nothing to say. Really, I’m good. Don’t worry.” He turned, walked into the half bathroom off the kitchen and turned the faucet on. Our morning chatter while getting ready for the day had long since disappeared. I felt like I was just sharing the house with him.
Last Friday when he got home from work, he suggested another garage sale.
“What do you think?” he asked, seemingly half-absorbed, half-watching the local news on our old black and white we had sitting on the kitchen counter.
“But we just had one a few months ago. You really want to go through it again?”
“Sure,” he said. “What about all the stuff we didn’t sell the first time?” He made it sound like it was no big deal, you know, whatever. “We could use the money. Besides, what do we have to lose?”
I stood at the counter beating a steak with one of those wooden hammers. I narrowed my eyes in confusion. “We could? It’s not like we’re destitute.”
“I know,” he said. “Think of it as… like purging then. You know – a fresh start.”
I didn’t say anything more but wondered after his trips to the consignment shop and the garage sale we already had, what this “purging” obsession was all about. Even though he made it sound like it was no big deal, something told me it really was.
So we lugged out all the things we didn’t sell the first time around. Old linens, sheets and towels I suggested we just throw out. “No, don’t throw anything out,” he said. “They might be worth something.” We lined the garage walls with tables and I folded everything neatly trying to hide the threadbare spots and little rips. One table for cloth items, not only the linens but old clothes that had either gone out of style or were so beat up, none of us wanted to be seen in public wearing them. Another table held a pile of old National Geographics, little figurines, decorative plates and an array of glass paperweights, that for some reason, my Aunt Mary thought we collected. The third, covered with dishware, mostly mismatched plates, cups and saucers, none of them a complete set, and most of them with hairline cracks and other flaws.
When I thought we were ready to go, Stan suggested that maybe we should sell our camping equipment, too. I craned my head toward him, not sure I heard correctly. “What? But we love to camp!” Stan said it was all outdated; we needed a bigger tent, a better Coleman stove, sleeping bags that weren’t torn. Then it was the model train set we’d bought for Josh when he was six years old. “But he doesn’t use it anymore,” Stan said. “It just sits boxed up in the basement.” By the time he hauled out his coin collection and bike deciding it was time for them to go, too, I was tired of arguing with him. “I don’t know why you’re selling all this stuff.” He gave me the same song and dance about “purging”- said a fresh start never hurt.
What finally pushed me over the edge, what I just couldn’t wrap my head around was when he decided to sell his custom-fit golf clubs, the clubs I scrimped for and gave to him on his thirty-fifth birthday. “Are you crazy? You love golf!” He muttered something about losing interest; his game had gone south and he was feeling tension in his lower back that supposedly golf irritated. Besides, he was getting more and more into swimming laps in the school’s pool after teaching all day. “Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked.
It’s garage sale day and we’re late getting started. Stan corrals Josh into helping him move the old loveseat and scuffed end tables out onto the driveway. There are already twelve cars parked in front of our house. They’ve been there for over an hour. As soon as they see Stan and Josh, car doors open, then slam shut and people start up the driveway. Stan holds his hand up to them. “We’re not quite ready yet. We still have a few things to bring out.” People pause, craning their heads, poised to bolt.
After two more trips we’re finally set. The loveseat, end tables, our camping equipment, Josh’s train set, along with Stan’s golf clubs stretch down the driveway.
“You sure you don’t want to hang around and help out?” Stan asks Josh. We both know it’s a stupid question. What fifteen-year-old wants to spend the day with his parents watching strangers pick through used stuff? He looks at Stan like he’s lost it and then heads across the street to his best friend Brett’s house to play video games.
Stan announces that the Richardson garage sale is now officially open and people trot up the driveway elbowing each other so they can get a crack at the “good” stuff before anyone else. Within minutes, linens are strewn about, the stack of National Geographics toppled over and the glass figurine of Babe the pig sitting in a teacup has been knocked off the table and shattered on the garage floor. It reminds me of a Walmart’s black Friday sale.
I sequester myself against the back wall in the garage and man the cash box. Stan’s job is security. He slips through the crowd keeping an eye out for browsers with sticky fingers while doing his best to answer the occasional question. “Are you sure you don’t have a full set of these dishes? I can wait while you look.” or “I only want this National Geographic. Do I have to buy all of them?” In between questions or when there’s a lull, Stan walks over to me. “How are we doing so far?” I thumb through the bills and give him the total. Twenty minutes later, he’s back asking again.
A few hours into the sale, Trish waves from across the street and moseys over. She slumps down into the chair next to mine and sighs.
“You look fried. Didn’t sleep last night?”
She yawns and brushes a stand of hair from her forehead. “Max woke me up at 2:30.”
“Again?” I shouldn’t be surprised. According to Trish, he’s always ready. “He’s a horny bugger, isn’t he?”
“I prefer amorous,” she says. “It sounds less teen-age- boy hormones on the loose.” She laughs.
A young man walks up to my table holding Stan’s tennis racquet. “How much is this? There’s no price on it.” He taps the strings with his fingertips.
“Hmm…I’m not sure. See that guy in the red Polo shirt?” The man nods. “Ask him.” The man walks away and I turn back to Trish. “Be glad Max still has it in him.”
She cocks her head. “Stan doesn’t?
“Not so much lately,” I say too quickly. I look around to see if anyone heard. “I mean we’re still good…you know, he’s attentive and we still communicate really well.” I look at Trish and nod vehemently like one of the slinky-headed dogs in the back of someone’s car. Who does that? I feel like an idiot. “I guess we’re just getting to that age.”
“You’re lucky,” she says. “I keep waiting for Max to get to that age but you know Max. He’s slow to mature.” She looks heavenward.
Halfway down the driveway an elderly gentleman inspects Stan’s golf clubs. Stan hurries over, pulls one out and runs his fingers over the grip while talking. He waggles the club back and forth. The man checks the price again, shakes his head and wanders off.
Trish glances at the cashbox. “How are you doing so far?”
“Not too bad. We haven’t sold any of the big ticket stuff, though. I think Stan is worried.”
“That they won’t sell,” I say.
She squints at me like I’m speaking another language. “Things are that tight?”
“I didn’t think so.”
Trish knows we’re not rolling in dough. And she knows about Stan’s trips to the consignment shop, and of course the sale we had a few months ago. What she doesn’t know about is the envelope filled with cash I found tucked away in the back of Stan’s bottom drawer. When I asked him about it, he said it was just “fun” money he’d been saving. “You know, for a rainy day.” It hardly ever rains in Nevada.
I pause to collect the forty-five cents for the figurine of a nun smoking a cigar. “You want something to drink?”
“Naw, I’m fine, thanks.” She eyes Stan’s golf bag. “I can’t believe he’s selling his clubs.”
“Along with his tennis racquet, coin collection and Josh’s train set.”
Trish gazes out over the driveway. “And your camping stuff, too?”
“Stan’s idea,” I say.
“I’d be worried if I were you.” I can tell she’s trying to be jovial about it, but just above the smile, the little lines trailing from the corner of each eye deepen.
“I told you about the talking in his sleep.”
“He’s still at it?”
“Yep, and now he’s into this purging thing.”
“Maybe it’s some kind of premature mid-life crisis.” She pauses. “I don’t know. Have you thought about him seeing a doctor?”
“You mean a shrink?” She nods and I almost laugh out loud. I can’t imagine bringing it up. No, Stan’s the clear thinker in the family. There’s a way to do everything if you just think about it! You have to give Josh more time. We’ve all had crushes at one time or another. He’ll snap out of it eventually! “Hmm… I don’t think so.”
Stan stops by for another tally. “Hey, Trish.” He glances across the street to her house. “What are the boys up to over there?”
“Glued to Minecraft or Grand Theft Auto…or maybe it’s Fortnite now. Who knows…seems like a different one every other week.” She slides her chair back. “You know I think I will have something to drink. I’m parched.”
“You know where everything is. Help yourself.”
Stan grabs Trish’s chair after she’s left and sits down. He eyes the cash box. “So how are we doing?” I count even though the total hasn’t changed much since he last asked.
“We’re up to a whopping $54.25.”
“Damn,” I hear him mumble under his breath.
I look over at his fingers curled into fists, his knees jammed together like he’s trying to prevent himself from exploding. “Is there a problem?”
“We’re only selling the cheap stuff,” he says.
“But at least we’re selling something. It doesn’t really matter, does it?”
“Yes, damn it, it matters,” he spits out in a voice teetering on desperate. “We have to sell the big items, the money makers.” His eyes dart from coin collection to camping gear to golf clubs. A woman standing nearby glances over. “Time’s running out.” He pauses. “We have to figure out what to do.”
I tilt my head at him. “Figure out what? You want me to go knocking door to door?”
“Jesus, Bethany. How can you be so damn flip? You don’t get it.”
My pulse spikes. “Well, then fucking tell me, for God’s sake! What’s with you?” The woman standing a few feet away whips her head in our direction; he shoves his chair back and stares at me. I take a slow deep breath and collect myself.
I’m about to tell him to calm down and just talk to me, like he used to, but the door to our mud room opens and Trish comes walking out with a glass of Chardonnay in her hand. By the time she’s halfway across the garage, Stan is gone.
“Did I do something wrong?” She watches Stan’s back as he retreats down to the end of the driveway.
“No, he’s just being… actually I don’t know what he is.” The sound of my voice, like my understanding, dims.
Trish catches my eye. “I think you could use one of these.” She holds her glass up.
“You’re right. Mind holding the fort down for a minute?” She nods. “If anyone wants to haggle just let them pay what they want. I’ll be right back.” I get up and head inside to the wine rack.
I stand at the kitchen counter sipping my wine while looking out the window. There’s another wave of customers and Stan is running around with a sharpie lowering prices on the camping equipment, his coin collection and golf clubs. I watch as he attempts to lure shoppers into buying them. I should go back out and relieve Trish, but I don’t feel like dealing with Stan and his neurosis, or whatever it is.
A silver grey Mazda pulls up alongside the curb. A young man, clean-cut, buff, who looks only a couple of years older than Josh gets out from the driver’s side. Through the open window, I hear him call to Stan.
“Hey, Mr. Richardson. I’m here!” The kid smiles an All-American, pearly-white type grin and heads in Stan’s direction.
Stan doesn’t return the greeting. He quickly glances in Trish’s direction, and then starts walking briskly towards the kid. Stan meets him half-way down the driveway, grabs his shirt sleeve and guides him away – towards the street. I hustle back outside.
“How’s it going out here?” I settle back in behind the cashbox.
“You sold another paperweight,” Trish says. She tells me about the woman, whose daughter thought four dollars was too much, and would Trish consider selling it for three? I’m watching Stan and Mr. All-American at the end of our driveway.
Trish clears her throat. I look over. “His name is Cameron Mitchell,” she says.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I was just looking at Stan and …”
“Yes,” she interrupts. “I know.” She takes a sip of her wine while gazing at my husband and Cameron who have wandered off onto the front lawn. “Brett knows him from school… or knows of him. That would be a better way to put it.”
“Looks like a nice kid. Maybe a little too squeaky-clean, though,” I chuckle in an effort to give the illusion of not caring.
“Looks are deceiving.”
“Oh?” I don’t press, not yet.
I look at my best friend sitting next to me. She, too, seems taken with Stan and Cameron who have now drifted even farther away. “Okay,” I say. “I give. What’s the story?”
“His father’s a hot shot lawyer in town. You’ve probably seen his commercials on TV. Swears he can win your case or you get your money back.” She rolls her eyes. “Greasy,” she adds. Cameron is a ‘do-gooder’… or at least that’s what he likes everyone to believe.”
“How do you know all this?”
“Brett,” she says. “He’s heard about him from the other kids. Josh probably has, too.”
“Brett says he’s slimy… has the faculty and staff bamboozled. They all think he’s Mr. Perfect. You know, good grades, number one player on the varsity tennis team, always willing to help out, nauseatingly friendly.” She polishes off the rest of her wine. “Brett says he can’t be trusted, it’s all an act.”
“And Brett knows all this how again?”
“Brett’s not stupid. He’s an observer,” she says.
Cameron and Stan have walked over to Cameron’s car. Cameron leans against it, ankles crossed, his arms folded over his chest. Stan’s facing him with his back to the garage. “Can you keep an eye on things here for a second?” I ask Trish.
“She smiles, glances down the driveway. “Sure, take your time.”
I go straighten up the camping equipment. Too many hands have unrolled the sleeping bags and haphazardly left them. And it looks as though the tent, which Stan had folded so neatly, could use a refolding. It’s convenient, too, as we’d placed the camping equipment farthest down the driveway, near where Cameron and Stan are talking.
I lean over pretending to organize and try to block out the voices of two women standing nearby. I tilt my head in my husband’s direction, but I only catch a few words, snippets of their conversation, like, “tutorial – just until I graduate – too late – god damn mistake.”
And then what nearly knocks me over. “You know you wanted it.” And Cameron’s laugh which shoots up the driveway like an arrow aimed at me.
I leave, over to one of the tables and shuffle I don’t know what around. I hear Cameron’s voice in my head. You know you wanted it… you wanted it.
Stan starts up the driveway. I turn my back pretending I don’t see him. He walks over to Trish where he chats with her for a few seconds, then back to Cameron’s car. I wander back to the table and sit down next to Trish. My mind’s numb, trying to comprehend, not wanting to.
“Stan raided the cash box,” Trish says, leafing through a few loose bills. Finally she looks up and realizes. I feel her hand on my arm. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” And I feel guilt, too – for not wanting to tell her what I heard.
“You’re positive?” She squeezes my arm, rubs it a little. I nod.
We sit for another minute in silence. She tries to coerce one more sip from her empty wine glass. I watch the older man talking to Cameron at the mouth of the driveway. I’m not sure who he is anymore.
Trish shifts in her chair. “Okay then, I should get home and see what the boys are up to. Call if you need anything.” She stands up. “Talk tomorrow?”
“Promise,” I say.
She cuts across our front yard and runs into Josh who’s on his way home from her house. They stop in the middle of the street for a few seconds, talking. He glances at Stan and Cameron keeping a wide berth as he shuffles up our driveway. He says nothing to them.
Josh stops at my table. “What’s he doing here?” he asks and gestures with his head at Cameron.
I play dumb. “Do you know him?”
“Unfortunately.” He doesn’t press, but instead asks what we’re having for dinner.
“I don’t know. Let’s just call out for pizza.”
“You want me to?” I nod, and he walks away but then stops as he’s about to enter the mud room. I look over, his hand on the doorknob. He glances down the driveway. “What’s Dad paying him for?” he asks.
“Yeah. He handed him a wad of bills.”
It’s been over an hour since the last buyer left. The pizza’s been delivered and I’m sure Josh has polished off half of it. The rest is probably sitting on the counter, cold by now. Stan sits on the loveseat at the end of our driveway staring off into space. He’s been there since Cameron left. I’m still manning the cash box, looking at loose National Geographic pages caught in the bushes, napkins and table cloths crumpled up on top of each other, and each table top, the items once organized, now scattered in disarray and most knocked over. I should get up and drag myself inside.
Finally, Stan pushes up from the loveseat, walks over to his golf bag and starts rummaging through one of the pockets. He pulls a whiffle golf ball out, then one of his clubs and walks to the middle of our front lawn. He tosses the ball on the grass, then with a three-quarter swing, hits it. That sound – familiar. I’ve listened to it for years, that little clean click of the club face meeting the ball. The ball spins and arcs fifteen yards over one of the garden beds. He walks to it and strikes it again, back to where he started.
It’s a beautiful evening. I open the window to our guest bedroom and the scent of freshly mowed lawns, of hydrangea fills the room. The white sheers framing the window billow out from the breeze. I’ve left a note on my pillow saying that I think I’ll sleep here tonight, so I can get at least one good night’s sleep.
My head sinks into the pillow but my brain won’t leave me alone. I try to focus on something else, something mindless. So instead of thinking about what happened today, and why or how or what it means, I listen.
I listen to the delicate click-click-click, of Stan’s club meeting the ball.
After having enjoyed a career as a professional musician, James Krehbiel has turned to his “other” passion, writing. Many of his short stories have been published and can be found in the following literary journals: Through the Gaps, Down in the Dirt, The Front Porch Review, Fabula Argentea, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Wanamaker Studio and Bewildering Stories, among others. Mr. Krehbiel’s short story, I Just Wanted to be Sure of You, was nominated for the 2017 Silver Pen Write-Well award. When not writing, Mr. Krehbiel enjoys promoting social issues, golf, being swept up in a great tale and rolling around on the floor with his eleven-year-old Bloodhound/Beagle mix.
© 2021, James Krehbiel