Someone I once met bought a huge roll top desk for five hundred bucks at an estate sale. Took four grown men to get it out of the house, and back into his. The thing was a monster, a small cottage could have been built out of the wood in that desk. I’ve always wanted one, but at the same time, I’m not sure a desk, any desk, is worth five hundred dollars. No, I tend to drift towards going to estate sales at homes that might have a hardback copy of “Dune” in great condition. Or a box full of paperbacks for a dollar.
I’ve tried, really, truly, I’ve tried to stop collecting books, ever since 2006, when I gave about three thousand of them away. I had stacks of books all over the damn house, and finally released them back into the wild, giving them all to the Brooks County Library. But I’m drawn to books. They are the only source of manmade magic to believe in. Everywhere there’s a journey there’s a search for books. Who cares what a woman looks like, really, if she’s read the right books. If you can sit across from a woman at a table and she tells you that “Stranger in a Strange Land” changed her life, you can go anywhere with her, and be happy.
The hand painted sign read, “Estate Sale”, and who paints a sign for an estate sale, and that’s enough for me to go in. All of the stuff on the screened in porch, which is dipping forward just enough to tell, and there isn’t much of what there is. Clothes, that will be eventually donated, a stack of vinyl records, mostly very old R&B and gospel, and a collection of kitchen knickknacks litter the porch. There’s a pair of boots older than I was at the time. A worn copy of some book without a cover has a tag on it reading “5 cents” and it is time to go.
There’s a suit, and the material looks good, really good, and I stop to examine it. It’s old, very old, thin, and it had seen its better days decades ago.
“Abernathy,” the man sitting in a chair at the door says, and for a moment I didn’t realize he was speaking to me.
“Oh?” I encourage him. I shouldn’t, but why not?
“His mama named him that, wanted him to be a preacher, but it never took,” the man tells me. “She bought him that suit when he got out of high school. Gave him that suit and a bible and told him that God would speak to him.”
“Did God speak to him?” I ask.
“If’n he did, Ab didn’t hear, and if he heard he didn’t listen, Ab liked to play drums but the drums didn’t like Ab,” and the man laughed. “Didn’t have a musical nut in his sack.”
“How old was he?”
“Ab lived to be eighty, but mostly he died ten years before that,” the man stood up and stretched, keeping on hand on the door jamb to balance. “because them doctors had him doped up on pills and things. Ab couldn’t remember his own name, forgot about music, he weren’t never no good but he sho liked to listen. Had him a band he played in once, and they never was good enough to charge money. Background noise, something to hear, but nothing to listen to a’tall, is how I called’em.” The man sat down and stared at the wooden floor. He could hear the music now, through much younger ears, and even though it wasn’t great music, or even good music, it was something that glued his past together.
“They played in this very house, had all the drums jammed in so tight Ab could hardly move, not that it hurt’im none. They played loud, and we drank to help, and it did some, and he always wore that suit. Made him look like he was gonna go to a funeral for the music, I said that one night, and everybody laughed so hard Ab stopped playing, and he never picked up a stick again. Never wore it again, that suit, never put it back on. Took his drums, and all that shit that went with it, to the pawn shop, and drank it away in less than a week.” The man stared back into the house now, and I could hear it; terribly play music played far too loud, for drunk friends who were just trying to find an excuse to be there.
“Folks kidded Ab, they were mean about it, and said he once got arrested for playing music too loud, but the judge had heard Ab play, and said it wasn’t music,” the man laughed hard at that, and slapped his knee. “Ab took it hard, he did, he ain’t played a lick since that night, and he ain’t listened to no music like he once did. But the day he died his ex come over and played them records over there one by one, until Ab passed. Then she put’em down where she found’em and she walked out, again, and didn’t never come back no more.” The man stopped speaking for a while, and looked up, to see if I was still there.
“Good woman, Dorothy Ann was. Ab and her had two young’ens and they didn’t grow up to be preachers either. Both dead before they was old enough to drive. Wild things, went off and stole a car, wrecked it and burned. Dot’Ann done left after that. Came back to see Ab die, but it was more than that. She saw the last of her babies that day, too, both of’em spittin’ image of their daddy.” The man was staring at the warped and twisted porch wood now. It was time for me to leave, and I knew it.