I went to a flea market today, a rather large one, and went early to avoid the rush. It was cooler than was comfortable, the wind was blowing, and the feeling of being out of place cut deeper than the cold.
The older woman selling honey growled the price out, her tone of voice suggesting anyone who wanted the honey badly enough would somehow discern the price, perhaps telepathically. Dressed for the Artic as she was, perhaps she feared a transaction might somehow weaken her defenses against the soon to arrive blizzard or distract her while a polar bear ambushed us both. Her gray hair was pulled back and stuffed into something that mostly resembled a hat, and her face was crinkled with deep grooves that spoke of poverty and bad choices with men who came into her life like trees falling onto a house. I moved on.
It’s a covered flea market, with a few enclosed shops, but mostly just a roof, with nothing to slow the wind down. Smokers with their cigarettes can be smelled a mile away, and some guy selling cheap tools is talking loud enough to be heard over the smoke.
“They ain’t gonna do it,” his voice rising with the power of his opinion, “I bet they ain’t, com’on, you bet me, they ain’t gonna do it,” and he takes his white cowboy hat off and waves it at imaginary betters in the air. He’s one of those big hat, big belly, big belt buckle men, with a shirt that’s red and white checkered, like someone stole a picnic tablecloth and tortured it with a sewing machine. The tools on the table, still in a package, are lightweight, no steel or iron, and they’ll break during hard work. But this is a man who is putting on a show, advancing on the would be customers like ants at a campground, who brought their own picnic tablecloth. Meanwhile the three guys he’s talking to, slowly back away, not gambling against his info. One of them gets far enough away to turn around and make a break for the next stall, and the other two now have an excuse to follow. Cowboy Hat Man snorts, and looks around for his next audience, but I’m on the move.
I was once good at this, navigating crowds, weaving in and out of people effortlessly, a shadow barely seen or heard or felt, but it’s been too long now. The Plague has sapped me of my invisibility. Stopping, sidestepping, waiting for people to move, my glide is gone, the people moving the wrong way at the wrong time, and collisions nearly occur.
Another shop is selling confederate flags, but near the back, in plastic packages, not on the wall like they once did. There’s a flag from the old Soviet Union, hammer and sickle, and it’s not being flown either. More cheap tools, but this time power tools, deeply discounted, in case you need a power saw for one project, you’d likely get it. Machetes, two for ten dollars, or five-fifty for one, thin, cheaply processed metal, and you couldn’t hack your way out of your 70’s girlfriend’s pubic hair with that thing.
Used clothes, more clothes, clothes, clothes, clothes for sell, dresses, jeans, shoes, and even hats for sale. The jeans are going for twenty bucks, a green down jacket for twenty-five, and this morning that’s a bargain, and I wonder who owned that jacket, and why they sold it, and how the jacket came to be here.
A teenager, young girl, is sitting in a chair at a small table, not seeing me, not seeing anything at all. She’s the daughter or granddaughter of the shop owner, and if this girl was holding a gun on you it would be your last moment on earth and you would be certain.
Her eyes are boring a hole through the air, through everything there, the people, the used clothes, the treason rag, the flimsy machetes, the parking lot, the hostile honey salesperson, and nothing from the outside world can break through that stare.
I want to sit down next to her, and ask her why the stare. With someone who is a young teen, it could be social media, or it could be she’s trying to figure out why her body and mind are going through what they’re going through. It could be the cold boredom, endless, dirty, smokey, cold boredom, of used retail, cheap clothes off dead people sold to the dying. Or it could be worse, much worse, as she found a hidden camera in her bedroom, and her new stepfather is creepy. Tell her Mom about it? Not tell Mom? Tell social media, tell no one, silence encourages aggression, she already knows that, and that stare is trying to decide if she walks away right now, into the abyss of the world, would it be that much worse than what awaits her in her own home? The stare lazars its way through me, past the greasy food stands, past the shop selling boom boxes, past the used CDs, past the next state and the next country and into deep space, but she will find no help anywhere anymore.
Moving quickly now, the mojo is returning, and I dodge those who are milling around like cattle in a pen, grazing on anything that might be slightly interesting in the cold stockyard of the flea market. It’s time to go, time to get away from this place, and as I leave the old woman with the honey calls out, wanting my money, even though she rather not speak to me again. I pull out, another car pulls in behind me, and someone will buy fleas here today, I think.