Selling Happiness

They started at eight in the morning. At the curb, a teddy bear sat on a child-size chair posed with a banner taped to its paws that read, “Garage Sale! All For Sale!” Where his car was once parked, a floral print couch sat decorated with stuffed animals arranged from smallest to biggest. Next to it, a nightstand acted as a pedestal for white roller-skates with pink wheels that he had bought for the youngest daughter. Far back under the opened garage door, the three of them counted their change as they glanced over the childhood memories laid out in the driveway. Three dollars and seventy-five cents the eldest said.

Courtesy:  Klarika Huszar

At nine thirty they’d gotten rid of some of the things that were dragged out from inside the house. They sold things for amounts that sounded like a lot of money. The nightstand for seven dollars, his mugs for fifty cents each, and his shiny red tool chest filled with all kinds of tools that took him years to collect for sixty dollars.

His items sold fast. Theirs didn’t.

They had trouble moving some of the items out of the house, but the person who bought the dining room table for fifty dollars helped them carry out boxes of his clothing. Not too long after, another man pulled out a plaited shirt from one of those boxes. He tried it on over his T-shirt. He buttoned it up half way then also found his boots and cowboy hat. The eldest couldn’t help but stare at the man dressed in their father’s clothes.

He was missing dad’s moustache. Mom hated those boots and cowboy hat. Mom tried to throw them away before but he kept pulling them out of the trash. Dad said he used to pull off grandpa’s boots after he worked all day and he liked us to pull of his boots too. Sometimes we would put them on. Walked through the front door, mimicking his stride while we held on to our make-believe buckle. He played along with us. He used to pull the oversized boots off our feet and tickled our toes. Mom often told us to hide the boots from him. She never pretended.

They sold the boots for ten dollars. The youngest wore the cowboy hat for some hours until someone else gave them five dollars for it. The driveway changed as time past. A neighbor bought the bear from the curb for her daughter. They got a dollar for it. Another woman asked about clothes that would fit her, but they told her their mom wouldn’t sell her clothes. Only his. That woman gave them three dollars for a broken clock he didn’t get around to fixing.

At noon, they counted three hundred and twenty-six dollars and the house was almost empty. They were good at selling things. People didn’t even try to bargain with them. Some even gave them more money. The couch was set for twenty-five but they got thirty. They thought it was because they knew how to give a serious look. However, the eldest knew it was because everyone felt sorry for his absence. When people questioned them about selling everything, the younger ones had mentioned their dad’s sudden death.

It was now two thirty in the afternoon. Except for the beds, their clothes and their favorite items, everything had sold. They weren’t sure if their mother really meant the beds. They couldn’t carry them out and where would they sleep? Plus their dad never really liked it for strangers to come into their home. Then someone asked them if they had anything else.

“How about the house? You girls selling the house too?” A man laughed and waited for a response. This time the middle child answered since the eldest hesitated.

“We got three beds, mine and my little sister have kid beds and my big sister has a normal one.” She said it while looking at the man straight in the eyes. The youngest stood next to her with one hand on her hip, also staring at the man. The eldest stared at her sisters but her thoughts were elsewhere.

We never even thought of moving, why would we? Dad had painted the house brown, planted roses for mom, and even added a swing to the giant oak tree in the backyard. Mom said brown was a boring color and red roses were her favorite, not yellow ones. We liked the yellow roses. We told him they reminded us of the sun and he said we reminded him of yellow roses. The yellow roses died a week after he did, then the red ones to make her happy withered too. Eventually the grass faded to the color of sand, reminding us of the sand castles he used to build for us.

 “What about your parents’ bed?” the stranger smiled at them as if he meant something else. The eldest walked away to sit on the porch. The youngest responded, “Mom’s asleep on it.” Then they started to describe it.

The first morning we found dad lying on the couch we just thought he fell asleep watching TV. But then he kept sleeping there. After two weeks, we woke him up early one morning to tell him to go sleep with her. He just said no and turned his back to us. A week later, we found him crying. We didn’t know he actually cried. All we could do is hug him. In mid sob he blurted that mom didn’t love him anymore and that she had a boyfriend. Then he died three days later. She still doesn’t know that we know.

They said the bed was soft, dark blue and round like a circle, like one from a fancy hotel. “How much?” the stranger asked again. They thought they should say something very expensive because mom hadn’t woken up again since she told them to go outside and sell everything, especially his stuff.

“Can I see it, you know the round bed?” And with that question, the stranger offered them a piece of gum. None of them took any because their father always told them to not take anything from strangers. They reminded the man that their mom was still asleep and that the bed was a hundred and fifty dollars.

Dad had surprised mom with the bed one day. He said someone had donated it to the church at the annual pancake breakfast. Mom never went to the annual pancake breakfast because she said it was too early for her and she needed her beauty sleep. Dad would take us with him and the youngest two would sit with the other church kids while the eldest stood next to dad serving pancakes to everyone.

“Surely she’s awake now, it’s almost three o’clock,” the stranger laughed again. They said to come back at six o’clock, hoping the stranger wouldn’t return at all. They didn’t want that man to sleep where he had slept. They also didn’t want to wake her up. She looked happy in their bed.

“Can you please go ask if I can see it?” The stranger asked nicer this time. They went inside the house. They fought about who should wake her up. None of them wanted to even open the door. The eldest said they should refuse to sell their bed. But the youngest reminded her that mom said everything. They turned the knob and pushed the door slowly. They must’ve taken too long, because before they knew it, that man was in the hallway behind them.

“Girls, don’t worry I trust you will have it ready for me at six, ok?” The man whispered and grabbed the knob out of their hands. The stranger closed the door very quietly and guided them back out to the front yard.

“The pictures on the walls,” the stranger started to say. But they shouted, “They are not for sale!” They put their hands on their hips, as their mom did when she was mad. The eldest gave him a dirty look.

Lately, we weren’t sure what mom really felt. Was she sad, mad, or just sleepy? Did she really have a boyfriend? Is that what gave dad a heart attack? Our pictures showed different people. Mom and dad were smiling together with us. Dad often said it was important to remember those special moments as a family. He said we were all his girls, even mom. Now he’s gone and mom wants us to sell everything. Does she not love him anymore? Is she happy he is dead? Does she still love us?

“Is that your dad in them?” The man asked while looking back at the door. “Yes, he died,” we said in unison. Then the man handed us two hundred dollars. This time it was the youngest one who took the money. The stranger said he would be back at six.

The youngest two ran into the house, smiling and giggling. They now had five hundred and twenty-six dollars. The eldest reminded them to keep it down. Their mom came out to the hallway where the youngest two were dancing with money in their hands. “Mom, mom, we sold your bed, too!” The eldest rolled her eyes. They all waited for some happiness.

By six thirty, Mom had showered and was waiting for us to fill the trash bags in her hands with the bed linens. When the doorbell rang, we all greeted the man with smiles and said he could take the bed. He introduced us to his sons and gestured towards the big truck in the driveway. He said something about a church and helping families. Our mom sort of smiled. The man handed her an envelope.

“I’ll take whatever you want me to take,” he said it somewhat sadly. He was not laughing or smiling like before.

“Take whatever you want, it doesn’t mean much to me anymore.” She said it while opening the front door to our home. The man stared at us almost as if he asked for our approval. We looked at both of them.

Their mom was wiping her eyes. The man handed her a handkerchief. The eldest walked away. When the man’s sons offered, the younger ones each took a piece of gum. The sons had a bubble-blowing contest in front of them. The teenage boys blew big bubbles and let them pop on their faces. They made the younger ones laugh for a little while. The eldest, close to a teen herself, just looked over from a distance. Before leaving, the man’s son gave the middle child their pack of gum. The middle child offered some to the eldest. Then after packing everything into their big truck, the man and his sons left. They all went outside to watch them drive away. The sons waved and smiled at them. The eldest confused pity for happiness.

It was nearly dark now. Without even looking inside the envelope, mom passed it on to us and said, “Here girls, this is what you earned today. Good work.” We opened the envelope. We grabbed the money. There was a hundred dollar bill for each of us, even mom. We placed it in the metal box, the only thing we still had that was his. When we tried to tell mom about how much money we made she just waved us away and walked back towards their room. Where would she sleep? The man took their bed.

As we followed her, she said we were moving and thanks to us, we would be able to do that quickly too. Was she referring to how quickly we sold everything? Or how quickly we all moved on without him? We stared at the photos left on the walls. None of us smiled. We tried to see if she was happy, but she closed the door to her room without looking back. The house was empty—but dad’s happy face was still in all the pictures