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The Secret Garage Sale : Michael Montlack

Standing in the kitchen, I hold the faded denim bellbottoms up to my waist—one more time—just to show Aaron, my best friend, that they are in fact not too long.

"I don't know, Jeannie," he says, sighing. "You should've just tried them on." He looks tired, sitting at the table, chin in hand. But he's obviously forgetting what I've repeatedly told him: Until I lose my last twenty pounds, I refuse to change in communal dressing rooms.

Today we spent six-and-a-half hours in the Village, searching every vintage clothing store for the perfect outfit. I need something to wear to next week's Rave, a beginning-of-the-year mixer sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian group on campus. Aaron's insisted I go with him because this year's theme is the Seventies; he said the D.J. would be playing all my favorites. But I think he's just still too scared to do gay things by himself.

"Well, why don't you try them on with the shoes and see how they look?" he says. "You know, as an ensemble."

I just stare at him, wondering whether or not he's serious. He usually doesn't care much for clothes, or at least dresses like he doesn't. Right now, in baggy shorts and a torn half-shirt, he looks like he's on his way to a workout. But then Aaron's been a jock ever since the fourth grade, when I first met him playing kickball in the street. He was so enthusiastic back then, taking charge like a coach and always making sure I wasn't the last one picked. In high school, he was even voted Most Athletic. I was Class Smile.

"Well?" he says, waiting.

I go upstairs and find the black suede platforms exactly where I left them this morning—on my mother's bed. I've been sleeping in her room with Aaron for the last two weeks, now that she's gone on her month-long tour of Europe. I don't like to be alone in the house, so he comes over every night to keep me company. Usually, snuggled beneath my comforter, we just watch late-night movies together and eat excessive amounts of low-fat snacks. (Being sophomores, this year we were smart enough to register for afternoon classes.)

When I finally pull the bellbottoms on, I can see that Aaron was right—they are too long. It looks as if my feet were swallowed by my pant legs, and the hems drag on the carpet as I head toward the stairs.

Back in the kitchen, Aaron's chair is empty—probably went to the bathroom or something. Sitting in his place, I slip the platforms on and lace up the straps. The fit is somewhat snug, but close enough. I can always just take them off to dance. They're worth the trouble though: over twenty years old and still in mint condition.

My older sister Laura found the shoes while going through her stuff last spring, when she was preparing to move out. Laura just got married this month (only days before our mother took off) to a dentist from Jersey named Bill. Bill always tells me what an honor it would be to work on a smile like mine. But my other sister, Renee, is also married to a dentist, so I had to tell Bill that I have a prior commitment. He said maybe the competition was actually a godsend in a family as large as ours, what with relatives always expecting free work done.

Altogether, there are five of us: three girls and two boys. Kent and Jonathon, however, are not married to dentists. And me, the youngest—will take what I can get at this point. You know things are rough when the only date you've landed in months is to a gay and lesbian dance with your best friend. I finish tying the second shoe and stand up.

"Hey, Aaron! What are you doing in there, anyway?" Wobbling down the hall in my bulky heels, I can see that the bathroom door is open, the light off. "Aaron?"

"I'm in here," he says, his voice echoing from the garage. I turn down the hall and go in. Everything, of course, is exactly the way I left it: the line of rickety folding tables covered with shadeless lamps, empty frames, frayed Easter baskets. I make my way through it all—past my father's rusted golf clubs, around the rummage box brimming with handbags—and stand beside Aaron, who is happily moving from item to item, checking the prices my mother has stuck to the bottoms. "You didn't tell me," he says.

"Tell you what?"

He looks up, cradling one of my old dolls in his arms, the Raggedy Ann my father gave me for my sixth birthday. "About the sale."

"What sale?" I say, snatching back the doll.

He follows me to the kitchen then, and neither of us says a word. Once we sit, he assures me he didn't mean to snoop, that he was just looking to borrow some tennis balls.

"No problem," I say (after a pause long enough to suggest that maybe it really is). "It's just our messy old garage."

He looks at me. I sigh.

"Listen—my mother just wanted me to get rid of some stuff for her while she's away in Europe, okay? And I haven't had time to think about it yet, that's all." I go to the refrigerator for some orange juice. There is none. Then I remember we drank it all during last night's Late, Late Show. "It just would have been too painful for her," I add, turning to face him. "I mean, selling the house must be hard enough."

"Yeah," Aaron says, staring. "I guess it must be..."

I close the refrigerator door with my back then, and suddenly I realize just what it is he's been staring at:

This raggy old doll, still tight in my grasp.



Only a few minutes have passed and I'm mixing a new pitcher of frozen orange juice. Aaron is still sitting at the table, chin in his other hand now. But I'm not so sure it's because he's tired from all the shopping. He is restless, preoccupied. I put a glass down in front of him and he doesn't even blink. Finally, he snaps out of it when he sees the envelopes come sliding through the crack of the back door.

"What's that?" he says, getting up to look.

"The mail," I say.

"You get delivery at ten o'clock at night?"

"Don't be stupid," I say. Then I remind him about my father's new rule: No one—that being me, of course, since I'm the only other person living in the house at the moment—is allowed to touch the mail until my father has sorted through it first. He came up with this brilliant plan after my mother opened the notice that arrived a few months back, indicating a default on our property taxes for the last three years. It seems that my father was either too drunk or too stupid to pay them. And now we have to sell the house to make the fines. My mother is too nice to let my father go to jail and way too smart to give up her trip to Europe.

"But it all kind of works out, in a way," she explained when I drove her to the airport. She said with everyone else moved out and married (and her wanting to get her own place anyway) this hideous misfortune could be seen as a catalyst moving us forward into our new lives. She said this was God's will; she'd been postponing the inevitable for too long. "So I'll just use what's left over from the house and put a down payment on an apartment," she said. "Something with a terrace..."

My father's been living in the basement since I was eleven. But I've always known the deal: My mother's just been waiting until everyone grew up and settled down. I guess she can't wait around for me to get married. Life is only so long.

"So where will your father go?" Aaron says, sorting through the mail (as if it were his own).

"I don't know. Maybe he'll move in with his girlfriend."

"It's funny," he says. "I almost forgot he lives down there. Doesn't he ever come up into the house?"

"No," I say. "He has everything he needs in the basement." I reach for my glass.

"But what about you?" he says. "Doesn't he ever come up to see you?"

"Well, sure he does. I mean, it was only last week he came up to remind me not to touch his precious mail." I roll my eyes. "I can just see it now—someone'll probably be coming for the cars soon, too."

"Hey, look at this!" Aaron says. He is holding up a postcard, smiling. "Your mom's in Greece!"

I take the photo from his hand. It shows my mother with "the girls," five neighborhood women, mostly widows and divorcees, who have been vacationing together for the last seven years. "Wow," I say. "They had their very own postcards made." My mother, wearing shades, either sunburned or blushing, is laughing, arm-linked to Ms. Garbino from next door. I'm not sure, but it looks as if there are all sorts of naked bodies in the blurry background. "My God," I say. "She went to a nude beach?"

"Cool," Aaron says. "Alright, Mom!"

I give him a look then read the back of the card:



Touring the Greek Islands, you'll never guess where we went! But I'll have to wait 'til I get back to tell you all about it, in case a certain someone feels the need to sift through our mail.

      Overall, having a wonderful and adventurous time!

      Please, don't forget my plants, and remind you-know-who about the plumber coming on the 8th.

      Miss you, love you, the works.



P.S.      Making any money on all that old junk? The girls are talking Israel next year.


I look at Aaron, who is leaning over my shoulder, still reading. He is amused, almost blushing.

"Do you suppose she got naked?" he asks.

"Please," I say. "I don't even want to think about it."



Done with his juice, Aaron looks restless again. When he begins cracking his knuckles, I tell him to stop.

"What's with you tonight?" I ask.

"Nothing," he says. "Just bored, I guess."

"Gee, thanks."

"No offense."

"Whatever." I put the glass in the sink.

"Hey, I know," he says. "Can I go see how many messages Grandma left tonight?"

"Do what you want," I say. "What am I, your mother?"

He leaves for the bedroom like a child making his way to the tree on Christmas morning. I follow, afraid to leave that child alone for too long. He sits on my mother's bed and looks at the machine, where it indicates the number of messages. "Damn," he says. "Seventeen." He turns to me. I'm holding up the new crochet blouse I bought to go with the pants. "Seventeen," he says.

"Well, they may not all be from her, you know. Here's a concept: Maybe some of my other friends called. Or like one of my sisters, maybe?"

"Can I hit the playback then?" he asks.

"Really," I say. "Must you?" (I think the added height from these shoes is starting to kick in.) Throwing the blouse over my shoulder, I go into the adjoining bathroom. Aaron hits the button. The tape rewinds, then there's the beep.

"Hello, Jeannie? Mary? This is Helen. Helen Watson. Got that now? Huh? Huh? Helen Watson."

I can hear Aaron laughing through his nose. "I love it," he says. "That voice. That froggy little voice."

"A real riot," I say.

For some strange reason, maybe because Aaron himself is strange, there seems to be something incredibly funny about my grandmother's phone messages. Granted, she does have that old Italian accent from Queens, which in itself has the ability to amuse, if not irritate. Almost everything she says sounds latently nasty. In fact, the woman can say "God bless you" after a sneeze and somehow you'll think there's an underlying sarcasm to it. But other than that, I find her calls rather boring. She just repeats her name and phone number and says "huh" a lot. My grandmother has been good at forgetting things these last few years. Actually, she's been great at it. The machine is now playing her fifth message.

"Jeannie? Mary? This is Helen. Cousin Helen, for God's sake. Give me a call, will ya? I'm over here at 23 Bernard. 718 993-2187. Cousin Helen."

I come out of the bathroom, wearing my new blouse to give Aaron the full effect. But he's too busy rolling all over himself and the bed, which he, of course, neglected to help make this morning. I tell him to get a grip. He doesn't. So I stop the machine.

"Hey!" He sits up. "I thought you wanted to listen for your friends? Your sisters?"

"Give it a rest," I say. I put a hand on my hip. "Now tell me. What do you think? Tuck the shirt in or blouse it up? I can't make up my mind."

"I don't know," he says, trying not to sulk.

"Well, I thought you wanted to see it all together... as an ensemble."

"What do I know about ensembles?"

"Ya know, Aaron, this whole thing was your idea in the first place, remember? I don't have to go—you could go by yourself. How about that?"

He looks up at me and his eyebrows twitch—just once, for an instant—but long enough to suggest that I somehow hit something right on the nose.

"What?" I say.

"Nothing," he says. "I didn't say anything." Then he starts to rub his hand and I know something is definitely wrong. I sit down on the bed, beside him. He is studying his tattoo: a yellow smiley face he had done to cover the hair-like scar running across the veiny underside of his wrist É



One night, shortly before our high school graduation and only two months after that awful phone call about Aaron's mother—him crying: hit and run, D.O.A.—he called me, whispering to please come over, through the back door. He said it was open and that he was in the basement. He sounded calm and serious, and that worried me. When I got there, I found him alone in the dark, surrounded by crumpled sheets of loose leaf paper stained with blood.

"What are you doing, Aaron? Come on now." I was smiling even then, expecting it all to be some kind of joke, April fools.

He looked up at me, shaking his head, still so calm, and told me that he had forgotten to write the note first. He had forgotten to write the note first and had cut the hand with which he wrote. Somehow I got him to the car. Inside, his blood dripped onto my Shakespeare text, and the whole way to the hospital he kept apologizing.

"For God's sake, Aaron. I don't care about the damn book." I struggled to pull my shirt off. "Here—help me. Take this, wrap your wrist with it." He did. "Now, why did you do this? Why?"

"She's gone," he whispered.


"I never told her. And I'm still buried alive."

"What?" I was driving as fast as my mother's station wagon would go.

"I don't want to go like this," he said, touching my leg. "It'll be like I never existed at all, except for inside me. And I'll be gone."

"Aaron, did you take something? Don't fool around, what did you take?"

That's when he told me he was gay. I just kept driving, blowing every red light and stop sign on the way. And it wasn't until we were inside the Emergency—the nurses rushing him off, assuring me that he'd be okay—that I realized I was standing in the center of the crowded waiting room wearing only a bra and shorts, my rolls of fat exposed to the world. I just stood there, smiling dumbly, numb to the full meaning of what Aaron had just told me. Somehow, all I kept thinking about was my bloody Shakespeare book in the front seat of my mother's car. Aaron had, in a sense, asked me to die with him. It was me alone he trusted with his truth. I felt like Juliet and I had never felt that way before. So what if my Romeo was gay?

It took some time—a few months, maybe—but he managed to get through it. We all did. Then, last January, he came by with my birthday present: the tattoo.

"For saving my pitiful life," he said.

I told him he was crazy.

"Why?" he said. "Now, no matter where I go, you'll always be with me, smiling."

I asked him where he planned on going that he needed to take me along.

"Nowhere," he told me.

I said, "Good."



Pulling his hand from his wrist now, I look at the quarter-sized face, still amazed after all these months at how that curved scar, where Aaron had sliced himself open, was so easily transformed into a cheerful little smile. I lift it to my mouth and kiss it.

"Now, would you please tell me what's going on, Aaron?"

He takes a deep breath and says okay.

Suddenly I am sorry that I asked. The last thing I need is trouble with Aaron.

"It's really not a big deal," he starts off.

Now sure that I'm in for it, I fold my arms over my stomach.

"No—really," he says. "In fact, it's actually quite good. I just wasn't sure when to tell you. I wanted to give it some time first. You know—to see if it was for real."

"See if what was for real?" I tilt my head as if to provide a better, more gentle angle at which this news can enter my brain.

"Kevin," he says.

"Kevin," I say. "Kevin?"

Then, finally getting it, I nod slowly and look down to the floor. For a minute, I just stare at my platforms, the elevated attitude now gone. To get my attention, Aaron nudges my ankle with his foot. I look up and smile. "I'm really happy for you, Aaron. Really. Where did you meet him?"

"At the gym," he says. "When we went to check out the summer memberships. Do you remember him? The nutritionist—he assisted us with the orientation."

"Wait a minute," I say. "You met that guy back in June and you're first telling me now? What the hell, Aaron? Do you mean to tell me that for the last three months you've been sitting here rambling on and on about your ideal vision of Prince Charming when the whole time—"

"But I wasn't lying, Jeannie."

"I know, I know—tall, brown hair, green eyes, right?—just like you described. I can't believe you!" I get up from the bed and lean against the dresser. "I thought you said your days of secrets were over."

"This wasn't a secret."

"Then why didn't you tell me?"

"Because," he says.

I turn around to hear the rest.

"Because I know how vulnerable you are right now," he says.

"Vulnerable?" I shake my head and blink as if he's speaking some incomprehensible language way too fast. "I am not vulnerable."

Coming over to the dresser, he takes me by the hand. "You don't have to be gay to come out, Jeannie. Everyone withholds something."

Staring, he waits for me to respond.

I just laugh at him, pinch his cheek and tell him he's a silly little boy. He comes closer and wraps his arms around me in too serious a way, but I put a stop to that by patting his behind like I always do. Only this time I can't help but think about that guy from the gym—Kevin—wondering whether or not he's been doing the very same thing.

"So what exactly does this mean?" I ask, having finally pulled away from him.


For starters, he tells me that although he still wants me to come, he no longer needs a date for the Rave. Then, blushing again, but with a slinkiness in his shoulders and neck which I've never seen before, he informs me that he won't be staying the night. He has other plans.



Aaron's in the bathroom now, brushing his teeth, no doubt waiting for me to assure him, one more time, that it's all right.

"Because I can stay if you want me to."

I tell him to stop talking with his mouth full. The foam makes him look like a rabid animal. He spits it out, rinses and starts combing his hair.

I am watching him from the hallway, leaning against the wall in a way that relieves my feet. The straps are beginning to cut in at the ankle. I should just go and take these things off but I'm too busy studying Aaron. He seems different somehow, standing there in the dim light. I think maybe it's the way he's looking at himself. Before, he would only use mirrors to check on how bad a zit got or to make sure his hair wasn't standing up. But now...

"Have you ever?" I say, not even knowing where the question came from.

Aaron turns around like he's been waiting for it. "Well, we've fooled around a little," he says. "But I've never spent the night before."

"I feel like maybe I should get you a Hallmark or something."

"Well, nothing's happened yet," he says. He turns back to the mirror and feels his chin for stubble. "So cross your fingers, will ya?"

I tell him of course. Then I yawn and stretch my arms out, as if exhausted. "Well, I'm going to bed now," I say. "When you're done, just make sure the front door is locked. Okay?"

"Okay," he says, somewhat confused. He puts the comb on the sink counter. "But you are still meeting me for lunch tomorrow, right? I mean, I may have a few stories to tell."

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," I say, grinning. Then I hold up my crossed fingers and turn to go.

On the way down the hall to my mother's room, my heels feel like bricks and I almost trip on the hems of my pants. But it doesn't matter anymore because I've already decided I won't be going to that Rave. I refuse to be anyone's tag-along, especially Aaron's. Besides, I've learned that it's less awkward being alone than being in the middle. There's always enough room for you when you're alone.



The lights are dimmed and the comforter is folded back, but I'm still dressed in my Seventies outfit, wide awake. I know I won't be able to fall asleep for hours; I'm too used to staying up late with Aaron. He, by the way, is still in the bathroom, probably shaving now. There's a soft flow of water coming from the faucet. Otherwise, it's quiet, as if he's concentrating. Being in no mood to concentrate myself, I decide to listen to the remaining phone messages, even though I should save them for later, for when the house turns completely silent. I hit the button on the machine. And message number six is from my grandmother, of course. This always happens on the nurse's day off.

"Just thought I'd give you a call. Okay? This is Helen. Helen Watson. Let me give you the number."

The next several calls are from my grandmother as well: Aunt Helen, Cousin Helen, Helen from next door. This has been going on for way too long. My mother did consider having a special system installed on my grandmother's phone, so it could be locked after five—when the nurse leaves—and only incoming calls could be received. But it didn't take long to see the potential danger in something like that. After all, my grandmother is eighty-three, not to suggest that she's totally incapable or anything. In fact, she's quite energetic and healthy. She just forgets a lot, that's all. But Aaron says that's part of her charm. He admires the way in which her mind has deteriorated.

"So what if she doesn't know how she's related to you?" he said to me the other night in bed. The phone wouldn't stop ringing and I was too fed up to answer it. "The important thing is that she knows who she is, independent of her family and friends." He smiled. "She's Helen and I think she's awesome." Then he said that if he ever loses his mind, he would want it to be the same way. I told him I thought he already had lost his mind. He just reached over and answered the phone. Then he and Helen talked for close to twenty minutes, mostly about tornadoes and corn—my grandmother having, at one time, lived in the Midwest, on a farm. Aaron was fascinated. But failing to find as much interest in her as he does, I just skip over a few more Helen messages and stop at the sound of my sister's voice.

"Hey, Jeannie. It's me, Renee. Just called to see how you were doing holding down the old fort. Hope it's not too lonely over there with Dad." She laughs. "Listen. I have an offer to make. Ted and I want to go to the Poconos next weekend and we need someone to sit for the kids. I know it's the whole weekend but we'll make it worth your while..." Her last few words are kind of sing-song. Then there is a dramatic pause, like a drum roll. "Ted landed two Elton John tickets for next month! Second row! He did a root canal for some MCA Records exec and well, anyway, they're yours if you can keep the brats alive for a couple of days and the house somewhat in tact. What do ya think? Aaron is welcome to stay too, if he wants. Give me a call, okay? Love you. Bye."

I turn off the machine before the next beep, saving the last three calls for later. My next instinct is to go out into the hallway to tell Aaron about the tickets—we both love Elton John—but something stops me. What if Aaron already has plans? With Kevin. What if he's just too busy now to spend a whole weekend with Jeannie and her sister's kids? And how could I blame him? He found what we've both been looking for. Only he found it first. Suddenly my decision's made: I won't accept those tickets. I won't baby-sit for my nephews. At twenty years old, I simply refuse to set myself up as the old maid aunt always available for favors. I'm sorry but Elton John is just not worth it.



I'm on the bed painting my fingernails the same shade of pink already on my toes when I hear the toilet flush. Then—the footsteps in the hall followed by a light tap on the door.

"Since when do you knock?" I ask.

Aaron pops his head in, clean shaven, hair moussed back. "Just being polite," he whispers.

"Why start now," I whisper back.

Ignoring that, he comes in and bends down beside his gym bag at the foot of the bed. "I need my roller blades," he says.

"I could give you a ride, you know."

"That's okay," he says. "He doesn't live far." He stuffs his sneakers into the bag, throws it over his shoulder and walks toward the door. "Well...good night, then."

"Yeah, same to you," I say, knowing full well how cold I must sound. But it's okay because I have a right to be at least somewhat angry, having been left in the dark about Kevin all this time. Besides, Aaron knows I'll be fine come morning. I always am. After all, it's only me: Smiling Jeannie.

Holding my nails up against the light of the nightstand lamp, I pretend now to inspect for streaks and lint. Aaron just watches for a moment, probably waiting for my blessing, my approval—anything to disrupt the awkward silence. But I continue with the false inspection. And when he finally does turn to leave . . . I swear, my nails?—they feel like hot pink claws.



As soon as the screen door slams, I realize what I have done. I jump from the bed and open the window facing the front yard. Aaron is still there—thank God—carefully making his way down the dark pebbled driveway.

"Wait," I call to him. "Don't move!"

He looks up. "What's wrong?" He seems concerned, standing there in the moonlight, balancing on his blades.

"Uh—I have something for you," I say.

"You do?" He inches his way back toward the house, and then I remember—I actually do have something. I tell him one second, run across the hall and dig through my underwear drawer. When I finally find what I'm looking for, I bring it back to the open window, somewhat out of breath.

Aaron is directly below, staring up at me, eyes wide and expectant. Again, I feel like Juliet, only this time on the balcony instead of in the tomb. I reach into the box and sprinkle down a handful of condoms. They flutter in the air, some hitting him in the head and some landing right in his open palms. Laughing, he bends down to collect the rest.

"Way to go," he says. "Glow in the dark."

I smile and tell him that I'm glad someone is finally making use of them. Eyebrows raised, he looks skeptical.

"No, really," I say. "I mean it." And then I empty the rest of the box out of the window—the circles of neon dotting the dark lawn below like a constellation in the sky. As soon as Aaron has all of them secured in the sides of his roller blades, he tells me that he loves me and slowly makes his way toward the street. There, he turns to wave goodbye.

"Be careful," I call, leaning further out the window.

And then, squinting, I take a long deep breath and watch as he glides down the block, his figure becoming smaller and smaller, darker and darker, until I finally see that he is gone.



The television's on and I have the popcorn popper going in the kitchen, but still the house feels empty. Sometimes, the emptiness bothers me so much that I am almost tempted to go and knock on the basement door. But I'm too afraid of finding my father passed out drunk on the sofa—the way I found him the last time I went down there—or even worse, with his mysterious new girlfriend. So instead, I decide to accessorize my new outfit, even though my mind's still set on not attending the Rave.

In Laura's old room, I search through the boxes she hasn't moved yet, finding a pair of feather earrings and a silver hoop belt. Both, I must admit, are quite tacky by themselves, but I figure they might unite the other components of my outfit, creating a cohesive tackiness that will somehow convey nostalgia and style. I open the closet door and stand before the full-length mirror. But in it, I see something entirely different from what I've planned.

Immediately, it is quite obvious that I look nothing like those trendy girls at the mall and nothing at all like my sister did twenty years ago. Unlike them, I am not slender or shapely. In fact, I suddenly feel like Frankenstein in these heels: huge and frightening. But what strikes me most about my own reflection is my smile. That, I believe, is the true monstrous thing in the mirror. It scares me, the way it seems to have a life of its own, never stopping to consider me or how I feel, yet continuing to exist on my face, oftentimes dominating it to the point where no one sees anything else.

Studying the curve of my lips, I realize now how much I really do resemble that little yellow face on Aaron's wrist, even down to the scar concealed beneath it. Aaron was the only one who could see my scar. And now I feel like it's being ripped open by the emptiness of this house. Suddenly I have to turn away from myself. And when I do, the first thing I see is a portrait of my family hanging on the wall above my sister's bed. I move closer, drawn to it by the broad smile on my eight-year-old face. But that smile does not alarm me because it is a real smile, from a real child, surrounded by a sober and career-minded father, a mother who still loves him, even a bunch of brothers and sisters who all live in the same house, filling it with warmth and liveliness. I take the frame down from the wall and carry it out to the hallway.

On my way down the stairs, the phone rings, and I stop in the kitchen to get it, thinking maybe it's Aaron, that something may have gone wrong. But it's only my grandmother. Who else?

"So. How are ya, hon?"

"To tell you the truth, not so good, Grandma." Stretching the phone cord, I move away from the crackle and buzz of the popcorn popper.

"Grandma?" she says. "Now just who in the hell do you think you're calling Grandma? Huh? This is Helen, for God sakes. Helen!"

"Please," I say. "Not now." I look down at the photograph. A younger version of my grandmother poses proudly between my brothers, her eyes sparkling in the light of the flash.

"What?" she says. "What is it? What's wrong with you?"

"Nothing, Helen. Nothing's wrong with me," I say. "But tell me one thing, would you? Just tell me how you do it."

"Do what?" she says.

Slowly, my fingers trace and retrace the seams of the frame. "How do you forget?"

There's a long dead pause...

And finally—she hangs up.

I just shake my head, figuring with my luck, this'll probably be one the few things in her life she'll manage to remember. Then, hooking the phone back on the wall, I see that the popcorn is overflowing the bowl I left out to catch it. But I just let it spill onto the floor. After all, it's not like there's anyone here to complain about it.

Holding the portrait like a shield now, I make my way down the hall to the garage. Inside, the selection of junk shines in the light of the ceiling bulb, just waiting to be picked at and bargained for. But I'm not ready yet.

First I must prepare.

To keep things organized, I lean the portrait up against one of the tables and carefully pull out a rusted lounge chair from behind some bikes, setting it up near the garage door. Then I begin to look for the package of blank labels my mother bought to use as price tags. It takes a minute, but I find it in a paper bag along with some magic markers.

On one of the labels, I write 10 cents in red ink and stick it to the portrait, directly on top of my chubby little face, instantly transforming myself into an anonymous body free from any expression. For a brief but entertaining moment, I consider drawing mustaches, beards, even some horns on various members of my family. But then, like everything else in my life, that moment is gone.

With the frame secured against the table again and my platforms on display next to an assortment of eight-track tapes, I press the button on the wall that automatically raises the garage door. Outside, it is black and cool, but I sit in the lounge chair, legs outstretched, arms folded across my chest, as if I am a sunbather at the beach. And just like that, in the quiet light of the garage, I listen for any sound that might resemble the scrape and glide of Aaron's roller blades, all the while looking around for someone—anyone—who might be willing to buy what my family has decided to give up.