Your friends, you can pick; your relatives, you're stuck with.

Garage Sale of the Month Club

by Stephen D. Rogers © 2001

Today was delivery day--the last of the twelve--and I couldn't wait to see what I received. Though over time I had come to look forward to the monthly event, it certainly hadn't always been this way, especially in the beginning.

It all started on my last birthday. My brother was one of those people with a sick sense of humor, and as a present he sent me a subscription to the Garage Sale of the Month Club. How it worked was that the GSMC combed garage, yard, attic, and tag sales for the most interesting objects they could find, and then mailed one item to each subscriber.

At first, I thought I could just throw the objects away. I didn't want them any more than the people who got rid of them, and my apartment was too small for what I already owned. But then my brother would call and ask what I had received, what use I had found for the whatever, what history I might imagine it had. In his own twisted way, my brother meant well. At least I think he did. Perhaps he was laughing up his sleeve the entire time.

When I received the half-scale, white wicker elephant, that was almost the last straw. The delivery men glared at me as though I had chosen to live on the fifth floor, and in order to make room for the monstrosity I had to junk my old beanbag chair.

Sure the beanbag chair leaked. Sure visitors turned up their noses. But it was mine, sole reward for rooming with Michael for two years. I loved that chair.

I decided that the time had come to act. I called a shipping company, listened to their quote, and decided not to send the white elephant to my brother after all. On top of everything else, I refused to spend money because of his present.

Next month though, the item they sent better be small enough to fit in the back of a drawer.

Next month, it was.

The item I received the following month was a small envelope, old-fashioned, containing a short note on thick parchment. "I will return."

That was it. I turned it over in my hands. There was nothing else on the card, no address on the envelope. Not only would this fit in the back of a drawer, it may have already spent decades in such a place, discovered only recently when the piece of furniture was refinished or went to auction.

Sometimes after work I would sit at the kitchen chair (where's my beloved beanbag now?) and stare at the card, wondering about the sender and the receiver.

Had the sender returned? Had the receiver waited?

The handwriting was ornate, and the quality of the script reminded me of a quill pen dipped in a jar of fresh ink.

Packages continued to arrive from the Garage Sale of the Month Club, but nothing held my interest the way the card did. I moved my furniture to make room for the large items, threw out my knick-knacks to make room for the small, and pondered the note.

It wasn't for another six months that I first entertained the idea that the note could be a threat. Perhaps the sender had been sent away, or put away, or shipped away in the manner of eighteenth century British convicts.

Of course in that case, why would the receiver keep the note? I imagined that one would be hard pressed not to burn the note as soon as read as if that would destroy the threat.

For that matter, how did I know that the intended receiver had ever seen the message in my hands? Perhaps the sender wrote the note but was kept from committing the next logical step.

Perhaps my brother was just trying to mess with my mind. In fact I wouldn't put it past him to the be sole employee of the Garage Sale of the Month Club, giggling as he produced the monthly shipping label for me the sole customer.

If so, the last laugh was on him. I had to admit that I'd become accustomed to the monthly packages, even the most obscure at least a break from the everyday. The thought that today's package might be the end filled me with a sadness that I never expected. Perhaps my brother would renew my subscription.

At the sound of the buzzer, I opened the door to see a slight man carrying nothing at all. He was dark-skinned, but pale somehow, and as I looked past him to see what was being delivered, he was looking past me into my living room.

Who was this, then? "Can I help you?"

"In a second please." As he moved forward, I moved back, and he waltzed over to the wicker elephant, patting it on the head.

"Excuse me. Why are you in my apartment?"

"I've missed my things. Thank you for keeping them." He gazed around. "Where are the rest?"

"The elephant is yours?" I was still standing at the door with my hand on the doorknob.

"Yes. Didn't you get my note?"

"What note? You mean the one that says you'll return?"

He made a small bow. "Here I am. If I may be so bold, where are the rest of my things?"

"Have you ever heard of the Garage Sale of the Month Club?"

"Sorry, no." His head was bobbing as he glanced around the room, his face lighting up whenever he spied one of my monthly treasures.

"Did my brother send you?"

He turned to face me. "That's very unlikely."

I finally let go of the doorknob and took a step closer to him. "Why are you here?"

"I've come to collect my things. I thank you so much for storing them." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a green gem and held it out to me.

Taking the jewel, I placed it in my own pocket, trying to get a handle on what was happening. "You're taking the items I was sent?"

He nodded. "I was unable to stop from rushing here to see them immediately, but I will have to come back with help to move it all."

Possession was nine-tenths of the law. Even though I didn't have any receipts, I could probably fight him in court. Sure, I'd never wanted the stuff, but it had grown on me. When I saw how excited he was, however, the way he kept patting the elephant, I relented. "Yes, that white wicker elephant probably weighs more than you do."

"Undoubtedly. It was a present from Hannibal."

"Hannibal? The guy that rode the elephants over the Alps?"

"My things are all gifts from some friend or another." He pointed to my pocket. "And I in turn have given you a gift for keeping them safe."

"Thanks." I didn't quite understand the implications of what he had said. Was he a time traveler, or had he returned from the dead, or what?

The man nodded and walked past me through the open door, bowing slightly before continuing down the hall.

Sitting at a kitchen chair, I look a last look at the white elephant. "I guess this is good-bye."

Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the green gem and examined it, wondering if it really was the emerald it appeared to be. For my brother's last birthday, all I'd sent him was a portable barbecue grill.

x x x

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