With Makala out of town, I managed an early start on my chore list. I finally got the grass cut, then I dragged all that spring-cleaning clutter out from the shed. And once I was on a roll, I even tackled those boxes of junk that had sat in the attic for years.
I was beat, but the rest of my sunny Saturday was wide open. At least that’s what I was thinking when my wife called.
I pocketed my tax receipt, lauding my feats of whirlwind productivity. “I’m leaving the Goodwill now, all done with the junk.” I stretched my back. “Those boxes, jeez, they were full of books. Hey, I was thinking I might…”
“The attic? Frank, you didn’t take my books though, right? The ones I set aside while they renovate the study?”
Her voice was high with alarm. I chuckled. My wife, the bookworm. Where I had my den, with the sixty-inch Sony on the wall, she had to have her study. I smiled warmly. “Sweetie, allow me to introduce you to modern society. It’s called a Kindle.”
A gasp. Her tone dropped a couple DEFCON levels. “Frank, please tell me…” another sharp breath. “Frank, there are some very collectible books in there. In the box labeled, DO NOT MOVE?”
Hmm, I thought I detected a sniffle, the first crack of tears. “Frank, my Walt Whitman first edition is in there.”
My eyes cut to the donation doors. A bell tower of panic rang in my chest. The box was gone. I figured I’d better get in there and clear things up. My laugh was high-pitched, jostled by my sprint back to the store.
“Honey, of course I didn’t. What do you take me for?”
A quick laugh, some sniffing on her end. “Oh good, for a minute I thought…”
I had the phone pressed to my chest. “Hello?” I peeked inside the donation drop-off when I heard an engine growl to life in the parking lot. My wife was still talking, laughing about what kind of imbecile would give away–I quickly asked the volunteer about the books. Where are the books? Please, I beg you, I really need those books!
She shook her head. “Oh, there they go now, they took the entire box.” Big smile. “Paid $50 cash.”
I whirled around, in time to see a primer gray pick-up truck leaving the lot, the folds of the box waving in the wind.
Back to the phone, “…I mean, a signed first edition would go for what, nine, ten grand?”
I couldn’t help myself. “The Walt Disney book?”
“Oh Frankie, you really had me for a minute.”
The truck caught a wheel on its way out of the lot, the box of books—my very life—jumping and skidding across the bed. “Yeah, gotcha good, huh?”
I hung up the phone and made the maddest of dashes to Makala’s minivan. I’d really done it this time. The eco lights flashed angrily as I flew down Toledo Avenue in hot pursuit, well, lukewarm pursuit, anyway. But the monster truck made several errant lane changes, nearly slinging the DO NOT MOVE box directly into traffic. I held on and followed it for miles, trailing a safe distance behind, until the markings left the road and the grass grew long.
At least until the truck skidded into a shoulder and two men leaped from out the doors.
One tall, one short, with stringy hair and sleeveless shirts revealing faded tattoos of guns and skulls. They even spat simultaneously, strings of dark liquid flying from their jaws as they approached. They gestured for me to get out of the van. By gestured I mean kicked the van.
The taller one of the two spoke first. “You following us, boy?”
I stepped out of the van, cursing myself for wearing loafers and no socks. For looking like such a weenie. “Ha, following, that’s a, well it’s kind of a funny story.”
“Don’t seem so funny.”
Hmm, this was going to take some finesse. “No, I don’t suppose it does. Well, I uh, see…”
The taller one spat again. A glob of tobacco found the tassel of my loafer. I needed more finesse.
I shook it off my shoe, went into salesman mode. “Well, the box of books, there. From the Goodwill? We um, it appears we donated it by mistake.” I played it casual with a shrug, as though the books were worthless. “My wife loves those old things, can’t say why. But I’d like to buy them back. “I shrugged. “I’ll pay you extra for your troubles. Say $100 bucks?”
“These books?” the taller turned and walked back to the truck. I winced as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before reaching in and pulling out a green hardback.
He looked it over and whistled. “Hey Clyde, look it, here,” he said, holding up the book.
Clyde’s battered smile widened and my heart dropped, wad of tea-colored tobacco bombed the dirt. I watched it soak up the dust.
Clyde removed his hat, set it over his chest, and with a faraway look in his eyes, he spoke to the sky. “My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs.”
I wasn’t sure what was happening. Not as the taller hick cleared his throat and took it from there. “The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and dark-colored sea rocks, and of the hay in the barn.”
If you’ve never heard two hicks reciting Song of Myself in the pasture, I don’t recommend it. In fact, I was sobbing like a baby by the time the taller one slapped the book shut, smiled at me, and said, “This gonna cost you a helluva lot more than $100 bucks.”