Josh Edgar

Baker had been putting some of their old stuff out by the road. He told Marjorie it was time to clear up some of the clutter. Marjorie knew she wouldn’t miss the smoke-yellowed appliances and mismatched furniture accumulated from the kids moving apartments, but she wondered what he meant when he said it was time.

Baker had been getting up at dawn like he used to before he retired and setting things up at the end of the driveway like a perpetual garage sale. Marjorie would stay in bed until the usual time and go about her routine, which was mostly unchanged despite now having to call her husband in for lunch. At the end of good days Baker would come in with a fold of bills, holding them the way someone holds a bible when it means something to them. He’d mention the possibility of going into town for supper.

“Sure, Baker. That sounds lovely.”

“Well, well,” he’d start, tucking the fold into the back of his trousers. “Just because we see a little money coming in doesn’t mean we have to go throwing it away right away.” It almost always went something like that.

On quiet days, Baker would sit by the road and wait, his head swinging from left to right as cars passed. Weekends brought more people passing through, cottagers on their way up north from the city, and by the end of the first month they had their regulars; the nice couple from Port Perry, the fat family with the two dogs.

After they’d cleared out their basement Baker swept it and washed the walls with dish soap and old towels. He set up a folding chair in the space where the stuff had been and from time to time Marjorie would catch him sitting there blankly. He’d climb up off the chair when he noticed her watching him.

“Just having a rest,” he’d say, and make himself busy.

That weekend they visited their storage locker over in the next town, which they hadn’t been to since they sold the bigger house. Baker parked his rust-scarred Honda and rolled the garage-style door up over his head. Marjorie followed him in warily and regarded the things around her—she remembered the transient thrill that came with buying each of them, and if she tried she could remember the gradual ways each individual thing was robbed of its newness. She felt a curious sense of guilt regarding some of these odd trinkets, the dusty ceramic cat looking up from a lazily folded box, as though she had promised it something and was just now caught reneging. She was surprised by this guilt.

Baker, while methodically loading boxes into the back of his pick-up, stopped by an old set of wicker furniture and smiled quietly before craning one of the chairs over his head, his faded biceps shuddering.

* * *

They got the wicker set when their son moved away almost twenty years ago. It was when they had the house Doug and Dana grew up in. Dana had been gone for three years, and with Doug gone too the house felt quiet and empty all the time. Baker and Marjorie both knew the house had become too big for them, but they hadn’t had to admit it to each other because the kids were always coming home to visit and staying in their old rooms. That first October after Doug left for school, he and Dana were home for Thanksgiving. Marjorie and Dana sat in the living room having tea while Baker went to go pick Doug up from the train. Dana had been talking about buying a place with her boyfriend, Kyle. Marjorie said maybe they should marry first, but Dana told her it didn’t really work like that anymore. Marjorie was surprised at how Dana had changed, grown confident and decisive. She’d gained weight and begun dressing plainly, but she looked happy.

“The boys are home,” said Marjorie finally, using the arm of her chair to rise to her feet. When they got outside Doug hugged them tightly as Baker went and clicked open the tailgate.

“What’s that, Dad?” said Dana.

“Doug and I spotted it on the way home from the station.” Baker stood craning the wicker over his head. His face showed visible pride; look how light and impressive our new furniture is, it seemed to say.

“Buddy didn’t even want anything for it either,” said Doug, helping him, sharing in his excitement.

“That’ll look just fine on the back deck,” said Marjorie. She smiled. Her eyes met Baker’s and they were both smiling. They all came to carry a piece of the furniture to the back yard. Marjorie had to stop herself from commenting on Dana’s waggling arms.

It was a warm night so they ate supper out on the new wicker set and stayed up listening to the kids’ stories about school and work. Doug told them he’d met somebody and would like to bring her home come Christmas. In their room before bed that night, Marjorie said that when Doug told them he’d found a girl, he’d never looked more like his dad in his whole life.

* * *

Baker had carried in the stuff from the locker and staged it temporarily in their clean, empty basement. He wiped everything down and set the breakables out on towels along the concrete floor, everything with eyes facing forward. The next morning he scrubbed his face with a warm towel and combed his hair before coming downstairs to find his breakfast waiting for him.

“So I figure we might as well go out then, start setting up,” he said, cutting into his fried egg, yolk bleeding out onto his toast and plate. Marjorie set the spatula down on her rooster oven mitt before joining him at the table. She looked down at her egg whites and then up at her husband, his eyes narrow and distant and his thin veil of white hair pulled cleanly to the left. She could tell he felt her looking, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“What do you think we ought to ask for that wicker set?” he said. She thumbed the crease behind her ear, tracing her hairline down the back of her neck.

“Say seventy-five?” he said.

* * *

When they were younger they used to go driving. After the kids had gone off to school and they sold the house, sometimes they’d get in the Honda and drive up to Thunder Bay or Sault Ste Marie, just to see the country pass. Money was good then, Baker had bought a plough for his truck and was doing snow removal in the winters, and so sometimes they would stop here or there, and sometimes Marjorie would see something she liked and Baker would buy it for her.

One time on the trip back from a friend’s cottage they stopped at an antique shop. Baker had taken interest in some model trains and looked up to find Marjorie hunched over a tea set with a market scene painted on them.

“Aren’t these something?” she cooed, turning one of the cups bemusedly. Baker motioned to the woman behind the counter.

“Yes, lovely aren’t they?” said the woman as she approached. She was younger than them but older than their kids, a generation eclipsed from them by youth and then parenthood. Marjorie thought Baker would try and barter but he didn’t; he asked for her best price and surrendered the bills in high spirits. Marjorie watched as the woman wrapped them up.

Marjorie sat up proudly the rest of the way home, a neat little white box balanced carefully on her knees. Baker stopped at a light; he looked over at her and smiled, and then reached over slowly and gripped her breast over her sweater. She smiled with her mouth, wrinkles deepening around her cheeks and eyes. The light changed and he retreated his hand to the wheel and continued home.

* * *

After breakfast, Baker went about the now familiar routine of setting up the tables, arranging things from shortest in the front to tallest in the back. An encyclopedia set, a woven basket, an old spotted mirror in a brassy frame. He wrote out little white tags and tied them on with string.

Marjorie watched him work from the bedroom window. She turned to her reflection in her dresser mirror, staring solemnly and then running her fingertips across her soft, wrinkled skin. She reached in her top drawer and took out her powder, filling the room with the raw, earthy smell of iris. She unwrapped a tube of lipstick, put the plastic on top of the dresser, and opened her mouth wide like a fish as she traced her thin lips.

Baker was putting out the last of the stuff in boxes when he heard the clack of the screen door.

“We have a few hours before people start coming through,” Baker called over his shoulder, “What do you say we-... oh, gosh, you look nice.”

Marjorie gazed up at Baker and brought her hand around his back, gripping his shoulder. He fell into the distant but familiar motions of grabbing her hip and pulling her up against him, kissing her neck, taking in the smell of her powder. It still made him feel strong. She led him by the arm up to the bedroom and Baker closed the door on his way in. She undid the cloth buttons on her floral blouse while he took off his blue jeans and folded them over the chair.

* * *

They were poor when they bought their first house. There had never been a time before or since when Marjorie felt so constantly aware of a lack of money. But they’d just married, they were happy and they loved each other, and at that time they felt like that was all there could be.

She often told the story of the weekend they bought their appliances. They’d just moved in, unpacked boxes all over the empty living room, and they needed a stove and a refrigerator. All they had was fifty dollars until Baker got paid the following Friday, which was more money then than it is now, she’d often say. They saw an ad in the paper that morning advertising a stove and refrigerator for forty-five dollars. They called the number and gleefully got in Baker’s truck to pick them up. It must be fate, one of them might have said.

When they got to the house, the husband and wife were sitting on the front porch. Baker walked up and shook the man’s hand, ten years his senior Marjorie guessed. He offered to help Baker with the appliances, and Marjorie sat with the wife and made conversation. The man came back up to the porch when they had finished and spoke loudly to his wife, putting on a show.

“Now Corinne, this nice couple here has just married and are spending their first weekend in their new house.”

“Is that so? Oh my,” she chirped. Marjorie thought the man was fine but she didn’t much like the wife.

“I’d like to send them off with something to celebrate. Why don’t you go into the cellar and get them one of the bottles Gerard and Lily gave us?”

Corinne went into the house and came out with a bottle of champagne. They thanked the couple, Baker handed the man a fold of bills and he put them in his pocket without counting them. That night they ate dinner and stayed up drinking champagne on their living room floor. He told her that one day they’d have a life like the couple they met that day. Marjorie wasn’t sure if she believed him but it didn’t seem to matter either way.

* * *

When they finished, Baker rolled out of the left side of the bed and went for his pants on the chair. He was pulling his white cotton t-shirt over his head when he heard a knock downstairs. He hurried down the stairs to meet the person at the door, a handsome middle-aged man in a black fleece sweater. He had the face of a businessman, somebody you liked right away but could only ever like a little bit.

“Just making sure somebody was home. Mind if I take a look?” he said, pointing his thumb over his shoulder.

“Please, by all means.”

Baker watched the man through the mesh in the screen door while tying his boots. He continued out to the driveway and sat in his chair, eventually losing interest in what the man was doing.

“Hey, friend,” the man said eventually, “there’s no price on this wicker set over here.” He was running his hand over the textured surface of the love seat, feeling the rough spot where the paint was fading.

Marjorie watched from the doorframe as they agreed on a price. Baker took a few bills from the man and added them to his fold before helping him load the furniture into the truck. As he drove off, Baker stood at the foot of the driveway and waved. After some time, Baker turned around and noticed Marjorie standing in the doorframe watching him. As he made his way up the driveway he noticed she was wearing different clothes, the make-up gone from her face.

“It’s gone,” said Baker, “he’s gone.”

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