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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Ryerse

A Sketch from the Church Where I go now...

It was one of those snug, neat and tidy mid-century ranch houses on a cul de sac. I’d never been down this street and I had no idea this little neighborhood existed, but when I got into the garage, I scanned the sale tables and immediately spotted cement birdbaths and friendly garden tools. Garages are my favorite, actually, but this one was sparse, already down to basics, so I went inside. All very clean and bright. I was working… I am a professional treasure hunter. Soon I realized everything in the house was a treasure, and I could feel a sense of delight around me.

Estate sales have a vibe. Some are tragic. Some are dirty and defeated. Some are full of silly things. Some basic and utilitarian. I always enter a sale with the same feeling as I have when I enter a church. I understand what is happening, the rituals, the language. I understand there is something holy and absurd happening at the same time. I prefer them to be quiet, so I rarely go on the first day or first hour where the scavengers come only for the best, elbowing one another for mouthfuls of meat from the carcass.

It was the second day, but it was not quiet. I heard his voice in the hall outside the room where I was trying to hear the items that were calling to me. His voice was radio worthy, and clearly, he loved to hear it. He narrated everything he saw, educating everyone in earshot. I slipped into the next room, hoping to get away from him.

It was the master bedroom, and the feminine energy was displayed around the entire perimeter. Fine cashmere and wool sweaters laid out on the bed. Church-worthy hats, dozens of them, some on stands and some not. Very fine quality, not necessarily fashionable, but pure cotton, leather, linen, wools. Like every room of this house, it had some representation of Mother Mary, on rosaries, statues, desk shrines. The jewelry box in this room held several rosaries and charms.

His bearded darkness entered the room, still talking, and I saw in my periphery who he was talking at.

A wispy young woman, she was thin and tall. Her hair was light, like the bermuda grass that fades to beige in the winter here. She wore a chubby, healthy baby on her hip, less than a year old, and a long skirt, dowdy sweater vest - a thrifted, second-hand look about her.

“Cashmere” he said approvingly. “Put this on. Go into that bathroom and put this on. See if it fits you.”

She was looking at other things, and tried to put him off obliquely. “I think the baby would ruin that.”

“Look at these boots. They’re leather. Really good. Here… what size are you again?” He held out a pair of suede booties.

“It says they are size 7 on the tag. Too small for me.”

“Oh. Yeah. Put those down. They are way too small for Mommy’s feet.” He addressed the baby girl. He looked up to see The Wisp looking at the hats. “Those aren’t you. None of these are you. You don’t want those. Here, go try this sweater. Just go into that bathroom and slip it on. Go on. I would buy this for you but you have to try it on first. I want to know that it fits you first.”

My guts tightened like ropes being pulled into chunky knots and I hid in the master closet, willing him to leave. My body was familiar with this kind of man… a man so keenly aware of his own rightness that no other right could exist in his presence. Therapy has helped me. The blood wasn’t pounding in my ears and my heart was beating normally. My hands were not sweating. I was keeping myself safe in the closet. I am capable. I have choices.

Workers from the sale passed through the room, answering questions.

“Yes, this lady travelled the world. She had a really interesting job. She’s in a nursing home now… she’s 100 years old. And she went everywhere in her life. All these beautiful things… she picked only the best things to bring home from her travels. She was very independent and didn’t get married until later in life. She loved Asia, it was her favorite place to travel. You’ll see all of her Asian things in the front room….”

I fantasized about rescuing The Wisp as I pretended to be busy looking at the things in the master closet. Imagined taking her hand and looking into her eyes and saying, “YOU know if the hats are you. You get to decide who you are. You are your own person.”

But then I thought about the baby and I knew how this would go. This woman wouldn’t like my words, wouldn’t hear them over his twenty-four-hour coverage. She would stay inside the noise and static of his radio voice, bending like a willow branch in the storm of his words. He would educate her, clothe her, feed her, keep her.

Until perhaps one day, she would find the volume knob on the radio and turn him down,


down to nothing

but the peaceful silence of her own self,

dancing in the wind.

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