The old woman cuddled the ball of sunflower-yellow yarn, smoothing the fly-away fibers before setting it down. On her table, she’d constructed a pyramid of multicolored balls of yarn. She stroked the yellow ball after she set it atop her little pyramid, whispering, “Such a pretty color for some sweet little girl.” The old woman continued mumbling to herself, “If her momma picks this one, the child will have a long and happy life.”
“What are you muttering on about now, Chlo?” Her sister, Atti, had little patience with her older sibling. “Just put the yarn out. Heaps will do. People seem to like to dig through heaps. Suppose they think they’ll come across some treasure that way. So don’t recreate the pyramid of Giza, okay? You aren’t setting up a department store display, sis. It’s a yard sale.”
The third sister, Laci, who manned the table with the cash box, called over to Atti. “Leave her alone. If she wants to make the yarn look nice, then let her. What’s it going to hurt? Besides, folks will part with their cash more easily if the merchandise is well-presented. True fact.” Laci was they youngest of the three sisters, the one who went out into the world and for years and years worked in retail. This morning, Laci wore a neatly pressed pink button-down shirt and crisply creased navy slacks. She hid her crow’s feet behind fashionable designer sun-glasses. Laci always prided herself on her professional sartorial presentation.
Also on Laci’s table were three small, neatly ordered stacks of children’s clothes. Jumpers, sun-dresses, jammies, t-shirts and jeans. All for kids under three. Laci smoothed the top most piece on each stack, and smiled to herself. “Kids’ clothes sell better than anything else at yard sales. True fact.”
“‘True fact,’ “Atti mimicked snidely under her breath. She then huffed theatrically and, tying her long gray-streaked black hair back into a bouncy pony-tail, returned to setting up items on her own table. She arranged her display carefully: a large variety of scissors and shears. Among the items on her table were safety, kitchen, and embroidery scissors; pinking, hair-cutting, and pruning shears. Then Atti smiled to herself as she set out her miscellaneous collection: cigar cutters, surgical scissors, tin snips, hedge trimmers, one hydraulic cutter and one over-sized ceremonial scissor. All these tools were in various conditions. Some were still in their original packaging, some were slightly used, some were stiff with rust and grime. She would not put a price tag on any of these items; the shoppers would have to bargain with her. For Atti, the bargaining was the sweetest part of the yard sale.
Their monthly sale was indeed in their yard; their back yard. They chose to set up behind their house so that their tables would all be situated in the shade of three large cottonwood trees. A neatly hand-printed sign posted at the start of their driveway pointed the way to their sale.
“Did you remember to put signs out at the main cross-roads, this time?” Atti asked Laci in an overtly accusatory tone.
“Gads, Atti, I forget one time—ONE TIME. Ever going to let that drop?” Laci replied with annoyance. “Or shall we talk about the several times you intentionally—”
“Okay, fine!” Atti interrupted. “Just want to be sure anyone looking for us can find us. That’s all.” Atti pretended to reposition some of her wares.
Laci diplomatically changed the subject.”You know, maybe we should put some sort of barricade up between our tables and the pool. I always worry someone will stumble into it. Drown or hit their head. Then we’ll get sued.”
“In an alternate universe,” Chlo offered,”that pool is likely filled in with dirt. Or maybe never built in the first place.”
“In an alternate universe,” Atti interjected sarcastically, “maybe you were born a dog, or a one of these cottonwood trees, or maybe not at all.”
“Atti! Watch what you say,” Laci warned. “She is the oldest. Have more respect.”
“I think I am a one of these cottonwood trees,” Chlo said, dreamily. “I’m making cotton for yarn, Yarn for fabric. Fabric for clothes. Clothes for people, so they can experience the length of their lives with dignity.”
“As opposed to conducting their lives naked, yeah,” Atti snorted. ” That would be undignified, alright. You do know that the cotton from these trees is not the kind used in making—”
“Atti,” Laci hissed. “Stop it. Right now.”
The first customer of the morning had arrived.
* * *
He was an odd little man. Shoulders off-kilter, a slight limp in his gait. A few strands of thin dark hair atop his otherwise bald head. Beady eyes hidden behind smudged mirrored sunglasses. No chin to speak of. But he had a back pocket full of cash, Laci just knew it. She smiled as he entered their sale.
“Good morning,” Laci chirped.
“Yeah, mornin’ ” the man replied, gruffly. He walked over to Chlo’s table first.
“Yarn,” he stated with disappointment. “Why do you have so much yarn? People really knit, or crochet, or whatever, so much anymore?”
Chlo looked taken aback. “Of course they do! You’d be surprised,” Chlo laughed, “how much of the world is made from my yarn.”
The little man shrugged his crooked shoulders. “How much for, say—” here he picked the smallest ball he could find, a ball which was little more than a wad of dark gray at the base of the pyramid, “—this bit?”
“Well,” Chlo began,”considering I spun that ‘bit’ and all these other ‘bits’ myself, let’s say—”
“And now the price goes up!” he interrupted. “Hand-made stuff always costs more, and is actually worth less.”
Chlo took a sharp breath, and smiled through clenched teeth. Laci had never seen her sister so offended. “Take it,” Chlo said patiently. “It’s free.”
“Free? Why? What’s the catch?”
“No catch. It’s just a little ‘bit’ after all. Besides, it has your name on it.” Chlo folded her hands. The conversation was over.
The man harrumphed and limped over to Laci’s table.
He picked up a tiny dress, a sundress made from fabric patterned with bright sunflowers. He held it up against his barrel chest.
“Be a bit too snug on me, don’t ya think?” he cackled.
Laci smiled her best customer-is-always-right smile. Maybe if she played along, she’d make a sale. “Perhaps on you, but if you have a granddaughter—”
“Me? No way, honey,” he crowed,”I was always too busy gettin’ busy! I was a card-carryin’ foot soldier in the swingin’ sixties! My brother, now he was the square, settlin’ down and makin’ brats. Mister Conventional. What a joke!”
Laci gently took the tiny dress from his pudgy hands. While doing so, she saw his fingernails were not only of various, ragged lengths, but also dirty underneath. Laci smoothed the sunflower dress and returned it to it’s proper place.
“You know, “she said as she tidied up her stacks of clothes, “I don’t have my sister’s talent for spinning, but I do have an eye for fashion. I did select all of these items myself, individually. Some for luck, some for strength, some for beauty, some for smarts, some for love—all for blessings of one sort or another. Too bad you have no one to bestow such a gift on.”
The customer stood before her, rocking on his heels, grinning expectantly. Laci smiled and shook her head ‘no.’ She was not about to give him a free sample of her kids’ clothes.
Again, he shrugged dismissively. He turned to Atti’s table of miscellaneous cutting tools. Atti didn’t smile; she’d had enough of this rude little troll. Even though she herself was often ill-tempered and contrary with her sisters—they were her sisters, and deep down, she loved them fiercely.
“Well, what do we have here,” the little old man began.
“We have all manner of cutting tools, in all manner of conditions and price ranges.” Atti gave him the stink-eye.
“Now, this is more like it! Some interstin’ things you got here, little lady,” he chuckled as he pawed through the clinking piles of blades on Atti’s table.
He found a pair of old kitchen scissors, red-handled scissors with a loose bolt. “These remind me of the scissors my ma kept in her kitchen in Brooklyn, back when I was just small.”
“‘Just small’,” Atti began, but Laci caught her eye before she could start in with her withering snark.
“Yeah,” the little man continued wistfully,”usta cut everything with ’em—lettuce, coupons in the newspaper, hair, string, all kinds of stuff. How much?”
Atti rolled her tongue over her even, sharp teeth, pretending to formulate the asking price. She looked over at Laci again. Laci smiled.
“Sixty? For old scissors at a yard sale? Are you nuts?”
“Well,” Atti postulated, “they obviously mean a lot to you. Hence the high price. Memories ain’t cheap.”
“No way, you crazy broad,” he snorted.
Now it was Atti’s turn to shrug. “Whatever.”
“I’ll give you five dollars for ’em,” he pressed.
“No,” Atti answered without looking up. She knew what was coming next.
The gnarled old man pretended to sift through the heap of scissors on Atti’s table, and when Atti looked away, he slipped the old kitchen scissors into his pants pocket, a pocket covered by his oversized, stained guayabara shirt.
As Atti looked at Laci, Laci simply nodded her head ‘yes.” Atti then looked to Chlo, who also nodded her head.
“Well, mister,” Atti piped up,” looks like you’ve made your choice.”
“Hey—what?—I haven’t decided—” the old troll stuttered.
“But you have,” Atti said. “When you snatched those old kitchen scissors.”
“How dare you—” The old man began with theatrical indignation.
“Look, we all have our favorite things,” Atti continued. “For instance, these—”she picked up a pair of curious, archaic shears—”are my absolute favorite things in the whole wide world. You won’t believe what I’ve cut—and cut short—with these babies!” She smiled warmly as she admired the shears in her hand.
The little gnarled man backed away from her table. “You’re nuts, chicky chick! I didn’t take nothin’!”
Laci had risen from her table, and positioned herself behind him, blocking his exit. He bumped into her.
“What the hell! Get your friend, or sister, or whatever, under control, lady,” he pleaded with Laci. “She’s threatening me! Over a pair of sixty-cent, broken-down scissors!”
“Oh, it’s not a threat,” Laci said comfortingly. “She just gets this way when she’s been ripped off.”
“What? I didn’t—” the old troll panicked, but continued his line of denial. He shuffled over to Chlo’s table.
“Hey you, tell these gals to back off,” he whined.
“How about you hide behind my table,” Chlo suggested, “while I talk with them.”
“Finally, some sense!” He huffed as he scampered behind Chlo’s table of various and multicolored yarns.
As the three sister conferred, heads bent together, hands gesturing like small flighty birds, the little old troll of a man back farther and farther away. So far away, in fact, that he found himself teetering on the edge of the swimming pool. He flailed his arms and shouted for help.
In the blink of an eye, the sisters stood before him. Chlo reached out and said, simply, “Give me your thread.”
He was more than confused. Why was he still teetering on the pool’s edge? Why had he not tumbled in? He dug into his pants pocket and held the small bit of gray yarn out to Chlo. She took the end of the yarn and told him to hold on to the rest, so that the yard acted like a life-rope for him. He felt some relief; the old girl would pull him in.
But that’s not what happened. The tighter he held onto the yarn, the more length it gave out; the more length it gave out, the more he panicked; the more he panicked, the tighter he held onto the yarn. This went on until he was leaning at a 45 degree angle over the pool. Where once there had been calm, chlorinated, turquoise blue water beneath him, there was now—nothing.
“What are you people doing?” he howled. “Get me outta here!”
Laci stepped forward, removing her sunglasses, revealing eyes as cold and shiny as polished coins. “Are you sure that’s what you want?”
“What? Of course that’s what I want, you idiot!”
“Such an angry, unhappy little creature you are,” Laci whispered. “Surprising you lasted this long. Looks like your time has come.” She turned to Atti and nodded once. “Do your thing, sis.”
Atti smiled broadly and with her abhorrent shears, snipped his thread.
Shocked, the little old troll of a man spun his arms and kicked his legs as he fell into the endless darkness below. There was no sound of him hitting bottom.
* * *
Later that same morning, a young couple pulled up in their old sedan. Walking up the driveway, smiling, they greeted the sisters.
“Hiya ladies,” the woman began,”do you have any—oh, yes, you do!”
She scampered over to Laci’s table, squealing with delight. “What pretty little dresses! And tiny t-shirts and jeans! And the cutest jammies!” The young wife placed her hand on the swell of her belly. “I think I’ll take it all,” she giggled.
“My goodness,” Laci laughed,”take as much as you like. My gift to you and your unborn.”
“Really? Thank you—thank you so much!” the young woman was close to tears. It had been a long time since since she’d been the recipient of the unbidden kindness of strangers.
“Hey Katie,” her husband called out,”you should see these tools over here. Some of this stuff is so cool! There’s a beautiful, wee pair of embroidery scissors we can buy for your mom; they’re still in the original packaging. Maybe for her Christmas present? And there’s pair of dog grooming shears we can get for my mom—so he can finally clean up her old schnauzer. What do you think?”
By that time Katie had moved over to Chlo’s table, and was admiring the yarn. “I love to knit, and you have so much to choose from! Did you really spin all this yourself? That’s amazing! So many colors; I don’t know where to begin,” Katie enthused.
“Well, dear, child,” Chlo offered, “I suggest you begin at the beginning.” And with that, she handed the Katie the largest ball of the finest yarn in her pyramid.
[Hillary Lyon is editor for the small press poetry journals The Laughing Dog, and Veil: Journal of Darker Musings. She holds an MA in Literature from SMU. Her work has appeared recently in Red River Review, Scifaikuest, and Red Fez. She lives in Southern Arizona.]